Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Buenas Dias De Cuenca, Ecuardor!

Hi all.

Well, Lee Anne and I have been in Cuenca, Ecuador for 8 days and have not missed the snow yet.  I am typing in an Internet cafe on a Spanish keyboard, so don´t expect grammatical perfection.  It took me 10 minutes to find the apostrophe, which I hope looks like ´...

Cuenca is a smallish city of circa 400,000 people and about 600,000 taxis, all vying to come within inches of anyone on the sidewalk while travelling at 120 KPH.  The buses feature a unique cloaking device; a shroud of jet black smoke that emanates from the back of the bus.  I think the objective is to mask their trajectory, so that the trailing taxis must hesitate before deciding on which sidewalk to pass the bus!

Let´s talk about running.  Cuenca has some beautiful parks with trails and paved tracks.  The problem, which you have probably already guessed, is getting to the parks alive.  Aside from the all too real risk of getting hit by a taxi or motorcycle while running on the sidewalk, breathing is problematic.  Cuenca is at 2,800 meters, so the bus fumes combined with a lack of oxygen results in running in an atmosphere not unlike a vacuum.  Picture blacking out while being run over by a taxi.  Trail running in Ontario has zero risk, compared to road running in Cuenca!

Cuenca is quite picturesque, with circa 1800´s building and about 300 churches.  Not kidding about the churches - there is literally a huge church on almost every corner!  One that we visited took 70 years to build.  In another church, everything in the chamber that housed the alter was covered in gold.  It appeared to have 10 - 20 kilograms of gold leaf.  I´ll add pictures when I get home.

Let´s revisit spelling and grammar...  Almost every word I type is underlined in red - apparently a typo in Spanish.  Strangely, spellcheck works fine, so hopefully I can weed out the typos before posting.  The keyboard is not only in Spanish, but some of the keys are worn blank - some guesswork to find the hidden English letters!

As I type this in a tiny Internet cubicle, buses and motorcycles fly past, inches from the door.  Yes, I am including the sidewalk in the distance calculation.  So what have we been doing in Cuenca?  The historic buildings, churches and restaurants would suffice to make Cuenca a destination, but there are also some interesting small towns surrounding Cuenca, with artisans and knitting cooperatives.  A 40 minute bus ride costs $2, so getting around is quite reasonable.

There is also this cute little national park called Cajas nearby.  I don´t know how big it is, but some hikes take 4 days and people tend to get lost and die on occasion.  We stayed on one trail that took 3 - 5 hours to hike (depending on how much of the trail you hiked) as it did not require a guide.  We did the pink trail 3 times, although what with getting lost on every occasion, our route was slightly different each day.  When I describe the trail as being pink, it does not indicate it was easy.  Pink was the colour assigned to the infrequent markers that indicated which of several trails you wanted to take.  The pink trail crested at 4,000 meters, so again, breathing was not always an option.  The trail was not overly technical, unless you consider getting lost and dying of hypothermia "technical"...

The scenery is astounding.  Hopefully a few pictures will provide an inkling of its beauty.  Cobalt blue lakes, brown-green valleys, strange stunted pine tree formations and chalk white cliffs.  The weather was cold although it warmed up on occasions while walking in the valleys when the sun came out.  Rain had that "recently snow" feel about it, although it only fell lightly and just long enough to don a rain jacket, before it stopped.

Getting back to Cuenca could not be easier.  All hikes end at the highway.  We would simply find a straight stretch and wait for a bus.  Typically the bus would spot us and sound its horn.  If you waved, it meant you wanted a ride back to Cuenca.  All buses went to Cuenca.

We leave Cuenca on Saturday and join friends Dawn and Ron, and my daughter Celeste in Latacunga, the staging point for the Quilatoa Loop.  Lee Anne and I did the Loop 2 years ago and it is still fresh in our minds.  Breathtaking scenery, fascinating indigenous villages and an epic adventure.  From Quilotoa, we travel to Otavalo for the market, then possibly on to Ibarra, to climb the Imbabura volcano.

Once back in Canada, I´ll post again, with pictures, hopefully before cranking up the maple syrup season.  That´s all for now from Cuenca.  Run safe!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Year in Review and Plans for 2018

Let me see if I can remember how to blog...  It's been a while.

The near-two month hiatus from posting is due primarily to an inexplicably busy schedule coupled with a lack of races on which to report.  The lack of races is understandable, at this time of year in Ontario.  But please sit back down and calm yourself.  I can hear you jumping up and down and yelling that I am retired and there is no such thing as a schedule, let alone a busy one.  I feel sorry for when you retire - it can be a cruel task master...

I've been busy with a myriad of unrelated tasks and projects that crested quite spectacularly in the last 2 weeks.  The OUTRace (Ontario Ultra and Trail Race) series took some time.  I'm on the executive and we cobble together the next year's schedule and events at this time of year.  It is also the voting season, where the race directors vote on adding any new races and other topics that are vote worthy.

My daughter bought a house in Wasaga Beach, which is much too close to where I live, in Creemore.  It was in need of renovations before it could be used as a 4 season house.  Guess who was the designated contractor?  I figured a closing date of December 21 would provide me with a few warm days in which I could insulate the crawlspace in comfort.  Stop your shouting.  You can't blame me for the severe cold spell, just because I planned outside work in December!  Totally unfair.  The exterior walls had no insulation, house wrap or vapour barrier.  My plan was to frame 2X4 walls inside and insulate them.  The rooms would become 4 inches smaller, but my daughter is living there, not me, so no big deal.  My niece's husband suggested that I glue SM insulation board to the existing drywall, then glue drywall to the SM board.  This worked quite well, but I don't like protruding screw heads, which is what happened to the screws I used to keep the drywall in place while the glue dried.  I prefer screwing into studs.  Somehow that came out wrong...

Finally, Lee Anne's pottery business has become much more successful, which to me, means more glazing, firing the kiln and transporting pottery to various stores in the area.  It doesn't sound like much, but suddenly I was struggling to find time to run.  Then I caught a cold...  Let's leave this topic before it turns ugly.

2017 was both a successful and disappointing year for me.  I participated in 9 long races and completed 6 ultras (a personal high).  I developed an accurate understanding of how to recover when running an ultra on consecutive weekends.  You don't.  Effective training techniques give way to triage.  Envision Hawkeye Pierce tersely stating "lose the fingers - he doesn't need them to run".

I also have a new appreciation of how much logistics plays a role in successful racing.  Yes, it is cheaper to get up at 3:00 AM and drive to the race site on race day, but how much of a toll does the lack of sleep and stress of driving take on your finishing time?  I won't mention the fun and joy of driving a long distance home on trashed legs.

But overall, 2017 was an incredible year for me.  I saw (and greatly admire) those few individuals that make it to almost every race.  I was able to chat with many runners, volunteers, race directors and other members of the OUTRace executive.  I completed 3 ultras in 15 days.  Mostly, I simply enjoyed being at the races.  They are fun, exciting and challenging.  I'll never do it again...

Seriously, I don't plan on taking on so many races in 2018.  My stab at the Norm Patenaude award might not be the final attempt, but I would prefer to regroup in 2018 and run more races in a recovered state, instead of the sickly death-like trance I assumed while "racing".

So, 2018 will be more of a sampling of new and old races, ultra and shorter distances.  I will ease into the race schedule, possibly with a 25K at Pick Your Poison, instead of hammering out 3 ultras in the first 29 days.  Speaking of PYP, it is the 10th anniversary this year and they already have 200 people signed up!

The OUTRace email blast goes out tomorrow.  It holds some exciting changes for 2018 as it is the 30th anniversary for OUTRace (formerly OUS).  I will be involved in hosting a 30th anniversary 30K fun run, to be held in early August.  There will also be spot prizes and a draw for "OUTRace Regulars" - people who sign up for 3 or more OUTRace events.

Well, gotta run - hope to see you on the trails in 2018!