Thursday, February 27, 2020

Flight from Portugal Home: Not Much Fun!

Hey!  Rather than adding pictures to the 2 previous Portugal posts, I'll simply add them to this post.  That way, no one has to re-read a post.

Recap:  We flew from Toronto to Lisbon, then to Funchal, the main city in Madeira.  Purpose:  Hike and run a half marathon.

Hiking along a "Lavada" - an irrigation channel built in the 1840's to transport water to drier spots of the island.  In places they would tunnel through the mountain, rather than build the channel on the side of a cliff.  Headlamps came in handy!

Very strange!  Between 2 tunnels was this waterfall.  The strange thing was that the irrigation channel bypassed the water from the fall (?).  Perhaps this stream dried up?

As stated before, Madeira is a young island (about 5,000,000 years old) so the mountains are incredibly steep.  This picture does not show the steel stairs/ladders in the steeper parts.  I was too chicken to take photos while trying to avoid plunging to my death...

Just outside our hotel in Tavira (in the Algarves) was the "Roman Bridge".  I figure it was built before the 1950's...

The bike routes went beside salt flats.  Tavira has hundreds of lagoons that are flooded from the Atlantic ocean and then dry up, leaving a salt residue that is harvested and sold.  You might be able to pick out the salt pile in front of some 5 story buildings...

After Tavira we stayed in Cascais, about 40 minutes west of Lisbon.  We decided not to run the Cascais half marathon as we only had 3 days and wanted to hike instead of rest, run a race, then recover.  We hiked in Sintra, just north of Cascais, which has more forts, castles and palaces than in all of Canada (okay, not so hard to do).

Below is a Moorish fort, which in circa 1200 the Moores lost to the European knights in a poker game.  Note that I am taking the picture inside the fort.  It is big!

This is just somebody's home.  Not really a palace by Sintra standards.  Sintra was where the Portuguese royal family stayed, so this was likely some hanger-on's house...

The king had 2 palaces in Sintra.  This was the summer palace.  The picture was taken from the Moorish fort, so they are quite close together.  It was painted red on the north side and yellow on the south side so that people would be able to orient themselves by the palace.  One part (not sure which) is much older than the other.  The new part was built in the 1600's.  There are many similarities between the summer palace and my house in Creemore!

Okay, 2 more pictures, then I'll describe the exciting flight home...  Lisbon has so many incredible buildings, it is difficult to pick just 2 for this post.  Below is the "square" where mariners would return from exotic parts of the world and sell their wares.  The vast square is surrounded on 3 sides by the yellow building.

Another building that we visited was ridiculously huge, which this "little" church tacked on one end.  I took another picture near the end of the building, but from there it is difficult to make out the church!

Homeward Bound!

If you are enjoying a meal, you might want to read this later...

Flying these days is a tenuous adventure, what with the pandemic making us question the prudence of rubbing elbows with people from all over the world.  Imagine my dismay when 3 days before we were to fly home, I came down with a cold.  With travel restrictions changing day-to-day, I wondered if I could travel without many noticing my sickness.

Wait!  Let's make this even more exciting!  Thursday night (our flight departed at noon Friday) my nose started to bleed.  This is actually a common occurrence when I catch a cold.  The problem was, I could not get my nose to stop bleeding.  And when I say bleeding, I'm not fooling around.  If I pinched my nose (what I usually do), my mouth would fill up with blood within 5 seconds.  Not a viable situation when you can't breath through your nose!  I would rush to the nearest sink and spit out the blood, release the hold on my nose and with a dry part of the towel, reapply pressure.

After 5 long minutes of this, I asked Lee Anne to call an ambulance.  I had lost about half a litre of blood so far and my concern was that I could lose consciousness.  I wanted to walk down 3 flights of stairs to the street before feeling any weaker.  Lee Anne phoned the hotel owner, who in turn phoned the ambulance.  While sitting in a chair on the sidewalk, waiting for an ambulance, my nose finally stopped bleeding.  The ambulance drove us to a hospital that, at 10:00 PM, had a nose doctor onsite.

After a 2 hour wait, I was seen by the doctor.  He realized I had burst a blood vessel and cauterized my nose.  It is interesting to see smoke coming out of your nostril.  His English was quite good and he explained that if I was a local, he would have sent me home.  However, having learned that I planned to fly in 12 hours, he then shoved a tampon (his word) up my nose.  It didn't hurt much, but wow, was it uncomfortable.  My left eye started tearing from the pressure.  We took a taxi back to the hotel, where the owners had already cleaned our room and the kitchen sink!

After very little sleep, we thanked the hotel owners profusely for their help, then headed to the airport.  How is flying after minor surgery with a tampon shoved up your nose?  I no longer enjoy flying.  Most people can do without the airport hassle, but try breathing through your mouth for an 8 hour flight, with a terrific sinus headache.  All flights out of Lisbon on Friday morning were delayed, due to fog, so we spent close to 10 hours on the plane.  We got up on Friday at 7:00 AM (2:00 AM Toronto time) and landed in Toronto at 6:00 PM.  The headache lasted until Monday.

I was late posting all this because I have started prepping maple syrup lines.  That's my excuse!

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Cascais DNS, Lisbon and Homeward Bound

The end of our 30 day venture into Portugal looms nigh and with it comes a mixture of anticipation and regret.  One month is not a sufficient time to truly experience a new country, culture and language.  As I write this, outside the window is a church with a massive dome.  It holds some famous name, but as this is our first time visiting Lisbon, we have yet to view and learn about this European landmark.  The same can be said about our stays in Madeira (a small island off the African coast belonging to Portugal), Tavira (an small city in the Algarves) and Cascais (near Sintra, the home of Portugal´s royalty).  We have barely brushed the surface of Portugal, yet we are set to travel home.

Is Portugal worth a visit?  Most definitely.  The landscapes, architecture and mild weather make it an appealing option for snow smothered Canadians.  Flights, hotels and meals are reasonably priced, compared to the rest of Europe.

Still, we are ready to travel back to the ice and snow of Creemore.  In fact, we are both of the opinion that a month is a bit long to travel.  We have been away from family, friends and haircuts for too long.  Okay, the last is my fault, as I did not earmark adequate time to get mine cut, before we set out for Portugal...

Lee Anne is getting anxious to start building pottery inventory for the upcoming shows.  I have considerable work to do, before I can fire up the maple syrup evaporator.  And the latest technology (I think it is called Snap Crackle Pop Chatting) is a pale substitute for spending time with our children and grand children.

Cascais Half Marathon:  DNS

I must admit that we were both lukewarm about running the half.  Our DNS was due more to logistics than what I like to call Ultra snobbery.   Yes, we both consider running a half marathon more as an afterthought than a true race goal.  Lee Anne has cut down her running to the point where she is running a half marathon (or longer) only 4 times per week.  I consider 21K a long run these days, but I am more embarrassed by my lousy speed than the thrill of completing another half.  We only had 3 days in Cascais, which is close to Sintra.  What is so special about Sintra?  Nothing much, aside from being the residence of the Portuguese royal family.  The last king died in circa 1908.  As such, it has more palaces than in all of Canada.  Oh, it also has a Moorish fort, which is close to the size of Creemore.  I´ve never seen so many stairs!

So our option was to take 3 days to recover and run the half, or visit some of the most interesting structures built between 950 and 1850.  Hmm...  Pictures will be added next week.

Before experiencing a country with a language that is new to me, I like to make some effort to learn the basics.  It is polite to at least try to communicate in the host country´s language.  Problem:  I know English quite well, a solid base in French and a smattering of Spanish.  The latter is the problem.  Portuguese is quite close to, but not exactly, Spanish.  In Portugal, I found myself continuously mixing up Spanish and Portuguese.  And even the Portuguese admit that their language is not easy to learn.  How do you say "The" in Portuguese?  You have 4 choices:  A, O, As or Os.  Unfortunately, you can´t simply pick one and move on.  Too easy!  "A" is used for singular feminine, such as "A Mulhere" (sp?) - The woman.  Try translating this when listening to someone fluent in Portuguese and is speaking at 3,000 words per minute...

So, in 3 days we fly back to Canadaland.  Although hard to keep in mind, we are both retired.  Regardless, we both have impressive itineraries waiting for us in Creemore.  We will be visiting 312 family and friends.  We will miss my daughter Brittany´s birthday, who turns 30 tomorrow.  Happy birthday Brit!  I need to help Lee Anne reactivate the pottery studio.  She needs to start making pottery.  I removed several of the maple sap lines as there was a chance the maple bush would be logged while we were away.  It is marked and is now under the forest management program.  I need to rebuild the lines.

I need a haircut.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Racing in Portugal

This will be a short post as I am a little pressed for time and using a Portuguese keyboard.  The latter results in a squiggly red line below almost every word, indicating that my Portuguese's spelling is atrocious.  Fortunately, spellcheck checks for English spelling errors, so not all is lost...

Lee Anne and I are spending a month in Portugal, starting with 10 days on the island of Madeira, which although part of Portugal, is off the coast of Africa.  Madeira is a relatively new island, at about 5 million years old.  This may seem like a long time, but the mountains have had little time to wear away.  Most of the mountains have steep-to-vertical sides,  So when we were told the Madeira marathon was flat, it reminded me of when people used to say the earth was flat...

We opted for the half marathon, as we planned to hike the next day.  The first 3K was uphill.  Not 20% gradient steep, but enough slope to affect our breathing.  The course was a bizarre mix of out-and-backs and loops.  All this to avoid any serious hills.  There was one steep hill about midway through the half, but fortunately it was downhill.  Our times were slow.  Really slow.  I was barely under 3 hours.  This is due primarily to a lack of training, but the sad time was also influenced by my left ankle, which behaved quite badly for the last 8K.  At one point I realized it hurt just as much to walk as to run, so the last 3K was an impressively fast hobble.

Hiking in Madeira is another story.  We were lulled into a fantasy state on our first hike.  We walked beside a Levada - a small viaduct used to transfer water from one place to another, as water is scarce is some regions of Madeira.  We walked along steep hills, cliffs and through tunnels, but the gradient was unfailingly a gentle downhill slope.  We were not so lucky on our second hike!  Think metal ladder\stairs ascending 1,000 meters vertical.  The metal stairs were aesthetically arranged up near-vertical cliff faces.  I´ll post pictures when I get home (February 15).  When not ascending or descending metal stairs, we were on rock stairs, similar to those found on normal European hikes.  Flat sections?  Re-read the part about the half marathon above.

We are now in Tavira and have rented mountain bikes.  Tavira is on the Atlantic ocean and fortunately, quite flat.  We had rented road bikes but on our first day in Tavira, we did not see any smooth paved roads, aside from the highways.  Dirt roads in the country and the roads in town are either cobblestone or square stone.  Again, pictures are needed, but think of 5cm X 5cm stones set in concrete.   The patterns of white and black stones are beautiful, but I would hesitate to walk my road bike over the surface.  If you are ever in Tavira, I recommend Abilio Bike Rentals.  Great service and very accommodating.

That´s it for now - I hope to post again within a few days.

Bom dia!

Friday, October 18, 2019

Ultra Running: Guide and Tips

I don't know about you, but I find the title of this post hilarious.  Those of you who have read previous post, try to imagine some neophyte runner, desperate for information on how to effectively prepare for an ultra, reading this post.  Perhaps those few thousands of people who claim I'm deviously evil are not entirely wrong.

Dear neophyte ultra runner:  You have two choices:

1.  Do NOT read this post.  In fact, block this blog from your device.
2.  Read this post, but do the exact OPPOSITE of any suggestion contain within.

There, hopefully I won't be responsible for any more runners meeting an untimely end.

What this post is actually about, are a few anecdotal incidents and observations, which might provide some insight into the twisted reasoning of an ultra runner.  Almost perfectly parallel to my training, this post is completely erratic and is in possession of limited logic and order.  This is a little weird as in my professional life (I have been retired for 5 years now) I had to maintain more than a modicum of order, planning and logic.

What is it Like, to be an Ultra Runner?

It sucks.  Think of a perfect hobby, then tick off which of the following list are represented:

  • I have been thirsty since 1975.
  • I am never adequately trained for any ultra I run.
  • One of the best lines in Joseph Heller's (author of Catch 22) book entitled Good as Gold:
    Before I started running, I was sore every morning.  Now I'm sore all the time.
  • If I sign up for a race that is not an ultra, I feel like a failure before the race even starts.
  • There are no conspiracies except my doctors, who must talk behind my back about new and different reasons why I should stop running.
  • The speed at which I run an ultra is inversely proportional to the hours of training I log in the 6 weeks leading up to a race.  If this rule is applied to its logical conclusion, I perform best at ultras in which I have not run at all during the previous 6 weeks.
  • Regardless of the rule above, I spend an inordinate amount of time training for a race in which I will perform miserably.
  • Unlike shorter races, you do not "learn" from an ultra, aside from the fact that more things can go wrong in an ultra than can reasonably be expected.
  • You need nutrition during an ultra.  The best foods are those that are the worst for you.  High on the list are pretzels, boiled potatoes dipped in salt, sugar and candy.  Canada boasts a company that sells a gel (small package of sugar) made almost entirely of maple syrup.  Go figure!
How Do I Train for an Ultra?

Think of almost everything you learned from your running coach (if you never had a running coach, or any coach at all, you will perform much better in ultra races) and do the opposite.  This is tricky, because at the start of this post, I mentioned that you should do the opposite of anything I write, yet I am now attempting to convince you that you should ignore your coach's advice, which means that...  Look!  An eagle!

Training for an ultra running race involves learning how to walk.  A typical rule-of-thumb is that you walk any hill over the top of which you can't see.  In the longer ultras (more than 80K or 50 miles), you need to train by walking at a brisk pace, typically 5 KPH or faster.  You don't want to walk too fast, as it is not possible to maintain 8 KPH for more than 20 hours.  Yes, you might be walking for 20 or more hours, so incorporating walking into your training is paramount.

Learn to run slowly.  Some ultra runners target 10 KPH, but these are typically the podium finishers in the longer races, so most of us need to run even slower!

I could spend 32.6 blogs describing how to properly hydrate, fuel and which is the best concoction of electrolytes and drugs for a given distance, but since all these parameters are different for every person, you are going to have to figure this out on your own.  Some runners never experience GI issues, while others have stomach problems at every race.  Others need to balance Advil (known by ultra runners as vitamin I) to coax the most out of their knees, ankles, hips and/or backs.

Training? I would avoid putting much emphasis on this component of ultra running.  I think it is more important to sign up for a shorter ultra (50K or 6 hours) before investing the time in training.  That way, you will quickly learn what it is like to run an ultra under-trained, which is the normal state of affairs for most ultra runners.  If you insist that I describe a reasonable training schedule for a short race (let's say 50K), you should be running for about half of your spare time.  Good luck!

As a note, I have very little or no memory, I can't remember which.  This was an advantage in my job, because it forced me to write down everything and to rely heavily on my scheduler.  This is also a significant advantage in ultra running.  I rarely recall what I did for training, hence I am usually confident going into a race.  A tangible upshot of ultra races is that what happening yesterday is not important, so missing a training day has no impact.

Tips That Will Help You During an Ultra Race

Don't wear your glasses during trail races.  With glasses, you will see clearly and the technical terrain will freak you out.  By not wearing my glasses, I run much faster and my finishing time is better.  There is some correlation between the bruises I have the morning after a race and not wearing my glasses, but I don't remember it, so let's move on.

There is a certain angle at which (this is different for everyone) it is more efficient to walk up a hill than to run it.  Keep in mind that running a hill, if you are over your max VO2, means you are building up lactic acid, which will slow you during and after the hill.  Walking gives you some recovery, which is handy.  Walking hills also gives you a logical point at which to hydrate or fuel.  I try to time my hydration and gel breaks during ascents.

Going into a race, fix in your mind a virtual energy gauge.  This gauge is (hopefully) at 100% when you start, but gradually descends as you progress through the race.  The rate of descent on the energy gauge is low during downhill sections and faster during uphill sections.  If you turn up the speed to pass a runner ahead of you, the gauge registers this.  I.e. you only have so many "bursts" or can run up only so many hills, before the gauge starts registering in the "unhealthy" range.  Once familiar with it, this gauge can tell you when you are about to hit the wall, or when you should adopt a death march over a marathon shuffle.

One of the most difficult aspects to grasp of ultra running, is that nutrition plays such an important role.  I allude to this in the above paragraph, as nutrition heavily impacts the energy gauge.  It is difficult to ingest more than 200 - 300 calories per hour while running.  Shovelling in 1,000 calories in 38.2 minute is easy while sitting in a restaurant, but quite tricky while running over a mountain.  Running (for someone my weight - no, please don't ask) expends between 500 and 1,000 calories per hour.  Do you see the problem?  You are at a net loss of 300 to 800 calories an hour during a race.  These are supplied from the body's reserves.  Please see the latest technical papers on how stored fat is converted to glycol by the liver, blah blah blah.  This holds no interest to a runner who suddenly goes glycol deficient.  The symptoms are usually revealed as charming items such as a death march or if you are lucky, hallucinations.  Gels can help to alleviate the worst, so carrying a few extra is worth it.  But the best approach is to fully understand your body and how much you can push it, before meltdown begins.  This is quite easy to figure out, but takes time - usually 3 or 4 decades.

Run your own race.  I often notice the 25K podium runners going at it all in a pack.  That means that one person is setting the pace and the others (in the very small pack) are tagging along.  The same happens in a marathon, with the elite.  This is not such a great idea in an ultra, because if you attempt to run at someone else's pace, you are setting yourself up for considerable misery.  During the ebb and flow of an ultra, your body hits good spots and low spots.  These are typically influenced by your fuel, hydration and drug schedules, which will differ from someone else's timing.  I rarely run a race with another person.  Don't get me wrong, I run with other people - this can help to pass the time, especially when running with people I know.  But I rarely plan to run the entire race with another person, because you must then travel at the slowest pace of the highs and lows of two people.  Or suffer a lot more.

Embrace the experience.  This is a shoddy way of saying "deal with it", but has some merit.  The only constant in an ultra is that you will have low spots.  These bad times are part of the experience and are instrumental in helping you to devise or alter your ultra training and race plans.  As another runner once put it, if ultras were easy, everyone would do it.  You run ultras to explore your limits.  It is never comfortable near a limit!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Autumn Already? What Happened?

Yes, it has been some time since my last post.  I've been busy, of course, but the real reason is not placing high enough emphasis on sitting down and writing an entry.  Period.  Rather than list all the excuses why I haven't blogged of late, let's get to it.

2019 Update:

This is a cleverly hidden attempt to justify not blogging this summer...

Spring Warm-up:  We had a record crowd in attendance and quite good weather for running.  The trail was "mostly" in good shape, but a few icy spots ensured an interesting time.

Pick Your Poison 25K:  This was to be the start of my dominating the old guys in the Ontario Trail Series.  As you read on, you might note that several other initiatives sidetracked my plan to run many of the trail races - typically the 25K distance.  After scrutinizing the Men 50+ Trail series category of prior years, I had estimated that running only 4 of the races would place me on the age category podium this year.  Perhaps several other old guys made the same estimate, as there are 4 runners with more than 3 races - so far...

Back to the drawing board!

Great Room:  During the second half of May, I poured the foundation for a 16' X 16' addition to the house.  June was spent in construction and by early July, it was complete.  A few of the finishing details were completed in September, as I needed a break.  It looks fine and will hopefully provide us with a nice area during the winter months.

OUTRace:  Coordinating the Ontario Ultra and Trail Race Series (OUTRace) moves along nicely.  We opted to purchase 100 dark blue towels for distribution amongst the 15 races.  New this year is moving the OUTRace awards from the last race of the year (Fat Ass Trail Run) to a fun run, staged by Tony Martin near Waterloo.  I thank Tony for allowing us to leverage his fun run for the awards!

The decision to change the awards was mainly due to the short timeline for Jim Orr (OUTRace statistician) to tabulate the series standings.  It also puts pressure on the last race to provide accurate race results, sometimes before the longest race has even ended.  In the years where the last race has had to spend time verifying their results, the OUTRace awards have been delayed until almost all the runners have left the race site.

Award winners have the option of registering for the fun run (imagine not having to kill yourself during an OUTRace event!) for the low fee of $27, including lunch!  Or you can attend the awards ceremony for free.  I plan on entering the Fun Run, as it means I won't be in last place!  To register for the Fun Run, use this link:

Ultra Legends 3 hour Fun Run and OUTRace Awards

If you would like to attend only the OUTRace awards ceremony, please use the above link for information on location, etc. and note the awards start at 12:30.

Creemore Art Festival:  The Purple Hills Arts and Heritage Society hosts the Creemore Festival of the Arts this weekend (October 5 and 6).  Lee Anne will be displaying and selling her pottery during the festival.  This is more or less blatant solicitation for you to attend the event!  As I am also on the PHAHS board, spreading word of the event is important.

Run Off The Grid:  Yes, I actually made it to a second series race this year!  After 2 races, I stand 16th in the OUTRace Trail series Male 50+ category.  So much for series domination!

ROTG 25K Race Report

The race would be a chronic sell out if it was closer to Toronto, but it is "way up there", north of Algonquin Park.  I drove up from Creemore on the morning of the race, but from the GTA, it would involve a middle-of-the-night start, or finding nearby accomodations.  However, a good portion of the appeal of this race is that it is in such solitude.  It is aptly named, for as far as I could tell, there is no power grid up there!

The course is a true oxymoron; an out and back loop...  I know, which is it?  The course is a 12.5K loop, but the second loop is done in the reverse order, so it is also an out and back.  Yes, I noted the ominous undertones of a Barkley'esq style race - it filled me with a modicum of foreboding.  But the course is a wonderful mix of technical single track and easier broadpath trails.  This made for less issues when meeting oncoming race traffic.  Rarely did I need to step off single track to let another runner by.  With my incredible lack of speed, I thought that 2-way traffic on single track might be an issue.  I saw myself running through the trees, to avoid slowing down oncoming traffic, but it was not so.

I ran the 12.5K course out, then back in the reverse direction, for a total of 25k.  The 50K runners did it all over again.  The way out seemed to be comprised of fairly steep downhills and gentler uphills.  A few of the hills were truly steep, including a 100 meter hill with rope assist.  This was a great mix as it meant that on the way back (the 12.5K reverse loop), the course was a few steep uphills interspersed with long gentle downhills.  From those of us who have had surgery in both knees, thanks!

I was happy with my finishing time of 3:50.  Slow, yes, but the overall winner ran the 25K in 2:19 and the 50K winning time was 5:30.  I recommend this race to anyone who wants to experience a race in a wilder environment.

Well, this is getting longish, so I will end here and hopefully be back in the not-too distant future.

Run long and prosper!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Ecuador: The Physiological Impact of Non-interplanetary Running

Okay, I've been 60 years old long enough to choose senseless titles without providing an explanation, even if the title and first paragraph are an obvious attempt to develop a segue for this blog post...

Being 60 and attempting to run at altitude generate some surprising results.  I'm guessing that any research involving older runners will indicate that the cardiovascular is impaired.  I.e. one reason that older runners slow down is because they have less efficient oxygen delivery to the legs.  This is likely compounded by all sorts of other reasons, such as scar tissue in various body parts and possibly carrying extra weight.

I also question if the will to run fast is compromised.  Don't get me wrong.  Every run I fervently hope that my speed increases, the sun shines and I ride a wave of euphoria in an effortless 4 hour workout.  However, the opposite is true, especially during the "warm-up" portion of the run.  I feel sluggish and uninspired for the first 40 minutes of every run.  For those in your twenties, please note the duration of the warm-up.  I recall warming up for a 5K race when I was a youngster.  It involved 5 minutes of gentle running (which was much faster than my current race pace...), then 5 minutes of increasing my pace, until I was at or near race pace.  10 minutes!  It now takes more than 30 minutes for my obstinate legs to even acknowledge that I am out for a run.

At altitude, running takes on a whole new meaning.  For fun, let's talk max VO2.  Once warmed up, my sustainable pace in Ontario is slightly better than a 6 minute kilometer.  I can run at 12 KPH, but not for very long.  While in Cuenca (altitude 2560 meters) any attempt to run even a slight uphill resulted in walking.  I am above my max VO2 at ANY running pace!

However Ecuador is a beautiful country with perfect temperatures and wonderful hikes.  The Cajas National park is a one hour bus ride from Cuenca and boasts several hiking trails and unique terrain.  Some are multi-day hikes and a guide is recommended.  It snows in Cajas.  Every year people get lost and die from exposure.  Part of the problem is that Cajas is on the equator.  It should be hot!  The fact that it is above 4,000 meters doesn't really mean much to the unprepared hiker.  There are also several day hikes for which you don't need a guide.  Some are well marked, but most people lose their way at some point, so you need to keep an eye out for the markers.

Cuenca is a city of 400,000 people and 500,000 taxis and buses, with European charm.  I know this sounds like an oxymoron, but in the middle of South America, Cuenca boasts a plethora of Spanish influenced 18th century architecture.  We stayed at Pepe's Hostal, a recently renovated hotel with incredible ambience.  Pepe is a cat that strolls the inner courtyard and there is no misunderstanding as to who really owns the place.  The inner courtyard is covered with glass and is an ideal spot to lounge, read, eat, have a black Russian, or simply pass the time.  I was forced to spend a few days at Pepe's with an annoying cough.  Although feeling the cold symptoms, reading in the courtyard was pleasant.  Our room was large and well appointed, but could have used a window for ventilation.  Pepe's also has 2 dormitories, where you can spend the night and have breakfast for $11.  If you decide to spend time in Cuenca, I would recommend Pepe's.

After 2 weeks in Cuenca, we made our way to Vilcabamba in southern Ecuador.  If the name seems a bit familiar, Vilcabamba is one of a few spots in the world that claim to have a high percentage of centenarians.  This claim is questionable, but the underlying reasons are not.  Vilcabamba boasts "late Spring" weather year round.  The water supply is mineral rich and life's pace is relaxed and peaceful.

We stayed in Izhcayluma (no one can pronounce it, so don't bother trying), a resort that was 2K out of town.  The resort was very close to being perfect.  Spread out along a mountain slope are 25 rooms (typically 2 to a building), a restaurant, bar, yoga studio and massage parlor.  Hikes abound in the area and varied from a 30 minute stroll along quiet trails to 9 hour hikes through rugged mountain terrain.  The menu includes almost everything, so if you had an urge for pizza, it was incredibly good.  Other options are Italian, Ecuadorian, typical North American fare and the specialty, German.  Mains were priced around $8, so there was little point in going to town just to save money on supper!  We did go to town to eat a couple of times, simply to experience the local scene.  At one point in our stay, I mentioned to Lee Anne that Izhcayluma was possibly the nicest resort in which we have ever stayed.

The town of Vilcabama (about 2,000 people) was typical of Ecuador and we found shopping bargains in some of the stores.  While travelling, we prefer to spend our money in the local economy.  This can be tricky as we also enjoy good accommodations and meals.  Not that I only stay at 5 star resorts, but it has been 30 years since I slept in a tent.  For example, Izhcayluma is owned by 2 German brothers, so the preponderance of our accommodation budget while in Vilcabamba was not directly spent in a local establishment.

One issue I have with Vilcabamba is that there is a large presence of young and old hippies.  Unlike expats (foreigners who live in Ecuador and spend money supporting the local economy) and tourists, the hippies (American, Canadian, Venezuelan, etc.) are vying directly with the locals for the tourist dollars.  According to my perverse ethical stance, this isn't fair.  There is no harm in foreigners spending money in Ecuador, as it supports the local economy and ultimately will help the Ecuadorians, but foreigners selling product and competing with the locals for the tourist dollars is not.  The reason for the hippy influx is that living in Vilcabamba is almost ideal.  You can easily sleep with just a roof over your head.  Food is ridiculously cheap.

Enough ranting - on to important matters.  Registration for the Spring Warm-up is quite healthy, with 21 people already signed up.  I recognize quite a few of the names, but wonder how many sign up, thinking the Fun Run is actually a Fun Run?  I.e. they have not heard the horror stories of mud, drifting snow and freezing cold temperatures that have graced the Spring Warm-up in years past.  Are they expecting a smooth flat paved surface, instead of the technical bits on the Bruce Trail, long hills on dirt roads and the odd cliff?  I can't wait to see their reactions!

It should come as no surprise that Pick Your Poison (April 27), the first event in the OUTRace series, is sold out.  If you are looking for a race this Spring, you might want to sign up for the Seaton Soaker (May 11) as registration is starting to creep up towards the cap.


Thursday, January 31, 2019

Running in Ecuador - Very Funny!

Greetings for the far south.  Actually, Ecuador is in northern South America, if you will pardon the oxymoron.  Lee Anne and I are currently in Cuenca, which is slightly south of the equator.  I had better quit before this gets too confusing.

Running at 2500 meters is not entirely easy.  From one perspective, it should be easy.  Cuenca is not overly hilly and with temperatures in the mid 20's, we are running in shorts and a T-shirt.  A significant difference from running in Creemore, with 3 layers of clothes and questionable traction.  For fun, let's introduce some variables that are not readily available in Creemore, in January.  The previously mentioned altitude is a big factor.  Until acclimatized, walking up one flight of stairs leaves you gasping for air.  Even gentle uphill slopes take on epic proportions when combined with the altitude.  Toss in humidity and a sun that is directly overhead, and suddenly running becomes "Real Tough".  How tough?  We went out for our long run.  For Lee Anne, this is 4 - 5 hours.  She managed 3.5 hours.  For me, let's just say that after 2.5 hours, I was starting to tremble.

Hiking can also be a challenge.  The Cajas national park is way up there.  The road reaches over 4,300 meters and at points we were looking down on the road.  The park is incredibly beautiful and I will include pictures when I post from home.  Currently I am in an internet cafe and the Spanish spellcheck indicates that every word is mispelled.  I've never seen so many red squiggly underlines!

Well, that's about it for now.  We will be in Cuenca until February 5, then down to Vilcabamba until we head back to Creemore on February 14.