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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

First race back: what I wore

Back to racing, and I picked my most Octoberish outfit for Oktoberfest!

Orange singlet (Nike, from Varsity Sports) - a great, soft top but the fabric ended up being too warm
I was in flip-flops pre-race, but I'm holding my shoes for the race - Brooks PureCadence. Yeah, not the best 5k shoes, but given my projected (slow) pace and my hesitance to try anything different right now, it seemed the smartest choice. I didn't want to risk my hip with flats or lighter shoes.
My all-time favorite shorts, the incredibly comfortable and flattering Fleet Foxes Run Short from Coeur
Buy yourself some here. Non-affiliate link. And I paid for those shorts myself. But I got a discount. And I really adore them. They stretch a little with you, let in a little breeze without being terribly revealing, and the style is, indeed, quite flattering to the thighs!

Oooh! My underwear! I wore my bra with pockets, also from Coeur, which was brilliant. I stuck my chapstick and ID in there so I could enjoy Oktoberfest for the rest of the night! 

Also a picture of my new sunglasses, courtesy of Walgreens. I liked the subdued (non-reflective) lenses, but they didn't provide as much protection from the sun as I would have liked. It was super sunny.
What didn't work: I shouldn't have worn that top - honestly, I should have run in just a jog bra - but I liked the Halloween color combo. It was very hot out!
The sunglasses are new, and I haven't had a problem with them in early morning runs, but for full sun like this, I was squinting the whole time. I do like that they are vented to prevent fogging up, though. It works, but imperfectly.
And an action shot! Thanks, NOTC!

What did work: Shorts were a huge win. If I don't think about you once while racing, you're doing your job!
Bra - Ok, didn't really need the pockets for a 5k (for Gu in a marathon, though? That would have been great). But for post-race car key and chapstick, etc? Great choice!
I questioned my shoe choice initially, but I've really only been running in the PureCadence since I started back, and I didn't want to take any chances. Next time I'd go back to the Mizuno Mushas for short races.




Monday, October 27, 2014

A few hours in Lima

On our last day in Peru, we flew from Cuzco to Lima.
I was still sick, but a little better. The fever was gone, but in its place I had a huge lump on my forehead! I never figured out what it was - a painless but large "egg" only it felt soft. I almost certainly brought a Peruvian parasite home with me.
We had only an afternoon in Lima, and we spent most of it walking. We stayed in Miraflores and arrived after lunch, so we walked to Punto Azure, a well-liked ceviche restaurant. It was cash only, and crowded. While we waited for a table, a waitress circled with pisco sours in tiny cups. The line moved quickly, and soon we were seated with a spanish-only menu and a spanish-only waiter. Luckily, ceviche is ceviche and we ordered two - the Punto Azul mixto picante and the classico mixto. The Punto Azul came with a spicy sauce (as the name implies). Both were delicious, and a lot stronger (more lime and more heat) that ceviche I've had in the USA (not that New Orleans is known for its ceviche!). The portions were huge, and we couldn't finish. My stomach was a lot better, and my appetite returned, but it was just too much food!


After lunch, it was already kind of late. We returned to our hotel to get sweaters, then walked down to the ocean. The beach is narrow, and made of big, smooth pebbles. As the waves crash over the water, you hear both the sound of the waves, and the sound of the rocks settling against each other. It was a beautiful sound.



There is a boardwalk in Lima, but it's up above the ocean at the top of the cliffs. We climbed up and walked along, enjoying the beauty. We passed Amor Park and saw Delfin's statue "The Kiss", kind of the emblem of Lima. We walked all the way to the Lima lighthouse before getting a little cold and hungry and turning around.

Everyone eats late in Peru, so even though it was 8:30 by the time we found a little restaurant, we were the first ones there. We enjoyed a quiet dinner of beef, onions, and tomatoes over tacu tacu (chopped mixed beans and rice, formed into a patty and cooked in a skillet - delicious, although the proprietor tried to talk me out of it, worried that the beans would upset my stomach. If he only knew. My stomach was already in revolt). I had a Pisco sour; David had beer. We sat and watched the people of Lima and enjoyed the sea breezes. It was the perfect end to our trip!


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Peru: The most amazing thing I saw in Machu Picchu

After David and I climbed Huayna Picchu, we still had a few hours left before we had to catch our train. We visited a few areas we still hadn't seen, and revisited some of our favorite spots. Here's mine:

It started to rain lightly as we made our way out of the ruins.
Then we saw the most amazing thing we'd seen on the whole trip.
A rainbow.
Below us. 

It was incredible!

Finally it was time to go. We headed back to the bus line and the adrenaline from the morning's climb seeped out of me. I was oddly tired and felt sick. We got a lot of sun that day, and I blamed the sun for my aching head. My stomach was a mess, too. But we made it down (alive), collected our bags from the hotel, and caught the train to Ollantaytambo. That train ride was the coldest I'd ever been in my life. I turned blue and was shaking. While we waited for our driver to pick us up at the station, David put his arm around me and realized that even though I felt cold, I was burning up! I was definitely sick. The ride back in the van was cold and I was fighting stomach cramps, and I was happy to see our old hotel room in Cuzco. I put on all my clothes (literally every long-sleeved layer I brought) and tried not to throw up.

David was hungry, and thought I should try to eat, too. You can't bring food into Machu Picchu (although we had brought granola bars earlier that day - we packed out, obviously) so he was kind of starving. We ventured out and entered a warm and cozy restaurant nearby. There was a fire roaring and two cute little girls doing homework. I got chicken soup and ate two sips. David, at my urging (I was living vicariously!) ordered the guinea pig! He had no clue how to eat it until the kind proprietor took his plate, quartered the animal and mimed eating with his hands rather than utensils. I tasted some, nausea aside, and it was good - like a gamy rabbit.

The next day was a free day in Cuzco, and luckily my fever broke during the night. I still felt like I had the flu, but I managed to walk around and explore the city (with lots of breaks). We went to the San Pedro market, and I bought souvenirs - salt from the salt mines for family, and a Peruvian nativity retablo as our Christmas ornament (our traveling tradition). The market was extensive: you could buy cooked foods, fresh juice, household goods, dog food, meat and fish, clothing, coffee, chocolate, dried beans, plants, and leather goods.
Very ill in a very amazing market.
When I felt a little better, we went to the Temple of the Sun, which is the most cringeworthy thing ever. This marvel of stonecraft was built by the Incas with the finest stone work, but of course - the Spanish knocked parts down and stuck a church on it. So frustrating. Much of the stonework is still intact, however.

Incredibly perfect stone walls

The Spanish just plopped their arches right on top of Inca temple walls. 


The smooth stone terraces are Inca; the rough stone is Spanish
After more shopping and an attempt at Peruvian pizza (interesting, but not my favorite, perhaps because I still felt sick!), we went to bed. We had an early wake-up call the next day to head back to Lima.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Peru: Huayna Picchu

Our original Peru trip included one day at Machu Picchu according to the travel agent's itinerary, but David and I extended that to include a second day. For one thing, I didn't think we could do the entire site in one day, and I was right: We thought we'd seen everything on day one, but on the second day we discovered so many more amazing corners and structures.
And for another thing, we wanted to climb Huayna Picchu. That's the mountain above Machu Picchu, like you can see here:

Two groups of climbers are let up each day in shifts of 200 people each, and it fills up, so you have to buy your tickets in advance. We secured tickets months ahead of time, and after enjoying a beautiful sunny morning in the ruins, lined up to climb.

I might as well tell you now that there aren't a lot of pictures from this climb. The mountain is a little over 1,000 feet higher than Machu Picchu, and the climb is steep. In true Peruvian fashion, there's just one path, both up and down, and you're kind of on the edge of a narrow path, ready to fall to your doom, at all times. It wasn't exactly the kind of environment in which I felt comfortable shifting a heavy backpack around and fishing for a camera. So very few pics until we reached the summit!
Ruins on the way up
The climb is not at all technical, because it follows a path the Incas created, including (super slippery, steep, and narrow) stone stairs. I think there are actually something like 1,800 steps on this mountain, but don't quote me. A guide told me that, and as I said before, half of them were contradicting the other half. You do need to be kind of hands-and-feet at some places, and you should definitely come prepared - some sort of suitable boot or shoe, no purse or things to carry, only a small pack, absolutely sunscreen and a hat for the summit. Anyone is allowed up, but we saw many not-so-fit tourists turn back early on. In front of us was a family including two small children, and they were cheerfully waved in (I worried about the kids briefly, but then I saw their Swiss passports and assumed they'd be just fine). You should probably not do this climb if you're afraid of heights. There are way too many unprotected paths and stairs, the top would terrify you, and the way down would take a year off your life.
Think these terraces are steep enough?!
Our climb started relatively easily - a mild grade, really. We immediately began passing a lot of winded people, overcome by the strenuous hiking and the altitude. I was feeling great! I had our backpack on with our camera and water, and the hiking was fine except for the constant stop-and-go. We were the second group to ascend, so some hikers were still climbing down at first, and we had to scoot way over to let them pass. Luckily this was mostly early on, while we weren't too high. At this point, if I fell, I'd break two arms and a leg, but probably survive. Later I'd be condor food if I fell.
Close to the top
So. Up we went. Several times I turned and David was ashen-faced and out of breath, but he made it up (he did not acclimate to the altitude as well as I did). When you get to the ruins and terraces, you start up a very narrow staircase (which, like all the stone, was quite slippery thanks to earlier rains) that you kind of have to clamber up on hands and knees. Then you reach the ruins, do some more climbing, and end up at a beautiful look out! The views are simply astonishing as you look down on Machu Picchu.

That's as close to the edge as I'm getting.

Looking down at Machu Picchu. The zig-zag to the left of the ruins is the bus road. 

But you aren't quite at the summit yet. To get to the summit, you squeeze through some gaps in the rock (a passageway, cave-like) and clamber all the way to the tip of the mountain - which is heaps of huge jagged rock. With lots of people and not a lot of room to maneuver.
Up at the top sits a stoic guard, who does nothing but presumably blow his whistle if someone falls off. He climbs up and down every day!
Me at the tippy top of the mountain - with clouds at eye-level
After scrambling over rocks, dangerously near the edge (I mean, it was all near the edge, it's just heaps of rock at the top of a mountain), we took a break on a wide ledge to have some water and a granola bar. David was seriously beat at this point and said if he didn't eat something, his legs would give way on the way down. So we took a nice long break, since I didn't want to watch my husband fall to his death.

Having a break on the way down. Behind us is the Swiss family! I started calling them the Swiss Family Robinson.
Oh yeah, I thought. I have to go back down. Descending was much easier physically, but man - don't look down! Slippery stones steps are bad enough without seeing buses the size of ants crawling far below, just a few inches error away. But we made it. It took us an hour and a half, break included. German speed!
"I climbed up to here."


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Peru Trip: Machu Picchu

I barely have words to describe Machu Picchu. When we entered the gates, we were suddenly looking down on an enormous stone city, terrace after terrace of white granite cutting into the sheer face of the mountain. It was breathtaking.
The beauty can almost be overwhelming. You are surrounded by the Andes mountains in all their glorious splendor, one of God's masterpieces, then right in the middle of it is a feat of human engineering - a city of stone, created entirely through manual labor, covering the side of a mountain. My awe increased as we toured - the agricultural and astronomical knowledge of the Incas was equal to their architectural skills.

We began with a guided tour of the main sites in Machu Picchu, and while our guide did a good job, I don't know how accurate it was. We overheard many other tour guides while we wandered the ruins, and not one of their stories matched! I guess it's hard to know who's correct when a culture doesn't leave a written language.




 Our tour was about two hours, then we were on our own. There are no bathrooms in the ruins, so we exited to make a bathroom stop before spending the entire rest of the day exploring. There is so much freedom at the site: you can climb all over the stone buildings and terraces, inch your way along narrow paths on the edge of sharp drops, explore the wooded areas nearby. Only a few areas are roped off for excavation or repair (Interestingly, excavation has only just begun on the site: before it was just maintained and kept clear for visitors, but no real archeological work has been done since it was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in the early 1900's).

This kind of thing would NEVER fly in the USA. For one thing, the ruins aren't protected at all. And for another thing, the visitors aren't protected at all, either! Machu Picchu is not the safest place in the world, and there isn't the slightest nod to safety at all. If you want to enjoy the trip and visit every nook and cranny, go when you're young and fit and don't have family. Kids couldn't make the whole thing (they'd get tired and you might not want to spend all day saving them from certain death off a cliff) and the older people we saw - oh, man. They were almost all struggling and miserable. And they couldn't see some of the best parts because the climb would be too difficult. You COULD do Machu Picchu in retirement, but unless you were in decent shape, you wouldn't be able to do everything.





We fit in almost the entire site on that first day, including the easy climb to the sun gate (incredible views) -
I got sick of my shoes and did half the day barefoot


and the petrifying walk to the Inca bridge. I would only stop for pictures where there was a slight ledge because the thousand-foot drop to the river (a silver ribbon below us) was just about a foot away along the path.
Not even going one inch closer to the edge
Looking down at the Urubamba from the path to the Inca Bridge. David took this. I would NEVER put my head that close to the edge. 
Obviously no chance of falling off this path to your death. The Inca Bridge is the gap you see in the stone path, right above the branches in the foreground. The idea was that there was this huge, tall gap in the stone with a wooden bridge laid over it - then when invaders came, the Inca could just remove the wooden bridge to prevent access to their path into Machu Picchu.

We didn't leave until the park was closing. We kept seeing new things! And when we left, we decided to descend the foot path, which sort of cuts across the bus route, to get back to Aguas Calientes. The walk down wasn't bad, but it decided for us whether or not to attempt to walk up the next day: no way. It would trash our legs. And even descending wasn't completely easy; it's a long journey because even after you reach the bottom of the mountain, you have to walk along the river back to Aguas Calientes, and the whole trip took over an hour. Meanwhile, I was still sick - but I was refusing to let stomach pain and some fever get in the way of the experience of a lifetime.
Exhausted, sweaty, and a little sick, on the footbridge over the Urubamba on the way back to Aguas Calientes
Back at Aguas Calientes, we had pizza cozied up to a wood-burning stove and planned the next day's activity: climbing Huayna Picchu!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Come-back race: Oktoberfest 5k

In the words of my favorite garbage can, outside Audubon park:
This graffiti showed up sometime after Katrina, and has been cracking me up ever since. What better way to proclaim your return to fame and prowess than graffiti on a city trash can?

Saturday night I ran a 5k!
The deal with this race was just too good to pass up: for $20, you got race entry, free entry into Oktoberfest, two beer tags for fancy Oktoberfest beer, and an awesome technical singlet.

I love me some sleeveless.

David and I signed up for the race awhile ago, and I was pretty sure I'd be fine. It's only three miles, after all. But I was still nervous when we arrived. I had no idea what pace to run, but I guessed that I could probably hold 7min miles, and planned to do just that.

Saturday was unseasonably warm, and we showed up to a race on the exposed levee, baking under the sun. Normally, this straight and flat out-and-back would be a great PR 5k (although you have to get up on the levee, so there are actually flatter 5k courses in the city!). This night, though, it was a little too hot. I warmed up for two slow miles in the grass on the batture, and my hip felt great. What didn't feel great was my stomach. My pain and cramping has continued since returning from Peru, and it has been especially annoying while running. Plus a 5pm race start meant I'd eaten lunch just a few hours before. I ended up making a quick bathroom stop instead of strides - I would have felt silly doing strides given my planned pace anyway!
About to cross Williams Blvd and run up onto the levee - photo credit NOTC
The race started into the sun and into a headwind, which was great, because that meant opposite conditions on the way back! Even though I wanted to pace evenly, I sprinted out of the start. Very quickly the race funnels onto a 2-abreast pathway up the side of the levee, and I didn't want to get trapped. Once I got on top of the levee, I slowed back down and kept my Garmin showing average pace. Mile one: 6:57. Nice. I felt okay, just hot and sweaty. I was kind of drenched just after warming up.
Half-way through mile two we turned around, and got out of the strong sun. Just in time, because I was starting to tire. At the turn-around, I noted that none of the usual "fast girls" were out, probably because there had been another 5k that morning. I was third, but fourth was close behind me. Mile two: 7:01.
At the start of mile three, the girl behind me passed me and I let her go; I was tired, my stomach hurt a lot, and for some reason I was fixated on my average pace. I continued at a consistent pace, but my stomach was cramping badly. Suddenly the finish line was ahead, I mildly (very mildly) picked it up, and finished in 21:31. Mile 3: 7:00.
My hip felt okay, my stomach demanded immediate attention, and my face felt burned. Sure enough, the levee sun was strong enough that my skin and scalp - just recovered from burning in Peru! - burned again, even though I had sunblock on.

I was okay with this race. I needed to know my baseline, and I guess my baseline is 6:58's for three miles. It's not as fast as I used to be, but then, I think I can improve on that. Maybe not back to my former paces, but I can get a little better. A 21:31 wasn't even good enough for my age group, even at a small NOTC race; it's disappointing to not do well, but it's thrilling to not be in pain!