January 5, 2014 by Enoch Nadler
Below you can find a day-to-day recap on my training trip to Ecuador along with a slideshow video of our trip. Thanks for following and enjoy!
Travel: Saturday, December 14th
After packing lots of running clothes and a few other various necessities, Angela and I were finally ready for our long awaited trip to Ecuador. With the excitement of the unknown awaiting us we boarded our plane in Dallas and made the long trip down to South America. After a layover in Miami, the perfect transition from an English speaking country to a Spanish one, we finally arrived in Quito, Ecuador. We spent the night in a hotel right near the airport and before awaking early for our short and final flight down to Cuenca.
Our First Day in Cuenca: Sunday, December 15th
We arrived in Cuenca early Sunday morning with the sun shining and feeling refreshed from a good nights sleep. Excited to finally be in our new home for the next two weeks we took a quick taxi ride to the house we rented and settled in right away. Immediately we were impressed with the city’s beauty and history. After a short solo, 7 mile run along the river Angela and I struck out to explore. We found numerous parks, old buildings, and churches. We enjoyed a great lunch and practiced our Spanish on taxi drivers, server’s, and shop keepers. Then we headed home to rest up for my first day running with the Ecuadorian runners.
First Run with the Guys: Monday, December 16th
Over the months leading up to our trip I had been in touch with Ecuador’s top runner and three-time Olympian, Byron Piedra. Byron had been very welcoming and said I was welcome to train with the guys during my trip. I was very excited to finally meet them but a little nervous since my spanish is very limited and they all spoke little english. Byron and his Coach Rafael picked me up at 7:30am and we headed to Parque El Paraiso to meet up with the other runners. Byron explained to me that he had injured his hamstring the week prior so he was unable to train with us for the harder workouts and longer runs. They introduced me to the guys and I spoke to them in English and they responded back in Spanish. Running is a universal language and we somehow understood each other. Immediately I could tell that they were all very welcoming like most runners I have met and I started to feel more comfortable. Most of the guys had just raced a 10k the day before in Cuenca so we ran a light 10 mile run which was great for me. Still recovering from the trip and adjusting to the altitude of over 8000ft, it still didn’t feel that easy since we were running at just over 6 min pace. After the run Byron, Coach, and I picked up Angela and they took us out for lunch to a typical Ecuadorian Restaurant. We had a tasty fish soup which we both really enjoyed. This was the first of many times that they would go out of their way to make us feel welcomed. After lunch Angela and I spent some time relaxing unpacking and doing some grocery shopping.
First Workout and Shock to the Lungs: Tuesday, December 17th
On Tuesday morning I woke up excited to experience my first workout with the guys. Byron picked me up at 7:30 and we headed back over to the beautiful Parque El Paraiso. Coach told me that the guys were doing 10x 1000 meters with 90 seconds jogging rest. Leading up to my trip I had done no workouts so I knew this speed would be tough but I told him I would try and do 7 or 8. After a nice easy warm up it was time to go and right from the start we were moving. We hit 3:05 for the first 1k and the course was more like a cross country race with slight hills, many turns, and varying terrain. The recovery seemed much shorter than 90 seconds since I was gasping for air but little oxygen was to be found. Leonardo led the first repeat and then Christian led the 2nd one, I noticed that they were taking turns leading as Adrian took the 3rd repeat. There was only 4 of us doing this workout so I knew that they might ask me to take the next one. I was sucking wind pretty bad but when they gestured for me to take the 4th one I knew I needed to step up. I managed to keep us right on pace for the repeat but it took its toll. I took off the 5th one before jumping back in to the 6th, 7th and I led the 8th before calling it a day. This would have been a tough workout at sea level but at this altitude with no time to adjust it was out of reach. Even though it does’t feel great its always motivating to get your butt kicked regardless of the circumstances. After they finished I had a nice cool down with the guys and they were all very encouraging and joked with me a little. It felt like my old college days again being apart of team, even though we could communicate very little you could still feel the unity and admiration for one another. After the workout I headed down to the stream for a nice recovery soak the in the cool mountain water. After a relaxing afternoon Byron again went out of his way to welcome us. He took Angela and I out to dinner to a sports bar and we got to know him better and learn about his family, his travels around the world, and what life is like in Cuenca. Immediately Angela and I were both very impressed with his dedication to running and how serious he took the sport and the love that he had for it. Its always great connecting with people that share your same passions and learning from one another.
A New Day the Same Result: Wednesday, December 18th
After a very deep sleep due to being tired from the hard workout, I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day. Leonardo picked Angela and I up at 7am so we could make the drive to the edge of town (Turi) and up into the mountains. We parked on a hill overlooking the city and did a quick warm-up. Coach told me that we were doing 3x10min hill repeats up the mountain. Immediately as we started up and up at a very brisk pace I could tell this was going to be a real challenge. My lungs were burning and my legs were feeling the affect’s of the thin air at over 9000ft. We finally made it to the top and I enjoyed the view as we made our way back down to start the next climb. On the second one, I was really feeling the burn and Coach told me to call it a day and not do the 3rd one. I didn’t argue since I knew this was the smart decision and I did a few short hill sprints while the guys finished up the last climb. For the second day in a row, I had failed to complete the workout but I wasn’t discouraged since I felt like pushed myself to the limit without over doing it. After the run, I shared some of my power bars with the guys and I got another good recovery soak in the river.
Easy Run and Hot Spring Fun: Thursday, December 19th
I woke up on Thursday feeling a bit sore from the down hill portion of the workout the day before. Lucky for me it was an easy day and we ran a comfortable 10 mile run at around 6:20 pace along the river. After the run, the guys took Angela and I out for breakfast at an Ecuadorian place that served chopped Plantains with eggs. It was very tasty and we enjoyed experiencing more of the culture. After breakfast Byron and Adrian took Angela and I up to one of the local hot springs. It was just what I needed to sooth my sore muscles and we spent over an hour relaxing in the warm mineral waters.
Another Tough Workout: Friday, December 20th
Feeling refreshed from the hot tub most of my soreness had subsided and I was pumped to get in another hard workout. Again we met at Parque El Paraiso and coach told me that we were doing 3x3k with 4 min jog recovery. After a relaxing warm up some easy drills it was time to get started. I felt solid on the first 3k and we averaged around 5:20 pace along the river. On the second one I started to feel pretty tired since the pace was picking up and it had been a long week of hard workouts. I decided that it would be smart to only do the first mile of the last 3k before calling it a day and cooling down. I felt good that I had completed most of the workout but I still hadn’t finished a full workout. At this point I made it my goal to finish a workout by the end of the trip.
Mountain Long Run: Saturday, December 21st
Byron picked me up early on Saturday around 7am and we made the quick 10-minute drive to the edge of town. We parked and started our long run up into the mountains on a winding dirt road. The crisp mountain air felt great as we made the 7-mile climb up at around 6:30 pace before turning around to come back down. On the way back the pace quickened and we averaged around 5:50 which felt pretty easy compared to climb the up. Byron and Coach drove along in the car and gave us water at two different points which was a nice surprise. By this point, I was really beginning to feel a bond with the guys and I could tell they were starting to accept me as one of them. It felt great to get to know each of them and learn a little about how they started running and who they were. Later that night Byron and Coach took Angela and I out for a few drinks and we met up with one of his friends Cristian. Cristian was a very serious steeple chase runner that had retired due to an injury. He spoke nearly perfect English and shared some cool stories about his travels. He invited us to come and see his country house on the following Thursday so we were excited to see another part of Ecuador. After a good time, we headed home and got to bed right away since Angela and I had a big hike planned for the following morning.
“Rest” Day Hike: Sunday, December 22nd
Angela and I got up early on Sunday morning to leave for our hike at Cajas National Park. We met a guy named Josh that Angela and found online who lived in Cuenca. Josh is originally from Chicago but has lived in Ecuador for the past year and half. He is an experienced outdoors man and an avid hiker. We met him at 7:30 and then took the 45 min bus ride up the mountain road to Cajas. The bus system is Ecuador is extremely expansive, you can take a bus pretty much anywhere for about $1 per hour of travel. In the city Angela and I primarily traveled on foot or by taxi so this was my first experience on the bus. At first I was little uncomfortable and half way wished that I had just paid the extra $15 to have a taxi driver take us up to the park. But that feeling quickly changed as soon as I settled in and started observing the people around me. It was amazing to see all the different generations interacting and traveling together. As with all my experiences with different walks of life in Ecuador peoples warm smiles and friendly faces quickly won me over and warmed my heart. We arrived at the top ready to start our hike and I was feeling great having taken on a new adventure on the ride up. We went from the cramped bus to the open expanses of the park starting our hike at 13,000ft. Our starting point was the continental divide of the Andes where the water starts its decent in opposite directions down to the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans. It was absolutely breathtaking and we felt like we were standing on top of the world. We started out on our hike and observed many new plants and beautiful flowers. We hiked for about 4 hours covering around 5 miles with many photo and water breaks along the way. We ended our hike at cool little restaurant that served trout caught out of the Cajas lakes. We each had a massive plate of food for about $3 and it was amazing! After our lunch we caught the bus back down to town and then spent the remainder of the evening with Josh and his girlfriend Lindsey. It was great hearing about all of their adventures around Ecuador and South America and how they were adapting to their new way of life. After a long fun filled day we finally decided to call it a night with an early Monday morning practice looming.
A Relaxed Run: Monday, December 23rd
My legs actually felt surprisingly rested waking up on Monday morning and I was excited about a nice relaxing run. The sun was out and we ran an easy 10 miles along the river. After lunch, Angela and I spent the remainder of the day visiting with the owners of the house we were renting. John and Barbie had moved down to Cuenca about three and half years ago from Palatka,Florida which is only about 45 min from where I grew up. It really is a small world. We really enjoyed hearing about all there adventures and soaking in the wealth of knowledge they had to offer. You really can learn a lot from your elders if you’re willing to take the time to listen. They both had led vastly different lives before meeting one another and making the move down to Ecuador. They invited us to spend Christmas day with them and their expat friends so we were excited to meet some other interesting and adventures people.
A Light Christmas Eve Fartlek: Tuesday, December 24th
Since it was Christmas Eve the guys didn’t meet for an official practice. Byron still picked me up at 7:30am and we met his friend Cristian who I had met on Saturday night for drinks. Since he speaks English we talked a lot on the run and I enjoyed learning more about him, his training, and Ecuador. He told me about many of the workouts he use to do and how he loved to suffer. This seems to be a common theme among great runners. You have to truly love to hurt and be willing to push yourself and endure the pain. We ended the run with a light 6x 1 minute light Fartlek of 1 min hard 1 min easy which was a much needed break from the high intensity workouts of the week prior. After lunch Angela and I took a two hour roof top bus tour of Cuenca which was an amazing way to see the city. We really enjoyed the relaxing ride and it was a great way to spend Christmas Eve.
Christmas Day: Wednesday, December 25th
Byron picked me around 9am on Christmas morning. In Ecuador, the tradition is to eat Christmas dinner at 12 midnight on Christmas Eve. Thus he and the other guys were up very late. Only Byron and Leonardo showed up so I ended up doing a great run with Leo. He took me around some of a more rural area on the north end of the city. It was a great way to start off Christmas and I soaked up the warm sun as we jogged along the rivers and roads for 11 miles. Afterward I showed them how to use my foam roller since they had never used one before. I ended up giving it to them since they really liked it. After our run I headed home to get ready to spend Christmas day with John, Barbie, and their friends. We headed over to their neighbors house around 2pm and proceeded to spend the next eight hours feasting on lots of food and drinks. We met many other expats that now call Cuenca their home. They were all older couples with great stories and we really enjoyed visiting with everyone.
Solo Long Run and a Trip to the Country: Thursday, December 26th
We did not have a practice the day after Christmas so I decided I would get in my long run solo. I knew Friday we would have a workout then I’d be traveling all weekend back home. I set out towards the mountains and found my way to where we had done our long run the week prior. I enjoyed the beautiful dirt mountain road as I winded up and up before turning around at 8 miles. I relaxed on the way back down to finish up my 16-mile run. I soaked in the cool mountain stream by our house after and felt refreshed and recovered. Later that day Byron picked Angela and I up around 2pm. We met up with Christian and headed out to his country home about an hour’s drive. It was in a small town down the valley called Paute. It was a cool little home with a big pool, hot tub, and sauna. On the way, we stopped by the side of the road and Crristian picked fresh eucalyptus for the sauna. We spent the next few hours rotating between the hot and cold. We headed home once it got dark and retired early to get ready for our final day in Cuenca.
Final Workout: Friday, December 27th
I woke up Friday morning feeling refreshed from the relaxing evening the night before. Angela and I headed over to Parque El Paraiso with Byron to meet the guys for my final run in Ecuador. We did a relaxing warm up followed by drills and some stretching. I soaked up the sun and the 70 degree weather knowing that I would be returning to Texas with several long winter months ahead of me. The workout for the day was 4x 3k with 4 min rest. The week prior I wasn’t even able to complete the 3x3k so I wasn’t sure how it was going to go but I was determined to give it my best shot. We lined up for the first repeat and right away my legs felt heavy. I settled into the back of our small pack and stayed relaxed. On the second one my legs started to come around and I began to feel more comfortable. On the third repeat I worked hard and stayed with the guys despite the pace quickening a bit. After the third repeat two of the three remaining guys said they were done and that left only Leonardo and myself. He looked at me and asked “Una más” I gave him a thumbs up and I could tell he was excited to have some company. We both worked hard taking the lead and pushing the pace over the final 3k and we finished side by side on the uphill finish. It felt great to finally complete a workout with the guys and I could tell they were happy for me. It was an amazing way to finish up my last run in Ecuador and made me hungry to keep training hard and pushing towards my goals. After the run Angela and I asked the guys if we could take them all out for a farewell lunch. They said yes and then Leonardo asked us if we would like to join him at his home first for breakfast. We accepted and felt honored as he drove us the mountain to his country home. He set us up an amazing breakfast of eggs, pastries, hot chocolate and fresh juice. Our understanding is that in the Ecuadorian culture you generally don’t invite people over unless they are like family. To be honest I felt like Leonardo was a long lost brother even though our communications were limited due to the language, we had developed a mutual respect for one another. The bond that runners share generally is an unspoken one and hard to explain. After enjoying the breakfast we headed home. Angela and I packed our things before meeting the guys for lunch. We took them to a “gringo” Italian place called Fabiano’s. All the guys showed up and we enjoyed several grande beers and some amazing food. After spending a few hours visiting it was finally time to say our good bye’s. I told the guys how much I appreciated everything they had done for us and that they are welcome to visit us anytime in Texas. They also said if we visit again we are welcome to stay in their home’s. Then just as we were parting ways they gave me an awesome gift! A panama hat! It was handmade in Cuenca and fit just right. I can’t wait to use it at the pool this summer! Angela and I then headed back to the house and spent a little time visiting and saying our goodbyes to John and Barbie before departing for the airport. On our taxi ride to the airport Angela and I both commented how different it felt now compared to just two short weeks ago. When we first arrived everything felt so foreign and now we truly felt like we belonged and had become a part of Cuenca. We look forward to visiting again soon and we can’t wait to see all of the friends we made!
Angela and I both feel privileged and honored to have embarked on this journey together. This was my first time going to a new continent and it opened my eyes to what the world has to offer as long as you are willing to put yourself out there and be adventurous. Also, we want to thank all the amazing people we met and for welcoming us and making us feel at home. Finally, to my fellow runners, I would recommend that whenever you travel to take the time and message the local runners through a club, facebook page, or local running store before your trip. Ask them to meet up for a run, workout, race, or dinner. No matter your ability or where your from I bet they will welcome you just as we were into their training groups, homes, and hearts.
Thank you for continuing to follow my journey and I can’t wait to see where it takes us next,