Friday, August 29, 2014

A quick visit to Copacabana (Part 1)

While the Skyrace was fun, getting to it was a bit of an adventure in itself.

The necessity to get on a plane and travel to La Paz for the race begged the rather obvious question:  If you're going to do all of this travelling for a race, why not explore a new place a bit as well?  My initial thoughts were trending toward staying in and around La Paz, but just a week or so before the race it occurred to me to ask how far Copacabana was and how difficult it would be to get there.  Copacabana sits right on the shore of Lake Titicaca and is a very popular destination for tourists; it turned out to be a fantastically easy trip from Santa Cruz.

A couple of days before I left, I went out to the airport here in Santa Cruz and bought my plane ticket, having finally committed to doing the race in the first place.  I was on an 8am flight with BOA, and the round trip cost to La Paz was something less than $200.  I had reserved a room at a hotel in Copacabana, La Cupula, which by all rights looked quite nice both on their website and on Trip Advisor.  They were also pretty darn reasonable, I had a single room for $15 per night, and I didn't even notice that I was sharing a bath with another room... 

I get ahead of myself somewhat,... I flew out on time and arrived in La Paz (el Alto in actuality - about which I have nothing good to say) at about 9am on Thursday before the race.  Getting my bag and out of the airport would have taken no time at all, but I needed to eat something so I got a sandwich and sat at the airport for a while.

Soon enough I was fueled up and out to a waiting taxi where (as advised by the hotel) I asked to be taken to the main cemetery where the buses for Copacabana parade.  The driver said that there was another stand closer but otherwise equivalent in all respects and asked if I wanted to go there instead.  Yup...

After what seemed like 3 minutes, we arrived at the "station" where there was a waiting van ready to head out.  In reality, the station is just some place where vans just sit, waiting at the side of the road waiting until they have sufficient passengers to head out. That means a ride in one of these vans is a bit like getting a ride in a sardine can, but it's inexpensive - 30 Bs to get the 4 hours to Copacabana.

Copacabana is only 140 kilometers from La Paz, if 4 hours seems a bit extraordinary, it does to me too.  Traffic in El Alto is ridiculous, it was the better part of an hour just getting to open road 20 kms away, and then there is the small matter of crossing the Strait of Tiquina.  I got to ride in a boat!

Not the boat I rode in on...
I can imagine the crossing to be pretty hairy in heavy wind, but fortunately the weather was absolutely spectacular.  I am sure these boats wouldn't pass US Coast Guard inspection, but we made it across just fine.  The van had to cross on another ferry/barge thing, and that took a while - only 2 vehicles at a time can cross per barge and there are a limited number of barges...

Once across the strait I was within spitting distance of Peru.  Heck, if I were drawing the map, Copacabana would be in Peru, but I didn't so...

Until across the strait, I hadn't really noticed any ruins, but as I was looking out the van's window it became apparent just how extensive they were - entire hillsides terraced, for miles.  It is truly astonishing the scope of the labor, and impossible to appreciate without seeing it.

At any rate, the van finally arrived in Copacabana around one o'clock in the afternoon and I zen navigated my way over to the hotel, not knowing for sure where it was. Before I had to ask someone for directions, I found a sign and figured out where the office was.  I got checked in and asked at the desk for a bit of information about how to kill a couple of hours before I ate dinner.  It was suggested I visit the Horca del Inca and the 16 Stations of the Cross.  Okay, sounded good so, off I went.

Now, I think I perhaps should have worn my GPS for these little climbs; they were quite remarkable.  Precipitous, to say the least.

Could have focused a touch better on the plant in the foreground, but...

I first went to Horca del Inca.  More zen navigation: Walk straight out that street until you go past the market, turn right, you'll eventually find it on your left.  It worked out pretty much like that, I wasn't sure when I was past the market, but I turned right and eventually found the trail on the left...

Horca apparently means gallows and one can see if you click that link above why the Spanish may have named it that, but rather than a great pile of bones, it is a pre-Incan astronometrical station; every winter solstice at sun rise, a beam of light gets projected through a man made hole in a rock and shines on a horizontal slab of rock, indicating the beginning of the New Year.  Cool.

I didn't actually take a picture of it.  I was more interested in getting to the top of the pile of rock upon whose flank the Horca perched...The views of the Lake and Copacabana were spectacular.

Rock fins near the top of Horca del Inca hill.
Copacabana from Horca del Inca hill.
Once I had mucked about up top for a while I decided to go see what the 16 stations of the cross were all about.  In the picture above, they are on the hill at the far side of town.

I should note that there was some sort of festival going on when I arrived and this place may not always be as I describe, but after walking across town, past the hotel and to the foot of the stations, I was greeted by an informal marketplace.  People were selling toys, candles, firecrackers, alcohol, beer...figurines made from molten metal...I found it to be quite strange, foreign and rather unpleasant.  To my (rather New England/Puritan influenced) perspective it felt a bit like allowing the money changers back into the temple.  Couple that with the fact that I felt my temple (outdoors in a beautiful setting) was essentially vandalized by the plastic trash strewn around.  Not my deal at all...

Despite the rather scathing review, there were some
spectacular vistas to be had if you could get away from the people.

After climbing around on the hill for a while, I headed back down and to my hotel room for a little rest, and picture review before I ate dinner at 7.  The next day was going to be long, and rainy and cold, so I went to bed early and slept well.

Thanks for reading, I'll write up the hike and return to La Paz in my next post.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Skyrace Bolivia 2014


One of the great frustrations I've had about living here in Bolivia has been the lack of advanced notice one receives pertaining to races.  It's out there, but you have to know where to look, and Google isn't much help; it's best to know somebody who knows stuff.

Fortunately during the run up to the Superbowl a motivated chap from New Zealand got a group of expats together to watch a playoff game and I met another runner (who knows stuff) who pointed me in the direction of something called the Bolivia Adventure Series.  This past Sunday was the third race (of 5) in the series, the SkyRace.

As near as I can tell, this was the third running of this event, the first having gone off in 2012.  What makes the event unique is that it climbs up the World's Most Dangerous Road.

Photo taken from the window of the bus as we headed back to La Paz.
Now I should note that the moniker "Worlds Most Dangerous" seems rather hyperbolic.  It certainly wasn't dangerous for those of us who were traveling on 2 feet, and I'd be perfectly comfortable bombing down it on a fully suspended well maintained mountain bike, but you'd have to drag me kicking and screaming into a large bus or material transport vehicle...

Race Morning

My alarm went off promptly at 3:15 am.  A rather beastly time for an alarm, but given how I was waking every hour on the hour, not too bad.  I had a hotel room (very nice, which will get a follow up post) in La Paz about a mile away from where a bus would be waiting for us at 4 am to drive us the 3 hours to the race start.  The concierge was kind enough to be waiting for me and had already called me a cab when I came down the stairs at 3:45.  

Once on the bus, I got settled into a seat next to a French chef and owner (I think) of a restaurant in La Paz called Chez Moustache.  We talked a bit in Spanish at first, but switched to English when it became apparent I was still learning...How do you think you'll run, what do you do, etc., then quiet.  

To me it became apparent we were traveling through some rather dramatic country, but because it was so dark, I found it better just to close my eyes and meditate.  

The view from La Senda Verde's footbridge.
Eventually we arrived at La Senda Verde, which provided the race headquarters near the start.  I had to sign a liability release and pick up my race kit, then get changed and stash my clothes on the bus.  I also needed to eat something, as the 3 am wake up call does all kinds of weird stuff to my desire to consume solids, but eventually all ducks were aligned and we walked off to the start.

The long slog

Once at the start, many people were running around warming up.  I don't mean to be too critical, but I don't really get the point of warming up for a race that's going to last multiple hours.  I can understand a "system check", but to crack a sweat even before the race starts just seems silly to me.  Take the first half hour or 15 minutes of the race as your warm up and call it good.  
The race start - Herbalife is everywhere in Bolivia it seems...
Turn number 1.  Right out of the gate.
Something seemed to be up with the chip timing (as in: we were supposed to have it, but nope) of the race as we were delayed until the clock struck 8:45.  During this time I was able to talk to a couple of other racers including the guy that eventually finished 2nd overall...nice guy from Denmark, who lives in Santa Cruz.  Beat me by an hour and 45 minutes.  I expect that the race between him and the winner was solid too, as they were separated by less than 2 minutes at the finish.

At some point along the bus ride I had decided that I was going to shoot for a sub 4 hour time, even though I thought 5 more realistic because I've been fantastically inconsistent with my training this year.  Visits from the homeland, rain, and other things have conspired to keep me from developing any kind of routine with regard to my training.  Had I participated in this race last year, my goal time would have been closer to 3:15, but this year fun was the only objective.  And that was achieved.
Someone by the name of Patricio Crooker got this picture of me having a good time. Thanks for the hat mom.

Anyway, the "gun" went off at precisely 8:45 and I was quickly at the back of the pack, not wanting to go out too fast.  I was "running" consistent 11-12 minute miles and taking a gel every 25 minutes.  

The race was pretty well supported, with aid at 6km, 12km, and then every 3 km thereafter.  However these aid stations only provided water or Gatorade, no food.  I'm positive I picked up a bunch of places in the second half of the race because I was fueling and others were suffering severe bonk issues.  In future editions of this race, the organizers really should provide food.  It's a necessity for any race that can be reasonably expected to go over 1.5 hours.
Coming out of an aid station about 1/2 way into the race.
Death Road? This doesn't look so bad...
I kept up my early pace until about mile 9, with only a bit of hiking sprinkled in.  However, something switched at that point and I barely ran 1 more step after that .  Even so, I was hiking fast enough that I passed many people who were "running".  Around mile 12, my lack of fitness really started to show up and I started cramping, but I was able to manage it by taking an extra gel and fluid.  I could still hike quite quickly however and only got passed by 1 person (who I had been going back and forth with for several miles) in the last 5 miles.  Had I been able to stay with her, I would have caught up to my friend from the bus who finished just 3 minutes in front of me.
Race profile - relentless.
Near the finish, a few competitors who are just a bit too far away.
Coming into the finish.

After the race

The finish line was quite crowded.  Several mountain bike tour operators were staging for their adrenaline rush, and lots of racers were milling around.  I recovered my bag, and found some food (post race bar-b-que with beer was missing - presumably it went to some ultramarathon in the US).

I felt really quite good at the finish.  The surrounding vistas were quite spectacular:
I must get back to La Paz and explore the mountains.
I had several good chats with other competitors as we waited for the awards ceremony to play out.  One of the conversations resulted in my (immediately upon returning to my hotel room) signing up for a marathon in Uyuni in October.

After the awards, it was on to the buses and back to La Paz.  As I had suspected in the morning, the countryside was dramatic.  Quite possibly the most beautiful scenery I've ever driven through, but I've got to go for a run so I'll leave it there.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, April 14, 2014

Week in review. April 6-13.

Hmmm...Well it looks like this past week was even more ordinary than the last one I wrote about.

Last week I had 6 workouts planned for 7 hours and 15 minutes.  I completed 5 for just over 5 hours and missed my long run thanks to rain. Obviously, the weather contributed to the less than spectacular training numbers, but that's not much of an excuse.

I got an invite to go running with a friend here in Santa Cruz on Saturday, but when Saturday arrived so did a nasty mix of cool rain and drizzle.  It went on throughout the morning and into the afternoon and we decided that there would be better days (like maybe today) to get out and explore some trail and bagged the run.

Otherwise, all of my workouts were on the order of an hour, easy; with one really good stride session and a faster run on Sunday (weather aided/inspired).

To better describe the stride workout, I run for 20 seconds at about 400 meter race pace, then take 2 minutes of easy jogging to recover, and I repeat the cycle 8 times.  My goal during the 20 second work interval is to have at least 30 left foot strikes - and the goal of the weekly workouts is to turn me from a plodding runner to a prancing one (though it's hard to imagine a 6'1", 200lb Prancer).

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see if I start getting better turnover rates on my daily runs.  I do enjoy the interval sessions, they really help break up the monotony of KM 14, 7 mile loop.

That's about it, given the spectacular weather, I'm going to take today's unspecified "rest day" and get out for 90 minutes or so...

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 7, 2014

An actual race calendar.

For the first time since moving to Bolivia, I have a calendar of races for which to train.  They're all in Bolivia, but just this morning I discovered the possibility of a 100K in Argentina.  That'd be a backup if the Ultra Trail Tiwanaku turns out to be a mixed Bike/Run event.

For now, I've had 2 very solid weeks of training, nothing terribly long or hard, but no missed workouts. Yesterday featured the Bella Vista road for an hour and fifteen minutes, and this past Friday I found myself way out...somewhere near the end of the road behind my house, somewhere I've never been before.
Cattle Ranch
Near the end of the road
The thing about Friday's run (and something which hasn't been a problem this summer because of the ridiculous rains) was the strength of the sun.  Holy cow did I get dehydrated.  I described it to Nataly's cousin:  pee the color of a rotten orange.

Anyway, my other runs were essentially nondescript: the usual roads, easy miles, one "stride" workout and 1 short run in Vibrams, in total seven hours and fifteen minutes of time dedicated to exercise last week after five very easy hours the week before.

On to the race calendar.  Last September I ran my first race in Bolivia, a 10k which I essentially did as a hard training run (I had all of 2 weeks notice, and really hadn't done any specific prep).  I did nab a PR, but the real benefit was meeting another expat runner who was connected to the race scene.  Via Facebook, she alerted me to a calendar of races in Santa Cruz for 2014.  All 10k or less, but at least it was something.

Then about 4 weeks ago, out leaked info in regard to an actual marathon in Santa Cruz.  Unfortunately, the race organizers decided to provide 2 weeks lead for competitors to get ready, and I didn't participate:  why run a road marathon, out of shape?  I could have finished, but... I gripped on the FB and one of my friends a couple of days later provided me with a link to the "Bolivia Adventure Series".
Oh Happy Day!  

A series of 5 races potentially concluding with an 80k Ultra outside of La Paz in November.  Since then I've been tweeking a training schedule and calendar and I've got it pretty dialed.

Here they are.  A, B, and C indicate whether I am using them as training races, or if there's any focus/special prep for the race.
  • Circuit of the Stations, 8k: C priority, will be using this as a LTHR test.  May 18.
  • Laguna Volcan 18k: C priority, part of the Bolivia Adventure Series.  June 8.
  • Sky Race 28k: C priority, part of the Bolivia Adventure Series.  This race climbs the "Bolivia Death Road".  August 10.
  • Ninos de la Calle 10k.  This is the race I PR'd in last year, and I'll come back to it this year, C-B priority.  If I'm feeling strong, I'll probably ease off the volume for the week and give it a good crack.  September 7.
  • Conociendo a la PACHA MAMA 100k:  This is where things get a bit fuzzy.  This race is the race in Argentina.  If I do this race, it's because the Ultra Trail Tiwanaku is a part bike/part run event and I couldn't convince the race organizers to let me run the whole thing solo.  It would be the end of my racing season. A priority (or not at all).  October 13.
  • Salar 42k.  Part of the Bolivia Adventure Series. B priority (or not at all) October 19.
  • Ultra Trail Tiwanaku 80k.  80 kilometers running around La Paz? Yes please.  November 23.  A priority.  
  • Cotoca 21k December, date unknown.  A or C priority depending on UTT.
There you have it.  I've got training weeks scheduled out to the end of November, the longest individual week will have me at eleven and a half hours.  That should equate to a distance somewhere in the neighborhood of 135 kilometers, which should get me to the finish line of the Pacha Mama.  Last year's winning time was 13 hours there, so it's not an easy race, but the field wasn't exactly from Boulder either.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and check back for weekly training updates as my season progresses (so cool to be able to say that)...

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Holy Crap! A Race (report in 3 parts)...Pt. 1: Discovery.

Wow, so it's been a long time since I put keyboard to screen in this manner, hopefully I'm not too rusty.

First, a bit of an apology for dropping off there.  A number of things happened that made writing more than a little difficult (and perhaps too personal) so I took a break.  I don't know how much or how consistently I'll post here in the future, but having just run in my first race since 2011, I figure I probably ought to put something down.

As anyone who's read more than one entry on this blog is likely aware I like to style myself an ultrarunner.  Of course, I've run all of 2 ultramarathons, so it's probably more appropriate to call me an aspiring ultrarunner.

This year I've been hoping I'd be able to get to Colorado this coming weekend to run in Ouray and follow that up with 50 miles in Steamboat next weekend.  I've logged miles directed at Running Rabbit Running in what I thought would be good for a finish time somewhat under the 10 hour mark.

As the race dates have gotten closer though, I've realized that the airfare wasn't going to materialize and I decided to pay attention to an injury (achilles tendon) that I'd been ignoring.  So on August 16, I took the first of 10 days off.

Around that same time I gripped about my achilles on Twitter.  @RunnerMatt (fast guy from Boulder), responded that he'd had great success treating his ailing achilles using a roller.  I gave that a google and found myself a bit confused as to why I'd never encountered the treatment in my previous searches for relief.

I went to the grocery store and bought a rolling pin and went to work on my calfs.

Let's just call them tight and leave it at that (ouch)...

After a week off which involved nightly rolling pin work, I felt good enough to try out a short run.  I made it all of 100 meters from my gate before stopping, turning around, walking home and going to work with the rolling pin.  That was Friday about 2 weeks ago.

The following Sunday, Deneb, Nataly and I were at the IC Norte (a grocery store with a little mall attached) for lunch and some supplies for the house.  Recently a New Balance store opened upstairs in the "mall". Now...I prefer Brooks shoes, but NB are a decent second place and I've written at length about the MT10 on this very blog.  Love that shoe.  Anyway, since they opened I've harassed the store owner to:

  1. Order shoes in size 13+, and
  2. Stock some of the Minimus line.
This time when we went in there, there was a table set up on the side:
Sign up for 5k & 10k race on Sunday, Sep. 1.  
The woman who was collecting the entry fees and registering participants was on lunch and I wasn't sure how my heel would feel so I didn't leave my name on the desk, but did say I'd be back later on in the week (pending a successful test of the achilles)...

Thanks for reading, up next: 1 week of specific training.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Tale of Two Eights.

Saturday late we went to Cuevas.  Last week I was hoping for 60 and found myself on track, hitting the mile 42 point at the end of my second run Saturday.  All I needed was 18 more Sunday...

When I woke up, I found myself less than inspired to run.  I mustered a couple of times, but something (which I will relate soon) made me feel a bit weird about taking off for a three hour run in Cuevas.

Lunch rolled around and we all ate, and finally I told Nataly, "I'm going to feel bad whether I go for a run or I don't." To which she replied, "Go run."

Deneb was asleep, I had a bit more than an hour...

I went out 4 miles and back the same for 8.  I saw some folks on the road, 3 French guys who were walking to the "Bella Vista" and one of the dudes who helped harvest potatoes in Cuevas last December.  I spoke briefly with all of them, and informed the French guys that their "Bella Vista" was 5 kilometers out (it was actually more like 6, but...).  This was at 3 something in the afternoon and to get to the "Bella Vista" and back to the campground at Cuevas was 10+ miles.  They did have packs and presumably tents so the rain that came in force soon after I left them probably wasn't too big a deal.

Anyway.  I only had time for 6 miles on Sunday, but ran 8.  I ran them pretty hard, and have paid for it.  Brutal delayed onset muscle soreness took me out of action yesterday, which had me considering a second day off today.  Seems it was a good thing I didn't actually try for the 18 I'd planned.  Fortunately, as today wore on I felt more and more like going for a run even though I am still quite sore.

Deneb has started daycare.  His first day was yesterday.  Loved it.  Loved it again today.  He's not sure how to interact with the other kids, but just having them around, playing, seems to get him jazzed.  It's messed with his schedule.  He's been sleeping almost until 8:30 in the morning and now we're asking him to get up at 6:45.  It's a brutal transition for me.

Whatever, I prefer earlier wake ups...

So back to today's run.  It was weird.  Laps of the back yard.  Done them before, but today I kept feeling like I should just keep going.  Ended up running for an hour and 10 minutes, just over 8 miles by my GPS.

There's a neighbor kid.  If he sees me, he asks if he can come over.  It's gotten quite annoying.  Not quite Glenn Close, Michael Douglas annoying, but well downright annoying.

Today I realized I could use that to my advantage, and before I started my run I unlocked the gate, set out some stuff for playing in the sand  pit and then set out trotting in circles.

On my second lap, The Question Was Presented.  I said, "La Reja esta abierta."

A couple more laps and I opened the gate for Franco.  Who quickly went off to play with the dogs and Deneb.  What seemed like some kind of sad, "Where's my Dad?" constant prodding has evolved itself  an ideal situation.  My son is playing happily with an older friend, and I can keep an eye on them.  I look forward to having him over some more.  Maybe he'll run a few laps with me (he did today)...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Where's Waldo?

At one point in time this blog was about me and my travels with Homey.  Much running to keep my rather rambunctious and (at times) quite destructive Golden Retriever too tired to do anything foolish.  Running with him was something of a stop and start affair until around mile 3 or so and then he'd settle into a rhythm and could go for hours.  

I have stopped running with him in Bolivia, in part because I don't trust the dog-life around here, and in part because he's starting to lose a gear.  He'll join me when I run laps of the back yard, but tags in and out almost like he and Ella are running a relay.  

Anyway, in my previous life, I worked in the Geology Department at the University of Colorado.  My task was to create a series of videos which showed the geologic history of the state. Occasionally, this allowed me to take off with my camera and collect “media” for incorporation into my work. One day, I took advantage of that opportunity to head out and drive around the Eastern Plains, visit Garden of the Gods, look at some exposures of quite old (for Colorado) sedimentary rocks on Hwy 24 West of Manitou Springs, and finally end up at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.  

An example of the videos I was working on is below.  I wrote, directed, animated (all but 2 scenes - the good stuff is Nataly's younger brother's work), provided many photographs and the voice talent, edited and uploaded this video.   One of the photographs I took on this day's drive ended up in this video - the photo labeled "near Manitou Springs, Colorado" which was, in actuality, the now infamous Waldo Canyon.
After the the Fossil Beds, I headed back toward CO Springs when...on the lefthand side...a trailhead whizzed by - Waldo Canyon Trailhead.  I still had a fair bit of time left in the day, and I was wearing my running shoes so, I found a turn around and made my way back to there.

As usual, Jackson was absolutely stoked at the prospect of getting out of the car.  Especially on twisty roads, he gets carsick.  Weird malady for a dog, but his previous owners warned us about it.  "He doesn't do well in cars," I believe was their exact phrase.  I assumed that the thrill of exploring a new area outweighed the pain of twisty roads.  

We'd already been out and about at Garden of the Gods and outside of Manitou, but this was too good to pass up.  We parked, I grabbed my little Nikon Coolpix, 40 oz. Clean Canteen and headed up the trail.  Jackson dressed as a dog, and me in jeans.  Whatever - one of the joys of running is just how little you need to be able to enjoy an outing such as this one.

The "Waldo Canyon Loop" was really a lariat in the neighborhood of 7 miles long.  It started with a decent singletrack climb over decomposed Pikes Peak Granite.  One of my favorite running formats and surfaces.  We stopped for many pictures and I didn't have my GPS, but I do remember turning left at the beginning of the Loop portion of the trail.  

I remember running through a very pleasant copse of Douglas Fir or Ponderosa Pine where the earth was recognizable dirt and the trail just begged one to open up the throttle and run.  

And I also remember the shock I felt when I ran past a signpost planted next to the rocks.  It turned out to be one of many, each with something else interesting about the geology in the canyon.  

One pointed out the Great Non-conformity.  The sign showed where sandstone rested on top of granite, and pointed out that the surface which separated the 2 rock types represented a gap in time of something like 500 million years.  Another identified the Peerless Dolomite.  I think I remember that one because the name of the formation is simply unmatched. There were others, but I don't remember them well...

At different junctures along the trail, Pikes Peak was visible to the South and Colorado Springs to the East.  A really cool area I hoped to visit again with my DSLR.

Unfortunately, my memories are fuzzy - Homey and I ran together here in late January, 2008 - and "Waldo Canyon" is now synonymous with the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. I expect that even though the rocks are now going to have even better exposure, it will be a rather inhospitable place for quite some time.  I wonder how long it will be before the organization that stewards the land back in there re-opens it.   

Thanks for reading, and give a nod to your local emergency services personnel, would love to see some of them around here...

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