In August, 2007 I left Sydney for a long awaited, and much needed three month sojourn in South America. Now, for most people this may seem a long time, but I had a packed schedule that involved hiking, climbing, sea-faring and a little bit of salsa dancing. It was going to be difficult to fit it all in.
All runners (fast or slow) have a peculiar obsessive compulsive streak in them, which normal people find difficult to understand. After being out injured for 4 months during 06 and the beginning of 07, I had finally achieved a bare minimum of fitness again and here I was, off gallivanting around Latin America.
My main base for the first six weeks was Quito (capital of Ecuador). I asked around about running clubs but to no avail. So, I then headed to the nearest park with my trainers but was confronted with a new breed of runner. They were from the middle to upper class of Ecuadorian society and they wore full tracksuits, (zipped up tightly against the cold). They jogged so slow, that if they broke into a walk they would have been going faster!
Now, I am perfectly happy to admit that when it comes to running, I’m a slow-coach, but these ladies made me look like a champion! So, here I am, in my running shorts and singlet, looking rather out of place. I might as well have painted “GRINGO” on my forehead. After suffering the multitude of hisses (Ecuadorian equivalent of a wolf whistle – yes, I know, it surprised me too), I decided the best and safest option for maintaining my hard won fitness was to join a gym.
Now, considering that I was staying in a $7 a night hostel with temperamental hot water, I decided to pay up and I joined the Hilton Gym. They had quality treadmills and gym equipment, but best of all they had a Jacuzzi and swimming pool (with full bar service!). AND I must also mention the hot water showers!
It was heaven!
I caused quite a stir in the gym – I had people coming over to my treadmill pointing at the speed I was running. In fact, on one particular Sunday morning, I finished a plus 2hr long run on the treadmill and the whole gym clapped!
I soon discovered that there was a big race in Quito on the 1st September. Unfortunately I had planned to be in Cuenca (800 kms away) on that day. After consulting my savings account, I arranged a flight back to Quito for the morning of the 1st, the race started at 7pm and my hostel did some enquiries on my behalf and informed me that one could enter on the day. Great. Sorted. Well, not quite.
I flew back, went to place my registration but was told it had closed a week ago.
Now, as it turns out, people in Ecuador are not fond of delivering bad news. So they don’t. They will tell you what you want to hear! After a month in Ecuador, I had learnt a little of how to deal with situations that were not going my way.
No rule is ever absolute – so I smiled, I simpered, I sat patiently, I talked about how excited I was to run this race and how much I run in Australia. They said (in Spanish) that the race was full, but I pretended to not understand them. Eventually, my smile wore them down (or perhaps they just wanted me to leave their office) and they gave me the number of “Antonio Frederico” who had recently passed away and therefore would not be running in the 10 kilometre race. Excellent! Thanks Antonio!
Even more exciting was that Antonio was running in the 80-89 years age category – my first chance of a medal?? However, it would mean cross dressing.
The race was called “Ruta de las Iglesias (10km)”, the “route of the churches”. I really did need God on my side, but I don’t think he heard my prayers… The hills! It was horrible! Quito is at 2800m, so there is less oxygen in the air. This didn’t help me.
There were over 5000 runners competing in this hell ride and the streets were packed with spectators. The route zigzagged through the historic centre of the town passing famous churches that had been especially flood lit for the occasion. Of course, I don’t recall anything except the following:
- Screaming (was it me or the crowd?)
- Dodging of wayward fire crackers (yes, fired into the mass of runners – hilarious).
- Leaping massive pot holes (was it a steeplechase?)
- More pain
Maybe I should have done more than a 1 day taper from wine…
I finished the race in a time not worth mentioning, but I can honestly say I gave it everything. It was a fantastic event and I managed to make a few new Ecuadorian friends along the way.
Of course, I decided to go out late with my new friends to celebrate surviving the race and as my luck would have it, I was locked out of my hostel. At 1am in the morning, aching, dehydrated from the race (or the post race wine), with two dollars in my pocket, my crappy hostel dorm room started to look good but was out of my reach. Thank God for credit cards.