Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Training trials in Ecuador

My first run in Pesillo, a small farming village in the Northern Highlands of Ecuador, lasted just six minutes before the steady incline and high altitude had left me gasping for breath and my legs burning. It took several weeks of perseverance before I could just about complete a 5-mile loop of the valley without stopping. More on that here. When I moved on to a 4,500 dairy farm, I had high hopes my new lodgings would provide the perfect base for off-road running. Sadly, sludge so deep it slopped over the rim of my welly boots soon put pay to that idea. I was forced to take to the tarmac.

Vía Selva Alegre is a far cry from the cobbled tracks and family smallholdings of Pesillo. A wide, winding thoroughfare, it is lined with monstrous haciendas, each stretching several kilometres in length. The main traffic - a handful of vehicles every half hour - consists of enormous heavy goods trucks that to and fro between the farms, and local buses that follow a timetable consistent only in its unpredictability. The road slaloms through the hills at a steady but punishing gradient, wending its way gradually upwards for 3-4km before it eventually plateaus. Here, at the highest point, the haciendas are dispersed with a collection of very basic houses, each with a small backyard and a handful of animals. These lots are tiny in comparison to the farms here, but they undoubtedly enjoy some of the best views one could ask for.

On almost all of my runs along Vía Selva Alegre, I was accompanied by two of the farm's dogs - a fiercely loyal German Shepherd called Marca and her young protege, a black puppy called Valiente. An endearing pair, both would trot as close to my heels as physically possible. Sandwiched tightly between them, it's a miracle we didn't all trip and tumble when accelerating down the hill.

In fact, I soon learnt it was much safer running with my doggy escort than than venturing out without them - it turns out the canine residents of the local houses take their guarding duties very seriously. One Sunday, as I reached the highest point of my run, a black Pitbull charged into the road and sunk his fangs into my knee, leaving a nasty gash. Needless to say, I haven't gone back since. In fact, I now have the perfect excuse not to reach the top of the hill! Sadly, I'm also now terrified of any dog that happens to bark as I pass, and have even started to carry defensive ammunition with me (storing pebbles in my leggings and carrying a stick) if I know I'll have to pass a canine guard.

Running here in Ecuador certainly has its ups and downs, but I do have an incentive to keep at it. In October, I got a ballot place in the London Marathon. It's not ideal timing - I'll be travelling for the duration of the training period. Yet, having entered several years running and never yet been successful, it seems too good an opportunity to miss. With an uncertain few weeks ahead, I've no idea if I'll make it to the start line in April. But if I do, I just hope the trials and tribulations of my sporadic training in Ecuador will be enough to see me through the 26 miles to the finish!

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