half training weeks seven & eight: 3,400 meters above sea level

Peru is a picturesque country so rich in culture and natural beauty that I only began to discover over the past two weeks with two of my best friends and so many new friends we met along the way. From the mountains to the jungle, there are so many different microclimates and elevations we experienced (not only through hiking but also eating - we came full circle with that one at Central spending about three hours eating beautifully prepared plates from various elevations in Peru). We spent a lot of our time going back and forth from Cusco, its elevation is about 3,400 m. Home is at sea level, so the altitude was really something to be reckoned with. All of the people I've talked to and travel forums I've read had mentioned that the altitude is a hard adjustment. Fortunately, I did not experience many symptoms of altitude sickness (thanks, Diamox)...until the first night camping in the mountains where it hurt to breathe when I lay down. No bueno. It was freezing but on the bright side, the stars were as bright as ever, we could see the Milky Way. Despite our fingers turning purple from the cold of the Andes, it was unlike anything I have ever seen before, most definitely a highlight.
Initially I was worried that I would fall behind my training schedule even more due to my travels, but I was pleasantly surprised at how strenuous the Salkantay trek was (three cheers for cross training). For five days, we hiked and camped and experienced all that nature has to offer (from the Andes to the Cloud Forest to Machu Picchu), 74 km in total, reaching a maximum altitude of 4,600 m at the Salkantay Pass. The trek itself was a journey and I was so impressed by all of the sights along the way, especially our stop at a coffee plantation. From bean to cup, we experienced how a cup of coffee is made. Best coffee of my life. I'll be dreaming of it, that's for sure. My phone's activity tracker further tells me that we climbed the equivalent of 766 flights of stairs over the course of the trek. It was uphill, downhill, and (thankfully) also a bit flat near the end. Downhill was the worst, I constantly felt like I was going to slip, especially when it was rainy. Our guide kept on saying, "vamos a la playa" (let's go to the beach) to motivate us and we were mildly confused because it wasn't just him who said it (though one of the stops on our trek was called La Playa). We kept on hearing it from various Peruvian individuals. Turns out it's a song - a pretty catchy one, at that. Real exhausted by the end of the fourth day, never before have I been happier to have access to a bed and hot shower. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Here's the song:
After spending some time in Lima (I can't stay away from the Pacific) and Manu National Park (the Amazon basin), we were back in Cusco. It took a bit of motivation but I was able to drag myself out of warmth of my hostel bed and hit the ground running. I knew the altitude would make things harder, especially from dragging my 19 kg suitcase up and down a few flights of stairs to get to our hostel, so I knew to take it easy. Ran an easy 3k (walking breaks included sometimes because I was tired and sometimes because the streets were so narrow and cars driving by), and wow the sun really hits you when you're near the equator. It was chilly in the morning but as soon as the sun came out, it was scorching. Did my best to run flat/downhill but of course with running downhill, I had to run back up. It was rough, but possible. I'm really glad I did it! Even though we have been hiking and walking lots, nothing can replace the feeling of running. Below is a chart showing my pace and altitude.
This was a fantastic trip and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to experience the little slice of Peru that I did. I will most definitely be reflecting on my experiences and memories going forward. When I left, I felt as though I didn't have enough time to see all that Peru has to offer, but can one ever be finished exploring? The answer is no, but I'm ok with that because it gives me all the more to look forward to. So that's it, now I'm back to reality and trying to figure out how to ease myself back into my training schedule that I have not followed for the past month. Constantly missing the mountain air and the ocean breeze, but alas, everything in moderation.

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