June 4, 2013 by jiejie768
When Meg and I set out on this adventure, we each made a list of goals to accomplish during the time away from home. Among mine, was the desire to be able to run five miles in Ayacucho, which sits just below 10,000 feet above sea level.
Well, I didn’t quite reach that goal, but on Sunday, May 19, the morning after seeing our buddy Keegan off, Meg and I did run 6.2 miles at sea level — about three full miles further than I had ever run before at one time.
This feat was accomplished alongside several thousand fellow runners during the festivities surrounding the Lima42K (the major annual marathon held in Lima). Though we were put to shame by the marathoners and half-marathoners that day, little could take away from our sense of accomplishment when we crossed the finish line. I came in at a cool 1 hour, 1 minute and 7.4 seconds; Meg finished in 1:08:35.
For about three months, with some significant breaks for travel and sickness, Meg and I had been training in Ayacucho. Our regimen was based on the Couch-to-5K model that starts runners off with increments of 1 minute running, 90 seconds walking (over 20-25 minute workouts) and gradually increases them over 9 weeks until you are running for a full 30 minutes (or 5K, whichever comes first).
The math whizzes among our readers will note that such a regimen would leave us a full 5 kilometers short of the finish line at a 10K race. That’s very true, but it was our hope that if we could get to 5 kilometers in Ayacucho, the humid, heavy, sea-level air of Lima would energize us through the final 5K.
We never did reach the 5 kilometer milestone in Ayacucho, as our three-month training window featured five unplanned rest weeks while we traveled with Mikey, recovered from Salmonella poisoning, and then my mom came to visit. When our trip with my mom ended, we had about four weeks between us and the 10K Meg had signed us up for.
Bagging the specifics of the Couch-to-5K routine, we started running in 5-minute intervals, with 90-second walking breaks three to five times a week. Instead of increasing the length of our running intervals, we decided simply increase the number of running increments per workout (starting with a 25-minute workout, and ending our training at about 55 minutes, give or take).
As we were training, we wondered how much we were affected by the altitude. It seemed like we were often out of breath, but then again, I’m often out of breath when running at sea level. As race day approached, it seemed unlikely we’d be able to run the whole race, but we vowed to do our best. Personally, I set a goal of making through seven kilometers before stopping to walk.
The morning of the race was one of the few times we’ve reveled in the gray mist that covers Lima for about nine months each year. Near the Equator, direct sunlight can be brutal, but that wouldn’t be a problem on this day. We ate a small breakfast at our hotel and headed for the bus. We both felt good, and I thought there was a good chance we’d surprise ourselves.
For the first two kilometers or so, my recently sprained ankle was keeping me from running at my normal pace. It wasn’t killing me, but it was hurting just enough to make me limp and slow me down a touch. It was frustrating, but looking back, it was probably a blessing in disguise, as it kept me from pushing myself too hard too soon.
After the 2 kilometer mark, adrenaline took over and I was able to run with neither a limp nor pain. At the 3 kilometer mark, I noticed something else. I’d been running non-stop for 19 minutes, and I didn’t feel winded at all. It was at that point that I knew training at altitude was going to serve me well. Hobbled by the ankle early, I crossed the halfway point at a slow (for me) 32:10, but I felt great. I had run five kilometers (both in races and on my own) in well-under 30 minutes before, and I began to set my sights on crossing the finish line before the hour mark.
Kilometers 5-8 were easily my best of the whole race. My ankle felt great, my breathing was free and easy, and I averaged less than 5:30 per kilometer. If I could keep up that pace, I thought for sure I could get in under an hour. Unfortunately, right around that 8 kilometer marker, my lack of true training caught up to me. I still felt good, from a cardio standpoint, but I was laboring a bit, and my legs were really starting to feel heavy. Nonetheless, I knew I’d run for five miles without stopping, and I wasn’t about to pull up now.
The final kilometer was rough. I didn’t not have any strength left for a strong finishing kick, but I did know I was going to make it. The last 300 meters or so, however, felt like the longest stretch I’d ever run. The finish line was located at the end of a long (very, very long) straight-away and I could see it for what seemed like hours before I finally reached it. It was like running down a hallway that never ended.
Finally, though, I crossed the threshold, stopped my watch and reveled in the fact that I had done it. I was over the hour mark, but my second 5K took me just 28:57, meaning I ran the second half more than three minutes faster than the first.
I took a few seconds to catch my breath (surprisingly easy to do), and turned back to the finish line to wait for Meg. She came in not far behind me and reported she, too, had made it without stopping … well, without stopping voluntarily. At some point during the race, an over-zealous runner had ran her over from behind, knocking her to the ground and scraping up her knees pretty badly. She was immediately pulled to her feet by some fellow racers and gamely continued chugging along toward the finish line.
As we walked to collect our medals, we were astonished by how good we felt. Our legs were heavy (and very sore), but we felt like our lungs would allow us to run another five kilometers if need be. While we were training at altitude, it was tough to know if it would benefit, but on that day, we knew for a fact that it did.
So, I say to any aspiring runners reading at home, if you have a race coming up, I strongly suggest taking three or so months off from your life and heading to Ayacucho, Peru to train. There are plenty of good people to meet, and come race day, you’ll know it was the best decision you ever made.