Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Speed Demon!

Remember when I said I was old because I drive slowly now? Well I had another old moment last night at the track because I realized it had been over 10 years since I ran track! Where did the time and my skinny little frame go?

Wait, wait, a track?! Yes my friends, I have completed my very first Track Tuesday speed workout! Yesterday I was considering doing a BRICK with our local triathlon club in an effort to be more social and start getting my feet wet over this whole 70.3 thing I'm on right now. Don't worry, we'll get to that in a second. They were going at 5 and I ended up not being able to make it which was disappointing. Luckily I saw on Facebook that one of our local running stores was holding speed workouts at a high school track at 7 pm which worked a lot better plus made it a little cooler out. Turns out the track is only a mile from the new house! How perfect, right? So I jogged the mile to the track and nervous as all get out made my way over to the group. The schedule for the day was 4x600 followed by 4x300 with about a minute's rest in between. Sounded...possible. The workout was put on by Swag's Sports Shoes and there was a mix of adults and kids ready to work. Some of those kids were fast! I attributed that to their young age although afterwards a woman said she thought I was one of those high school kids. Um, thanks?

We did the first 600 together and Swag himself reminded us not to go out too fast or we'd die. Rarely an issue for me since I'm kind of a slow poke but off I went and decided to push hard and not get dropped but of course not die. I have no base for what my times would have or should have been but I was happy with my 3:xx times that were pretty consistent for all 4 sets. After the first set we broke into two groups (fast and slow...aka Group 1 and Group 2) and even though no one said which group I should have been in I somehow knew. I lined up with normal looking people, a few tween girls and a much older gentleman and before I knew it we were running. I'm excited to say that I wasn't last! I was definitely the back of the middle pack but not last and I'm really excited about that, especially for my first time doing an organized speed workout. The 600s were rough and the whole time I was just waiting to get to the 300s. Turns out those still suck. In fact I think I ran them even harder because I made the mistake of thinking they were shorter so I could go harder. I was just over a minute on each and again, very happy with that. My Garmin was showing mile times 8 minutes and under which I don't think it ever has before! Afterwards a nice woman told me how well I did especially for my first time and said she hoped to see me again next week. I walked back home feeling really good and hopefully this can become a regular thing!

Now, what was that about a 70.3? Yeah...I have a half Ironman in my sights. More to come on that.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ironman Louisville 2013

Well my friends, I am suffering from a serious Ironman hangover! A wise person once said the Ironman is like Christmas but the days after are like a New Year's hangover and truer words have never been spoken. Although I didn't race (um, duh) I still managed to keep busy all weekend.

Saturday morning Autumn and I got up for a 14 mile run at 6:30 and it was largely uneventful until the end. We tried a new hydration product we got at the Ironman Expo called zipfizz. Jury is still out on it but I may do a little product review after this week's training. The last 3 miles started to get tough and something about passing up that 13.1 mark hurts a lot. But it wasn't until the last half mile that I wanted to lay down and cry. Oddly enough, I never ended up terribly sore from that run and actually felt recovered pretty quickly afterwards. Funny how proper (ish) training works.

Anyway, after the run I took The Colonel to pick up the moving truck so he and his friend could at least move the furniture from the apartment into the new house. All I really needed for them to do was move at least half of the sectional and maybe a mattress so I'd have a place to crash! We picked up the truck then I headed downtown to volunteer at bike and gear check in. It was 11 am and already warm but not too humid and I'm sure I looked like a total poser in my compression sleeves from the run but I was beyond excited. Ironman Louisville volunteers have quite the reputation so we were all there with bells on and met each individual athlete to take them through transition to set up and drop off their things. I met a lot of really interesting people and they were all in good spirits. Even the one extremely nervous guy who had me walk with him through transition twice and repeated the process out loud 5 times with me. I guess it worked because when we parted ways he finally said, "I think I'm excited!" The diversity of the athletes was unbelievable including a guy from Ukraine who hardly spoke English but was still very polite and thanked me for my help. It was a fast 4 hours out there and it wasn't until much later that night that I realized I hadn't peed all day. Never a good thing. When we finished our shift I went back to the apartment to eat lunch with the boys and help move a couple of things. I never really got hungry on Saturday which is another pretty bad sign so I ate half a sandwich and then got to work. I moved a few boxes and fragile pieces into the house then decided it was time for a nap around 5 or 6. I couldn't get comfortable and couldn't really sleep so after about 40 minutes I called it and got back up to move some more. We took the truck back around 7 and had gotten everything big over to the house. Huge thanks to the guys for taking care of everything! I tried to turn the house into something liveable before eventually getting to bed around 10:30. Tried to eat a little dinner but didn't want much and once again had trouble sleeping, waking up every hour at least.

My alarm went off around 5:45 on Sunday morning so we could get down to work in transition by 7. I nibbled some oatmeal then left to pick up Autumn. We got downtown with plenty of time to spare and ended up being assigned to the area just outside the changing tents to direct the men and women appropriately. In my opinion, one of the best jobs out there! It was a beautiful morning and it was so fun to watch the swimmers!

The pros made it out of the water in less than an hour and surprisingly (to me at least) so did a number of age groupers. Directing traffic into the tents wasn't too bad at first since they trickled in for a while and the pros are so quickly in and out it's like it never even happened. An hour after the start though things started to get really hectic! They started pouring in and they really felt like the 3300 athletes that had signed up! The men's tent started to get really crowded and hot (or so they said) so they decided to just change in the grassy area outside of the entrance. This made our job a lot harder as I played bouncer outside of the women's tent entrance so no one could sneak a peek of course and had to literally start waving my hands and jumping up and down so the women could spot me in the crowd and know where to go. I learned eye contact was key and once I locked eyes with one they would come towards me naturally and the other women around followed. For the first time in my life I wished I was taller so they could see me easier among the trees. A lot of men made the "I wanna go in the other tent!" joke but only one woman even pretended to be interested in switching sides. Can you blame her? Men are stinky! Among my many talents, I also learned I'm really good at dressing wet people in compression gear. I pulled down a lot of rolled up shirts and sleeves and managed most of them without losing a single gel or tablet out of the pockets. There's a lot to be said about learning on the fly! The chaos seemed to last for a long time but before we knew it the 3 hour shift was almost over. It was heartbreaking to watch the last swimmers fight their way in. Not everyone made the cut off but those last few finishers were in great spirits and got some major TLC from the volunteers since we were less swamped. When it was all said and done we'd gotten through our 3000+ athletes and reorganized their gear bags before taking a breather.

I scheduled us for 2 shifts but left a few hours between them so we wouldn't get too busy. Autumn and I went to Subway where I once again couldn't finish a sandwich and then relaxed for a bit near the bike in area. I was tracking several people and the app was good about estimating their time of arrival at transition and where they were on the course. Before we knew it Chris McDonald, who would eventually go on to win, came flying through and behind him in 9th place was our local hero and pro triathlete Mike Hermanson!

We saw a bunch more people come through including the guy standing up and peeing on his bike in front of us as he cruised in before heading to the finish line which was about a mile walk away. Along the way we saw a few more people we knew who had just started the run course and excessively cheered them on among others. We got to the finish line and it was already feeling electric with no one in sight.

Chris McDonald not only won but set a new course record of 8:21:34! That's around 4 minutes faster than the previous record and even though the humidity was down a bit, the weather was still no joke. We were finish line catchers so that meant we stood in line and as the athletes finished we greeted them with their medal and asked how they were feeling. It felt like forever before we really started getting finishers and just like in transition is started with a trickle but turned into a flood. Every athlete has a catcher so it was a fast moving line after a while. Medical staff and water are on hand right away in case anyone needs it and they all took water but luckily not all needed medical. Most held onto us or let us hold onto them so they could stay steady and a good number of them stopped in the second medical tent further down the chute to just sit for a minute. I did have one very scary moment with a woman I caught who was in really bad shape. I won't go into the details but it was a really surreal experience that reminded me how precious the human body is and that it's capable of great things but it also needs what it needs to achieve them. I was told she would be ok and made sure the medical staff got her medal, hat and tshirt to give to her when she came around. I was definitely shaken up afterwards but after catching a couple more finishers in much better shape I was feeling a lot better. I got a lot of hugs and a lot of thank yous which just amazed me.

I'm not sure why I was surprised by the gratitude the athletes expressed towards me or any of the volunteers. I know when I'm racing I thank everyone I come into contact with and always remember how helpful they were and am overwhelmed with gratitude but when the script is flipped I'm confused. It just seemed crazy that these people who were in the middle of what might be the greatest physical challenge of their lives would stop and take a second to say thank you to me, a mere mortal! If I could have thanked all of them for their inspiration and graciousness I would have. And in case you're an Ironman athlete out there reading this, don't worry if you weren't the nicest to a volunteer. We understand you're priorities and vocabulary are altered and nobody takes offense when you say, "Don't touch me!" or grab for water/sponges/food without saying please or thank you.

I went home Sunday night pretty spent which seemed silly since all I did was work a race, not race a race but I did have to keep in mind that I had put in a 12+ hour day in the heat too so maybe I did have some clout on tiredness. I skipped dinner entirely on Sunday and opted for sleep. I slept a little bit better but still not great and woke up feeling awful and with a serious Ironman hangover. I went into work and took the train to hydration station. I drank and drank but still didn't pee until late in the day so I skipped yesterday's 4 miles and just went to the volunteer appreciation dinner instead. The athletes had all signed a banner thanking us and it was so nice to see and feel really appreciated. Of course I didn't actually eat anything other than salad and a piece of garlic bread at the dinner since nothing else was vegetarian friendly (seriously?) but I still enjoyed myself and it was fun to watch the highlight videos. Barring any unforeseeable event I'll definitely be back next year to volunteer and if you're around, you should too!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Free for All

Since completing the Peru recap my head has literally been swimming with blog ideas. Every thought I have becomes "That would make a great blog!" As you can see, they have yet to actually materialize. So here is a bullet list of those thoughts in hopes that at least some of them may go somewhere but at the very least, they'll GET OUT OF MY HEAD!
  • My current priority list consists of having a place to live and being able to afford it. What does that mean? Moving and work. I doubt I've mentioned it but I am currently moving out of my apartment into a significantly larger house in the prestigious South Louisville neighborhood. Google it and you'll be really jealous. What that means though is that every spare moment when I'm not at work (to afford the place to live) I am packing or moving things to the new place. It's fun-ish and I'm glad to have the house and the time we have to move everything but the split household is starting to get a little dicey.

  • Training is in full swing and more than halfway through which seems entirely crazy to me. I'm starting to feel those marathoner aches and pains a little more strongly now and am requiring a bit more sleep than normal. I'm absolutely loving it though. I like the routine and every weekend I'm surprised, impressed and proud of my long run distance. Tomorrow is 14 miles and that will be a real test since the last time I went that far was during the last marathon. I'm also hungry. A lot. Not ravenous as long as I'm following my normal food rules and patterns but sometimes that every two hour feeding schedule even feels too stretched out. Once I'm settled into the house I'll be able to get back on point. This morning I wanted a smoothie and stood in my apartment kitchen remembering my blender was at the house. Oy vey.
  • Speaking of food. I think I originally intended for this blog to be a food blog and that hasn't happened at all. Would anyone like to know why? I'm about to make a serious confession. I hate food. I also love food. Maybe I hate that I love food. A couple of years ago I met with an ayurveda practitioner who said it was important to remember that food and eating is a necessity but just that. It shouldn't be used to determine your mood or really any aspect of your life aside from your general health and well being. Food is medicine and should be planned but it shouldn't be a focal point in your life. I agree with her but I also don't. When it comes to being an athlete (did I just call myself that?) food is ridiculously important and really does need to be a focus. In my non-training life, she's correct. I shouldn't base my mood on whether or not I ate that extra serving or how "good" I was at skipping dessert. But in my training life I need to make sure I'm getting the right snacks at the right times and sometimes eating an extra serving of black beans (yes, please!) because I actually run the risk of too big of a calorie deficit and in that case my training suffers. Now many people would say "You have to eat more?! That's a good problem to have!" And to them I would probably say an expletive. Mainly because I hate the phrase "a good problem to have." If this situation really meant, "Rennay, you're not taking in enough calories so I'll need you to eat a couple of pizzas and you know what, probably throw some french fries on top." then we'd be in business. However, see that whole I don't want my training to suffer thing? Fry-pizza is kind of a recipe for disaster. Anyway, I'm going to try to get back to my food blogging roots and though it won't be the sole focus of things around here, it'll at least be a prominent theme. After all, it may help answer the question What DO you eat? which I get asked very often.
  • I think I'm old. I know numbers wise I'm not actually old but my whole persona has been changing into this weird adult attitude and it's bizarre, alarming and strangely awesome. I've never been terribly immature (ahem) but I'm at the age where I find myself doing all kinds of crazy adult things and having crazy adult thoughts. First example, I drive a lot slower than I used to. I used to hit 80 on the reg whenever I was in for a trip on the highway without regard for my car, myself or my wallet and now I hit 65 or 70 and think "eh, this is fine. I'll get there when I get there." That sense of urgency which should be running rampant since I'm getting closer to death (I kid, I kid) has just sort of flown the coop. Second example, I'm starting to shop for things, namely furniture, that will last instead of just what I can afford. That whole paying for quality so you don't have to buy it again concept is suddenly crystal clear which is a totally new feeling. Third example, I care about things a whole lot less. All of a sudden how I look when I'm running doesn't matter to me as much as the act of actually running. I don't care if people don't like my new haircut or what they'll say if they hear me playing the Les Miserables soundtrack in my car. Is it possible I'm starting to just suck it up and accept me for me? ....Naaaah.
  •  Last but certainly not least, IT'S IRON WEEKEND! I am obsessed with the Ironman because it is totally my Super Bowl/Kentucky Derby/Game 7/National Championship and it is held right here in Louisville! Now I think if you ask a typical Louisville resident on the street how they felt about the race you'd get a split review. There are those who actually loathe the race. They're the ones who hate that it reroutes traffic for practically two days. But honestly that's actually the only complaint I've ever heard. Ironman spectators and supporters don't flip or vandalize cars or burn couches depending on who wins and they also don't park on people's front lawns. Gas prices don't rise because Ironman is in town and unfortunately businesses don't close to celebrate. But the traffic is a pain. Then you'll get the residents who support the race and among us is another split. You have the economists who are thrilled about the added revenue the race brings to the area and love seeing downtown thrive. Then you have the enthusiasts (i.e. ME) who goes to the expo, volunteers all day for 2 days in a row leaving their fiance and his friends to move all of the furniture from an apartment to a new house, and basically dances around in a state of euphoria for a week as if they were a stereotypical man seeing supermodels roaming the streets. I can't quite explain what's so great about the Ironman or really what my favorite part is but it is like the Olympics being hosted in Louisville and I love it.
So that's that. Some of the crazy that needed an escape. I'm feeling better already :)

What are your plans for the weekend?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Vegetarian in Peru: A Love Story...Part Five

Let's play the honest game for just a second. I'm tired of writing this recap. At first I thought it would be a great way for me to be able to share my experiences in Peru with the whole wide world but as I've been writing and thinking about writing I've realized that there aren't enough words to actually capture what it was like. Just like I keep saying the pictures don't do the views justice, neither do my poorly worded musings. I would also like to write about eating and marathoning more because things are starting to get interesting in the world of the monster. That said, here is the grand finale. Grab a drink and a comfy seat because you're in for a long one my friends.

After sitting in a pool of tepid water with 20 of my closest Peruvian friends and a pretty baller faux Bachelorette Party I took a very hot shower and headed to bed. The next morning we were back on the train to Ollantaytambo to get the rest of our luggage before taking the bus back to Cusco. I was sad to leave and head back to "the city" because being away from the hustle and bustle was a welcome change of pace from being back home. Little did I know that Cusco is the best city in the world. The bus back to Cusco was only mildly terrifying because driving downhill with all of your belongings very loosely strapped to the top of the vehicle tends to cause a bit of anxiety. Our driver was an old pro though so windy dirt roads were no worries for him. Along the way we made a stop in Pisaq where another group of women showed us about spinning and dyeing wool and afterwards sold us all kinds of cute and native looking apparel. I think everyone bought at least one thing, I got more yarn for my mom and a couple of scarves. I also chatted with our guide about Cuy aka Guinea Pig aka a popular Peruvian meal. The women in Pisaq had a pen of Guinea Pigs so I asked if he ate them and how you pick them. They are not like lobsters where you point to the one you want and someone cooks it up. You get what you get but they only take the big, fat ones (or as our guide said because he didn't know the word for fat, "heavy").

We collected our goodies and went back on the bus for another ride to get to the hotel. Cusco streets are pretty narrow and the traffic was like Lima on a diet. Lots of honking still but not quite as terrifying or congested. We dropped our bags at the hotel and walked to the main square to find some lunch. One thing you may or may not know about me is that I'm a bit of a bargain shopper. I absolutely love a good deal but I do not love shopping in general. The same applies to food. I was on the hunt for pizza. Because I love pizza. So the "crew" and I went from place to place checking out menus and comparing numbers. Luckily Peru is also very salesy so it wasn't long before a woman (we began to call them recruiters) found us and showed us her restaurant's menu. I asked for pizza and she delivered pizza at 5 or 10 soles less than anywhere else we'd found so far. They often say you get what you pay for but I have a hard time believing that more expensive pizza could've been better than what I got...or maybe I was just really hungry.

We did a little more shopping then took a coma. It was an incredible evening.

Next on the agenda was the Cusco city tour. The weather was beautiful, the views were beautiful the architecture and language...guess what? Also beautiful. We visited the Koricancha and what just so happened to be the 3rd largest cathedral in the Americas. Our guide was fantastic and I had lots of fun chats with him which lead me to find out that not everyone wants to visit the United States. We are kind of lead to believe we are the greatest country in the world and that everyone longs for the day when they can visit. That is false. At least from talking to our guide I learned that some people are very happy with their own country and their own cities. They find culture around them everyday and do things like learn English to become tour guides so they can share their love and wisdom with tourists. He said he'd like to visit the United States one day but he'd be ok if he didn't make it there. In his words, "It's very expensive." Apparently he's never been to Europe either. I also learned that although he took us on tours of sacred Catholic sites, he himself was not Catholic. In fact, there's a rather large segment of Peruvians who are not Catholic, do not like to speak Spanish and are even at least a little bit bitter towards the Spanish for conquering the Incas. Anyhow, after our tour he headed off for lunch and I haggled with an alleged College of Art student for a gorgeous piece of work I can't wait to frame. At some point I was forced to take a picture with a baby goat. It was really gross, kind of smelly and a little bit wet. Still not sure if I've forgiven my lovely travel mates for that one...

The next day was really the purpose of our trip where we visited a women's organization for girls who had been victims of human trafficking and other horrific crimes. The girls were around 12-17 and were all so sweet. I'm definitely not a baby or little kid person but for some reason I have an affinity towards tweens. The girls were shy at first but we did some arts and crafts with them to break the ice and after they taught us to dance. Damn could those girls dance! I'm a fan of dancing so I was ready to party with them and party we did. We went outside afterwards to play some volleyball (which they were also fantastic at) and then taught them to play Duck, Duck, Goose! Along with the other great bits of Spanish I learned that day I also learned how to say duck and goose. Don't ask me how. We also visited a group of orphan boys who were on the campus separate from the girls. They were working on math and guess what? Yeah, they were pretty good at it. We gave them some candy and beach balls and I think the math lesson ended pretty promptly. We went back to the girls to eat pizza with them and dance a bit more before we left and I couldn't have had a better time. We all took pictures, some of which are adorable but for the privacy of the girls I won't post them. It was so incredible to see that these girls weren't at all tarnished after the experiences they'd lived through. They were just like your ordinary tweens. Big One Direction fans, they giggled with each other and flirted with the boys in our group. And when it was time for us to leave I don't think there was a dry eye in the house, myself included. It was really nice to be able to share experiences with them because even in that one day they impacted my life. I just hope our presence was able to do something for them as well.

When we begrudgingly left we headed over to a traditional Cusco dance show which was a nice upbeat distraction.

Our last day in Cusco was all bitter, no sweet. Of course I was excited to get home and see my family and pets but leaving Cusco just sucked! We went horseback riding which was therapeutic and gave me time to really reflect on the trip and my life as a whole. I was happy during my entire 10 days in Peru. Every frustration wasn't one at all. Traffic was no big deal. There wasn't anything that really grinded my gears (thank you Peter Griffin). As Marguerito (my horse) and I foraged on up the sides of mountains I was really able to think about everything and create a significantly more positive outlook on life which I'm happy to say has stayed with me. Now I have a place to go in my head when things get to be a bit too much and I think I'd really needed that. During and after the ride we visited sites including a fertility temple I refused to even touch a wall inside of and the great fortress of Sacsaywaman (which our cab driver informed us was pronounced like Sexy Woman). It was another beautiful day and we took everything in pretty leisurely which was great. That night was our farewell dinner before the early wake up call for the flight back to Lima.

Our flight to Lima was around 8 (time is not precise in Peru) and we proceeded to sit in the airport for roughly 14 hours. Literally. Apparently the weather between Cusco and Lima is often pretty turbulent which can delay flights for hours. Because of that the flights are scheduled early in hopes you'll actually make it to Lima before your connection leaves. Our flight back to the U.S. wasn't until 12:15 a.m. and with no delays we got to soak in the Lima International Airport in all its glory. It is not glorious aside from the fact that they treat food courts like restaurants. Employees of all the restaurants (much like the recruiters we saw in the cities) walk around with their menus and will take your order and bring it to you right there in the food court. They also deliver ice cream which I found to be particularly useful.

And so we've come to the end of the journey. I don't know what to say about my trip overall. "Amazing" has been overused and just isn't quite amazing enough to describe the experience. I will say, if you ever get the opportunity to go to Peru or South America, GO. In fact, create the opportunity. Life is too short and if you've wanted to travel, DO IT. It's not cheap to get there, I'll admit that but as we said repeatedly during our time there, you live like Kings. The exchange rate between the dollar and sole was roughly 1:2.75 when we were there and that makes everything pretty damn affordable. The good salespeople will often convert for you so you can say things like, "What?! Only 10 bucks for this? How could I pass it up!" You'll inevitably come home with a lot of stuff. But it's nice stuff. I also want to make it clear that I had no problems eating. It's always a little scary as a vegetarian leaving the country (or even your city) because you're not sure where or what your options will be. I had a lot of absolutely amazing eats in Peru and as long as I said "no carne" I didn't have any issues. The food that actually made me sick were the prepackaged Oreo's we got from a convenience store. Maybe it's because non-American Oreo's aren't vegan like here at home. P.S. Does that bother anyone? That the "cream" filling in American Oreo's is vegan? Which means no dairy contained? Bizarre. Also, is that actually accurate? I've heard mixed reviews. I digress. I do hate the un-word "Yolo" but I like its meaning. You really do only live once so whatever it is you want to do, do it. And make it worth it.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Vegetarian in Peru: A Love Story...Part Four

Another ridiculously early wake up call to board the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. The trains are a cross between an Amtrak and a subway so they're comfortable but designed more as commuter trains and don't hold much luggage. We were allowed to leave our bags at the hotel in Ollantaytambo and all brought a backpack only with us for the overnight and Machu Picchu. It took some creative packing but we made it work with basically some extra socks and underwear, a jacket, bug spray and like 20 water bottles. The train ride was freezing but absolutely beautiful. I put on some chill music and glued myself to the window for the hour-ish ride. Once again, no picture could really do the view justice.

We got off the train in Aguas Calientes which is a really cute little town! We walked *all uphill* to the hotel and dropped off our stuff before heading out to the bus to Machu Picchu. After bathing in bug spray and lathering up on sunscreen we were ready to go. The buses were narrow and had to take quite a haul to get us up the mountain. I didn't take a single picture of the bus ride because as cliche as it sounds, I was truly overtaken by the views. It was so beautiful I just held my camera and stared. This is why I don't try to make a living out of this whole photography thing. And because I have no talent. We got to the top and it was another hike through Machu Picchu to the gates of Huayna Picchu, Machu's less famous big brother. Only 200 people a day get to climb Huayna and guess who got tickets? That's right, this girl.

Now, climbing a mountain is no easy feat. Although I also don't think there are a lot of people who think that it is but I did want to clarify that for the record. Walking up on the mountain really gives you that "in over my head" vibe but I was determined and as one of the lucky 200 there was no way I was going to wimp out. It was also going to take the place of all of that running I was missing (did I mention we walked an average of 7 miles per day?). You have to sign in before you go up so that they know if you die out there or are taken into a den and raised by pumas and you start off going down so it seems totally manageable. On another note, remember those backpacks I mentioned? And all that water? Yeah, we had that too. So the deceiving little mountain lead us to believe the climb wouldn't be so bad and more importantly, not too steep. The mountain lied. It took about 2 hours total to climb and it was work the whole way. Most of it has been fashioned into uneven and slightly slippery stairs with occasional ropes as makeshift railings so you don't go careening off the side. Notice I said occasional ropes. Most of the time was spent on the brink of disaster. I put on my marathon hat and took the slow and steady approach which worked well not that you could tell since I'm an excessive sweater. There were multiple "You're halfway/almost there!" remarks from people happily making their way down the mountain but somehow they were all wrong. Honestly, if the views weren't so breathtaking the climb would have been miserable. We were told to dress in layers and prepare for rain since Machu is on the edge of the rain forest and has rain at least once a day everyday. Nobody told us how incredibly sunny it would be early in the day so here we are, dressed in layers and overexerting ourselves attempting to climb a mountain with backpacks full of water. It was not fun. Yet somehow it was totally worth it for bragging rights alone not to mention the experience, pictures and views of mountains, mountains and more mountains.

An idea of how steep the climb was both ways

I'm happy to report my and the rest of the group's survival and we were able to sign back out to confirm our return to solid ground. I also made a few friends from Kansas. Apparently they do a lot of mountain climbing there...

Next was the return mini hike through Machu Picchu to the front gates where we would meet a tour guide and hike back through in a more organized fashion while learning a bit along the way. I sat and recovered and cursed my marathon training for not better preparing me to climb mountains because you know, that's the only reason people really do marathons anyway. After 20 minutes or so we were on our tour where I stopped and got the souvenir Machu Picchu passport stamp. I learned a lot of cool stuff about Machu and after a little bit we saw that afternoon rain we had been warned about but overall it was nothing we couldn't handle. Lord knows we were prepared.

I even took a little video so I and other people could possibly believe it was real life.

I can further understand why Machu Picchu is one of the new 7 Wonders of the World and seriously think everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. There's something magical yet peaceful about being there and touching your hand to the stones that make up the structures, stepping foot into the remains of sacred temples and seeing the relatively untouched surroundings. Our guide was so knowledgeable and personable that he made the tour even more enjoyable. He even invited some of us back to his place for some chicha morada (a typical Peruvian alcoholic drink made from purple corn). We had to respectfully decline :(

There are two more pieces to this story. One piece is good. The other piece is bad. We'll start with the bad. Aguas Calientes for those of you who don't know translates into Hot Water and is a town known for their naturally occurring hot springs. These are a big tourist trap as you can imagine so we all grabbed 10 soles and headed uphill of course to take a dip. Unfortunately, here's how I imagine hot springs:

And this is the reality:

And here is how I felt:

The water was muddy, the pools were crowded, the sulfur smell was suffocating and I'm pretty sure I caught MRSA...and the clap. It was so far outside of my comfort zone I didn't even speak the language. But as a trooper, I stepped into this lukewarm, community bathtub and squatted uncomfortably for nearly 20 minutes. After all, I did spend 10 soles. I'm sad to say the clothing from that cesspool is no longer with us even after multiple attempts at washing. It smelled fine but I knew it could pull itself across the floor by the amount of things living on it so I trashed it. All. And for that I am truly grateful. The only way this God awful experience could be worth it is if in a year or two I'm slightly radioactive with some really neat superpower. I'd rather not be glowing green with the power to grow my fingernails. That would be a pretty unsuper superpower. 

Anyway, I also said there was good. Since I was shell shocked from my encounter, 2 of my buds took me out on the town for drinks and a Peruvian Bachelorette Party. Now of course I can't tell you what happened but I can give you some key words so you can paint your very own picture. Drinks. Colombia. French. Coca Sour. Machu Picchu (these two are drinks) and last but not least, Huacamole (Guacamole!) Oh what a night indeed.

 The Machu Picchu