I have been in Ecuador for four weeks now with the organization Amigos de las Americas and have been having a crazy and incredible adventure. Part of that is running so I wanted to share!
First, a little background:
I’m living in the Andean countryside with a host family in a community for six weeks. I have one partner from Costa Rica and one partner from California. Since the partner from Costa Rica only speaks Spanish, we’ve been challenged to speak almost entirely in Spanish! The community is also entirely indigenous, so I’ve also learned some Kichwa, one of many indigenous languages in Ecuador. Most of it I don’t understand, but in the middle of a long sentence I’ll hear “la gringa” and I know who they’re talking about. 🙂
Where I’m living has little to no service so I’ve been disconnected from everything (except for Strava?) but I’m sending this from a cafe in the nearest big city.
Anyway, before I left I was nervous/excited to get to run in the mountains. People go to running camps in the mountains where there’s less oxygen, so when you return to low altitude you can run significantly faster. My community is even higher than most of those camps at 11,000 feet above sea level. When we arrived, I could barely play 15 minutes of soccer before needing a break.
However, I’ve actually acclimated well. My host family has pigs, cows, and sheep that we go to give water and tend to every day. Since they’re all kept literally on the side of the mountain, I walk a lot and the altitude adjustment hasn’t been bad.
This isn’t to say running has been easy though. I have a slim time to run in the morning when the construction on the road hasn’t started and the clouds haven’t blown in. When it’s cloudy you can’t see 15 feet in front of you! But when there aren’t clouds the views are amazing.
I usually struggle with motivating myself to run alone, and it’s been no different here in Ecuador. I only take a bucket bath once a week so I don’t like to get sweaty, and the hills are endless. As with most Latin American countries, the water is different than in the US, and despite my best efforts and a bottle of bleach, I’ve been mildly sick a few times. This leaves me dehydrated and only further discouraged from running.
Nevertheless, running has been a great therapeutic tool.
I won’t lie, Amigos can be very hard in the beginning (part of the reason I chose Amigos was for the challenge). Ecuadorian culture is so different than what I’m used too and I was hit hard with culture shock when I arrived. Many kids over the age of 14 in my community don’t go to school so they can help work and care for their families. My family eats majority potatoes, soup, rice and the occasional cuy (guinea pig, which I have to admit is not bad).*
*This is all specific to my community, but as for the rest of Ecuador, things may be different.
All this and much more left me homesick the first weeks and I frankly didn’t know what to do. I initially only started running because I was trying to escape my energetic host siblings (who are amazing, but there’s only so much UNO you can play before going a little insane). But now it’s become one of the best parts of my day. I love running down the hills and seeing what kids I can trick into running with me for a few miles. I got a lot of strange looks when I started, but people recognize me now.
When I finish running I feel significantly better and less homesick. The rush of endorphins I get here has been so helpful setting the tone of my day.
The opportunity to live in Ecuador and experience an indigenous culture up close is very uncommon, so I’ve made it my goal to appreciate it as much as possible. Overall I’m loving my time here and I’m so excited about all that I’m learning, but there are still moments where I get homesick. Running has been very helpful in ensuring I make the most of my days without wishing I was home.
Obviously, not everyone is running in Ecuador in the mountains, but it’s still important to find what YOU like about running. I’m not even thinking about training for cross country when I run right now, I just try to enjoy the happiness and relief I get from exercise.
Once you figure out why you run, focus on that reason. When I recognized the benefits of my runs beyond cardio I was much more excited to go out every morning.
Right now you may just be running to entertain yourself or to prepare for the season, but I promise with a more specific purpose you will find so much more joy in running.
I hope everyone is having a great summer and I will see you all in two weeks in Austin when I get back!