Chapter 1: Marathon training at 8,661 feet

This new series will follow Alumna Diana Chaves ’05 as she trains to run the Boston Marathon for Steppingstone. Check this space each week for a new look into her journey!

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When a tree falls on you, you keep running … just kidding it barely touched me, I’m too short. All jokes aside, this picture is a good representation of what it was like to start training in Colombia specifically during the holidays: uncommon obstacles.

Where Do I Go?

One of the reasons I began to love running was due to its practicality. All you need is a pair of running shoes, a place to run and you’re pretty much all set.

In Brighton, I love that I can start running as soon as I walk out of my house without knowing where I am going or how many miles I am running, but figuring it all out along the way. The factors that make this possible? The ability to run on sidewalks, feeling safe and knowledgeable of my surroundings, having designated trails for runners/walkers, nice weather, and a great playlist. In Colombia during my 3-week vacation I soon came to realize that running was not the same.

Not having trained in Colombia for a race before, I had no idea where to go running. I mean I knew there were thousands of runners in Bogota as I had seen them during an earlier half marathon in July, but during the day to day routine I could not spot one runner on the street, it was just not a thing. It became clear why: the traffic congestion, concerns with safety of running alone, and the lack of runner friendly infrastructure.

What I quickly learned is that Bogota is a city with an up and coming running culture. With time I found out that most individuals ran in parks, during Cyclovia on Sunday mornings or at the gym.

The most convenient for me at the time came to be small park outlined with a narrow trail, and a short green pathway that I found after a few days of conversations and observations. I found my people! With lots of company at these locations of fellow runners, I began my training and adapted quickly.

How High?

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I figured out a place to run, everything seemed all set … until I started running. Imagine giving your 100% and getting a 50% in return. That’s how it feels to run at an altitude of 8,661 feet when you’re used to running at sea level.

It almost feels as if you are running in slow motion, but you are pushing your body to the max. For this, my only solution was to the listen to my body and my lungs as they explicitly, through lack of breath, would tell me the pace at which I should be running.

I ran minutes slower than my usual time and felt AWFUL after the first few runs. I had to mentally prepare myself so that I would not become frustrated or discouraged during the time being. However, what seemed to really help with the acclimation was playing soccer with family.

As a sport where you are constantly sprinting and stopping, our family pickup games became a fun way to work out and stabilize my breathing without the pressure of doing so on my own.

What Routine?

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The routine during vacation in Colombia was simply nonexistent for me. Each day was filled with a gathering, an errand, a trip, or simply a full-on surprise of what the day would bring.

If I planned to run in the morning during the night before, I would wake up to the cutest face of my nephew Santi saying “Vamos a jugar!” (let’s play!) meaning aunt duty was happening and my run was no longer a plan. This by no means is complaint or a brag of all the fun at I had in Colombia, but the lack of structure of my time made running a lot harder. I learned quickly to squeeze runs whenever I could, even if these were short and fast. I honestly think what really saved me was the amount of walking we did every day. We walked everywhere. By the end of the vacation, as it usually works out, I finally started to figure out a routine from this uncertainty and could feel good about the runs, walks, and workouts at home that I was able to squeeze in.

Overall, it was a fascinating experience to see how a sport changes across countries. As much as I loved the practicality of running, there is often a lot more planning that goes into it depending on one’s environment. These were my big takeaways:

I learned that an active living space is huge when it comes to running, acclimating to high altitudes is no joke, and that I need to be more relaxed when it comes to planning in uncertainty.

Nevertheless, Colombia was simply amazing. The encouragement and support I received from my family and time we spent together was truly what helped me come back refreshed and relaxed to continue this journey during the next 12 weeks.

Support Diana’s journey here and check back next week for Chapter 2 of her journey to the 2018 Boston Marathon!

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