endurance

Llama tell you all about Peru

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Eight strangers from both the US and Canada set off on a quest for adventure in a foreign country. Their destination? Peru, home of Machu Picchu, an ancient Incan City high in the Andes mountains. Around Machu Picchu include a plethora of culture and archaeological sites portraying the Sacred Valley, the Inca Trail, the beautiful colors of Rainbow mountain and the Colonial city of Cusco. These women became fast friends as they perused the Peruvian sights, hiked the historical Inca Trails, ate incredible local food with wild alpacas as company, and climbed endless steep steps, laughing until it hurt. They went where there wasn’t WIFI, but found a better connection within themselves and in each other. These trails were filled with their laughter, encouragement, and motivating words for each other. Despite each of the many reasons these women decided to sign up for this adventure, they all left with huge smiles, new friendships and incredible memories that will last a lifetime. And, llama tell you, it’s a life changing experience.

And suddenly you know- it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings
— Eckhart Tolle

Where do I start? We all travel for different reason, some to escape the everyday norm, the stress of work, family or just an excuse to explore more. Whatever the reason, 8 women plus two Run Like A Girl reps boarded different planes from all over US and Canada, passport in hand, ready for their final destination- Cusco, Peru.

When I was approached with this opportunity back in February I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I was a day away from boarding a plane to Costa Rica for six weeks to help guide the retreats there as well as spend a week running The Coastal Challenge stage race. I was excited to continue to grow within Run Like A girl and have the opportunity to explore more places and meet amazing people. But at that time sure I was excited but with other events overshadowing this experience, I was trying fully to live in the moment. Fast forward to September, this trip was happening soon and I needed to prepare all the necessary items for the excursion. While packing I couldn’t help be overwhelmed with so many different emotions. I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to go to Peru, but at the same time, I was worried. I spent a majority of my summer injured and had just started walking sans hobble just two weeks before I was supposed to be leaving. Naturally, I stayed active by climbing or cycling but when the thought of even trying to run again, I automatically said, “I can’t”. Call me negative Nancy because it seemed as though the only words I knew were “I can’t” and as much as I tried to stay positive, those words lingered from the time my eyes opened in the morning to when they closed to sleep at night. I was determined to have a different mentality during this trip, try to forget about my poor choices during summer, my shattered goals, the constant feeling of adventure FOMO or my race that I’ve been re-living as a nightmare these last few weeks. I wasn’t traveling to race, run, achieve any huge goal or do anything but to assist in an incredible Peruvian experience for the rest of the group. I didn’t realize at the time that not only was I trying to heal from the negativity, but my body was finally given the opportunity to do some healing itself.

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live
— Albus Dumbledore

Arriving at the Cusco airport was like entering a dream. Especially, after almost 20 hours of traveling, short layover followed by long layovers left me feeling dazed and confused. I was picked up by the tour company, Apumayo, that we have our adventures booked with and was shuttled to our hotel in the heart of what looks like tourist central. I was then able to shower and eat breakfast before Courtney, one of the RLAG OG’s arrived. Once she arrived we were able to meet with the incredible owners of Apumayo and have any of our questions answered. They helped us plan our next day off before the entire retreaters arrived in two days. We spent the rest of the day touring Cusco, what once was the site of the Inca Empire that now has a population at about 427,000.

DAY ZERO-A

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We woke early in order to be outside waiting for our taxi by 3:30am. Our destination was a 2.5 hour drive away. Found in the breathtaking mountains of Peru, with its glacial water Humantay Lake is a popular destination for hikers just beginning or ending their trip. Surrounding the Salkantay mountain range, the lake is at 4200 mt / 13799 ft. formed by the glacier water melt from Humantay mountain. Humantay is a snow capped mountain 5835 m / 19143 ft which helps give the beautiful glacier lake its name. Its STUNNING. The previous day Apumayo had suggested we hire our own taxi for the day to avoid the crowded tour companies and their lengthy trips. This will cost us about the same price, take us half the time- not having to pick people from god knows which hotels and about 200 less people- no joke. Despite not having a guide (which is always an advantage seeing how much history and knowledge of the surrounding towns and mountains we missed) we were dropped off in an empty parking lot in front of a tiny miny market and managed to find the correct path.


We passed several eco pods that host overnight stays and a huge area where straw mini tents were set up as well. You turn toward those tents and head straight up the mountain trail, passing the only “bathroom” that was monitored by the hosts maybe 4 year old son. Yes, kid, take all my money. Then, we continued passed the small village of tents and entered an open area where the trail to Humantay Lake was clearly visible- you just go up from there. We passed a few trekkers that were starting their journey to Machu Picchu, this Salkantay trek is another option for a few day adventure.

Deep breaths. It was freezing when we arrived, but once the sun came out and we began the ascent, it quickly turned warm. You can continue pass the lake and enjoy the views from above. The owner of Apumayo told us he enjoys mountain biking that trail, and I thought I was crazy.

DAY ZERO-B:

I attempted to walk back to the market to buy some gifts and ended up sitting in a woman’s booth trying to not throw up. It rained, it hailed and I just walked back to the hotel and puked. I did get some great gifts, tho.

I attempted to walk back to the market to buy some gifts and ended up sitting in a woman’s booth trying to not throw up. It rained, it hailed and I just walked back to the hotel and puked. I did get some great gifts, tho.

Courtney had suggest that we arrive to Cusco a few days before the group to help acclimate and get a feel for the city. I don’t normally have trouble with elevation but came along for the ride nonetheless. Thankfully because on our second zero I spent the entire time either in bed or telling the toilet my deepest darkest secrets, i.e. puking my brains out. I’ve never gotten so sick while traveling in foreign countries and am not sure what pushed me over the line but these are a few things I can suggest in order for this not to happen to you.

Bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands constantly. Peru has great archaeological sights and the rocks are pretty gosh darn old, it doesn’t mean you have to touch them- because everyone does.

Do not drink tap water or any juices from street vendors. Our guts are not use to digesting these bacteria’s and will cause sickness almost right away.

Be selective on places you eat. Mom and pop shops are great but wait till the end of your trip to try any new things, your stomach would less likely turn at that point.

Avoid overeating your first few days. Being at high elevation cause your body to work harder, don’t cause it more work by excessively eating the incredible food you find. Hi! My name is Sawna, I am an over eater all the time.

Thankfully I was the only one that got sick from our group and it was before our adventures but please just be hyper aware. There’s no greater problem then going to an incredible restaurant and not being able to eat because of how bad your stomach is turning and then having to watch everyone eat said incredible food. Practically my nightmare.

That evening we met our group and had a pow wow with our Apumayo local guide, Yaiber the magnificent.

DAY ONE:

One thing I want to highlight is that when you book your flights, always allow a buffer day. Due to storms in Texas and somewhere in Canada, a few women had delayed, missed or cancel flights and worst of all delayed AND lost luggage. We emphasize the dire need to pack your necessities in a carry on and check in the rest because you just never know. Thankfully all women arrived safely just before we boarded transportation for day one.

We departed Cusco at 9:00am and drove 45 minutes in our private transportation toward Pisac archaeological site and market. On the way we stopped at Awancancha a Llama Project. There we were able to learn about, see and feed the Llamas, Vincunas and Guanacos. At the end of the feeding area there were women weaving patterns for tapestry they would sell. The patterns were all memorized when they were children and now their small children were watching their mothers and the trade is passed down. These women wore intricate hand woven outfits and hats that represented the region they were from, something we were able to witness everyday. In the same area we were taught a few things: 1. How they use flower, plants and vegetables to naturally dye yarn. 2. Over 4,000 varieties of native potatoes grow in the Andean highlands of Peru because they are well adapted to the harsh conditions that prevail in the high Andes. 3. Today, farmers along the Peruvian coast, highlands and jungle grow more than 55 varieties of corn, more than anywhere else on Earth corn, and you can just about find it in any color including yellow, purple, white and black.

Before leaving we stopped by the main store that sold real alpaca products and not the “maybe” alpaca products that are really just fake items in the market.

The next place we visited was the Pisac archaeological site which gives insight to the Inca’s advanced masonry skills. The Pisac market is a great place where you can find some unique and authentic souvenirs. The Inca site remains somewhat mysterious as to what their absolute purpose was, but it seems likely that they were part of a settlement along a vital Inca road with the Amazon rainforest to the east of the mountains, it is generally understood that Pisac provided a connecting point of sorts between the highlands and the jungle. We learned there that the four cosmological Quechua principles are water, earth, sun and moon and is protrayed throughout the Inca Trail. After visiting the market and the Inca site, we then headed to our hotel in the Sacred Valley of the Incas in the town of Ollantaytambo. FYI. There’s killer ice cream and vegan ice cream steps away from our hotel and Llamas grazing in the front yard, you know, the norm. The group all meshed well instantly and although the stoke was high, my stomach was all over the place attempting to recover from the intense ab workout the day before.

TIP: This is the day that I learned tortilla in South America means omelette, you know, with eggs. So as some who eats plant based and orders veggies and tortillas (I did think it was odd but wanted to try something different) and it comes out as an omelette! I was pretty gosh darn shocked. Thankfully, Court shared the amazing veggie burrito she ordered that was the size of a thigh.

DAY TWO:

Places we visited:

  1. Ollyantaytambo Ruins

  2. Moray Agrigultural Laboratory

  3. Salt Pans of Moras

  4. An incredible all you can eat buffet with pisco sours(they will make it without the egg too!)

Day two of our adventure started off in the local ruins of Ollyantaytambo, a five minute drive from our hotel. The weather forecast called for showers along with every other day but the morning was stunning. With the day agreeing with us, unlike my stomach (Despite the two bags of saltine crackers I ate) we were able to soak in the sun rays and view a site of a major battle for the Incas. We then drove for about an hour to the Moray Agricultural Laboratory where several theories as to what the concentric circles were used for but widely accepted as an agricultural research station. Each level of the terraces had its own microclimate. The shape both concave and convex represents the duality that is core to the Inca religion: Valley and mountain, man and woman, sun and moon. The clouds rolled in quickly and the rain rolled in as we entered the van. As quickly as it came, the rain disappeared- typical storms in the region. The ride to the Salt Pans was winding, be sure to sit in front if you deal with any sort of car sickness or have experienced any kind of food poisoning lately. I normally do not get car sick but I couldn’t escape the van any quicker for fresh air and deep breaths before any possible hurling would occur. Thankfully it never arouse.

These salt pools we were visiting have been harvested since the Inca empire came into existence. The pools are fed by a nearby stream, which is quite amazing! We were given time to peru-se the area and even try the local salt seasonings. I had posted that everyone was getting salt for Christmas… I wasn’t joking. Santa’s bringing salt this year, all!

We spent the rest of the evening packing our packs for what was the biggest adventure of our trip, the Inca Trail.

DAY THREE:

The day began in a van full of excitement as time passed rather quickly while we drove the bumpy dirt roads following the Vilcanota River and the railroad tracks. We were delayed around 45 minutes by some road work ahead that kept us in a backup. The air was filled with excitement and anticipation for the Inca Trail experience, none of us; the woman, Courtney nor I knew what to expect. We presented our passports and passed through the checkpoint and stopped for the obligatory photo at the beginning of the trail and set out on our quest. for the great unknown. The first part of the trail is wide dirt paths, local people still live along the first three miles of the trail and use the paths for travel and farm work. The time flew by as the conversations flowed amongst the group. We may have met a mere few days ago but we all connected instantly, making this journey all the more special. We talked about our personal lives, expectations of this trip and trail as we took in the incredible scenery. When we entered the lunch area, each and every one of us had our jaws on the floor, no one expected to see a tent lined up with ten chairs, ten sanitize buckets for your hands and another tent where the chef and su-chef were cooking up our feast. These may be a trek, we may be sleeping on the group but we were eating like Queens on a thrown. When I first arrived in Cusco I was worried that there wouldn’t be much of a vegan selection, but to my surprise, there are options everywhere due to its abundance in vegetables and grains. Just like in the city, our personal chefs kept in mind that half the group was vegetarian/vegan and ensured we had an abundance of food. Emphasis on abundance.

DAY FOUR:

Climbed from the valley below to Dead Womans Pass at nearly 14,000 ft.

Climbed from the valley below to Dead Womans Pass at nearly 14,000 ft.

I awoke to repeated flashes of light pouring through the tent as the sound of thunder echoed through the mountains. We rose to wet grass and a feeling of nervousness in the air. Today we were going to get high! Other than high on endorphins, we will hike higher than most have gone, simply by foot. We are hiking up and over Dead Womans Pass at it is known to challenge the spirits of those who undertake it, yet also rewards them generously out of sheer accomplishment. At 4,215m / 13,828 ft, it’s the highest and most dreaded point of the Inca Trail, and nearly 1,800m (5,905 ft) higher than the altitude of Machu Picchu itself. Definitely perceived as the most difficult day with only a million and one steps. I could tell most of the girls were nervous but the nerves were quickly shaken off once we set out to hike. We began the easy flow of conversation with the endless photos of wild flowers, the jungles vast green vegetation and the occasional Llama on the trail. And yet the factors that make the day more difficult than any of the others are what make reaching the pass one of the most rewarding moments, probably the second most rewarding moment on the trail. It’s at this mini summit when many feel a first sense of real accomplishment, not alot of people get to experience 14,000ft and its a grand moment. These women are undertaking something physically unusual and emotionally strenuous, and it serves as a great life moment for those that choose to be here. During this day, I was reminded of the important to be in the moment. It’s a practice I had lost and standing at Dead Womens pass watching these fierce, strong, beautiful women overcome this grand moment reminded me of the importance. A beautiful reminder to not dwell on the past nor dream of the future but to concentrate the mind on this present moment.

We descended as new women. Women with an unwavering confidence in our abilities; women who won’t give up; women who know limits but push them anyway; women who don’t underestimate the power of women supporting each other; women who no longer come from a place of ‘I can’t’ but now a place of ‘bring on the next challenge because I CAN!
— Toni Brooke, trekker and fellow badass

That evening is one I will remember for forever- or until I fall hard enough on one of these crazy runs and hit my head hard enough. Obviously kidding. That evening as we camped overlooking glaciers and razor sharp mountain peaks nestled between clouds us 10 women and both our guides nestled into our dining tent just talking, laughing and enjoying each others company for hours. There were no cell phones, no wifi- but the connection was far better than any 5g network. We laughed, we cried, we played cards, we debated and just conversed as if old friends. This is what the Inca Trail does, it creates beautiful friendships and incredible memories that will both last a lifetime. I will sleep happy and only have a few nightmare about stairs.

Note to hikers, Llamas WILL spit on you if you get too close. They are wild but the Peruvian government accounts for them and even gives them names (they have a tag on their ear with their name so the government can keep track of them).

DAY FIVE:

Llama tell you a story about when a porter walked around a llama and got spit on three times; it’s wet, it’s thick mucus and it’s pretty forceful. This is what was going through my mind as Doris turned her head to smile for the camera….

Llama tell you a story about when a porter walked around a llama and got spit on three times; it’s wet, it’s thick mucus and it’s pretty forceful. This is what was going through my mind as Doris turned her head to smile for the camera….

It may only be our third day on the Inca Trail but it seems days longer. From our campsite today, a majority of the trail will be downhill, a far easier effort level than yesterday. This morning we are considered half way there, we have todays hike to Phuyupatamarka, just above Machu Picchu mountain and then tomorrows final hike to the ruins of Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes.

This day I would describe as unforgettable. The landscape changes dramatically and you will find yourself transported into one of the stages of the Amazon called the cloud forest. It’s obvious that you are in a tropical jungle, just still above the clouds. You cross through two Incan tunnels carved out of the mountainside and visit the incredible archaeological sites called Sayacmarca & Phuyupatamarca. There are a lot of stairs going down on this day that were not only steep, but insanely slippery and sometime quite narrow. It was quite humorous to watch the group descend oh so carefully whilst the porters casually fly down with 60lb packs running a sub 7 minute mile, no big deal. Although considered one of the easier day, our hiking time was repetitively around the same amount of hours, we wanted to to take more time to enjoy the views, the ruins and being present in this moment

Our guide, Yaiber, had said he picked our campsite at the highest location possible in order to get the best sunset and sunrise. No sooner than arriving at camp did the unpredictable weather start to form; clouds rolled in along with some rain. It was by far one of the coldest evenings as we all gathered in the main tent. Our body heat managed to keep the tent warm as we reminisce on the days adventures, the jokes, the llama selfies, the incredible food and just the comraderie and beautiful friendships we’ve created. We had happy hour and then dinnerX3 plus wine and dessert for celebration. Once everyone was getting ready to pack and call it a night, we collected what we all had for tips for our guides, the chef, su-chef and all the porters that had been doing an incredible amount of work for us! Before going to bed, the sky had cleared and white peaks popped out in the distance while stars overtook the night sky, it was quite the send off for our last night on the trail.

DAY SIX:

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Our final day on the trail and probably the shortest amount we need to hike. I can’t believe the days had flown by so quickly but looking back it seems as though it couldn’t have only been four days- too much had happend. I wanted to stay on the trail, away from any wifi, social media or any home obligations for just a little bit longer. Today was when we would cross the Sun Gate and enter Machu Picchu.
We decided to not wake up super early to arrive at the Sun Gate during sunrise along with the 8 or 9 other groups but instead enjoyed our morning. After breakfast we were gifted a glorious view of why the area was called the cloud forest. We hike behind our campsite to a nearby peak and took the views in. No matter the direction everything was just gorgeous as you watched the mist move in and out of the mountains.

Today we are set to follow the famed Royal Highway through orchid-rich cloud forest to Winya Wayna ruins, Winyawayna means Forever Young (Cue Alphavilles Forever Young song). Afterward we continue our descent until we have a very short ladder like ascent of 50 or so steep rock stairs that lead you to the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate is much higher the Machu Picchu itself, and gives you a view that stretches far beyond the ruins. It’s the first glimpse you get of Machu Picchu and it encompasses views of the surrounding peaks and the valley leading down into Aguas Calientes. You can spy the buses coming up the roadway and congratulate yourself for getting here the hard way.

After four days of hiking, I sat there, watching all the women walk through the stoned archways of the Sun Gate- that is a moment I will never forget. Despite the arrival to the Sun Gate being a pretty incredible experience, it’s really the build up of the last four hard days of hiking you are remembering- the fact that you hiked this dream place seemed all too surreal. I could see it in their faces, the raw emotion, the wonder, the glory, the “I DID IT” revelation. Despite all the times one hears “you' can’t do it” and even from our self, the inner daemon agreeing and saying “I can’t” was shoved off the Sun Gate walls that morning. Each and every one of them put their fears aside, built the courage up, booked the trek, made the commitment, and climbed those 50 steep stairs to see their dream come true. Because in the long run we have every opportunity to achieve our biggest dreams, but it’s ourselves! We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self confidence, by not speaking up, not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.

The arrived at Machu Picchu and sat on the lawn and eat a snack, basking in the glory before another storm rolled in. That evening we checked into our hotel, took a shower and met for dinner. Maybe it was because we were on the trail for a few days, but that evening couldn’t have been any more perfect. The restaurant Yaiber selected was INCREDIBLE, the ambiance, the food, the beer, did I mention the food was all incredible. Dear reader, if you find yourself in aguas calientes, you MUST go to INDIO FELIZ. They didn’t have craft beer (cerveza artesenal) on the menu but just ask and they had the most delicious IPA. And did I mention the food?

DAY SEVEN:

Back to reality, back to WIFI.

Back to reality, back to WIFI.

We may have finished the Inca Trail but the adventure doesn’t stop here. A few of us opted to climb Machu Picchu mountain while the rest of the group toured the ruins. The mountain is just shy of 3,000 Inca stone steps which take you 2,000 feet up (about 1.25 miles)to the top of the mountain. 

I joked around while waiting in line that I would race someone, ha! I think that’s funny now considering how my body ached at the time but boy did we have fun! Toni, Steph, Kelly and I climbed those steep steps, quickly passing all the others who entered the mountain gates before us until there just wasn’t anyone else to pass. We climbed those 3,000 steps, no stopping, our heavy packs on our back, heart beating so hard, huffing and puffing until there wasn’t anything else to climb. It took us about 38 or so minutes to reach the top and the view was incredible! We took our time descending, the steps being rather steep while there are no handrails, just a sheer steep droop off if you decide to tilt to the side. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who has a fear of heights, even I wouldn’t dare look to the side to where the steps ended.

After our mountain peak adventure we met with Yaiber for a tour of Machu Picchu before heading back to town to catch the train back to Ollyantaytambo and then a van back to Cusco. We then had dinner at our favorite vegan spot, Green Point (You gotta try the pad thai) just a few steps away from our hotel before passing out for the night.



DAY EIGHT:

It was great to be back in Cusco. We had a later morning that usual and took a tour around Cusco and the magnificent ruins of Sacsayhuaman and its impressive rocky constructions. We were pretty wiped from trekking and wanted to hang out into the city so Yaiber was able to take us to the local chocolate factory before saying our goodbyes.

Guides are very important, as are porters and our chef, but guides make the experience so much more. Yaiber felt like family instantly and he quickly gained our respect and our hearts. His love for Peru shines and is quite contagious.

The rest of the day was spent shopping or soveniers, relaxing and pacing for tomorrows final adventure.

DAY NINE:

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I have seen this tourist destination all over social media and have read about the sediment created from mineral deposits over millions of years that has created these 7 different colors, Rainbow Mountain. This mountain, discovered less than 5 years and has been a tourist attraction ever since. Before that time? Local said the area had always been covered in snow, until it finally all melted and a colorful mountain appeared from under it. This mountain has created jobs and tourism for the community when employment didn’t really exsist. Guides lead over 1,000 hikers a day to the site and even had a wetland filled in to create a parking lot for vehicles.

The road to Rainbow mountain is quite lengthy trip from Cusco. The drive alone was spectacular, despite being extremely bumpy, you are one a single mountain road with Alpacas on either side of the road and beyond. Vast green lanscapes, white mountain peaks and no one insight but the car full of people.

None of us knew exactly what to expect, we hiked in a group and then seperated as the hike became a bit more strenous especially coming up to 16,000 ft. I was shocked at seeing how many people(Perus version of Disneyland, there were dozens) were out in jeans and vans and unprepared for what this was- a mountain. I understand I was in shorts but I was wearing layers upon layers, I definitely packed light for the entire trip and ended up donating what I had left to the porters families. Here, Families were taking there kids in sneakers and sweatshirts and asking how much further just a mere quarter of a mile into the hike. The trail was crowded and just before reaching the junction of Rainbow Mountain, it was so crowded you had to pull off your best dance moves to sashay around people. But once their wasn’t anything left to climb, you are left breathless- figuratively and literally. You understand why hundreds of people want to visit here, to experience the wonder, to feel as though nothing really matters when beauty like this exist. It was a great achievement, for myself included, to reach new heights of 16,500 ft.

This area is absolutely stunning and I understand why so many people want to visit it, but I can’t help but feel conflicted. I want to see this incredible place, I’d like to spend more time here but I also feel like I’m playing a part in the destruction of this beautiful and fragile alpine environment. Talking to our guide during the huge buffet lunch they provided, he says it’s only a matter of a few years before the land is ruined by the tourism boom.
That evening, after the bumpy ride home, we all gathered for our final dinner at Green Point Vegan Restaurant (It’s seriously THAT good) and reminisced about the weeks adventures, the highs, the struggles, the emotions and what brought us to this dream location. Tears were had, laughter was heard, hugs were given, and of course lots of food was eaten before we said goodnight.





Peru has awoken so many things within me. My visit to this magical place has reminded me to be present. I’ve been re-living choices I’ve made, particularly racing when perhaps my body wasn’t ready, having a summer of injury that had just left me an unhappy, unbalanced, and disappointed in my inability to reach these expectations I had of myself as an athlete and as a human being. I have been dwelling on the past and dream’t of the future when all I needed to be was grateful for the present. Words can not portray the immense gratitude I have for the opportunity to guide for Run Like A Girl and to have met such inspiring and kind-hearted people in doing so. Watching these women battle fears, emotions and overcome such obstacles helped me realize that I too was overcoming an obstacle: the fear and constant worry that I’m not good enough and overuse of the thought “I can’t”.

Because in the end, I’m the only person stopping myself and I’ve decided that I can.



My personal tips when traveling to Cusco:

  1. Pack light and pack old clothes. I only carried a 30L carry on for the entire trip. I re-wore outfits several times. I suggest packing old clothing because at the end of the Inca Trail you have the opportunity to donate things to the porters and their families. Your items would be treasured and greatly appreciated. I packed light due to my fear of my baggage getting lost since I had three connecting flights. Rightfully so. I also brought a fold up duffel in my purse to bring home purchases. On my flight on the duffel acted as my large purse and I still didn’t need to check in anything.

  2. There are women and children who carry around a baby lamas in Cusco that ask if you want your photo with the Llama. Do not indulge. These poor Llamas are bought when they’re weeks old, far too young, to be used for tourism and these kids are missing school because they think they have more opportunity making money on the streets than getting an education. To make matters worse, these Llamas are not properly fed, only given dried milk and usually die due to malnutrition.

  3. The shops in town normally carry “maybe” alpaca products. The vendors tell you what your purchasing is made of alpaca and baby alpaca wool when it’s just a polyester blend manufactured somewhere else. Just because the brand is called 100% alpaca doesn’t mean it’s made of anything alpaca. Just know what you’re purchasing.

  4. Try their delicacies. I’m not saying try guinea pig because I just imagine snuggling a pet but Peru does have some other great things to try. Their “Pisco Sour” is a well known drink (I got it without the egg) and it tasted like a margarita. They also have a corn drink we tried one day on the trail. They also have great local beer!

  5. Bring hand sanitizer and toilet paper with you EVERYWHERE.

  6. My two favorite restaurants in town where Green Leaf vegan, I reccomend the Pad Thai, Pancakes or their veggie burger and the Ginger lime kombucha- you can’t order wrong (Even the non vegans agreed with this) and Jacks Cafe. Jacks is vegan friendly but their food is incredible! Its a tiny spot with no bathroom and worth the wait if it’s crowded. I’d recommend that humus, the pumpkin soup and the bruschetta!

  7. We stayed at Apu Huascaran which was walking distance to everything and fairly inexpensive.

  8. Having puffy walking slippers for after hiking during the Inca Trail was amazing

  9. Thankful for everyone who let me charge my phone and camera with their portable chargers because mine died (I kept leaving my camera on and drained the battery). Bring an external battery, or hey, even a solar one!

  10. On the trail, you don’t NEED to eat everything and ask for seconds or thirds. You don’t need to act like you’ve never eaten before and the food might disappear if you don’t consume every bite—-> this is just advice for myself for when I return in September. I don’t need to act like a starving child every time there’s a plate of food in front of me!

    Do you have any tips or recommendations I should add? Send me an email!

I normally would include a Spotify list of songs that remind me of this trek, but gosh darn this post took me too long as it was. I know its months after the event but it’s difficult to spend hours on a computer when days in Los Angeles are so incredibly beautiful that I constantly feel as though I should be outside with Juniper frolicking in meadows and on mountain peaks. Since being able to run again, it has stolen my attention but I felt as though I couldn’t move forward with my blog without taking a step back and completing this post. Since Peru, several incredible events occurred; being able to run again, a Sierra adventure, Mexico, Cactus to Clouds and finally snow in SoCal- all things I want to write about, in due time.

Till next time!

Write here…

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Don't believe everything you think: Cascade Crest 100

When I think about racing these ultra distances I don’t actually think about the event itself but how I arrived to toe that starting line. I reflect on the miles of training, the highs of some runs, the lows of recovery days, the early morning wake up calls, the adapting to lingering injuries, re-assessing and addressing weekly goals and the constant motivation and support of loved ones. Without that support those miles would be inconceivable. Exploring the curiosity of running 50 miles, 100k, 100 miles is a strong driving force for me but the physical limits of the human body can override this desire all too easily. This summer I experienced something new; my body and mind continuously telling me I couldn’t achieve this race distance the weeks leading up to this endeavor yet there I was, standing at the start line, bib pinned on.

Cascade Crest 100 has been one of the races at the top of my list when first being introduced to the Central Cascade Mountains just outside of Seattle, Washington. It's no secret that most of my races revolve around the Pacific North West because of the beautiful terrain and even more incredible people; Cascade Crest was no different. 

This summer started off with a bang. My training felt solid, my body strong and my mind focused on my summer goals. I had several long training weeks and felt as though I'd recover and bounce back eager for more miles and quality time spent in the mountains. The best part was I never felt as though running was ever training but just an activity I was passionate about and was stoked to do every day. Unfortunately all of that was put on pause when I began feeling pain in my posterior tibial tendon that would increase anytime I'd run downhill and on flat hard surfaces. I was in the middle of a three week running trip in Colorado when I decided to come home early.

If not a mountain runner? Than what am I?

Rich from VFE, hes a miracle worker, fights all the knots and tightness my body has been creating!

Rich from VFE, hes a miracle worker, fights all the knots and tightness my body has been creating!

A question that surfaced all too frequently those weeks during summer that were spent not in the mountains and most importantly, not running. I vest so much of my identity in ultra running and just mountain running in general, that once it’s taken away, even momentarily, I often asked myself “Who am I if I’m not running?”. It took awhile to gain momentum again once I accepted the fact that I needed to take time away from running to regain full health. I live, breath and dream about my next running adventure, be it local mountains, the Sierra or my annual trip to Colorado, I’ve always believed that I should work hard but play harder. Spending the rest of July and August far from those mountain peaks was devastating but I still had Cascade Crest 100 at the end of August on my Calendar. Everyday I questioned whether or not I should drop from the race, if my body would be recovered from my injury by then and if I should even run it recovered without even a mile ran in the last month. I took the process day by day, found my love of cycling and swimming again and was able to spend some time outdoors climbing with my boyfriend and some friends. Although I was still active almost everyday, I felt as though a part of me was missing, I was overwhelmingly sad I wasn’t doing the thing I was most passionate about and learned to mask those feelings in hopes that I can stay positive and focus on recovering. I gave up alcohol, all forms of gluten, and only consumed whole foods that were anti-inflammatory as well as incorporated a weekly strength training as well as sport massage with Rich and Julio at VFE in hopes for a quicker recovery. I dreamed of rugged trails, alpine vistas, mountain peaks, sore muscles, and crossing the finish line in Easton, WA.

Despite my gut feeling and well, my body telling me otherwise, we bought our plane tickets, booked an airbnb and the decision was finally made with a mere week left until race day.

On August 25th at 10am, I began the trek of 100 miles across the Cascade Mountains. Now, a couple months later, I shake my head at myself. I knew at the start line that I shouldn’t have been there and I continued to question my decision every step of the way. Not only was I still not healed- still hadn’t ran, but I was dealing with recovering from a cold, the wheezing in my breathing was a constant reminder of poor decision making.

The race normally known for its unbearable heat, was cold and rainy this year. The weeks leading up to the race, Washington and most of the PNW were dealing with fires and an overwhelming amount of smoke so the rain was welcomed with open arms.

I’d like to tell you that the entire thing was a mistake, running 100 miles when your body is not ready is pretty stupid. However, despite feeling pretty terrible most of the time, I was able to see an incredible amount of friends out on the course and even got to run half the race with Hilary and Ely. Those miles shared were pretty rough but shared with those two, made it an experience to remember- definitely would say it was type 2 fun! We supported each other, cheered on the grunts and howls and lifted each other up when times were low. Not only was I able to share those miles with two friends, I also picked up Eamon at Hyak Aid, mile 55, being my crew and pacer, this was a great test to our relationship! We continued off with Hilary and her pacer but not even a mile out of the aidstation, my posterior tibial tendon pain resurfaced and left me walking, tears flowing down my face. I waved goodbye to Hilary as she continued to run and debated whether I should just end this quest now, giving it a good 55 miles of trying. Eamon encouraged me to continue, despite my meltdown, and we continued forward.

The miles passed slowly, as my moods went from one extreme to the other as Eamon, the incredible partner that he is, continued with his positive pep talks and occasional embraces when my mood was at an all time low and perhaps a bit snappy. As the miles krept by, my eyes demanding sleep, I felt empty of all sources of energy and I couldn’t imagine the finish line. I’ve never experienced feeling this low during any ultra and didn’t know how to manage all the negativity that were surfacing. This person had taken over my body- this negative and sad person kept repeating the word can’t.

Thank you Eamon for letting me borrow your socks and I’m sorry I put a hole in them :( Fantastic photo by Glenn!

Thank you Eamon for letting me borrow your socks and I’m sorry I put a hole in them :( Fantastic photo by Glenn!

Genuinely happy to see Glenn again toward the top of Thorp. This climb seemed never ending. Before the 6 mile descent of my bodies destruction and unwillingness to move faster than a crawl.

Genuinely happy to see Glenn again toward the top of Thorp. This climb seemed never ending. Before the 6 mile descent of my bodies destruction and unwillingness to move faster than a crawl.

I can’t do this, I kept repeating to myself. Not only was I vocal about this belief but in my my mind believed what I was saying. I can’t do this, I repeated. My body was in a whirl of hurt, at this point it wasn’t just my shin but my right hip and my overall posture was slumped over trying to find a running position that wasn’t painful. In past races, I’d have a second, third, fourth wind, however, here there was no second chances- I was giving it my all.

Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that- thoughts.
After a month of not drinking, I enjoyed a few sips of beer at the finish line… until the dehydration and headache hit me.

After a month of not drinking, I enjoyed a few sips of beer at the finish line… until the dehydration and headache hit me.

I crossed the finish line after 27 hours and 3 minutes of running. After years of envisioning running this race, I had never pictured the day to end like this. I wanted so badly to perform in such a way that when I couldn’t physically achieve that goal, I barely held on for dear life, exhausting all resources and crying a shit ton. I was disappointed in myself as an athlete, not just because I felt as though I could do better, but because I risked my health and my body to get to this point. Was it worth it? The belt buckle, the Hardrock qualifier, adding another month of not running? The race itself, was incredible! The volunteers, the runners, the supporters, the course (even in the cold) were all what I dreamed of, but was it worth injuring myself further? I can’t honestly answer that question. Despite being left with another injury that left me hobbling around for a month after the race, everything that happened during those 27 hours was an experience I wouldn’t trade, a hard lesson learn. It’s amazing the things we can train our minds to believe, for the best or for the worst.

It was then, weeks later, when I stopped focusing on how long it would take me to hobble to work, or worry about getting Juniper proper exercise, when I stopped stressing at the idea of getting back to my normal self and just let myself be, that I was able to heal. I remember the moment I took notice, I ran up my parents stairs to say hi and stopped at the top- light switch just flipped, realizing that I had just RAN up the stairs with zero pain and without effort. I realized I hadn’t been late to work lately and that I was able to cross the street before the hand started blinking and without hobbling. My body was feeling good and most importantly, I was happy!

With two weeks of transitioning the miles back into my routine and then three solid weeks of running in the mountains under my belt, I’m finally feeling back to myself. Injuries are no joke and the time it takes to heal and recover should be taken seriously, an idea I’m learning to grasp. Despite being injured, I look back at my summer and am amazed at how positive my reaction toward it is. Yes, perhaps I couldn’t run most of the summer but that time wasn’t wasted. I was able to build a healthy and loving relationship with an incredible human being, do other activities other than running that I’ve sidelined in the past, and I got to watch my best friend Rhea finish her first 100 mile race (also Cascade Crest), among many other things. I’ve always defined myself as a runner but it’s not what makes me, me. These last few months helped me realized that this one sport doesn’t define me as a person, but it’s the choices I make in the end that controls my happiness and overall well being.

Since Cascade Crest, I’ve been able enjoy time away from running, spending a few week in Peru as well climbing in the Sierra and just spending quality time with my family, friends and boyfriend. As much as I tried to write about my trip to Peru with Run Like A Girl, I felt as though I needed to get this specific experience off my chest (don’t worry, more adventure posts to come!). The negative feelings clouded my overall experience and writing about it helped me grasp all the good things and all the great memories I had made during that journey. As I embark on my next adventure, packing my bags for Mexico, I feel as though all that stress and negativity is behind me and the happy go lucky Sawna has returned and is ready for the next Chapter to begin.

Till next time!

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Avalon 50 mile Recap Catalina Island

I KNOW.
I KNOW.
I KNOW.

Maybe it's just me very disappointed that it's taken me nearly a month to write this.
Here I am, right now, sitting and prepared.
That's what counts right?

I think back on Avalon 50 mile benefit run, and there's this overwhelming sense of happiness.
And hatred- but that has nothing to do with the race itself but my body.

It seemed as though everything was too good. Going too well. Lets start at the beginning.

I knew two people running the race and both started earlier. Standing at the starting line with my dad was fantastic.
In the midst of a race, we are sharing stories with other runners and feeling quite comfortable rather than nervous.
I, ofcourse, rocked my TNT head wrap (what the heck are those called?) and ULTRA team arm sleeves.
The gear striked up conversation with a fellow runner and we ended up having a ton of mutual friends.
What a great way to start a race.
That's not even the best part!

During Leona Divide 50 miler, I went out too fast and that resulted in extreme amounts of pain later in the race.
This time, I ensured that I kept a slow and steady pace- with the ultimate goal of being able to run most of the race and not overwhelm my body.
Considering the race began at 5am, it was pitch black.
The trails where lit by the breath and headlamps of other runners, what a view!
I ended up finally turning mine on around mile 4 and it resulted in a conversation started with a man running next to me.

We chatted for another three miles. Three miles is a pretty significant number to run and talk to a complete stranger.
We got to know eachother.
He was my highschool substitute teacher.
Who could forget a name like Mr. Rogers!
What a small world!

I met quite a few runners, chatted and then departed.
I FELT GREAT!
That's how it went.

Plain and simple.
Up until mile 42.

Once my feet hit a downhill pavement, my right knee did not agree with the pounding.
In retrospect- I took that section far too hard.

The next 8 miles were difficult to say the least.
Attempting to stay positive, hydrated and moving... forward.

The last few miles were a bit of a struggle. At that point I told myself to man up and keep going.
Run hop Run hop Run hop
all.
the.
way.
to.
the.
end.

I look back and ask myself- Was it worth it?

I haven't ran since that day, because of what took place.
I have no regrets.


Everyday my knee gets stronger and hurts less! I have a physical therapy apt. tomorrow and look forward to hearing positive results!



Till next time,
Peace, love and happiness!



*Move, nourish, believe...daily*

Learning how to not fall off a bike.

I learned how to ride a bike, I believe, like most kids do.
I don't recollect riding with training wheels, but really- that was a long time ago.
What I do remember is learning how to brake on my big girl two wheeled bike.
My dad would stand on the sidewalk a mere few feet away from me and I would crash into him each and every time.
Well, I guess not every time since I did eventually learn how to properly ride a bike- so I thought.

Fast forward to now.
My face is on the ground, the cement to be exact.
I don't remember how my face arrived here, it is a familiar place I have visited before however the events leading up to it I could not recall.
My head hurts, and yet I'm wearing a helmet.
I turn my face to the right and I see Bob running toward me with his bike in hand.

MY BIKE!
MY BIKE!
MY BIKE!

It's all that is swimming in my head. Is it ok? Did it get hurt? Do I need to get it fixed?
All questions I should be asking myself yet my bikes health is all I care for.

"Take it easy" I hear from voices I do not recognize.
I turn on my back and realize two unknown cyclist where at my side helping me up.

My hip.
I see my shirt had risen up and there is a gash across my hip bone.
My elbow.
Two strips of red raw skin were across my forearm.
My knee.
Its red, not bleeding but raw as well.

I look over to Bob. My new cycling friend I had met a mere three days prior to this accident.

He hands me his water bottle
"For the blood on your face" is all he said. But it was his facial expression that made me think... I really screwed myself up this time. I had never scratched up my face before.



(^^^this was only part of it )

I feel ok. I tell myself.
It's going to be ok- I reiterate.

Bob is talking. But the only thing I catch is something about going back and "did you want to continue?".
my response...
"Heck yeah... lets keep going!".


Was it the safe choice?
I don't know
Was it the sane choice?
I doubt it.

Eating cement three miles into your ride isn't the ideal way to end a training ride.
So... I kept going.

WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?

The choice I made, in my mind, was the right one.
Accidents happen, its a fact. You do your best to prevent them yet they occur when you least expect it. It is how you respond, how you react that will further your training or regress it.

When running in the mountains, there are uncertainties that can put you in peril. You may step on a rock incorrectly or slip on the extremely narrow path of sand, you may be have rolled your ankle or cut up your knee.
But rarely do you stop.
You have trained yourself to walk things off and to keep going.

When I was continuing with my bike ride I thought of how much I wanted to go home.
I thought of how much I wanted to complain.
I thought about how much I wanted to just not.
Not cycle.
Not run.
Not swim.
Not exercise.
Not get hurt.
Not put myself in danger.

Then we stopped.

We were at mile 21.
"Should we head back?" Bob asks.
"Or we can do an intense four mile climb past Westridge- up Madeville Canyon".
50 miles altogether? Didn't really expect to go that long.

My not wanting to continue, my not wanting to exercise, my not wanting to put myself in danger- just flew out the window.

"It's up to you" he continues.

I cleared my head of all the negativity. It just isn't me.

And we continued.
He wasn't joking. Intense incline.
And I held onto my handle bars for dear life.


The best part of running in the mountains, cycling on the road- is the risk involved.
Overcoming those obstacles and gaining strength and experience each time is what makes me coming back for more.


It's training for life.




PostScript: It's been a few months, I know. I have been up to things, I promise. I have lacked the patience to sit and write my experiences but ALAS! I do have things to say but that's for another time!


Till next time,
Peace, love and happiness