My first run in Quito

Yesterday I went on my first run. After a week in Quito, I feel fully acclimatized and I was curious to see if I would feel a difference running at this altitude (2800 m / 9800 ft).  It wasn’t going to be an accurate test seeing as I haven’t run (I hate to admit this) in about six weeks. If I felt winded, it may be the altitude, or it could just as easily be that I’m little out of shape.

I planned my route ahead of time.  I wanted to run to el Parque Metropolitano.  This park is the largest urban park in South America at 1,376 acres (5.5 km²) (as reference, New York’s Central Park is 843 acres (341 ha). The park is located in northern Quito, on the hill of Bellavista behind Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa. The park is suited for mountain biking, walking, and running. Most of it is eucalyptus forest with trails, but there also are numerous sculptures on display. The park has four sites that can be used for picnics or barbecues, and the eastern section has a view of Cotopaxi, Antisana, and the Guayllabamba river basin. (Thanks Wikipedia.)

From the map, I figured it would take no more than a half hour to get to the park running a very easy pace.  I would then walk around the park a bit and then run back to the hostel.  I didn’t want to run more than one hour today since I haven’t been running for a while.  Off I went, dressed in my regular running clothes, equipped with my water skin, 5 bucks in case I needed to take a taxi, a business card of my hostel in case I got completely lost, and of course a map (thank goodness).  Sorry, didn’t take the camera so no pictures with this post.

I was pretty confident I knew where I was going as I had studied the map in advance, and I was getting quite familiar with the area north of our hostel.  Well, when I arrived at the first major intersection – a roundabout – I was completely perplexed.  There were about five major streets (I’m talking 4-6 lane boulevards) feeding into the roundabout.  Two problems:  which way do I go and how the heck do I cross this intersection with no traffic lights to help me.  I studied the map again and observed the traffic pattern for a while to figure out how to cross without getting hit (pedestrians do NOT have the right of way in this city).  This became the norm at every major intersection thereafter.  Stop.  Study the traffic pattern – sometimes for two cycles of lights just to figure out when it might be safe to cross.  Then run, literally, across the street.  The streets in Quito are not laid out squarely – they curve, they criss-cross, they turn into other streets.  It’s quite confusing.  At least it is to me. And drivers rarely yield to pedestrians.  If you’re in their way, they’ll be sure to let you know with a friendly, or not-so-friendly honk.

I was running a nice and easy pace and for about ten minutes it was very flat.  I felt great.  Legs were fresh (no surprise there) and my breathing was easy.  But then the terrain changed to one great big hill.  The park is afterall at the top of a hill.  This is a dream location if you want to do hill training.  As soon as I began to ascend, I quickly became short of breath and got a headache immediately.  This didn’t surprise me as I get winded just going up a flight of stairs here – I know it is the altitude because I couldn’t be that out of shape so quickly, at least I hope not.

I kept going.  I ran a little, walked a little.  It was getting steeper and steeper.  One half hour in, and I still wasn’t at the park.  In fact, I was now in a more residential area high above the city (great views) looking west, down at the city below with the mountains behind.  The streets were quite deserted in this area and I wasn’t exactly sure how to get into the park.  I wasn’t quite lost, as I could see some trees way above me which I figured must be the park but it was still a ways to go.

At this point, I decided to turn back mainly because I wasn’t feeling secure about being alone in this area without knowing exactly where I was going.  It may have been fine, but I prefer to err on the side of caution.  Besides, I had reached the half-way point in my run so it was time to turn back anyways.

I managed to make my way down the hill to Carolina Park – the park I walked through the other day.  I enjoyed the rest of my run on the flat running path that traverses the park.  I hadn’t seen the entire park yesterday so enjoyed the opportunity to run it from one end to the other.  I was surprised to see an airplane, yes a real airplane (not sure what kind – it had two propellers on each side) parked in the park.  I have no idea why.  Wish I had my camera with me, it would have made a great shot seeing as it was plastered in graffiti.

I returned to the hostel, satisfied with my run.  Total time:  1 hour 15 minutes.  Total distance:  No idea.

The top three dangers when running in Quito (in my humble opinion) and my advice for dealing with them (based on my one run):

1.  Traffic:  Never, never enter an intersection before looking in every single direction.  At lights, make sure you understand the traffic pattern before entering the intersection.  It may look like it’s safe to go, but look out, there’s a lane turning right in front of you! Better yet, latch onto a local and go when they go.

2.  Sidewalks:  Not only are there potholes and cracks and loose cement, the sidewalks are not flat, they go up and down unexpectedly.  And be mindful of all the dog s*** – they clearly don’t have any by-laws to keep the sidewalks clean.  I want to know what Ecuadorian dogs are eating as I have never seen such huge piles of s*** before.

3.   Altitude: Finally, the effects of altitude are very real and should not be minimized.  I don’t think it’s a good idea to go running if you haven’t properly acclimatized. Like anything respect your limits and listen to your body.  There’s no shame in walking up a hill that is practically vertical and that increases your altitude in every step.

Category: Ecuador, South America
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One Response
  1. Neil & Michelle says:

    Thanks again – really enjoying reading your entries. Based on your description of the “obstacles” left by dogs on the sidewalk, I’d say one should focus on avoiding the dogs rather than what they are eating – just in case they have a taste for runners.
    We hope Chris is feeling better!