Okay, no, I am actually not that vain! Or that deluded. I have neither the level of fitness nor the physique, even at its worked-out best, to warrant a Nike commercial. (And I’m not sure that I could in good conscience advertise for them, although geez, I do like their running clothes….)
But that is how running often makes me feel: self-delusional in a good way – the kind of way that makes you get more done, act confidently, and generally avoid being a neurotic stress case. After years of running (and almost 1,400 miles logged on that Nike+ tracker thing), I can tell you with absolute certainty that the “runner’s high” is real.
So it’s no surprise, then, that one of the first things I asked Gio after his April scouting trip to Barranquilla was, “Can I run there?” Implicit in that question are two other ones: 1) Can I run there alone without becoming a crime victim? 2) Are the streets/traffic of such a variety that I can run without getting run over? Gio said that yes, he thought I could run here and, fortunately for all involved, Gio was right. Shortly after we moved into our apartment, I took to the streets. There were a few factors, however, that I had not fully considered. Here’s the rundown (ha!) of what it’s like to run in Barranquilla:
- It’s HOT. Really hot. As in, once-you-start-running-you-will-probably-keep-running-just-to-create-your-own-breeze hot. I swear I am not exaggerating. But since I know you – particularly you, my South Florida friends – are not fully convinced, let me lay out some numbers. The highs right now, in mid-October 2012, are still in the low-90’s. The high on October 2nd was 97˚F. The high in Miami on that same day was 87˚F. Now, usually, it’s probably closer to a five degree difference, but we haven’t yet factored in the humidity. The humidity in Barranquilla yesterday, October 15, 2012, was 89%. (Eighty-nine percent! How is that even possible?!) In Miami yesterday, it was 66%. So again, if you are so bold as to start to run, you will keep running because stopping will make you feel like you are simply going to evaporate into the pavement like the Wicked Witch of the West. Although whether you stop running or continue, you will still come home looking like something evil (Chucky, maybe?), so red will your eyes be from the constant sweat bath they received from your head.
- It’s HILLY. At least it’s hilly in the part of Barranquilla where we live and I run. As someone who has spent the last several years running in pancake-flat Miami, this required a serious adjustment. And it came as a totally surprise because I relied on Gio’s scouting-trip assessment of the hilliness. Gio is blessedly and delightfully low-maintenance. Is there a fast internet connection? Yes. Is there some sort of food with rice as the basis? Yes. Is Coca-Cola available? Yes. Then Gio is pretty much good to go. Gio also plays basketball, and unless you are on a very poorly built basketball court, hilliness is generally not a factor in that sport. So Gio did not notice that part of Barranquilla is built on the side of a very big hill, with some short steep ones thrown in for good measure. While this resulted in me walking around like a 90-year-old in my first few weeks of running here, it was actually sort of a nice change.
- It’s got 3-foot curbs. You know how when you’re at the gym for your complimentary personal training session, and the trainer makes you do something ludicrous like “toss” (read, “heave”) one of those heavy medicine balls in the air while simultaneously doing a jumping jack? And you look at the trainer like, “Are you nuts?” and she tells you that it’s important to build bursts of intensity into your workout so that you burn more calories? Well, if you run in Barranquilla, you will be forced into bursts of intensity as you make like some under-achieving amateur hurdle champ and try to leap over the 3-foot curbs and various other obstructions that the so-called sidewalk offers you. You will also develop the concentration of a rock climber on Yosemite’s El Capitán as you focus all your attention on not missing one of these obstacles and thereby landing flat on your face. (Unfortunately, unlike the climbers on El Capitán, your unshakeable focus on the path before you presents a new problem when it comes to avoiding cars.)
Why, you might ask, does Barranquilla have such high curbs? Well, because the city was built without a drainage system and experiences flash floods that turn some of the major thoroughfares into actual whitewater-rafting-worthy rivers. These are called “arroyos”, which is literally translated as “small river” in South America, and some of them are famous. This topic deserves a blog post all its own, so for now – again, to convince you that I’m not exaggerating – I’ll just share this video that someone else took of the arroyo at 84th St., the cross street on which we live (albeit this video is taken a little further “downstream”):
Besides the arroyos, the sidewalks appear to be controlled by whoever lives/does business adjacent to them, and if they decide they want to put stairs, a planter, a large rock, or whatever else in the middle of the sidewalk, then so be it. (I really do have a whole new appreciation for the Americans With Disabilities Act, and I thought I had a good appreciation of it before. It really is this amazing civil rights bill.) And if parking is scarce and a car will fit on the sidewalk, well, then that is where a car will go.
But even given all these challenges – or perhaps because of them – it is Barranquilla that makes me feel the most like I should be in that Nike commercial. Running here is hard, but the rewards are ridiculously high. With running, as with everything else, Barranquilla is teaching me to adjust, adapt, and keep on going. Like many important life lessons, this one is hard won, but better won than lived without. Besides, once you get through those weeks when it hurts – when heat and hills and leaping-on-demand do not feel fun at all – you get to the joy. The part where you can, in the words of Caitlin Moran in How to Be a Woman, “…run, run really fast, so it just feels like dancing, but in a straight line….”
Yes, that’s it. It just feels like dancing, but in a straight line. How’s that for a commercial? Bring it, Barranquilla.