Category Archives: Sports & Leisure

Friday Fotos: A swimming hole in Antioquia

Because I am nothing if not a dreamer, I recently submitted a photo essay to World Nomads‘ travel photography scholarship contest. While I definitely didn’t expect to win (and win I did not), I learned a bit about photography and was inspired by the amazing entries from around the world. It’s worth taking a look at the winning entry and those that were short-listed (congratulations, all!). I’m reproducing my five-photo essay, below, along with a few bonus shots, all taken with my iPhone SE. Follow me on Insta at @courtenaystrickland for more. Enjoy!

Man on HorseSometimes it seems horses and motos frequent the Autopista Medellín-Bogotá nearly as often as the trucks for which it’s intended. As the two-lane passes through Antioquia, the Colombian state dominated by Medellín, it yields views of waterfalls and easy access to charcos, or natural swimming holes.

fullsizeoutput_588bPast the Santuario toll (always much further past than the locals say), not far from Cocorná, lies the Hotel-Restaurante El Descanso. In the US, it would be only a truck stop – oil leaches slowly from the undercarriage of parked semi nearby – but here the adjacent charco makes it something more.

Children PlayingOn weekends, locals gather to drink and chat by the quebrada’s banks and take dips in the icy cold waters. In the shallows, children splash and squeal; young men teach the newbies to skip stones. A very old man, unable to walk, lies on a grassy spot, wrapped in blankets and attended to by his wife.

Ready to LeapYoung people congregate around the deep end and on the balcony of the tiendita above. A cracked pool slide remains installed in the concrete embankment. On the makeshift diving platform, a girl readies herself to leap as a tanker truck roars by. She backs away as those below yell encouragement.

Away She GoesAfter several minutes of indecision, the girl is airborne. She doesn’t dive head first to meet her reflection, as some of the adult males have done, but she’s the youngest to make the attempt today. Those watching break into smiles as she surfaces.

BONUS PHOTOS – Photo contest entries were limited to five photos each. The photos below were not included.

fullsizeoutput_587cLearning to skip stones.

fullsizeoutput_5885The diving platform.

fullsizeoutput_5889And he’s off!

fullsizeoutput_588dMan meets himself.

fullsizeoutput_587f

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Run in Peace, My Luu.

It was Sunday morning, May 11, 2008. I remember the date because I’d had a big party at my small South Beach apartment the night before. It was a good party – we’d painted favorite quotes, song lyrics, and poems all over one of my walls – and therefore my apartment was a mess. I was still in my pajama shorts and T-shirt, a mop in one hand and phone in the other (because who can resist checking for new photos after you’ve hosted a party), when a call rang in.

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The voice on the other end was My Luu, an old friend from college. We’d been in the same dorm and had known and liked each other, but at our 5th or 10th reunion (it’s amazing how they blur together) we connected anew over dancing and late-night pizza. Now My was in Miami via Argentina, on her way back from a trip for IBM, for which she was then a market development executive helping women worldwide gain access to affordable technology to start and sustain businesses. She had messaged me the night before, but I hadn’t seen it until after midnight. Though she was in the 305 for only 15 hours or so, I replied with my phone number in case she still had time to get together.

By the time we spoke, only a few hours remained. Before heading back to the airport, My explained, she needed to fit in a three-hour training run for an upcoming marathon. It took me a minute to wrap my head around this – spending a long layover on a three-hour run was not something that would naturally occur to me, especially when lying on the beach with a tourist drink in hand was a viable option. But knowing My, it made sense – this was not a woman who wasted any part of any day. If circumstances changed, she adjusted and continued forward.

“Where are you?” I asked. “I can’t run for three hours, but I could join you for one.” I crossed my metaphorical fingers that I’d be able to pull that off: I was mildly hung over and definitely sleep-deprived, and wasn’t sure I could keep up.

“I’m at the apartment of the only other person I know in Miami,” she said. Someone she’d worked with during her time as a State Department diplomat in Uzbekistan, I think. “On the Beach, around 16th and Euclid.”

“Wait, what? Where exactly?”

When she gave me the address, I couldn’t believe it. My was in the small apartment building just behind mine. I could step out my entryway door and see the place not even 50 yards away. Within 15 minutes, we met on the corner. My greeted me with her customary big hug, and we started jogging. Fueled by the company and conversation, I surprised myself by running more than an hour. During that time, I learned that My’s upcoming marathon – in Rio, I think – would not be her first. She already had some races under her belt and was planning to run a marathon on every continent. This was someone who knew what she was doing.

At one point during the run, My suggested we circle back to her friend’s to refill water bottles and grab a Gatorade. For some reason, the simple act of stopping briefly to fulfill a need was an epiphany for me: The best way to reach the finish line was to focus on the journey. There was a patience, flexibility and matter-of-fact practicality to My’s training that I had not understood until then. I had tried training for a marathon once before and had treated the process with such intransigent rigor that making a pit stop would have been anathema. I thought if you stopped, even to adjust to new conditions, you had failed. Not surprisingly, during my first 13-miler, I injured myself and never went further. But with My, I saw how running 26.2 was not only possible but might even be enjoyable. It was all about attitude.

I mentioned to My that I had tried and failed, and tentatively suggested that maybe I would try again. She bubbled with enthusiasm, “You can totally do it, Courtenay!” she said. “You can do it! You have to do it.”

I headed back to my still-icky apartment, leaving My to finish her three hours. But new possibilities and a new optimism had bloomed in my head. I started running more consistently, following My’s example of pacing, focusing on the present and listening to the body’s signals, and by the next January, I had done it – I had run my first marathon. It’s an accomplishment I credit to two people: my mom, who set an example for me by running her first marathon at 41, and My, who in just over an hour showed me the proper way to train and, most critically for me, the necessary mindset. I wouldn’t have done it without her.

My’s contagious enthusiasm was a gift that kept on giving. In April 2009, My emailed me with the idea of getting a bunch of Yalies together to run a race. She had the backing of the Association of Yale Alumni and had set her sights on a marathon in Reykjavik, Iceland in August of that year. She wanted to know if I’d like to go. On my nonprofit salary, and with my Miami Beach apartment, Iceland would be a stretch, but I knew I would do it. My also helped by agreeing to room with me for the whole trip, reducing costs. The days we spent in Iceland proved to be one of the most fun and enriching travel experiences I’ve ever had. The marathon itself was only one highlight, and all of it was thanks to My and her joyful energy, diligent planning and ability to make meaningful connections among everyone around her.

I ran two more marathons after that, including one in Argentina, bringing my total to four and number of continents to three. Each of them was an experience unto itself, and each a credit to my friend. She opened worlds for me. Through marathon running, travel and her own life example, My taught me a new way of being – a way that said yes to life. Yes even when it’s difficult. Yes when you’re not sure you can do it. Yes even if you might not be strong enough. Yes even when you want to quit. Yes when you don’t know what lies around that curve. Yes because deep in your heart you know the journey will be worth it, regardless of the outcome. Yes because it’s the only way to truly live. Yes.

My, I’ve never been able to embrace the yes quite as much as you, but because of you, I sure try hard. And never, ever have I regretted it. My life is so much richer because of you. Run in peace, My. Run in love. Run.

12033194_10153152711695905_4883647079243187258_nIn loving memory. On Friday, September 25, 2015, My lost her hard-fought battle with cancer, but her light was not extinguished – it lives on in all of us blessed to have known her, and in all the people around the world who have benefited and continue to benefit from her work. May My’s husband Dave and her family and friends be surrounded by love during this transition. For more on My’s story, see The New York Times write-up of her August 7, 2015 wedding.

Five Facts to Know About Road Races in Barranquilla

It’s National Running Day in the US, and even though I have mixed feelings about “minor” holidays like this (I just read on Facebook that it is also apparently National Hug Your Cat Day – maybe you should run and hug your cat), I figured there would be no better day than today for a quickie blog post on the do’s and don’ts of running road races in Barranquilla.

Running Medals and Numbers

Proof!

I have run five road races in Quilla since I moved here almost two years ago. That’s not a high number (hey, I did run a 26.2mi/42k during that timeframe, albeit in Argentina!), but it’s enough to learn a few things about how these events happen here. If you plan to run a road race in Barranquilla, know someone who does, or simply want to be prepared for variances in races place-to-place, these tips are for you!

1. The listed start time is… what’s the word?… aspirational.

Do not – I repeat – do NOT arrive at your race an hour early, or even a few minutes early. Continue reading

The Evolving Mental State of an Amateur Marathoner

I have now run four marathons – one at an okay speed, two at semi-impressive speeds, and one terribly slowly. But even at my fastest, I am the turtle in the tortoise/hare story — only the hare most definitely wins. But I am a happy turtle, and something keeps me coming back time and again. For anyone who’s ever wondered, “What the hell is she thinking?” — and for my fellow distance runners who understand the obsession and for the loved ones who have to put up with it — this post is for you. I present to you the inner thoughts of an amateur marathoner before, during, and after the big race.

Probably near the 10k mark.

Buenos Aires Marathon, October 13, 2013. Probably near the 10k mark.

DAY BEFORE – Time to pick up the race kit with my number, T-shirt, etc. Husband goes with me. Check-in people ask if he has brought his release form, etc. I tell them I’m the one running. They try to hide their surprise. Continue reading

Run, Run Like the Wind… but don’t forget your Armpocket: B.o.B.’s First-But-Not-Last Product Review and Giveaway

For those who are long-time readers of this blog, you know from this post that I run. It’s more accurate to say that I jog, but that sounds so boring. I think if the activity requires your knees to bend more than your butt joint, then you are entitled to say that you run. But I digress…. You also know from this post that running in Barranquilla can be hard, not just because of the extreme heat and humidity, but also because of the crazy uneven or nonexistent sidewalks and the drivers who most definitely do not believe that pedestrians have the right-of-way. What you may not know is that running in Barranquilla sent me on a quest for a product I wish I had found long ago – the Armpocket.

My brand new Armpocket.

My brand new Armpocket.

Before I tell you why I recommend this product so highly, let me tell you how I came to realize that I needed it. The story starts in Miami Beach, where I trained for three marathons but never ran with a phone. I wanted my daily run to be off the grid. I did, however, run with an iPod Nano since running without music is, as far as I’m concerned, some outer circle of Hell. That, and I am totally addicted to tracking my runs with  Nike+. (Almost 2,000 miles logged!) I tried a variety of arm straps for my Nano – one by Nike, one by New Balance, and some others that I can’t remember. In the process, I got blisters on my arm and ruined two iPods through water damage. (Sweat, people. Lots of sweat.) I chalked this up to the price of running – after all, it’s a pretty cheap sport on the whole – and kept hoping my iPod would survive at least six months. (Don’t even get me started on earphones… no telling how many of those I burned through before I discovered that Sennheiser’s are serious troopers. But again I digress….)

When I came to Barranquilla, I quickly realized that I was going to feel more comfortable if I toted my phone with me on runs – not just because I could make an emergency call if needed, but also because of the GPS. Being the practical person that I am, I plopped my iPhone into a plastic sandwich bag, leaving the bag open just enough for the earphone cord, and carried it in my hot little hand. (I ditched the iPod since the iPhone had both music and the Nike+ app – although let me tell you, my average time per mile plummeted because if you use the Nike+ app with the GPS, as opposed to the one that goes on your shoe, then you get no credit for all that time you’re running in place at the red light. OMG, I digress again….) That’s when some pretty interesting things started to happen. Continue reading

Colombia + Rain + Football = Epic Adventure (with photos and videos)

Picking up where we left off in the ongoing saga of World Cup mania in Colombia, I had just bought tickets on the street to Colombia’s sold-out September 6th Qualifier against Ecuador. I bought the tickets literally a few hours before the game, and paid a hefty price.

Marcello's nursery school class on game day.

Marcello’s nursery school class on game day.

The purchase was dicey in two respects: 1) tickets are all too often found to be counterfeit, which can mean a colossal waste of money for the purchaser, and 2) my husband Gio had to work until just before the start of the game, which meant it would be no small miracle if we were able to arrive at the stadium on time. We made the leap anyway because we realized at the last minute that we would not be in Barranquilla during the remaining home World Cup Qualifiers. This would likely be our only chance to see our team — the number 3 ranked team in the world no less! — in action. It didn’t seem like an opportunity to miss.

So you can imagine our dismay when, just as we bolted out of the house to rush to the stadium, the storm clouds let loose.

The arroyo at the corner of CR 47, our street, and CL 85, the nearest cross-street. The wall that is submerged behind the tree is probably five feet tall.

The arroyo at the corner of CR 47, our street, and CL 85, the nearest cross street. The wall that is submerged behind the tree is four or five feet tall.

A torrential downpour just before a major sporting event is a problem in any city; it’s bound to cause traffic snafus. But in Barranquilla, a major downpour doesn’t just slow things down — it stops everything. This is because Barranquilla has no drainage system other than the streets themselves, which means the streets become whitewater rivers — called “arroyos” — that are capable of sweeping cars underwater and (sadly) killing people too. Gio and I donned plastic garbage bags in a (failed) attempt to stay dry and ran down the street desperately trying to hail a cab before the streets became impassable. With each step we took, the rain came down harder. We made it about two blocks from our house before the water began rushing down the street and over our shoes. At that point, we knew it was too late. Just when we decided to turn around and head home, and just when I thought it couldn’t rain any harder, it did. We were starting to feel waterboarded when we finally made it to the shelter of a nearby apartment building’s porch and a small store on the ground floor.

That’s when the fun really began. Continue reading

(Friday Fotos) World Cup Hootenanny – It’s Game Day!

Let me set the scene. At this very moment, I’m sitting at my desk in my fourth floor apartment a half block away from one of the most happening streets in the city, which has now been closed to car traffic. The intersection that I can see is filled with people in bright yellow T-shirts, and more are approaching from all sides. Never mind the storm clouds that are also gathering. Yellow, red, and blue Colombian flags stream from every building, and music pounds from monster speakers. This is Colombia, and this is all about the World Cup.

A local taste of what the World Cup is about to bring - and what B'quilla will bring to the World Cup!

A local taste of what the World Cup is about to bring – and what B’quilla will bring to the World Cup!

We’re in the middle of the “Selección” — the series of games that countries worldwide play in order to secure a spot in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. As you know from the post Fútbol, not Football, Colombia chooses to play its home qualifiers right here in Killa. The last time Colombia made it to the Copa Mundial, they played the home games in Barranquilla, so our fair city is considered good luck. Plus, rumor has it that the visiting teams can’t take the heat (literally).

I’m convinced the decision to play here also has to do with Barranquilleros’ extreme love of fútbol. Even in Colombia, a country with no shortage of fútbol aficionados, Barranquilleros rank at the top on the scale of devotion. For example, at all games of the national league, the  División Mayor del Fútbol Profesional Colombiano (Dimayor), the home team has a “barra” in the stadium end zone where the most die hard fans congregate. Barranquilla’s club, which is called Junior for reasons that nobody can explain to me, is the only team in Colombia that has two barras — one in each end zone. You’ll see what I’m talking about in the photos that follow. Continue reading