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My Journey to Post-Marathon Retreat : The Gift of Exercise

How come I am about to praise the virtues of exercise, writing as a guest of Rancho La Puerta? I was the kind of girl in high school who would look for any excuse NOT to attend Sports (PE) class, especially when the dreaded 12-min long Cooper Test was on the agenda…

So what exactly happened to that girl? Why is she writing a blog about completing her first marathon, age 41, in 4 hours…and 35 seconds? And why is she also checking out Running Retreats at Rancho La Puerta, voted Best Destination Spa in the world for many years running?

At Rancho La Puerta, Tecate, Baja California (Mexico)

Give yourself the gift of exercise

Happy to discover yoga 15 years ago, I felt it worked on both body and mind – without involving much sweating. Yes, exercise was never my first choice activity.

Life then brought me a blissful marriage, two precious kids and, with hindsight, a post-natal depression. Yoga, mind and body went out of the window to make space for the kids.

My husband kept telling me exercise could be the remedy but I did not really have the strength to listen. Until my life rocked all the way to San Diego, on a fine day just about 6 years ago.

With a move to perfect weather, it was my chance to reinvent myself.

Newly met friends mentioned the 2012 Rock & Roll Half Marathon:

“- Wouldn’t it be fun?

– But I have never run!

– You’ll be fine!”.

My husband seeing the perfect opportunity registered me on the spot and supported my every walking, jogging (and eventually running!) steps.

Road Runner Trail at Rancho La Puerta

More than a simple remedy, exercise is a true gift! And it’s never too late to start or to make it a non-negotiable part of your life…I did it and so can you! Then, make sure to spread the word!

First and foremost, remember this recommended addiction is a treat to yourself. Running is linked to countless benefits for your heart, your body and your state of mind. It also fuels a healthy curiosity opening new paths, both physical and mental.

Re-learn the obvious, breathe…

Statue by Victor Hugo Castaneda

Having practiced yoga before, I recognized the meditative quality of breathing while running but I was curious to try proper meditation at Rancho La Puerta.

Not much to report, I am afraid! Not because it was not good. I vaguely remember instructor Susana guiding us to push away the many thoughts rushing about as we focused on breathing. But I remember NOT needing to do this. No thoughts were bothering me!

In just one day spent at the Ranch, I got lost on its many paths, taking in the beautiful simplicity of the surrounding Nature. In the process,  I had managed to silence the noise. Only running had given me this before.

As appealing as this may sound, I know the toughest part is to start an exercise routine. And to go back to it two days later when your legs feel sore. If you’ve thought about it many times but keep getting side-tracked, you’re not the first one. Try again. Just for you.

Road Runner Trail at Rancho La Puerta

Do you need a bit of a nudge? Rancho la Puerta figured it out with their Running Retreats over 3, 4 or 7 nights.

Appealing to both beginners and seasoned runners, the retreats mix running clinics with scenic trails amidst egg-shaped boulders and delicate flora. It’s all about breathing and letting go.

There is also plenty to explore when it comes to recovery activities.

Reflexology Path at Rancho La Puerta

Walking the Reflexology Path was fun but testing as running does increase feet sensitivity.

The Release & Mobilize class with Nathan was a revelation. Using two tennis balls, I was guided through movements hitting all the tight spots in my neck, shoulders, legs and gluts. It worked wonders as deep muscle release.

Simple and natural in every approach sums up Rancho La Puerta’s philosophy since it was established in the 1940’s.

Their Running Retreat concept takes all the decision-making out of your hands with one clear objective: making sure you take running home with you, whatever the distance.

Training for a marathon

As part of my New Year resolution (Finding Strength in Hokusai’s Wave), I increased my distance to a marathon this year. I honestly don’t think this is different from trying to start or get back to an exercise routine. It took a lot of persuasion to sign up even though running is part of my wellness and well-being. 26.2 miles is scary. Each time I finished a half-marathon, I could not possibly entertain doubling it right there. Like everybody, the voices in my head were too loud…

Key promises during my 4 months of training were:

In that order…

What it took were 430 miles of training scaled up over 4 months and broken down in 3 runs a week. Discipline, an app on my phone, audio books and some music was all I needed. It’s the “simplicity” of it all…It’s there in you all along. Your mission is to make a habit out of running or exercising.

For you’ll be taking running everywhere you go. This year alone, I ran in Paris, London, Cuba, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, Kyoto and I had never run in Mexico until now!

With Mount Kuchumaa as backdrop, the air was fresh with scents of honeysuckle. The sky was a perfect blue matching blooming rosemary shrubs. Heavenly simplicity…here is that word again!

I ran with Martin and Roma in wild vegetation ranging from yellow palo verde trees to bleached-out white chamise bushes, while neon-like orange nets of dodder seemed to light up the flanks of the Cuyamaca landscape. I am sure all these colors can be used as mile markers as you explore some of the trails spread over the Ranch’ 3000-acre grounds. You probably can keep going till you exhaust the rainbow…or yourself!

I wish I’d thought of something like this while planning my routes for my 20-miler sessions. Instead I used by car as my anchor and developed a strange relationship with it! Seeing your car means you get to stop – unless you cruelly messed it up and Siri’s “friend” on your phone is not telling you “Workout Finished”! If it happens, it’s about finding the strength to pass your car and pile on for one last mile. It’s no different from that very first second run you have to do when you kick-start exercising.

Race Day

On Race Day and before, I was full of doubts and scared. It was me against the voices in my head.

No different from when you are making that change and it feels so hard. My voices started at Mile 16. They said that stopping was tempting, definitely the right thing to do. “Why did you sign up?”, “Oh look, a hill!”, “You don’t really have the strength to run a hill now, do you?”. If you’ve read The Little Prince, these voices can become baobabs in your head if you don’t stop! And breathe…

All these mind tricks need to be navigated and I mostly did until Mile 18 where I felt really sick despite drinking water like clockwork at each milestone. I stopped at the medical tent and the verdict was the start of hyponatremia. My sodium levels depleted from drinking too much water, I was sweating out all the vital minerals I needed to finish. A quick fix was a sport drink and some salt but that cost me a precious 10-minute break.

“Someone in the Crowd”

Never underestimate people rooting for you along the way. My friends, my family, they never stopped encouraging me and kept me strong and accountable… Still, I know being under the 4-hour mark was within my reach. My husband points out it was my first and that finishing in the top 10% is fantastic. Yet what the other runners did is strangely irrelevant. And that very fact is relevant for all of us.

Along the course, one supporter did not have that upbeat bubbliness that others amazingly bring at every single race. He just said, boringly, mechanically “Keep going…Finish this race between you and yourself. It’s all about you and yourself”. And that’s spot on!

The mind tricks are yours. You’re the only one who can resolve them.

During meditation, a marathon or a 5k. Before booking a health retreat or more importantly when making a life-changing decision to improve your health, what you eat and how much you exercise. Those mind tricks are the same at every level of engagement.

Asked by a friend how come I seem to achieve everything I attempt, my answer was simple. There are tons of things I simply don’t do. But when I say I will do something (be it a marathon or go out for a drink), there is no U-turn, no “something came up”, no excuses.

When you find it hard to find motivation for your next class or your next run, remember “going” is always the right decision.

For more information about Running Retreats at Rancho La Puerta, click here.

This post is sponsored by Rancho La Puerta but all opinions expressed are my own.



© 2017 Ingrid Westlake

All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.

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