Friday, October 24, 2014

Tapering in Belize: resting and relaxing as part of the training regimen

I'm going to make an exception and hiatus in my "Running in..." series; I discovered a new country with Agnès, but didn't run at all! 8 full days of tapering, I have not done such tapering in a long time, even before one of my 13 ultra races so far this year, and I'm "only" running a marathon this Sunday (the Marine Corps Marathon in DC, Alex' 2nd consecutive MCM)! We'll see if it pays off, very soon...

From a running perspective, I'm not sure Belize is the best place anyway but I'm all to hear otherwise (please leave a comment if you did find good spots). We first stayed inland, about 20 miles west of Belize City and the jungle is already pretty close. I'd say the safest is probably to run on one of the three main highways, knowing these highways are barely a strip of asphalt, about 3-lane wide but no road marking. We then spent 4 days in Caye Caulker (pronounce key like in Florida's Keys), which, referring to my thirst for long runs, Agnès initially introduced me as follows: "Will you be able to survive on a 5 by 1 mile island?" Well, Caye Caulker was actually split into two islands by a major hurricane back in 1961, and the inhabited part is barely 1 mile long and has 3 main streets. Dirt and many potholes for some good trail running, there isn't an ounce of asphalt on the whole island, golf carts are the only allowed vehicles on Caye Caulker, this adds to the very relaxing atmosphere.

So, what do you do in Belize when you are not running? Here are a few things we did...

Snorkeling. First and foremost, you have to love getting in the water when visiting Belize. Belize has the longest corral reef in the Northern hemisphere, only second in the world to Australia. With that, Belize is a paradise for divers and snorkelers alike. Like many other countries (including France!), tourism is the largest "industry" in Belize and many tours and activities are offered. The best snorkeling is actually near the reef which is about a mile away from Caye Caulker's shores. The best spots are actually North East, in front of San Pedro, a much larger and developed island. We were recommended two operators, Carlo's and Mario's and picked the latter just because it was the one open when we stopped by. We had a wonderful day (10:30a-3:30p), with another couple from Georgia, staying at the same resort as ours. We made four stops, looking for manatees at the last one but not seeing any. We snorkeled at Hol Chan, the Sharks Alley and the Coral Garden. Swimming with turtles, sharks and stingrays was an unforgettable experience, even more memorable as I captured with the GoPro the boys offered to me last year for Father's Day, the perfect opportunity to put to use.

Visiting, sightseeing and exploring. No, we didn't venture deep in the jungle, there is much much more to explore than what we did during the 22 hours we spent inland. But, 2 hours after landing, we were already at the Community Baboon Sanctuary, home of thousands of howler monkeys who, yes, howl, wow!
It was another incredible experience to have a monkey on our shoulders! We stayed at the Black Orchid Resort which we highly recommend. Very kind and helpful staff, superb room, good food and right on the Belize River. Although we didn't see any crocodile (like black bears or mountain lions in California, better miss getting face to face), the iguanas were quite impressive. And it was cool to also see families of monkeys playing and eating at the top of the trees. The next morning, our driver and guide, Richard, walked us through one of the 16 imposing Maya sites, Altun Ha. It was Sunday and the end of the low season, so we had the whole site for ourselves, an extra bonus! (Cruise ships stop in Belize City on Tuesdays and Thursdays and they bring boatloads of tourists on the 14-mile bumpy road leading to the site.)
We ended the morning by a tour of Belize City, which is still the most populated town in the country but not the capital anymore (now Belmopan, further inland and not subject to hurricanes and tornadoes as Belize City is). One of the oldest and original houses of Belize City:
And the oldest Catholic church in the Caribbeans:
By the way, here are a few facts about this small country which many people don't know much about: Belize became independent in 1981, after being a British colony known as British Honduras. Because of territory disputes Guatemala only recognized Belize in 1992. It is on the east side of Central America sharing a border with Mexico in the north, and a long one with Guatemala on the west and south. The population is around 300,000 people with a median age around 20. And, while English is the official language which is a great asset from a tourism standpoint, they also speak Spanish and a local form for Creole. After this quick tour of the city, we embarked on the water taxi for a 50-minute "ride" to Caye Caulker.

What else did we "do" to taper,  rest and... do nothing...? Some easy biking, blending in the local population zigzagging between potholes and puddles. More swimming and snorkeling at the end of the deck of our resort. Hanging out at the Split, the place where the island broke. Eating local food at a few of the 30 restaurants on Caye Caulker. Walking, photographing, videotaping, some bird watching (pelicans, seagulls, egrets, cormorants, ...), kayaking, sleeping a lot (quite some sleep catching!), and also some "hammocking", if we can make it a verb!

Here are a few recommendations on Caye Caulker:

Colinda Cabanas. You'll get a genuine local experience in these wood cabanas with just enough of our western comfort. The place is owned and managed by Colin and Linda who came here from Canada 4 years ago. We missed Colin who was out of the country but Linda was very welcoming and helpful with her recommendations. The place is kept very neat, which is a challenge in those humid conditions. We much appreciated the amenities such as bikes, kayaks, beach towels, fans, a small fridge and a strong and stable wifi access.
Pizza Caulker. Meet Greg, also from Canada, and his local family, serving delicious thin crust pizzas made with whole wheat. And that was our best rum punch too!
La Cubana. The best fresh fruit juices we had, for only $4BEZ ($2US)! And good local Caribbean food too. Right at the water taxi dock, near the small police station (or sub-formation as they call it).

Mendy's. Very simple and local family cooking.

Mario's snorkeling. Friendly instructor, good boat. $100-130BEZ ($50-65US) for the whole day, depending on the number of stops and the size of the group. (Trip Advisor, Facebook)

Iceland Ice Cream. Delicious homemade creamy ice creams with a great variety of flavors (Trip Advisor).

We also heard great comments about Coconut Reef and especially the homemade pastas from this other Canadian owner, but haven't tried it.

And, on the mainland:

Black Orchid Resort. See my comments above, and their website.

Richard Lord. Our taxi driver and accredited guide (tel: 664-6279).

I do feel rested for sure, almost too much so I'm looking forward to see how all this tapering and resting plays for the marathon this Sunday. There are many more stars to align for a great performance but proper tapering is definitely one which I took good care of this week! ;-)

Have a good weekend all! And see a few thousands of you, MCM runners, on Sunday!


Peter said...

Hey Jean!

Actually there are some really greats to run in Belize....but it is in the south of the country that I know....I do some consulting work there for the Banana Growers. Really nice part of the world. Glad to hear you and Agnes really enjoyed your trip there. You forgot to mention Marie Sharpe's habanero hot sauce as one of the great things about Belize.

Peter said...

Also the English basically stole the area from the Guatemalans....the British were going to get the area in exchange for building a road which was never built....that is why it is in dispute to this day....the UK was famous for this sort of thing back in those days and responsible for much of what are now the problems in the Middle East....