From Zero to 100-Km: Ode to the Cubicle

Consider adding some extra adventure and action to your next vacation. Hike, bike, swim, raft, climb, dive, or run, or run some more. You’ll need some time to peruse the plethora of tour offerings that are available. Most tours have a handy indicator for the level of physical activity the trip demands. If you’re like me, you want the most adventurous trip possible and you’d pick the highest physical-rated options. Start reading through the itinerary, and relive your whirlwind backpacking trip of that long ago gap year. When you snap out of the excitement of your wanderlust daydream, do you take a moment to consider whether you’re as fit as you were when you took train after train and traipsed the cobblestone streets of Europe carrying all your possessions in pack on your back? Are you gasping for air after reading that run-on sentence? If yes, then I have another question for you: is your exercise routine the daily trudge between your over piled desk and your car? Yes, I confess, this is where I fell woefully short on the physical activity scale too.

In my 20’s, as I climbed the corporate ladder, all my managers knew I would spend my vacation time on one big 3-week trip a year. I had a reputation of jetting-off to obscure destinations, rather than settling for stay-cations. This passion for adventure travel has led me out of cubicle-life and into a fitter lifestyle.

To celebrate our thirtieth birthdays my childhood friend, Nat and I booked a hiking trip to Chile as we both adore trekking. It was a 5 day hiking tour through the trails of Patagonia, at the foothills of the Andes Mountains. It was rated 4 out of 5 on the tour’s physical activity scale. Some good fun was to be had! I was really looking forward to being outdoors, on the trail and scrambling up hills. Unfortunately, it was on the W-Trail, in Torres del Paine National Park, that I ran headlong into the consequences of my sedentary corporate lifestyle .

Being strongly career-minded, I was working countless hours at a multinational company supporting our worldwide sites. My dedication to work left me with minimal time to exercise. Besides, I was only turning 30. Who needs to workout when you’re still a spring chicken, right?

On the middle staff of the W-Trail, near the French Valley is where I hit the wall. I could no longer muster up the physical or mental energy needed to reach the pinnacle of the day. My legs were already aching badly from the previous 3 days of hiking. I couldn’t fathom having to walk the increasing distance on the descent if I trudged farther up the trail.

Of our group of 10 people, I was the third youngest. My physical appearance was the stereotypical model of great health – 5’ 4”, and 115-lbs – but I was always the last up the trail, panting and willing myself to go on. A 60- something retired couple, and a 42-year-old female air traffic controller were consistently challenging each other at the front of the pack. I was frustrated, humbled, completely baffled and starting to contemplate how I needed to change my life. I never made it to the end of the trail that day, but I swore to myself I would come back to complete it someday.

After my Patagonian vacation, I took a serious look at my life. Sports had been a huge part of my life until I had to ‘grow up and be responsible’; working 9-5+ and finding myself regularly turning down the hours of fun I use to spend playing sports. So, I vowed to myself to include regular exercise into my lifestyle again.

Another conscious change led me to yoga practice, and a return to figure skating. My fitness regime prompted me to become a yoga teacher & therapist, and a figure skating coach. As part of my new endeavours, I started my own line of hiking backpacks, Expat Travel Gear, to encourage others to explore the beauty of adventure travel

I’ve since gone well off the beaten path into the world of ultra trail running. A friend introduced me to RacingThePlanet: 4 Deserts Series, 250-km ultra marathons. I began volunteering at their events, and it opened my eyes to a whole different level of fitness and adventure travel. Elite runners and hikers challenge themselves at a weeklong endurance race in remote places under harsh conditions. As I witness the focus and sheer desire of the competitors, I share their successes and failures and feel inspired and empowered about all my life’s aspirations, not only running.

I have been a casual runner throughout my life, mostly using it as a cross-training component to the sports I was involved in. Five kilometers used to feel like my personal ultra marathon. Despite successfully finishing the 5K Run For the Cure in 2009, I never thought I would be able to run races beyond 10 kms in this lifetime. I’ve since proved myself wrong. Within the last year I participated in a 10-Miler, my first road half-marathon, trail half-marathon and 100-km trail race. I didn’t complete the 100 kms, but I can officially proclaim that I achieved an ultra marathon distance of 52 kms before throwing in the towel. And yes, I have since kept my promise to myself and successfully completed the W-Trail. I also went on to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. UPDATE: In May 2016, I was official finisher of the China Ultra 50km distance in Yunnan, China. Hooray!!

There’s so much to be said about destinations that you can only reach on foot. They reward you with spectacular views and an inexplicable feeling of accomplishment, as the W-Trail and Mt. Kilimanjaro did for me. Breathtaking landscapes definitely motivate me to continue to explore new frontiers and participate in ultra trail races, because I’ll be damned if I can’t make it to the pinnacle of a trail again. Truthfully, the heart of my inspiration is a man. The man I speak of is my brother, Rob. He’s my greatest inspiration. Before his 30th birthday he adventured too, experiencing the vast landscapes of China to the borders of Tibet in the 1980’s. Then he came toe-to-toe with an auto-immune disease called, Devic’s Disease or Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO), which resulted in him becoming paralyzed. From that point, I took up the baton, with determination to light up the track.

I encourage you to spice up your vacations with crazy adventures also. I understand that Mount Kilimanjaro or ultra marathon distances may not be your idea of fun. However, try to avoid being the Catatonic Cubical Cathy that I once was. Challenge yourself. Don’t just sit at your desk shaking your hands around like your trying to flick water off them to fake out the Fitbit! (By the way, the Fitness Gods are watching!) Use those feet and take the steps towards your dream adventure tour. You’ll be surprised at how far your feet can take you. And as Dr. Seuss proclaims, “Oh, the Places You Will Go!”.


Photo credit: N. Wong


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