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Steps to Machu Picchu Began With YWCA Endurance Sports Training Sessions

By Britta, YWCA of Minneapolis Member and Adventurer
November 4, 2014
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Have you ever seen a picture of a real place that looked like it came from a dream? That happened to me, when I was 12 years old and saw a picture of Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas, in National Geographic. Wow.

Fast forward about 29 years, to the year 2010. I’m considering vacation plans for the next year, and think wistfully about Machu Picchu. Then I realize, “Wait a minute! I’m a grownup! I can do things! I can go to Machu Picchu!” And I sign up for a trip, six months out, that very week.

I start telling friends that I plan to hike the Inca Trail, and they tell me how tough the hike was for them. “Especially for the first day!” I’m told. “I had trained on Stairmaster for weeks but my knees just killed [me].” Another says, “The first day, you laugh at the people in the valley who took the train. By the third day, you wish you were on it.” My family is no better — every time the trip is mentioned, my mother tells me the story of the time she got altitude sickness. If I don’t change the subject, she continues with the story of the time my dad got altitude sickness. I’m doomed.

After at least five stories from friends about the difficulty and about ten retellings of my parents’ inability to deal with altitude, I decide that action must be taken. I will, for the first time in my life, find a personal coach and do a training program so that I’m fit for the hike.

Luckily, I’m a member of the YWCA, and it turns out they’ve got a great package where you can meet with a coach once every two weeks. Perfect! Two weeks is right when I usually run out of steam. I meet Laurie and she seems great — kind, positive and to-the-point. Here we go!

First, Laurie has me do some exercise tests to assess my fitness. We’ll just say it could be better — my body turns out to be years older than my actual chronological age! Laurie asks about my goals, my likes and preferences for exercise, the amount of time that I can commit, and more. The next time we meet, she’s got a plan drawn up for the next two weeks. She takes me through the exercises, and I find that they’re surprisingly easy. And so it continues for three months! Laurie changes up the exercise routines, and slowly increases the time and intensity. But because it’s so gradual, it never feels horrible. I get used to muscles that are a little sore from having been worked. My pants get looser. I have more energy. No aches and pains, and I feel so strong. Wow, this fitness thing is great.

The day arrives when I fly to Peru, land in Cuzco and, after a day, meet my group. You can definitely feel the altitude. Usually a fast walker, I find myself pausing every few steps for breath. Luckily, the town is so beautiful, it’s not hard to pause and look around.

After two days sightseeing around the town and acclimating to the altitude, we begin our hike. It’s wonderful! I had been expecting a killer death march, to be slogging away, covered in sweat and staring at the ground the whole time. Instead, we’re walking through stunning mountains, along lovely mountain streams and beautiful views. And, I feel great the whole time. I never even get sore!

Now, let’s be clear: going uphill, I am certainly not the fastest of our group. To be honest, I kept pace with the 70-year-old in our group. Obviously, those 20-year-old British guys from that other group zoom on past. But, I make it with no problems. And, I am definitely the fastest of our group on the downsides of mountains. Hah!

After three beautiful days hiking up through Dead Woman’s Pass and beyond, at altitudes of 13,829 feet (yes, that’s 2.5 miles), we scramble up the “gringo killer steps,” the nearly vertical last scramble before the Sun Gate, turn the corner and there it is: Machu Picchu!


During the month of November, receive 15% off all Premium and Basic Endurance Sports Coaching packages! Inquire at the front desk of any fitness location for more details!