Mark’s take on Running the Isthmus: Day 1, Panama City

Twilight over the Canal

Twilight over the Canal

Valerie and I first arrived in Central America on October 1, 2011.  Following a smooth flight from Newark, N.J. we exited the plane at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, grabbed our bags and uneventfully made our way through Customs.

Upon exiting the terminal and walking out into the stifling early evening heat it was immediately obvious that we had left the cool, crisp autumn air of the Northeastern United States in the rearview mirror.


Fairmount Park in Philly. One of my favorite running routes back home!

The sun had begun to set in the sky over Panama but not enough to spare us from a sticky, uncomfortable, non-air conditioned taxi ride to our hotel. After a commute of approximately 40 minutes it was quite a relief to arrive at the adequately air conditioned Country Inn & Suites which sits alongside a breathtaking view of the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal.  After settling into our room, Valerie and I gazed off of our balcony, through the palm trees, towards the stream of ships lined up to make their way into the Caribbean and on to the Atlantic.

Large ship making its way through.

The view was mesmerizing and it thoroughly heightened our sense of appreciation for the adventures and challenges which lay ahead as we set out on this unpredictable journey.  However, I would be lying if I did not admit that a large part of my previous routine, in the U.S., was also in my thoughts on this memorable night.  The week leading up to our departure from New Jersey was extremely hectic with very little free time.  Finalizing the house for settlement, completing our packing, running last minute errands (including selling my car), and tying up loose ends for work was all consuming.

After all of that I needed to get out for a run and that was going to be my number one priority for the following day!

So, following breakfast the next morning, Valerie and I headed out of our air-conditioned accommodations and enthusiastically set out for some much needed cardio exercise.  However, as we took our first steps outside, our anticipation was immediately doused, not by a torrent of water, but by what seemed to be the suffocating assault of a flame thrower.

Daytime view from balcony

Daytime view from balcony.  Beautiful but HOT!

I have encountered conditions of extreme heat many times throughout my life. My work responsibilities sometimes necessitated short stints in steel mills and calcium carbide plants.  There, I was often within close proximity of blast, open-hearth or electric arc furnaces which could reach in excess of 4,000 degrees F.

Surprisingly, being exposed to those conditions did not quite take my breath away in the same manner as walking out that door on our first full day in Panama.  After a few minutes, and several measured steps, I was able to summon up enough oxygen to speak and exhaustedly stated to Valerie, “What the heck did we get ourselves into?”

I guess it was more of a rhetorical question since I do not recall her response.  However, I do recollect that I remained determined to get in my run.  I realized I might have to proceed cautiously and keep it shorter than expected but backing out entirely was not an option.

As I proceeded along my conservatively paced jaunt on the promenade, alongside the canal, I looked out at the ships lining up to proceed through the locks and thought about the great efforts, and heroic sacrifice, that made their journey possible.

Thousands and thousands of workers had labored through long tortuous hours in mosquito laden heat to complete that monumental task.  Surely, I could complete this simple run.

Based on sheer determination, in my mind, (or stupidity, in the mind of most) I did get in a full 4 miles on that sizzling morning.  It assuredly wasn’t at any great pace but, as always, I was pleased to have completed it.

Valerie and I left Panama City for Bocas Del Toro that afternoon so my running in P.C. only includes that one memorable occasion.  However, I have been checking online for some good running routes, and hope to take on some new challenges there, next month, before we head back to the U.S. for a few weeks.

Anybody up for a colorful run along the bay on Avenida Balboa?  How about an astonishing trek on the Amador Causeway which connects the city to 4 islands?  Or, a challenging journey on the Pacific Promenade which, of course, juts out into the Pacific?

Valerie Says:

I remember the week before we moved to Panama too. I’m not sure Mark accurately captured the craziness of it all. In the months leading up to the move, we filled up three huge dumpsters with things that didn’t seem worth recycling. We had two surprisingly profitable garage sales. We made dozens of trips to the local thrift store for donations. My oldest son even drove to NJ from Indiana and filled up a horse trailer with the furniture and things he wanted, and yet, we were STILL loading things into gigantic Tupperware boxes DURING  the closing (we opted not to go, too much to do!) , just two days before our  flight to Panama.   We were fortunate in that the people moving into our rambling, 5 bedroom turn-of-the-century house were coming from a 1 bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, and very, very kindly said not to worry, we could leave anything we wanted and they’d throw out what they didn’t want.

I loved our old house!

I loved our old house!

Months later, when my daughter was back visiting friends, the woman recognized  her from the pictures that were on some of the awards I had left in the house!  (Does that make me sound like a horrible mom, leaving a box of her awards to be thrown out? There was no other choice — a multi-sport star athlete for all of her school years,  she had a lot of them, and I did pack up the ones I thought meant the most to her, and sent them to her dad’s for storage.)  18 years in a house with three kids and lots of storage meant…lots of things to deal with, and way, way too many of them left for the very, very last minute.

Any way, it was a crazy week, and the day of the closing, particularly so! And two days later, when we got out of the airport — wow, the heat and humidity were suffocating.  Unlike Mark, I do remember what I said when he commented on it — “Oh, it’s not that bad, you’ll get used to it”.  I wasn’t quite as confident of that as I sounded, but having spent my childhood in South Florida and the Caribbean, I knew it was possible to adjust. I was just hoping that Bocas del Toro would be a bit more temperate and we wouldn’t have to! Mark will fill you on later on our running experiences there. 🙂