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The Mexico City Running Experience

WORDS BY Rickey Gates

Photographs by Ricardo Guadarrama

01. Mexico City & Surroundings, 2022

I had visited Mexico a dozen times before giving Mexico City a chance. It intimidated me - the size of it - 20-million people. It’s a number that I can’t actually comprehend. A number conjures up images of hives, swarms, an unsettling pulsing of energy.

But thanks to an extended period of time living in San Francisco and the undertaking of a project I called Every Single Street wherein I ran all 1137 miles of street within the city limits, I had developed a new appreciation for cities. I learned that a city, much like the human body, can be broken down into different parts and systems.

 

It wasn’t until 2019, when my partner and I decided to take on an extended road trip through Mexico that I thought I’d try to give Mexico City the attention that it deserved. Liz had landed an artist in residency which provided me with a centrally located home base and the time needed to explore.

 

After just a few runs through disparate neighborhoods and Chapultepec Park, I had fallen in love with a new place – vibrant, friendly and never without a delicious snack nearby. When, three years later, my good friends at Aire Libre invited me along on their “Mexico City & Surroundings” Getaway I immediately agreed. That mountain running legend, Santiago Carsolio would be my co-guide was icing on the cake.

Our group gathered in the Condesa neighborhood amidst hip cafes, lofty trees, well-trained dogs, and an array of cultures for our first of many runs designed to give us a better understanding of the city. In true Mexico City fashion, we made our way from bar to bar, dispelling the myth that Mexico only brews lagers. As the sun set, we observed a different city emerge.

 

In the morning we drove to the edge of the city where a glimpse of the pre-Columbian life of the Aztec can be seen, heard, felt and tasted in the chinampas or “floating gardens” of the Xochimilco (“Field of Flowers”) district.

 

Described by some as “The Venice of Mexico”, Xochimilco is a maze of canals running between an agricultural system that at one point, fed the entirety of Mexico City. Following a peaceful paddle through the canals we reconnected our mind and body to the earth below with a yoga session conducted on the freshly turned earth.

Relaxed and refreshed, we returned to the center of the city to get a feel for Chapultepec – one of the largest city parks in the world. We snaked our way beneath the jacaranda trees showing off their brilliant purple plumage, along the many lakes and sculptures and finally finishing outside the Tamayo Museum where a thoughtfully prepared picnic lunch was waiting for us.

 

A predawn departure got us out of the City on the third day en route to Xinantecatl (“The Naked Lord”) or Nevado de Toluca – the fourth highest peak in Mexico.

 

Though we didn’t visit the proper summit of the peak, our route skirted around one of the summits and kept us consistently above 13,000ft – indeed, high enough for all of to experience a euphoric sense of giddiness (and perhaps a little headache?) as we passed the crater lakes of Lago del Sol and Lago de la Luna.

Sun-struck and fatigued we returned to the City to experience a traditional Temazcal or “sweat bath”. Prior to the Spanish conquest of Mexico, every community in central and southern Mexico would have a room of earth and mud heated with fire heated stones. Part ceremony, part healing, the Temazcal encourages sweating and altered state of consciousness. As my body temperature rose and my pores gushed sweat, I focused on the rhythm of my breath and heartbeat and became entirely mindful of my presence in this underground womb.

 

Our guide replenished our depleted bodies with a delicious meal before sending us on our way.

On the fourth and final morning, we gathered for one last session of gentle yoga in Parque Mexico. Lying there with my eyes closed, I listened in on doves overhead, children nearby, dogs barking and the orchestra of the city. I noticed how many different parts of my body thumped along with my heart in my chest. I listened to the gentle breathing of my neighbors to the right and left of me.

 

And I smiled, reflecting on what was once the fear of this city and is now a deep appreciation for the many parts of her living, breathing body.

Rickey Gates

Rickey Gates is many great things, among them an ultra distance athlete, an ultra creative artist, explorer and close friend of Aire Libre Running. Deemed “the rambling poet of the running world” by Outside magazine, Rickey is a true conceptual artist — leveraging numerous mediums to communicate a personal and humanist perspective on the inner workings of society, self, nature and human potential. Some of his most recent and sounding creative endurance endeavors are #EverySingleStreet and Transamericana. We have had the pleasure to work in the past together, co-hosting an experience in Oaxaca.

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