Saturday, January 28, 2012

Staying Fit While On Vacation

I've just returned from an incredible vacation to Cancun, Mexico. My husband and I stayed at Excellence Playa Mujeres, a five-star, all-inclusive resort. It was incredible. We chose it because it was the highest rated all-inclusive resort we could find on Trip Advisor, at a destination with a direct flight option. Having a direct flight was very important to us in our decision-making process because otherwise, you spend the entire day travelling and the risk of delays doubles.

Unfortunately, our direct flight on the way home was cancelled just a few weeks after we booked the trip last August and there was nothing we could do about it. More on that later.

The vacation was so relaxing and fun and much-needed in my case. I'm a very high-stress, type-A person who cannot relax at home. Even if I am doing something relaxing, like watching a movie, I am not truly relaxed because I know there are other things I could be doing, like housework or laundry. Or my mind wanders to what's coming up at work or what my running schedule will be. But when I am on vacation, it's impossible for me to do anything except for relax and have fun, so I am able to truly kick back.

Our patio was to the left of this pool.
For me, exercising is a stress relief and I truly enjoy it. I was able to do plenty of that on vacation, while still taking a "recovery" week with no speed work or long run.

For anyone who swims, you know how frustrating it can be to have to share a lane, or to be in that ultra-humid indoor pool environment. I was in a swimmer's paradise at this resort. We had a "swim up suite" which meant that when we walked out onto our patio, the pool was right there. The resort had many different pools and this one was the most secluded, so I had the entire thing to myself. (Plus, the water was cold at this pool so people didn't want to get in for too long if at all.) It was probably about 5-10 yards longer than a typical indoor pool and the water felt so much fresher than what they use at Cub Run Rec Center, where I usually go.

On Sunday, I swam 26 laps while my husband ran on the treadmill. I can't emphasize enough how awesome this was. Beautiful weather (high 70's) the pool to myself, and fresh-feeling water.

Getting ready to swim. Wish I had thought to bring a cap!

I was also happy to have a pool that was a little longer than what I was used to. But then I realized-- hey-- there are other pools here that are even longer. In fact, there's one pool that you can swim non-stop in because it flows around 6 of the resort buildings, making a large circle. My husband and I walked around that pool one night and I wondered if I would be able to swim it without stopping. I had no idea how long I could swim without stopping because I am used to having to turn around at the wall. I only stop for a few seconds, but it's enough of a break to get a longer breath.

If you look back near the hammock, that little blurb in the water is me-- just to give you an idea of scale. (Click on the photo to maximize). And this is just a small part of the "course". I knew I wouldn't be able to swim freestyle the entire way, so I told myself I could alternate with breast stroke if I felt tired, but I wanted to minimize that and swim as much freestyle as possible. Check out the video!

The one thing this video taught me was that when I breathe to my left, I lift my head up before putting it back in the water. I don't do this on the right side. Ironically, before I learned to breathe on both sides, I used only my left. I had to force myself to learn to use the right side. I knew the proper way to do it, so I did. However, I didn't realize that the "natural" feeling side was incorrect. Something to work on. 

I successfully swam the entire thing non-stop and it took me about 8 minutes. And then I did it again!

This place had the best fitness center I have ever seen at a resort. The treadmills were new, with built-in fans, and you could run for longer than the typical 60-minutes. They had a fridge full of bottled water which was part of the all-inclusive, as well as cold wet washcloths. Given how much I overheat on a treadmill, this was much appreciated. Despite all of these things, I still had a difficult time on the treadmill, and didn't attempt any kind of speedwork. It wasn't possible to run outside because it wasn't safe to leave the resort. The advertised "jogging trail" was just a path through the resort that wasn't at all long and also slippery. (My husband broke his toe by slipping on the pavement. . . ) Here are my workouts. 
  • Saturday: 8-mile run on the treadmill
  • Sunday: 26 laps of the pool (about 1500 yards)
  • Monday: 7.5-mile run on the treadmill + swimming in winding pool. 
  • Tuesday: 6.5-mile run on the treadmill  + swimming in the winding pool
  • Wednesday: Swimming
Core Work
I didn't forget about my planks!

At this resort, it was easy to eat healthy because they made the healthy food so delicious and had plenty of healthy options. Don't get me wrong, I had my fair share of the self-serve soft-serve ice cream and tropical drinks, but most of my meals were on the healthy side and very yummy. The breakfast buffet had a smoothie bar and you could get a smoothie made out of almost anything-- including cactus. Although I think a cactus smoothie is an oxymoron. They had an entire section of health foods, including this chilled oatmeal that you could top with fresh berries. Yummy! They also had 24-hour room service, but we only did that once because we liked having a larger selection.

Grouper at the French Restaurant "Chez Isabelle"

Smoothie Bar
There was also a large selection of sushi-grade fish to choose from at breakfast. I had salmon almost every day!

Relaxation, Romance, and a Little Chess
The weather was perfect every day. We spent most of our time relaxing on the beach or at the pool. I usually never have time to read, so I really enjoyed reading Atlas Shrugged. The book is 1,000+ pages and I'm now almost done with it! If you've read it, please don't comment on how it ends. 

Here are a few more photos:
Greg and me at a Tapas Bar

They had beds on the beach!
Showing off my core work!

They also had some rather large chess sets in the lobby, which Greg and I took advantage of in the evenings:

What move should I make!?

One of the nicest things about this resort was the room we stayed in. As I said earlier, it was a "swim up suite" but it also featured its own hot tub and the most luxurious shower I have ever been in. The mini bar was stocked with a great selection of beverages, all part of the all-inclusive. Take a peak!

We left the resort on Wednesday at noon to catch a 3:00 flight to Houston, that would connect us to Dulles. Because of the Houston layover, we wouldn't be getting into Washington Dulles until just after 10:00, which annoyed us because the flight was supposed to be direct, but it wasn't the end of the world.

But then there was a ton of rain in Houston, so our flight there was delayed by over three hours. We got to spend 5+ hours in the Cancun airport, one of which was spent in the line of people checking in and figuring out what they would do about their connections.

We didn't arrive into Houston until about 9:00pm, and our connecting flight was long gone. And since there had been so many weather delays, most of the airport hotels were booked solid. I literally called about 10 different hotels, all of which were booked. We finally found a Howard Johnson that had two rooms left. Our room was non-smoking, but the place smelled like smoke anyway. Particularly the bathroom-- I couldn't stand it in there long enough to take a shower. What a contrast from our resort! I didn't sleep well at all because I was uncomfortable and the was a trucking station right outside of the hotel which was loud.

The next morning, we went to the airport and our 12:00 flight was delayed for about an hour-- no explanation given. The loudest, most obnoxious child ever sat right in front of us, and there was no way to sleep. I did fall asleep briefly, but then she was banking on the side of the plane where my head was resting, so that was the end of that. We finally arrived back into Dulles, had a baggage delay, and then got a cab home.

If the original direct flight hadn't been cancelled, we wouldn't have had to deal with Houston weather. But I guess we're lucky we made it out of town without a snow storm or anything.

Aside from it taking us over 24 hours to get home (and costing us an extra vacation day), the trip was wonderful! I can't say I really feel relaxed due to the stress of the journey home, but I enjoyed being at the resort while it lasted!


  1. Sounds wonderful Elizabeth. I always wondered about the all inclusive resorts. Were there options to run outside as well?

  2. Beautiful place for vacation! Kudos to you for exercising on a vacation. It ALWAYS fails for me.

  3. What a FABULOUS trip! I want to go on vacation!!!!!! I loved all your pictures, too. You are such a pretty girl! :)

  4. Looks like a great time! Great job getting so many good workouts in!

  5. Sounds like a great resort. Your TripAdvisor research paid off. I'm on my last day of a short vacay and after reading your post this morning it inspired me to go out for a short run instead of waiting until tonight.

  6. Elizabeth,

    Thank you for sharing your blog with me. Your photos are wonderful and I am glad your experience at Excellence Playa Mujeres exceeded expectations. I will share this with the managers of Excellence.

    As to the air and airline changes, I am sorry this happened to you. Unfortunately the airlines reschedule flights at their discretion to maximize their bottom line.

    I look forward to hearing from you in the future!


  7. Wow, that resort sounds incredible! Glad you had a great vacation, despite the difficult return home. (A couple years ago, we got stuck at the Maui airport due to airplane delays, but we did get travel vouchers out of it!)

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