As an aging runner I am blessed to still be invited to run in some amazing places. There is no location in this world that is more near and dear to my heart than Costa Rica. My first trip to experience the “pure life” was in the depths of mourning the passing of my fiancée. Finishing my first Coastal Challenge made me feel alive again so I returned again & again for the nature but more so for the culture and people. In 2009 with Scott Jurek chasing me I had a break through as a runner. I lost to Javier but gave each stage my all. On that trip I met Roman, a race director of the historic La Ruta Mountain Bike Race.
I returned to Costa Rica in 2011 fit and on a mission. I beat Javier each day setting new stage records as I won my first Rain Forest Run. Earlier this year I made another journey to Costa Rica to train for Fuego y Aqua 100K and jumped in TCC last minute to successfully defend my title. After months of disappointing racing in Europe due to injury, and an autumn spent with my family remembering the seasons of my father’s life I accepted Roman’s invitation because the tropics heal me.
Four in the morning the iPad alarm rings. I awake thinking to myself: “where am I? Am I racing today?” I am very blessed that my life is incredible right now. I travel. I run. Sometimes it takes a moment to realize that I am in fact living a dream when I wake up though. After an incredibly inspiring four days in West Texas on the Neuces River at Camp Eagle with Team Red, White, & Blue for a Trail Running Camp I got to spend a relaxing evening with the Howard Family. Pizza and a Disney movie were a great way to decompress. I even helped Liza & Elliot’s son build his log cabin.
Two bumpy flights and a crazy taxi ride through the streets of San Jose left me tired but the moment we arrived at the Institute of Mexico for the press conference and photography exhibit opening I was immediately pumped up even before I had the delicious uplifting Costa Rican coffee. Cultures mixed as the Taramarahas shared their music and dances with us. The ceremony closed with a indigenous Talamachian Costa Rican sharing his culture with us all through song and dance.
A quick run in a park was followed by an delicious traditional meal. Sunset was magical. I slept well. I woke refreshed and excited. My apologies to Mike, my roommate from iRunFar.com, for snoring a bit. Sunrise in San Jose is early but beautiful. I ran around downtown a bit before a “desayuno typical” of gallo pinto, plantains, and tortillas.
Wednesday was off to a great start but I needed to get my teeth looked at so I had to duck out of a tour of Cartago, Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles, and the Valle de Orosi and Cachí. The dentist did great work on my teeth and I was able to get a little run in around San Jose’s California de Norte neighborhood before sharing a treintaycinco microbrew with my ultra running buddy Daniel.
Novicane and cerveza made for a great nights sleep at Kap’s Place Hotel although I was told I snored a bit. I was up at dawn Thursday to get in some miles before breakfast. Running in downtown San Jose isn’t exactly a trail runner’s paradise but I found a park with a track to do some speed before the “speed” dealers were out selling their goods. After breakfast I had to skip out on another group day trip to visit the dentist again to address the other cavities. Later that evening after another city run my friends came by to take us out. It rained hard as November marks the end of the rainy season but there was nothing but blue skies Friday morning when I awoke 24 hours before La Ruta Run.
La Ruta Run ends at a Hacienda in the middle of coffee plantations called El Rodeo. We had a traditional lunch of rice, beans, salsa, avacado, and tortillas on our way to Jaco Beach. The Tarhamarians were fascinated by the horses on the ranch. The road infrastructure has vastly improved in the last decade since my first trip down so the trip to the Pacific village of Jaco was relatively easy.
A stop at a fruit stand yielded a refreshing coconut water from a freshly machete cut potassium rich nectar of the gods filled sphere. The Taramarhams got to enjoy the luscious Tico fruit Tammarando for the first time and the Sandia, watermelon, was awesome! I thought of my teammate from our 2009 JFK 50 mile team win, the fruitarian, as I stuffed my face full of fresh juicy fruit.
We finally made it to the beach in time for me to get in a quick run, dip in the Pacific Ocean, and a sunset Imperial while the Tarramarahs did beach Yoga with Maine based instructor Charlotte. Jaco Beach is very built up for Tico standards but for most in our group this was their first time seeing, hearing, smelling, and soaking their hirachas in salt water & waves.
After sunset our group met some Ticos for dinner before heading to bed early for the 0330 wake up. It was really exciting to get to see a transplanted Bostonian, now a Tica, before her first 100K. Event day, after my siesta, I got to run from 47K to 53K with Katyln before her boyfriend took over to pace her in for the 100K win. Another race day highlight was the prerace hug with the 2013 Leadville tenth place finisher and mi amigo, Javier Montero. Nick Clark and I ran under Javier’s course record at Fuego y Aqua. La Ruta Run had aqua on course but it was muy caliente!
I debated even starting the race because of the tooth pain I experienced again the night before the race that kept me up but I wasn’t going to skip a chance to share some miles con mi amigos in paradise! The 0530 start was delayed to almost 0600 “Tico Time” so the Tarramaras could bless the run with music and incense. We went out fast so we could get in some quality miles before the sun was overhead and roasting us on the mostly exposed dirt road course.
My favorite section was right before and right after the first aid station. Slippery wet hilly double tract that was rutted out from rain run off and the mountain bike riders. Javier decided to hold back on the trail section and not run fast with me as I blew past mi Tarramara amigos who were slipping and sliding in their hirachas.
There was one twenty one year old Tarramara in hirachas who I could not catch on the trails though. He was able to hold his lead on me and did go on to win the 50K. I think he will rival Miguel Lara soon. This guy has wheels!
It was ten in the morning when I got to check point dos and the humidity over my four hour run had zapped me. I took time in each water crossing to cool my body by submerging myself not realizing there had been a boa constrictor sighting at the La Ruta mountain bike race. Race Director Roman comforted me when I went back to run a little with him telling me that anacondas are not poisonous so there was no need to worry 🙂
I try to keep negative thoughts from my head when I run but the monotony of the dirt roads caused me to drift into mourning my father. He loved his gardens and everywhere I looked there was a rainbow of flora. I shed some tears and talked to him a bit wishing his heaven provided him with a healthy body so he could tend to his tropical gardens. Days later at Chirrapo I would have a complete lacimal gland malfunction on a magical run when I ran through a field of colorful impatiens, my dad’s favorite flower.
When I mentioned the course was boring to the race staff I meant really that trail running provides me with an in the moment experience whereas long flat dirt roads let my mind drift to the tough memories. The scenery was beautiful as there was an early mirador looking out to the Pacific Ocean we hit just as the sun rose over a mountain. I am grateful to have experienced the most rugged parts of Costa Rica off the beaten path through The Coastal Challenge and my favorite place in the country is Cerro Chirripo, the highest peak in the happiest country in the world.
The 100k podium were all Taramarian runners & 4th was my Tico amigo Javier. Katelyn won the women’s 100K and another transplanted American, Casey, won the ladies 50K. I got to spend some time with La Ruta’s Female Mountain Bike Race Female Champion, Monique Pua, who was the first female to 50K. It turned out she won the only Mountain Bike race I ever witnessed on a training run in Prescott, Arizona. We got to run a couple miles Monday morning together in San Jose. Many props to her on her longest run ever as she trains for the Adventure Racing World Champions in December in Costa Rica on Roman’s La Ruta Land Rover team. Fifty two humid kilometers left my feet looking like I had just been for a long swim.
A ton of respect also goes out to the Canadian duo of Melissa and Jon for being the last official finishers of the 100K & Christian Lesko who unofficially finished in 17:45 with a broken wrist! They came in well after dark with Melissa showing serious signs of heat exhaustion at the 52K mark mid afternoon. The EMT in me wanted to advise them to stop but the ultra runner in me iced her down, gave her some red bull, and sent her on her way.
Sunday morning I ran a bit in San Jose before a big breakfast and a visit to the local Iglesia for mass. The church was one of the oldest Catholic Churches in San Jose and was beautifully decorated with flowers and stained glass. I cried a bit as I thought of my father’s spirituality but was able to stay for the entire service. I didn’t understand much as the priest spoke fast but to me faith is deeper than mere language.
After church we visited the central square of San Jose with the Tarhamarians for an art festival. We walked by Tico paintings, sculptures, dancing, music, board games, hula hoopers, and families picnicking & enjoying the beautiful breeze on a Sunday afternoon in the park.
As I bid farewell to the group to go run Cerro Chirripo I felt truly blessed and incredibly grateful to Roman and everyone associated with La Ruta Run and La Ruta de Los Conquistadors Mountain Bike Race for making this amazing trip back to Costa Rica possible. Pura Vida! Roman, his family, and all the Ticos involved in this cultural running experience have worked so hard to blend cultures whose members value running and see it as an artistic expression of their heritage. La Ruta Run is schedule to return to Costa Rica in December 2014 for what promises to be an even more incredible experience. If you are interested in finding out more information about La Ruta Run please visit http://www.adventurerace.com or email Roman at firstname.lastname@example.org