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Posts from — July 2011

Race Report: The Challenge Irazu 40K, Costa Rica

After spending the week as a beach bum in Tamarindo, I returned to the Central Valley to participate in a 40 kilometer adventure run. It was much like my Turrialba 21k race, just twice as far.
 
I knew the course was going to be insane by my standards. With 5643 feet of climbing, I was really just hoping to finish the race and have some fun.



 
The weather was so-so. It was overcast at the start location with a little wind chill. Most people were wearing jackets, some even with gloves and beanies. In Costa Rica??? Ya, I know.
 

Can you find me?


 
The race began at 9186 feet so we were already way up there! I later found out that at our highest point we reached 11,210 feet, roughly the same elevation as the peak of Mount Hood in Oregon.
 
I placed my confidence in my training I had done up to this point and especially in my hike/run of Mount Chirripo the week before to take me through this race.
 
I decided to go with shorts, my Fleet Feet Bend tech tee, an extremely light and stoable North Face windbreaker, one Nathan handheld water bottle, and 6 gels that cost me $3 a piece! I tried to bring a big bag of gels down to Costa Rica but since I didn’t check a bag airport security screwed me. Apparently they thought I was a risk to national security.
 
Me and Julio were again racing partners. We didn’t do much warmup, just bounced around a little bit. The gun goes off and off we go! There were three distances; 40K, 20K, and 10K and we all started at the same time, 9am. There was an 80k option that started at 5am, no thank you.
 

Irazu Volcano


 
I take off slowly and try to settle into a pace. The first 5k was a gradual uphill climb on road. I would still consider myself a road guy so I felt comfortable here.
 
At the 5k mark we make a left onto a dirt trail and here started the steep climbs. It was hard to tell how I was doing as I didn’t know what distance most of the folks were running. I ran most of this next 5k portion, hiking only the steepest sections. I was already catching some of the carnage from the overly excited 10Kers who were already blowing up. There were actually a few Americans running the 10K, they of course were getting owned, wearing hydration packs, energy gel belts, compression everything, and all of the top of the line gear that most American “runners” have but seldom use or need.
 
At the 10K mark we had reached the top of the first big climb, the 10Kers headed for the finish, the 20Kers started their loop, and the 40Kers began a crazy downhill assault on the quads. I stopped briefly at an aid station, grabbing some water and gatorade. These liquids were basically little balloons that you tear a piece off with your teeth then down the liquid. I squeezed them into my water bottle and tried to do a good job of conserving what I could. I felt like I was pretty well hydrated throughout and only ran out of liquids once and only for a few minutes.
 

 
My constructive criticisms of this race are that the aid stations were fantastic but the signage for staying on course were not very good. I was constantly questioning whether or not I was on the right path. Every 2k or so there would be a small sign maybe 6 inches by 12 inches with an arrow hanging on some obscure fence post. I slowed up a few times to make sure that other runners were following the same route. I know it happens all the time to people but I realized that for me it would be an absolute nightmare to go off track during this type of race. Talk about taking the wind out of your sails…I think it would more likely completely sink my ship.
 
A few of the highlights were the water crossings and the run-ins with animals. I did a pretty good job of staying dry early on but once we hit about 25K it was pouring rain and very muddy. One memory that stands out was when I turn a corner and see a herd of about 100 cows coming straight at me. I was trying to be as delicate as possible while passing them; basically tip toeing by. I had no interest in playing Running with the Bulls like they do in Spain…GORED!
 

 
So once we hit 20K it became apparent that the last 10K of freaking steep downhill was exactly what we were going to have to now ascend. When you are flying downhill the distance just flies by, but when you are climbing, 1 kilometer feels like 10 on flat ground.
 
Again, I have no idea what place I’m really in. I haven’t been passed but I had seen some fast looking dudes take off early whom I thought were in my race. Surprisingly I come up on one of those guys as I continue this grueling climb. I pull up next to him and we start to chat. He was convinced that we were actually off course and at that point I almost believed him. I didn’t remember seeing any signs for some time and nothing looked familiar. He said he had gone off track for maybe about a mile. Wow, he was still ahead of me after being off track for a mile! I assumed that he was going to take off again and drop me…this didn’t happen.
 
We stay together for awhile and on the runnable sections he was content to just hike them and I was itching to run as I didn’t want the guys that I passed on the downhill to catch me. So on the next runnable portion I take off at a slow jog to see if he would follow. My legs felt like spaghetti but I was able to gap him by about 100 meters. But then we hit the really steep crap and for a good 30 minutes it was ALL hiking. I maintain my lead on him as we get closer and closer to the 30K mark. I knew that once I hit 30K, it was all downhill from there.
 
I’m turning around and looking at every straight away, I couldn’t believe they weren’t catching me because my legs were toast! I realized that hiking with hands on the knees felt a little faster and I just kept sludging on, completely out of my element…I’m a runner, not a power hiker. But I’m trying to think about how this is great training for ultras…just keep on going.
 
As I crest the top, I take another peak at my competition, and notice there were now two guys about 100 meters back chasing me. I did NOT want them to catch me! I hit up the aid station, grabbed a gel and a bar, filled my bottle and hit the road.
 
As luck would have it, the final 10K of this race was completely downhill and all on the road. A steep descent that I knew would thrash my legs but that I could run fast on. And since I was passing people on the other descent I thought that maybe I could gap these guys.
My lead on them was 1 minute at the peak with 10K to go. Somehow my lead would increase to 12 minutes by the time they crossed the finish line. I don’t know if they were just really slow on the downhill or if I was just flying because I was scared they were going to catch me.
 
These last miles were long but eventually I come around a bend and the finish line is right there! The announcer says something in Spanish that I didn’t understand, I cross the line and am greeted with a finisher medal placed around my neck. I look up at the lady and ask what place I was. She looks at me a little funny and responds, “First Place!”
WHAT?!?! I had no idea! I was sure there were some studs out front from the gun but I guess those were 20K/10K guys. The announcer then says my name and announces me as winner of the Irazu Challenge 40K. The crowd of Costa Ricans gave me a round of applause, a few thumbs up and pats on the back, I was stoked.
I sat down, ate a butt load of food, and waited for Julio to cross the line. He also had a great race, 7th place overall!
 
I wish there were more photos, the views were absolutely insane, I was blown away by this area. And the people! I haven’t met a group of friendlier, more gracious, welcoming people in my life. I already knew that the running community in general is pretty great but these guys set the bar pretty high.
 
Four hours and twelve minutes of running to cover just 24.8 miles. I came away with an $80 prize and a trophy. The Irazu Challenge was yet another running experience that I will never forget.
 
Here’s the promo video if anyone is considering this race for next year:

July 30, 2011   No Comments

Photos of Running and Hiking Up Big Mountains in Costa Rica


Run up Barva Volcano.

Not a bad view...

Lord of the Rings style...


Jurassic Park Leaves....

Hike up to the Cross of Alejuelita.

Cows make me happy...

First of Three Crosses...

Cops with big guns hanging out at second of three crosses...

Third of three crosses (at the top)...

Me and my hiking companions Meli and Memo Palma...good peoples...

Que Bonita!

Of course the day we go, there is a running race to the top...siiiick!



Hike/Run to Costa Ricas Highest Point…Mount Chirripo!

We woke at 4am, hit the trail at 5...

Two hours in...Julio snackin'.

We got dumped on!

12, 208 feet up...highest I've ever been...words were slurring from the altitude...only scary part of the trip! For you Oregon folks...this is 3,000 feet higher than the summit of Mount Bachelor!

Los Crestones!



I’ve been so fortunate to meet people who generously show me these wonderful places…

Tomorrow is a 40K (24.8 mile) adventure race up and around a Volcano I haven’t been to yet…race report will be my next blog…thanks for reading!

Oh ya, I’ll briefly mention that I just got back yesterday from Tamarindo. It’s a beach town where me and my American friend Jenna stayed at a hostel for 3 nights. We met some French, Danish, German, Canadian, Russian, Italian, Chinese, and Argentinian people. It was by far the most international tourist spot I’ve ever been to. We ate well, drank alot of smoothies, layed on the beach for hours, swam in the ocean constantly, surfed it up with the locals, played some ping pong, layed in the hammocks, survived the sketchy nightlife, made friends, and had a great time…

July 23, 2011   1 Comment

Race Report: Turrialba 21k Adventure Race, Costa Rica

Where to start? Where to start? What a day…
 
It’s 6:30am Sunday morning and I’m getting picked up by Julio and his wife. I’ve eaten a big breakfast, I have all my gear, and I’m ready to go! We hit the road and as usual I’m staring out the windows in fascination as this beautiful country. The ride was about 2 hours. I chat with Julio and his wife about my life in the USA, their life here in Costa Rica, and a lot about running.
 
The adventure starts when we arrive at what we thought to be the site of the race. This race was being held in conjunction with a cheese fair and Julio thought that it was being held at the same location as last year, we quickly found out that no, it was in fact being held at a completely different place, and the distance to the actual site was uncertain. With only 45 minutes until the race was to start, Julio put the pedal to the metal.
 


We are flying around corners, passing cars, and dodging stray dogs. About every couple of minutes Julio’s wife would roll down the window and ask a random person in the street, “Donde esta la feria de queso?”…where’s the cheese fair? The responses became hilarious. “Only 5 kilometers,” said one. “Just 3 kilometers!” Another said. “No more than 15 kilometers!” It seemed the closer we got the farther the distance away. Finally, someone said “when you pass the crosses, 500 meters.” This guy turned out to be right….finally! Distance is a very very fuzzy concept here in Costa Rica. All these people had great intentions and wanted to help us frantic people in running gear, but wow, they just had no idea how far away this place really was.
 
Due to Julio’s great driving skills we actually arrive with about 18 minutes to spare. We jump out of the car, grab our race numbers, throw on our racing gear, apply some sunscreen, and race over to hit up the bathrooms. Here lied our next obstacle, they had urinals, but no toilets. (Warning: this blog post is going to be somewhat graphic with regards to bowel movements…it’s part of the sport of distance running so I don’t feel bad. :) ) At the time I didn’t feel like I had to ‘go’ so I wasn’t all that freaked that they didn’t have toilets. BIG MISTAKE! I should have knocked on someone’s door and blew up their bathroom.
 
After a couple of minutes of warmup, we get into the starting line race corral and wait while the sound system is blasting Black Eyed Peas. The race director goes on to announce a variety of things, all in Spanish, but what I understood was that the race begins and ends with steep 3 kilometer climbs, there are cows on the course so watch out for them, and there are wire fences that we need to jump over…some of them electric. Whaaaaat!! He then went on to say that if you get electrocuted, it could give you an extra burst of speed. Ha. Ha. Kinda funny, but also kinda not. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.
 
The gun goes off and I quickly learn that I had missed the memo that this was an ‘adventure race’ and not a speedy road race. A pack of freaking fast dudes jumped out into the lead, one of them, apparently won the Costa Rica Int’l Marathon, very legit. There were also money prizes for the top 5 finishers so this brought out the talent.
 


 
After about a half kilometer on a dirt road we turn onto an extremely steep grass farm with no apparent trail, just yellow flag markers tied to bushed that we were supposed to follow up this crazy slope. After a couple hundred feet it quickly became apparent that I would be forced to do something that I have never done in my life, walk during a race. Don’t get me wrong, I HAD to walk, everyone did, this crap was STEEP! I also quickly learned that I am not a very fast hiker and I began to get passed by these dudes with huge calves and quads, this was obviously their type of game. I later found out that the top guys all work full time in these mountains with the cows. So in addition to their training they hike these mountainsides for a living…not fair.
 
Ok, time to reevaluate my plan, change gears, try to maintain solid effort, but not blow up completely in the first 2 miles of a 12 mile race. This hill just kept going and going. Eventually, there was a runable section after we hit the first aid station. We hopped on a dirt/cobble stone/cement road and I was able to cruise and pass a few folks who owned me on the hill.
 
After another brutal section of climbing, we finally hit what seemed to be the peak. At this point my goal had morphed into just wanting to finish the race and try to enjoy doing it. In my mind the only thing worse than running UP something that steep is trying to run DOWN it. I was pounding the crap out of my quads, trying not to trip on the terrible roads, and constantly thinking about how I wasn’t going to be able to get out of bed in the morning.
 

 
Somehow, I just keep going. I think I jumped three wires, went under two, and got my jersey snagged on one barbed wire fence. About 15k into the race we hit pure jungle and are running on a barely visible trail. I’m completely alone at this point, no other runners in site, odd feeling. I’m hiking/running through some very dense stuff and I started to have images of Vietcong jumping out of the bushes with machetes. I give my best warrior cry, slide down some mud walls, cross a creek, climb up rocks on all fours…this was rad.
 

JULIOOOO!!!


 
However! With the good often comes the bad. It was at this point that my stomach started to rebel. (Here comes the aforementioned warning bit) I had to drop a bomb and I knew that with all this pounding down these hills it was only going to get worse. Looking back I probably could have made it to the finish line without taking a dump but I would have had to sacrifice almost 100% of my race satisfaction. I didn’t want to be thinking about whether or not I was going to drop a deuce in my shorts or not for the remainder of the race. This race was too rad to be spent in this sort of mental state. So I concluded that I would take my next opportunity to contribute some fertilizer to the Costa Rican countryside.
 
Almost instinctually I began searching the ground for leaves or something that could serve as teepee. I have learned from past experience that if you take a dump on a run, you HAVE to have something to wipe with or you are totally screwed. So there I am, on the run, picking up giant leaves, sticking them in my shorts, saving them for when I find a good spot to hop off the trail. I obviously did not recognize any of the jungle plant life. I tried to stick with green colored leaves, I was wary of colored leaves for some reason, my goal was to not end up with a poisen ivy-esque plant that would violate and ruin my life.
 
Needless to say, I found what I needed, I jumped off the trail and into the jungle and did a very NATURAL deed…something that human beings have been doing for thousands and thousands of years….just like a cow….it was great fun….and the leaves worked swimmingly. Don’t think that I don’t know that this is a huge violation of the TMI clause…I don’t care, it was part of my experience and that is why I have a blog, to write about MY experiences.
 
After all was said and done, I’m telling you that if you are ever in a race and you are debating whether or not to drop the kids off … in the forest… just do it! I felt so much better afterwards and from that point on in the race I really started to move.
 
The final three kilometers were in deed uphill but it was more of a gradual grinder climb that the killer steep one the race started with. I passed maybe 3 or 4 more people on this climb, saw the finish, and pushed hard through the line.
 

 
…you can find a clip of me at 7:40.
 
This is easily one of my favorite racing experiences ever!
I crossed the line in 13th place with a time of 1:44 for 18.5 kilometers and 3000 feet elevation gain.
 
Julio said he had a tough day out there but we both agreed that we loved the course, the challenge, and everything about it…except the lack of toilets.
 
Julio called it “Mountain Fever” and I think that is exactly what I got. I’ve already registered for The Challenge Irazu which ascends a volcano called Irazu. And we’ve upped the ante this time, 40 kilometers, just shy of a marathon, but with crazy hills and all the fun of the Turrialba 21K.
 
Pura Vida

July 13, 2011   2 Comments

Finally some Trail Running in Costa Rica!

I’m terrible with names. Absolutely terrible. Even when I make a conscious effort to remember, I don’t. I even try word associations like Rob the Snob or Sherri Berry, I repeat the name 10 times in my head, I try my best, but most often, I forget the name.
 
I say this because this morning I went on a run with a real cool runner dude man but can’t do him the solid of remembering his name. This run came about because recently I moved into a new house down here in Costa Rica. My previous host family had the opportunity to make some more money and house two university students so I offered to find another living situation to make it easier on them. I have a Costa Rican friend that surprisingly offered to let me live with her grandparents house for the same price so I jumped at the chance. The runner gods must have been looking down on me because they placed me in a family of runners.



 
Some run a few days a week, others are more serious, the guy I ran with this morning runs or bikes 6 days a week and has run around 20 marathons (including New York, Montreal, Los Angeles, Dallas, Disney, and a variety of others in Costa Rica). Supposedly he is the uncle of my Costa Rican friend, Meli, and he wanted to run with me. I got a call the other night saying, ¨Hey, do you want to run a half marathon this weekend?¨ I say, ¨ya, ok!¨ He says, ¨Ok, I’ll register you now. Do you want to run this Wednesday morning, at say…5:30? 20k on hills?¨ I respond, ¨ya, ok!¨ And that was that. No beating around the bush, no pleasantries, he’s a runner and he knows I’m a runner, of course I’m in.
 
He picks me up at 5:30 and we drive to his house. He’s decked out in race ready shorts, mizuno inspire shoes, a singlet, runner hat, polar watch, and an arm sleeve to carry his iphone.
 
We head out on the run at a leisurely pace. We cruise through a town called Barva then hop on a singletrack trail heading up into the mountains. Hold up! What? Did I just say TRAIL??? Yessssssss. That’s right, my first trail running in Costa Rica. I’ve been stuck to 100% road and this trail came just when I needed it most. We probably ran on 4 or 5 different trail sections and none of them were marked. All you see is a gap in a fence, some dirt mixed with grass, and an opening into the jungle-ish vegetation.
 
It felt great to slip and slide on the rocks, grass, dirt, and all. We found a good pace and just started trucking up these trails. We ran through coffee plantations, farms with cows (one looked on the verge of charging us), dense jungle, and the views just got better and better the higher we climbed. Some of the trails were on prívate property, some were on public, but it seemed like the trails were used a fair amount. My running partner showed me his tracks from yesterday where he and 20 other mountain bikers manuvered this crazy route.
 
We run up the mountainside for about 1.5 hours. Our trail plopped us out in this neighborhood, obviously upper class, that looked like the countryisde of some European country. My buddy asked me, ¨Tiene sed?¨ Which means, are you thirsty? Ummm, ya! So we turn into a little country market. There was a large jug of wáter sitting there so we took our fill, said gracias, and moved on. Nice folks.
 
He kept on saying, ¨One more hill. One more hill. One more hill.¨ We just kept on going up and up. I was happy though, this high up the air is very cool, and I was taking it all in.
 
I mentioned something about how I should have brought my camera and he said, ¨You want to take a photo here?¨ So we stopped at a few places for photos to remember this awesome run.
 

 

 
We begin our descent and momentum took us all the way down. The views of San Jose and the southern mountain range were incredible.
Once back down in Barva, about 5 minutes from the house, we stop once more at another little fruit market. My buddy asked the shop owner for 4 of something. Well, I guess I’ll be eating or drinking something. He said it was going to be good for hydration and recovery. The shop owner brought out 4 ¨Pipas¨ which are basically coconuts with a small hole for a Straw. I couldn’t help but stifle a laugh, this can’t be for real! I’ve only seen people do this on Survivor but hey, if this runner dude thinks it’s legit, I trust him, bottoms up. I down the two coconuts and off we go. The flavor of the juice was delicious, the sugar was a nice pick me up, and he said that the liquid can be used in the place of wáter. I’ll take it.
 
We arrive at his house, 2 hours 12 minutes of running, 21.8 kilometres (a little more than a half marathon) and 2500 feet climbing…here is the route.
 
We end our time with another recovery ritual. Once back in his house he pours me a glass of Aloe Vera juice and shows me that it is made in South Korea. Hmmmm…I guess I’ll try this too. Bottoms up again as the thick puply goodness went down the hatch. It too was freakin’ good! I can promise you I’ll be buying some of that crap when I get back to the states…if I can find it. It tasted great and I felt revived and refreshed. Coconut and Aloe Vera juice seem to be Costa Ricans versión of Recoverite and post-run Power Bars.
 
He drove me back to my house and we made plans for further running adventures, including the half marathon taking place this Sunday.
Honestly, I’m just so happy to run with a real runner down here in Costa Rica! THAT is how it’s done 7 degrees north of the equator…
 
Pura Vida
 
**Update…his name is Julio.

July 8, 2011   2 Comments

Tortuguero Part II and Cartago

I’m way late on posting this.
 
Our final night in Tortuguero included the turtle walk tour that took place from 8-10pm. All I knew was that we were going to try to see some big turtles but that this was not a guarantee. Sometimes they see em’ sometimes they don’t.
 
Myself and a group of about 10 foreigners strike out on the beach with very specific instructions:
 
1) Do not take photos.
2) Do not use any flashlights.
3) Stay in a single file line.
4) Don’t fall behind.
 



 
Our group included 1 American, 1 Canadian, 2 Israelis, 2 Germans, 2 Aussies, and 2 from Spain.
 
This trek to find a turtle was really freakin’ trippy. I think I was really dehydrated as I had just gone on the beach run with my new Isreali buddy and was just really tired in general. The night was very dark, just enough light to see the back of the person in front of you. We could hear the waves crashing, we could smell the salt in the air, and the sand was giving way under our feet.
 
The air was THICK, very humid, and a lightning storm started crashing a few miles off shore. Our only light was a red lighted flashlight the guide used to lead the way. The occasional lightning flash illuminated the immediate area. So there we were, just following the leader, the saying, “Like sheep led to the slaughter…” kept coming to mind.
 
Finally our group is corralled up with about 10 other groups. Who knew there were this many tourists wanting to see these turtles! We wait for our turn to get a look. Our guide frantically tells us that the time is now and we rush up to within 2 feet of this giant behemoth Green Turtle. Supposedly these turtles are in a ‘trance’ when they are laying their eggs and they apparently have no idea that we are there. I’m pretty sure this was the closest thing to a dinosaur that I have seen. Its sheer size was dang impressive.
 
The guide reaches down and pulls the flippers to the side to reveal, perhaps, the trippiest sight of the night. The turtle would inhale then exhale and drop 2, 3, and sometimes 4 little illuminescent blue-ish tinted eggs. Apparently they lay about 200-300 eggs at a time and out of the total litter, only 1-2 survive to adulthood!
 
This natural process was incredible to see.
 
What happened next was pretty funny. After the giant was done dropping its eggs she moves onto the covering process. This is where the turtle uses its rear flippers to catapult sand behind itself to cover and hide the eggs. However, since we were so close, our legs were getting a fair share of that catapulted sand. Even now, a week after, I distinctly remember the feeling of that sand flying against my shins.
On our way back to the hotel we were all in a daze…digesting what we had seen. Even though it’s a huge tourist attraction, you still walk away feeling like you’ve witnessed something special. Ill certainly never forget that borderline psychedelic beach walk and the subsequent phenomenon of a giant turtle doing what turtles have done on this beach for thousands of years.
 
Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, cameras were not allowed so I don’t have any sweet shots of this night. What I do have though are some photos from a day trip to Cartago a few days later. This city lies about 45 minutes from San Jose, higher up in the mountains. Myself, my Canadian friend Annetta and a new Brittish friend wanted to go see this stone doll called, and said to be, the Virgin de los Angeles. This artifact sits on a shrine inside a grand Basilica in Cartago. If you are interested, here is a link to the story of this doll that causes thousands of people to walk over 15 miles, some of that on their knees, to this site (some walk hundreds of miles).
 

Epic Fail...totally didn't work


 

 

 

 
We followed up the Basilica with a trip to the Lankaster Gardens. Annetta has a thing for orchids so we spend a fair amount of time staring intently at the petals of a wide variety of flowers. They also had a cool Japanese garden and a traditional Japanese style home. We each had a zen moment and enjoyed the comfort of the soft bamboo floors.
 

 

 

 

 

Saying goodbye to first host mother... :(


 
Both these trips happened over a week ago so I feel like this is old news. A lot has happened since then. This morning I went on a LONG run with a new runner buddy. My next post will be just about this run. It was very very rad. Also, I’m signed up to run a half marathon this Sunday in a town called Turrialba. Me and my new runner buddy are going to take a crack at this race…should be fun. I have no clue how hilly it is, how many people are running it, how the aid stations will work, if I have a chance to win, how hot it is going to be that day, nothing. I know nothing…
 
Pura Vida

July 6, 2011   1 Comment