Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The North Face Endurance Challenge Costa Rica

TNF Endurance Challenge Costa Rica, truly a great experience! Photo c/o Juan Mata

No, not the outcome I would have liked to have seen with my first international race but it is the races like this one that reminds me of how much of what I do is about being an ambassador of ultra running and not just about running a specific time or even the finish line.
Traveling home from Lake Sonoma 50 miler I received a message from the promoter of The North Face Endurance Challenge Costa Rica.  The message started with an apology for the informality of contacting me via Facebook and went on with an offer for me to travel to Costa Rica to run his race.  I read it twice completely taken by surprise with the offer.  I consider myself a good runner.  I am fortunate with my running ability and typically race toward the front of the pack, with this along with my love for the sport I have gained the sponsorship listed on my blog page.  Yet, this was the first time I had been invited to an international race.  What an honor, what a privileged!  I immediately moved a couple of things on my calendar and responded with a thank you and Yes!
But first a race I had already scheduled and three weeks prior to Costa Rica, Quicksilver 100k.  My training had been solid and I anticipated on having a good race.  QS had 13,000+ vert ft, and was mostly on very runnable packed dirt roads.  I was racing with some speedy ladies and was having a pretty good race up through around mile 40.  At about that point my body started to feel beat up with all the hard packed surfaces (I was racing in the Adidas Adios).  About mi 45 my guts revolted, first experience with ischemic bowel causing me to stop multiple times with abdominal cramping and bloody diarrhea....ugh!  At one point I thought about the cougar sightings as I ducked into the bushes to take care of business.  11 hours 8 minutes later I finished the race, F5 with F2-5 all within 15 minutes apart.  Not my best race but not a terrible race either.  Perhaps if I return to QS I will run with shoes with a bit more cushion!
QS100k; Photo c/o Greg Lanctot
With 3 weeks until TNF CR, I recovered a bit, ran a bit and tapered a bit.  As I began my travels to CR I was feeling ready for the 80k I had signed up for.
"Pura Vida", translates to Pure Life.  This is a saying used in Costa Rica as a greeting or a farewell or really anytime.  How beautiful is that.
I landed in CR Thursday afternoon and lucky me, Jorge Maravilla, his girlfriend Ashley and baby "King Joaquin" were on the same shuttle taking us to the race headquarters. Not sure what to expect I was completely wowed by our accommodations as well as the generous hospitality of our host and hostess, Federico and his wife Ligia.  We were staying at the Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin.  This hotel had about 12 different adventures you could explore right outside your door.  Our hosts, knowing how busy they would be with the race (TNF Endurance Costa Rica is the largest race in Central America) arranged for an activity planner.  She would help set us up with any of the adventures we wanted to go on and take care of any of our needs while we were there.
First time for everything!! Photo c/o Jorge M.
 Amazing first class service and accommodations!
Sooo serious :)
Our race would start at 0530.  Not bad and considering the heat and the humidity we would be experiencing it was good that it was an early start.  The course touted 7k of climbing and so the challenge for the day would be the weather.  While I had never raced with the kind of heat as well as the humidity we would be seeing I was feeling confident that I would be able to manage it. I have raced hot races and I have raced humid races...and did relatively well with both.
The race started, no need for headlamps as it was already getting light.  I wore my Spry hydration vest with a 1L bladder and a collapse-able bottle in my front pocket for later in the race when I would maybe need additional fluids.  A high-five with Jorge and we were off.  I ran a steady pace for the first 5 miles, although my legs felt like lead and my head was throbbing...not a good sign.  Within a few more miles I started to feel better and was able to enjoy my surrounding a bit more.  The terrain was said to be technical and fast.  An interesting combination that was oddly true.  Roots, rocks, and slick surfaces at times and at other times fast dirt roads.  Technical and fast defined :)
This would be the fast part...Photo c/o Juan Mata
Within 40ish minutes I found myself soaked, the kind of soaking you would get if you were to take a shower...with all your running cloths on.  I wondered about the possibility of chaffing, you see, I have NEVER chaffed before and it was now a serious thought.  I had taken the lead at the start and as I came into the second aid station at mi 10 I found myself being passed by two women.  I took my time refilling my water, filling the collapse-able front bottle and was off.  It was hot and humid, just as we were told it would be and somehow I was already not managing with it. Along one of the roads we were running on there was a truck with a young man standing beside his small red cooler.  I saw him hand something to a runner in front of me and I thought to myself that he must be with that runner, crewing for him.  Only after I saw the runner raise his arms above his head and squeeze water over himself did I get it.  I trotted back to the truck and was rewarded with a chilled baggie of water (Spanish not needed)!  Which I poured over my head, did not drink :)
Fortunate to race with this great group of ambassadors!
Federico and Ligia, Pura Vida!
I came into mi 20 and sat for a bit, using ice to help cool off.  After some time I put some ice in my bra as well as my hydration and reluctantly left the shaded cover. The next aid station was 7 miles away.  At this point we climbed to the top of the canyons. This area had been burned, the landscape was black and the running surface was hard pack white stone.  Eerie and yet beautiful.  As I climbed up the canyon I could feel the moisture evaporating from my cloths, my skin. Within a short time I went from soaking wet to bone dry.  As I trotted and walked I could feel my body temperature rise.  I used my front bottle to pour water over my head.  My head was throbbing and my heart was racing.  THIS was not a good sign.  At about mi 25 I stopped and tried to get my heart rate down.  I laid down in the shade of a burnt out tree.  A couple of runners came by and while they looked concerned our language barrier prevented us from communicating.  With me making fan like motions to indicate the heat I got from them that the aid station was near.  I got up and started walking again.  I would trot a couple of steps but would immediately feel ill.  The aid station turned out to be 2 miles away and it felt like it took an eternity to get to it.  Once there I sat in the shade and began to ice myself down.  I was scared with how my body was behaving (traitor).  My head was killing me and I was burning up.  With broken communication with the aid station volunteers I called it.  I had been invited to Costa Rica to run a race and here I was DNF'ing.  Was I disappointed in myself for not finishing...YES but I also knew something bad would have happened if I had continued on.
I was fortunate that there was crew for a runner who spoke English and was able to get me back to the finish.  This is the part of the ultra running community that is the same regardless of what country you are in.  The unwavering support for the fellow runner.
No, not the race I had anticipated running.  Upon seeing Federico post race, I apologized for not finishing his race, but Federico was more concerned about my health then having me finish his race. He had invited me to CR as an ambassador of the sport and while my ability to race is valued being a true ambassador of the sport is even more valuable.  He complimented me on being that ambassador, it's not about the race it is about the person.
Federico had said the Tico (Costa Ricans) were friendly and handsome people.  This could not be more true as evidenced by he and Ligia as well as the many other people I was fortunate to meet. Thank you for inviting me to your amazing race.  I would absolutely recommend Endurance Challenge Costa Rica to anyone looking for an international race, it is incredibly well organized and supported and it is in a beautiful country with beautiful people.

Post race beach time in Tamarindo!
As always, big shout out to my sponsors, Patagonia, Ultraspire, Julbo, and Picky Bars, thank you for providing me with the best of the best!

Pura Vida!

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