Day 1 (2nd February) Quepos to Rafki Lodge
Total distance: 33.5km.
A total elevation gain: 850m
Checkpoints: Palmas (10km), Cruce al Saverge village (21km) and Andarivel (29.6km).
http://thecoastalchallenge.com/race/stage-profiles/ shows all the profile graphs if you’re interested.
An early start with pancakes and coffee before boarding the coach from San Jose to Quepos which took about 2½ hours. As soon as I got off the coach the air temperature hit me. It was so much hotter than the city and the walk 2km to the beach where the race started was as much acclimation time that most people got!
Pre-race photo with Jack and Becky my fellow British runners (most of these photos are courtesy of Jack- thank you). My white vest reads AMSPORT who kindly helped me out with my nutrition and energy gels.
At 0930hrs we were off. I had been nervous and I was pleased to be running.
Once started we headed straight along a track and into the forest. The tracks were double but stony under foot so the running was easy but not smooth and they led all the way to the Rafki Lodge in the Saverge Valley. I was worried I had gone off too fast but I felt comfortable and I wanted to run my own race. I knew from the Marathon des Sables race last year I had gone off too conservatively so I didn’t want to make this mistake but equally I didn’t want to leave my race on day one.
I had established a good routine of how much to drink, when to take salt tablets, when to take an AMSPORT gel or bar and it worked so my energy levels remained well balanced. I finished the race and set up my tent. I then concentrated on recovery- resting, stretching, eating and drinking. I was pleased with my lead but I didn’t want to take it for granted.
I was worried about my other UK runners, Jack and Becky because the day turned to night and still no sign of them. Eventually I caught up with them and Becky had gone down with heat stroke which highlighted how harsh the conditions were. She was shaking and yet her legs were swollen and burning- they were elevated with cold towels around them hoping recovery would be swift.
1. Jo Meek (UK): 3:31:45
2. Julia Bottger (Germany): 4:13:20
3. Verónica Bravo (Chile): 4:29:48
Day 2 (3rd February) Rafki Lodge to Dominical
Total distance: 39km.
A total elevation gain: 2250m
Checkpoints: Brujo (11km), Dos Bocas (22km) and Hatillo (31km).
Today’s route involved two tough climbs in succession through the rainforest
and then a long drop down to the coast before a final 8km along the beach that involved two water crossings. I went off at a pace that felt comfortable but soon realised that the ascents were unrunable. It was all about technical skills to navigate the thin tracks through the jungle. I had a cut on my knee prior to heading out to Costa Rica and everytime I fell over it got knocked so I didn’t find this introduction to the technical terrain that comfortable! Julia caught me on the second climb and lead out of the ascent. After following her for a few miles I learnt a bit about the skills required to run trough technical terrain and tried to incorporate them. It’s all about measured pace and not necessarily speed. Concentration is key.
With approximately 20km’s of relatively flat road and beach to the finish I pulled away and enjoyed my run along the beach. I was a bit intrepid at the water crossing after someone had mentioned crocodiles but I tried not to think about it too much. The finish was hidden and it was a long run along Dominical Beach before the end was in site.
Results after two days of running:
Jo Meek 8:40:45
Julia Bottger 9:26:47
Veronica Bravo 10:12:57
Day 3 (3rd February) Dominical to Ventanas Beach
Total distance: 48km.
A total elevation gain: 2450m
Checkpoints: Lulo Bridge (10.1km), La Florida (24.8km), Hermosa Beach (36.8km) and the Coastal Highway (43km).
It was only a few km’s to the start of what only can be described as one hell of a riverbed to run along (putting it politely)! Julia, Veronica and I arrived at the same time but I soon lost sight of both of them as they expertly negotiated the rocks, river and logs. I went through a myriad of emotions over the was-it-really-only-90-minutes?- section. Cursing and getting frustrated with myself I was so relieved to come to the end. My shins, knee wound and wrists were battered from continually falling over. I swam sections of it thinking that there must have been a better route through that I could have chosen but I got there in the end.
This was taken from Ian Corless’s write up;
“Bottger had started to gain a few minutes on Meek and it was quite apparent from Meek’s face as she arrived at the waterfalls that the early part of the course had tested her” (http://iancorless.org/2014/02/06/the-coastal-challenge-stage-3-dominical-beach-to-ballena-beach).
I pushed on up through the jungle determined to catch the others as soon as I could. Out of sight was definitely not out of mind and in hindsight I could have been a bit more conservative with my efforts (lesson learnt) but I was just racing. Performance enhancing AMSPORT caffeine power shots helped get me to the top of the climb and at the peak I caught Veronica and had just glimpsed sight of Julia ahead but then never saw her again. I later learnt that she made a navigational error and went off course. Generally the course was pretty well marked with pink tape but you did have to keep your wits about you to not miss a turning so she wasn’t the only runner to go the wrong way.
The day rolled on and the sun beat down on me. I descended quickly- perhaps too quickly and my quads really began feeling the effects. I am ashamed to say I looked but did not see the waterfalls and long beautiful beaches because I was too focused on racing.
After dense forest section the route continued on a final stretch of road to the campsite at Ventanas Beach which was a welcoming site and if someone had been nice to me at the end I may have wept. It was tough emotional day.
Recovering in the sea and under the palm trees was spectacular. There were howler monkeys in the tree and hummingbirds flying around.
The sunset was beautiful. That night the heavens opened and it poured. My tent leaked slightly but a thought had to go out to the runners who had not finished yet and arrived back to a wash out of the catering area, wet tents and kit bags. I had a tough day but they had a tougher one. Two such runners were from Mexico. The photo below captures them, Mike Wardian (the overall winner) and myself. The chap in the green had run with Seb Coe in the 1980’s and he had many stories to retell.
Results Stage 3:
Jo Meek 6:39:59
Julia Bottger 6:47:26
Veronica Bravo 6:59:43
Day 4 (4th February) Ventanas Beach to Sierpe
Total distance: 37.5km.
A total elevation gain: 2950m
Checkpoints: Cruce Trillo (6.4km), Cementery (12.9km), and Donkey’s Hill (19.8km).
From the start we climbed for 10km to the highpoint of the course. From here, the race journeyed over highland plains, weaving in and out, up and down before the very tough and technical descent to Palmur Sur. The descents continued to really bother me because my quads were so sore but it was always easier to run normally down that alter my gait in some way. The 40ºc temperatures really added to the course difficulty. I enjoyed today because the terrain and scenery was so varied. I made sure I looked around me today to absorb the beautiful countryside sights and sounds.
I crossed the finish line picked up some peanuts and water melon and had to run for the bus(!) as a short transfer was required for us to reach camp 4. It was an itchy and humid afternoon so I took a while before I could settle and find an ant-free camping spot. Rest and recovery was key. I stretched, consumed good food and maximised on the research supplements provided by AMSPORT and consumed their LiquidAmino product. In the river running by the side of the site were alligators with their red beady eyes being spotted with torches at night.
Results Stage 4:
Jo Meek 5:38:42
Julia Bottger 5:44:55
Veronica Bravo 6:12; 42
Day 5 (5th February) Sierpe to Bahia Drake
Total distance: 47.5km.
A total elevation gain: 1450m
Checkpoints: Sabalo (16.1km), Florida (26.2km) and Guerra (36.1km).
A short bus drive from camp to Sierpe followed by a ferry crossing to the other side of the river
and on the stroke of 0600 runners departed on the journey to the iconic Drakes Bay. It was already humid and as the sun burnt the morning mist away, temperatures rose.
The route was through dense, muddy and technical trails providing a pure rainforest experience but also through large water crossings, plantations, mangrove swamps and small villages.
I was uncomfortable today and yet it should have been the perfect course for me. My legs hurt and my body wanted to stop. Julia caught me at CP3 and I found some energy from somewhere to take off and race the last 13km home to put 5minutes between us. I know I didn’t need to but racer instinct kicked in and I was off!
Results Stage 5:
Jo Meek 5:23:56
Julia Bottger 5:29:11
Veronica Bravo 5:57:43
Day 6 (6th February) Bahia Drake (Osa Peninsula Corcovado Park)
The route was a beautiful circular route over 23.7km that manages to encompass everything that Costa Rica has to offer. The atmosphere was almost celebratory but I felt too tired to really feel euphoric. Running down the middle of a river I just wanted it to be over. The scenery was lovely but wasted on me today. Crossing the line was great because I could finally stop running. Ian Corless toasted me with a beer and I sat down to absorb what I had achieved.
Cheering everyone in as they crossed the line was great. I was now waiting until Jon my husband joined me out there for our holiday and what a holiday it was…diving, walking, white water rafting, good food, celebratory wine and not much rest!