Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The 2007 Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica (Guest Blogger Beverly Anderson Abbs)

[I'm delighted to have a full race report for The 6-Day Coastal Challenge ultra endurance race that took place in Costa Rica in Feb, 2007, provided by 2005 winner and ultra-guru, Beverly Anderson Abbs. If this ultra/adventure madness sounds like your kind of thing, Trail Runner Magazine has an online drawing for a free entry for 2008 here. Thanks and congratulations, Bev and Alan!]

After participating in the Coastal Challenge in 2005 following the west coast of Costa Rica south, I was excited to return for “The Route of Fire” heading north to the border of Nicaragua in 2007. It was to be more in the cloud forests than on the beaches and promised to show some area of the Country we had not seen before. The Web site promised 45% cloud forest and highland trail, 25% coastal running, and 30% rainforest roads and trails. Alan and I arrived at the host hotel on Saturday afternoon. We checked in and immediately started seeing familiar faces from the ’05 run as well as faces that always seem to be at events we go to. Doone and Tim Watson, Tanya and Glenn Meeth, Dot Helling, Stefani Jackenthal, Jim Mandelli, Roger Rojas, and many more. If nothing else this would be a great week to spend with some fantastic people and catch up on stories!

(Bev and Alan Abbs at the start; the only times their clothes will be clean for the week)

Day 1 – distance listed 21k; actual 26k

Saturday evening was a brief introduction and “celebration” that ended early enough for us to grab some dinner and get to bed early. We were to be loaded on buses at 5:00am for a drive to the town of Fortuna for the start. The night went very quickly and surprisingly, everyone had gear loaded and was on the buses and rolling by shortly after five. Not an easy task with over 100 sleepy people involved! We stopped for a couple of stretch breaks and arrived in the town of La Fortuna with almost two hours to poke around town before the start. This gave us a chance to enjoy the local culture and relax in the shadow of the volcano Arenal, which we would be climbing shortly. The overcast kept the temperatures down for the start of the race.

(And they're off!)

Finally we were ready to start and lined up in pairs for a processional through town. A group of Costa Ricans immediately moved to the front and settled in to a warm up pace while Alan and I, starting at the back, picked up our pace a little to get closer to the front. The pace accelerated along the next 5 k to the first aid station. Juan Carlos Zuniga, Kurt Lindermeyer, and Ronald Torres, all local runners, were ahead of me, Trevor Garner and Roger just behind. I left the aid station and shortly after came to a “T” intersection with no markings. I waited there for Roger, knowing that he was familiar with much of the course. Just as he arrived, the group ahead of me came back along the road, having taken the wrong turn. We began climbing up a serious grade along the side of the volcano. This section was more a scramble up the very steep, muddy, root covered trail. I was often pulling myself up sections using tree roots and, more than once got a push up from Roger as I was too short to make some of the reaches. What a blast! All too soon, we reached the top of the climb and started the downhill scramble; hopping down 2 - 3 foot drops, skidding and sliding in the slippery mud. If this is what the week was to be like, we were in for some long, but incredibly fun days.

This trail section ended on a dirt road that descended to the 2nd aid station near a creek. One more huge climb followed for the Expedition runners while the Adventure Category skirted around and we were overlooking Rancho Margo where we would be staying the night. The final downhill was a shoe sucking mud bog and several people, including me, had to spend some time digging shoes out after taking a step forward only to find ourselves in our socks! The stage ended at a cool pool where runners immediately jumped in the water to wash off the mud and cool off. Unfortunately, this stage took some casualties with Mark Matyazik “hurting” his foot, to find out upon return the U.S. that he had actually broken the second metatarsal, and Dot cracking a rib. Juan Carlos finished 1st in 2:23, followed by Ronald Torres, and Kurt for the men. I finished 6th overall, 1st female in 2:50, with local runner Ligia Madrigal and Meghan Hicks 2nd and 3rd.

(Leader and eventual winner, Juan Carlos Zuniga)

Day 2 – distance listed 59k; actual 67k

The second day again started early as this would be the longest stage. The start was bumped back from 5:30 to 5:45 to allow for a little more light for crossing the river in the first few minutes. Again, the crowd started and Alan and I kept pace, hopping over and skirting puddles. Knowing that we were crossing a river in a couple minutes, I still am not quite sure why we were all so careful to keep our feet dry. Alan helped me cross the river and we got back into our running rhythm on the soft rainforest road on the other side. Again the Juan Carlos, Kurt, Ronald group was just ahead and as we rounded a turn they were shooing a couple of dogs away. These dogs appeared to be heading back to their home and Alan and I kept running. Suddenly, one of the dogs wheeled around and attached itself to my calf, teeth tearing through the skin as my leg pulled through on the stride, leaving a bleeding, nasty gash. I screamed and let out a string of words I didn’t know I had in my vocabulary while Alan chased the dogs off and pressed the wound closed to stop the bleeding. Minutes later we were joined by Roger and were off running. The three of us stayed together through much of this day, giving it more of an adventure race feel as we stopped for each other and helped one another with food, electrolytes, etc.

We climbed through a grassy path in driving rain, coming upon Ronald Torres. In a brief conversation in Spanish with Roger he let us know that he had pulled a muscle but he was okay and would carry on. We continued to the remote 2nd aid station at the top of a climb where the still smiling volunteers had no protection from the wind and rain besides a tarp. They helped us fill bottles and got us moving back down the other side of the hill where we got to run out of the weather they were stuck in.

(Beautiful views around Costa Rica)

Continuing along dirt and paved roads through the next small town we reached the 3rd aid station. By the time we arrived there word about my dog bite had spread forward, and Doctor Kyle was there to administer first aid. As I was filling bottles and grabbing a bite to eat, he scrubbed and bandaged my leg, getting me off just a couple minutes behind Roger, who was walking so I could catch him.

More rolling hills and we arrived at the 4th and final aid station, filled bottles one more time and climbed up to the infamous windmills. We topped out on the hill to see a seemingly endless ridgeline of rolling terrain with windmills following a red dirt road. Of course, where there are windmills, there must be wind…and this area did not disappoint. The wind was gusting to 50 mph, so strong we were running on an angle and were easily tossed around the road. I placed Roger on my windward side in hopes of cutting the wind, with very little success. We caught up to Trevor along this section and the final uphill kilometer turned into a race between him and Roger. I was content to trudge along in the wind feeling a bit sorry for myself and wishing my calf hurt worse so I could call it up as an excuse for not keeping up.

Finally, the end was in sight and I ran in only a couple minutes behind the boys. Alan arrived shortly after and others continued to stream in throughout the day. We found a small cantina across the street and wandered over to take in some local culture and track down a cold coke. The Medical team soon found me to clean up my wound and stitched it up. Eleven stitches later and some strong pain killers and I was ready for the next days run.

Juan Carlos was again the winner, followed by Kurt, then Trevor and Roger. I finished 5th overall, 1st female, with Ligia and Meghan again in 2nd and 3rd.

Day 3 – distance listed 18k; actual pretty close

Day three was a short, fast, downhill “connector” day to give runners most of the day to recover before the next long run on Day 4. It was to be 18k with some rolling downhill, finishing with a long paved section. I was hoping to run this day fairly quickly although I had been warned about the possibility of tearing out my new stitches. The run started with some climbing and this was one of the days that volunteers were able to run as well. With the long downhill stretches, it would have been hard to hold back. I ran just behind Kurt for a while and when dogs came out, he would stop, pick up rocks and guard as I went past, mindful of my new dog phobia. At the single aid station, I noticed that Roger was a few hundred yards behind running with Monica, the nutritionist involved with making our fantastic meals and the female Costa Rican triathlon champion. After the aid station, Stefani Jackenthal caught me on her bike and pushed my pace up as she encouraged and chatted with me. Stefani had finished 2nd female in 2005 and had been scheduled to run again this year but found she had an injury that would not allow her to run these miles day after day. I finished before 9:00am with runners coming in steadily until around 11:00am. We set up tents in a soccer field and proceeded to relax in preparation for the next long day.

(Sunrise over the mountains)

The men’s finishers changed order a little with Javier Montero 1st in 1:27, Juan Carlos 2nd and Trevor 3rd. On the women’s side, I was 1st overall in 1:37, Ligia, then Irene Hale rounded out the top 3.

Day 4 – distance listed 49k; actual 55k

This day again started bright and early to accommodate the potentially very long day. Since we were at the base of mountains we knew that we would have to climb from the start and sure enough, we got onto a gravel road and climbed…and climbed. This was not a climb anyone would make serious time on, 4 kilometers and quite steep! I reached the top with Roger and was treated to an incredible view of the pristine valley far, far below us.

(You want steep? How about a volcano?!?)

Of course this meant we were going to be going down to it and Costa Rican roads are not known for switchbacks and gentle slopes. We headed straight down the side of the mountain! Skidding, hopping, trying desperately to keep feet underneath, Alan Abbs, the mountain goat, flew past me and caught and passed Roger on this 3 kilometer descent. Once we reached flatter ground, I notched up my pace slightly to catch them and after what seemed forever, I finally did. We passed through a couple of villages where school children in uniforms waved and yelled “Hola!” as we ran by. I set my pace to run once again with Alan and Roger. By the time we reached the third aid station Roger and Alan had fallen a little behind and I caught up to Trevor. In turn I was caught by Benji and Abhijeet looking like they were running a 5k!

Trevor kept on with them while I settled into what seemed an agonizingly slow pace through miles of dirt and gravel roads to the final aid station. We had been promised something very cool and fun after this point and I was not disappointed. A short bushwhack brought me to a river where I was told I could swim or try to work my way around the boulders, but ultimately I needed to get about a kilometer up river to a waterfall. Without hesitation I hooked my hand bottle onto my waist pack and jumped in the water. Several sections of boulder scrambling and a few more swims and I had almost forgotten the hot dusty road. I arrived at the waterfall and was told I had about 3k to go. Fifty minutes back on hot, dusty roads later (no, it wasn’t 3k) and I was at the finish.

People started trickling in to the finish, the Adventure Category folks were bused in from some point prior to the river section. Eventually a bus was lined up to take people back to the waterfall to hang out and cheer on the runners coming through (and make sure nobody told them it was only 3 k to the finish). At the waterfall we got to watch the adventure tour group rappelling down the falls then getting into river tubes for an exciting trip down the river we had just come up.

Javier Montero again finished 1st overall in 5:16, Juan Carlos was just behind him and Benji made a dash from his group to finish 3rd. I again finished 1st for the women, followed once again by Ligia and Irene.

Day 5 – distance listed 32k; actual 35

We were bused to a small town Curubanda, early in the morning to start the run around 7:00am. Since we were now into the hotter, dryer part of the country, had we started at the stated time of 10:00am, the heat could have been even more miserable than it was. We headed out from the little town and shortly before arriving at the 1st aid station after running on dirt roads; people started to realize we had just done a big loop and were back at the start. The usual people were ahead of me, including Trevor, who had been just behind me until I was cornered by 2 snarling dogs. (At this point I’m beginning to wonder what it is with me and Costa Rican dogs) Once I scared the dogs away, Trevor flew past with a wave and a “Hey nice job with the dogs”.

(Heading down into the valley)

We continued on roads to the 2nd aid station, where I realized the finish was a couple hundred meters down the trail to my left. Do I go there…oh no…more roads, in another big loop. I checked my race notes and found that the 2nd aid station should be at a school. Since I was coming to some houses I asked a man on a motorcycle if the school was near “2 kilometers” was the reply with a smile. About 200 yards later I rounded a corner and there it was! I poured water over my head, filled my bottles and headed off. This next section was tough, I had been thinking this would be a quick day and had not planned electrolytes well. My hands were swelling and I was having some trouble keeping my pace up. I had a couple sample packs of Sunsweet dried plums that I ate and washed down with my water spiked with nuun and felt better in a short while. The course continued through rolling farmland and I started catching glimpses of water. I knew we were finishing on a beach and when I saw a woman on the road I asked “Playa?”

“Very near” she replied “2 kilometers”.

About 5 minutes later I was on the beach and running the final few hundred meters down the sand. When I finished, I discovered that somewhere along the line, I had passed Trevor and finished 4th overall with Javier, Juan Carlos, and Ronald ahead of me. Ligia once again, followed me for second and Doone Watson from my home town of Calgary, Alberta, Canada was hot on her heels. (Go Canada!)

(Watch your step at the beach!)

The beach was fabulous and we spent a good part of the day playing in the ocean and lying in the sand. We discovered a small nest of sea turtles that were about a month late in hatching and watched and followed each baby as it made its way to the ocean. The urge to “help out” was strong in many people, but the young turtles need that journey to build the muscles in their shoulders for swimming so we remained content to watch and follow, of course, to some extent “helping” just by being there, thus keeping the birds away. The sunset was spectacular and Stefani, Jim and I spent the evening chatting and enjoying the beautiful surroundings.

Day 6 – distance listed 18k.

Day 6 started at 9:00am, allowing for a leisurely morning. This was to allow for the tidal change so we could get around some rocky outcroppings later in the run. I had planned to run this day as an easy, chat with people day. No pressure, just enjoy the day with some good people.

(Racers head down the beach on the last day)

We started by backtracking up the beach and Monica and Roger were just ahead of me. I caught them and we fell into a fairly easy pace, content to walk up the hills. We soon found we were backtracking the same dirt roads we had come in yesterday. This was supposed to be coasteering…we were going away from the coast so fast, there couldn’t possibly any time on the beach.

We were soon on very wide, main dirt roads in nasty hot, dusty conditions. The race buses and trucks drove by with people cheering out the windows. I continued trotting along with Roger and Monica to the one aid station where I filled up my bottle and put a handful of ice down my sports bra. Monica stopped at this aid station to catch a ride to the finish while Roger and I carried on.

Still more, wide dirt road and we saw Kurt just up ahead. Roger picked up his pace to pass him while I just settled in to run the rest of the distance with Kurt. Finally we came to actual beach then shifted to coasteering along boulders and volcanic outcroppings interspersed with beach running. This section brought a huge smile to my face as I hopped along the slick rocks with Kurt calling to me to be careful.

(Chillin' with fellow racers at the pool)

Unfortunately it lasted a mere 1 kilometer and we were back on dirt roads for the final couple of kilometers to the finish. I waited for Kurt to catch back up and finished with him at the wonderful Bolanos Bay Resort where we all had rooms for the night. We lay around the pool the rest of the day, eating, drinking, and telling stories.

Javier, Juan Carlos, and Ronald again rounded out the top three men, while I, Ligia, and Doone finished top three for the women. (all results here)

That evening was the dinner and “awards” ceremony, recognizing the top three men, Juan Carlos, Kurt, and Javier claimed these top three positions for men, receiving inscribed machetes. As an apparent afterthought, the top three women, Bev, Ligia, and Meghan were also given inscribed machetes as awards. Such memories!

(Bev receives her 1st place award machete - congrats!)


  1. Holy crap! 11 STITCHES and she STILL won!!! Bev is amazing.

    You too, Alan.


  2. WOW a Costa Rican Wild dog bite.That's way cooler than my frog tattoo...I want to see that and your new Canadian-pocket-knife. Great job Bev you are awesome.


  3. Congratulations and thanks for a wonderful description of the run.

    The Coastal Challenge has been on my list of "to do" runs for a couple of years. Hope to run it for my 50th in '08.

  4. The pictures are beautiful and it's a great story. Congratulations.

  5. Awesome job, Bev and Alan and all!
    Scott, check out the story of 3rd place woman Meghan - http://www.running-blogs.com/meghan/
    She is a great competitor and a great writer.
    I just wish it cost less:)

  6. Where's the shot of the wild dog stitches??? YOWZA !!


  7. Sorry, no photo of the dog bite, I'm trying to track one down as several were taken, so far no luck. Unfortunately (?), they did such a nice job with the stitches that the scar looks great.

  8. Looks pretty crazy! Nice work, Bev.


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