The Coastal Challenge, Costa Rica, February 2-7 2014: A six day, 225 kilometre run through the rainforest
[By Steve Bremner] This was my fourth Coastal Challenge and second time running the Rainforest Route. There are two routes for this six-day staged ultramarathon: the Route of Fire starts in the middle of Costa Rica and after climbing a volcano angles to its finish in the northwest corner of the country on the coast near the border with Nicaragua. The Rainforest Route begins at Manuel Antonio about midway on the Pacific coast, and with forays into the coastal range makes its way southward, finishing near Panama at magical Drake Bay.
Stage One – Manuel Antonio to Rafiki Lodge – “From Plantations to the Hidden Valley” – 25K
The day started early with a 3.5 hour bus ride from San Jose to Manuel Antonio. By the time we started the day’s run at 9:30 AM the temperature was up to 92 degrees Fahrenheit, reaching a scorching 104 degrees by mid-day! I ran this course three years ago along paved roads in the open sun for the first eight kilometers. This year, though the route started on the beach, we were transported to a dirt road that enjoyed shelter from the sun under a canopy of trees. Nevertheless it was hot! In my typical exuberance I ran a seven-minute first mile with the lead pack. Unfortunately, this 58-year-old body can’t maintain the pace of my youth so I quickly eased off. After ten kilometers of relatively flat running we began to climb, ultimately reaching a spectacular hidden valley and the Rafiki Safari Lodge. For the last ten kilometers I focused on my memory from three years hence of the cool pool at the lodge, replete with water slide. What a great way to end the day’s run! The afternoon and evening featured Wifi-connectivity and beer in the open-air bar.
Stage Two – Rafiki Lodge to Dominical Beach – “Taste of the Rainforest” – 39K
Breakfast was ready every morning by 4 AM, and we were off and running at daybreak. Climbing steadily through thick jungle we ascended over 600 meters before breaking out on top of a ridgeline. Here the vista opened up to mountains upon mountains to the south, and far away now, the ocean to the west. We dropped to run alongside the Savegre River for a few kilometers before another long climb on traffic-free backcountry roads to the high point of the day–nearly 800 meters. Some of us were delayed a few minutes by a herd of cattle being shepherded along the road by two Costa Rican cowboys on horseback at the 22-kilometer mark. The stage ended with a seven-kilometer long beach run.
Stage Three – Dominical Beach to Ballena Beach – “Feel the Coastal Acid” – 48K
Stage Three, the longest and most difficult day, featured splashing up a river, jungle ascents to mountain crests, a punishing descent through cow pastures, a beach run, another short climb, and a road finish to a beach campsite. We started before dawn; the lights of the small town sufficient before first light. Soon we left the road and entered the riverbed. Three years prior no one was there to direct the leaders (myself included) to the river and we went way off course before realizing our error. We had gone so far off course that when we backtracked we skipped the river and went directly to the waterfall at the end of the river section. So, this year the river was new ground for me. We crossed back and forth through the river going upstream, sometimes mid-calf, but on a couple of occasions the water was deep enough that I had to hold my pack with my camera and iPhone over my head while I paddled with one hand. Ironically, while the camera survived the deep sections, in a shallow section I slipped with the camera in my hand and it went under, ruining the viewfinder. The memory card was still intact, but I lost the camera that evening, losing all my photos of the first three days.
Stage Four – Coronado to Palmar Sur – “Revenge of the Borucas” – 38K
I anticipated this stage with dread, based on my memory of three years ago. The final descent before the town of Palmar Sur dropped precipitously down a steep and treacherous cow pasture. Surprisingly it turned out to my best performance of the race. After an initial eight kilometers of graded road we entered the jungle, climbing steeply on single track to 1,000 meters. For the next 20 kilometers, we stayed high on dirt roads climbing and descending again and again, finally leaving the roads for a long hot descent through cow pastures. I immersed myself in a welcome stream and replaced the tape and bandaids on my tortured feet and mentally prepared myself for the final ten kilometers. For the first six kilometers it went great, but when a promised water station was nowhere to be found I ran out of water and struggled in to the town. I begged water off a race volunteer, and was offered a pull on a Red Bull. I gladly drank it, though it was the first and probably last time I’ll ever drink such a toxic drink!
Stage Five – Sierpe (Mangroves) to Drake Bay – “Mist and Mangroves” – 48K
After finishing the fourth stage in Palma Sur we were transported to a grassy campsite alongside a languid river—a river that held crocodiles so it was not a good idea to dangle the toes! The next morning buses took us to the Sierpe River, where were ferried across for the start of Stage Five. After about ten kilometers on graded roads, we turned onto an old seldom-traveled dirt track through the mangrove forest. Numerous creek crossings provided opportunities to cool off. The forest canopy also helped to keep us cool. We finished on the beach at spectacular Drake Bay.
Below are the top-fives in the Expedition Category (225 km). Click here for full results from both the Adventure and Expedition categories.
- Mike Wardian, USA
- Vicente Juan Garcia Beneito, Spain
- Philipp Reiter, Germany
- Nick Clark, USA
- Martin Gaffuri, France
- Jo Meek, UK
- Julia Bottger, Germany
- Veronica Bravo, Chile
- Hailey Van Dyk, Canada
- Wendy Tseng, USA
The Coastal Challenge 2015
The 11th edition of The Coastal Challenge will take place in Costa Rica in February, 2015. This six-day staged race offers two distance formats: the full-length Expedition category totals about 225 km of very technical running, and the shorter Adventure category is about half that, missing some of the most technical sections. It is possible to start in the Expedition category and down-grade to the Adventure category if you are finding the distances too much. Race organizers also offer daily tourism programs for non-running guests. Find out more at http://thecoastalchallenge.com.
Contributor Steve Bremner is a Colorado runner with 129 lifetime marathons in all 50 states and 11 countries, and who has finished all 20 of Colorado’s marathons in one year!