Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Challenge Irazu

We recently had our most epic adventure in Costa Rica, so far.

Friday, we got up at 4:30am to catch the 6:00am bus out of our site and the 7:00am bus to San José. Once in San José, we set off in search of our hostel. We knew what the hostel was near, which is how addresses work around here, but we just couldn't quite dial it in. After wandering around in circles for a while, Tarah called the hostel and asked where they were located and got more Tico directions instead of cross streets so we wandered a little while longer until a friendly Tico saw us for about the third time in fifteen minutes and asked us where we were going. We gave him the phone number of the hostel and we got somewhat clearer directions. When we got to the hostel we dropped off our bags and headed to the sporting goods store to pick up our race packets.

When we walked through the door at Decatlon, the race director's wife told us that the (cheap) hotel across the road from the starting/finish line, we (and the other 80km runners) were supposed to stay at didn't want to host runners anymore. Thankfully, Fidelia was all over it, so by the time we left the store with our t-shirts and race numbers we had a place to stay and I had a ride to the starting line. The new hotel was quite a bit further away and quite a bit more expensive, but it worked just fine, and it's okay to not be dirtbags all of the time I suppose.

With our race needs squared away, we headed off in search of lunch and da Vinci. We tried a burrito joint similar to Chipotle for lunch, and it was super messy and delicious, just the way burritos should be. After burritos and chips we headed to Barrio California to experience the brilliance of da Vinci in a travelling exhibit that showcases models of many of his inventions as well as in depth information on some of his masterpieces. We spent almost three hours being blown away, well worth the price of admission. After the exhibit we ate some more rice and beans and headed to the hostel to get some shut eye.

Since we didn't have to catch an early bus to Irazu, we took our time reading and listening to podcasts before heading to the bus terminal for Cartago. When we got to Cartago, we headed to the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles. At the plaza in front of the basílica, we were approached by an English teacher and group of students. The teacher asked if we spoke English and whether or not his students could speak with us for a bit. Of course we said yes to both, and spent about an hour with the students talking about Costa Rica and the U.S. After the impromptu English lesson, we ate more rice and beans before finding the bus that would get us to our hotel and closer to the volcanoes.

Once we got over the shock of the price, we settled into our room and started getting things prepped for the following morning. This is when I realized I didn't have the majority of the required gear for my race. Apparently I had left my headlamp, cap and jacket at the hostel in San José. While I freaked out a little, Tarah called the hostel in SJ and they tracked down my gear and as soon as Tarah was off the phone, she was on the buses back to SJ to retrieve my stuff. While she was gone, I tried to relax. She made it back just as my ride for the race showed up at the hotel, so everything was golden at about 6:30 - I had all my required gear and a ride to the starting line. We ate dinner (rice and beans), I laid out what I needed in the AM, set the the alarm for 2:00am and went to bed.

getting ready for the start
I was up before the alarm, excited to run. I got geared up and went out to the parking lot to meet Alvaro, his partner, and a Swede that was also getting a ride. Shortly after 3:00am we were on our way up the mountain to the starting line. On the way, we chatted a bit and I had a great conversation (in Spanish) with the Swedish racer. Once we got to the starting point, we had a good briefing, warmed up a bit and were toeing the line at about 4:30.

on the course
When the gun went off, one of the guys took off like a bullet, but for the most part we went out pretty slowly (80km is a long way). We headed out in the darkness, mostly in small packs, making friendly conversation and trying to get into a rhythm we could maintain for the next 7 1/2 - 12 hours. The route started on the highway for a few kilometers and then we turned onto a muddy tractor trail, shortly after hitting the mud, the sun started peeking out and the views were spectacular. After about 10km, we began our decent (~1200m) into the valley. At the bottom, we made a small loop and then retraced the route of our decent. I hit the top (about 30km) at about 4 and a half hours and refueled. I ate potatoes, natural gels and bananas and drank water, agua dulce and Gatorade before heading down the road towards Turrialba. On the way to Turrialba, the weather changed and visibility was down to about 15ft, much like hiking on the Maine coast, it was wonderful. The path to Turrialba was mostly a gradual downhill so I was able to keep up a pretty good clip until the turnaround point. At the end of the out and back section, I ate a piece of pizza, drank some more Gatorade and began the slog uphill. It was along this next stretch that I met a great friend, JuanCarlos. We chatted for about 10km. At about 55km, feeling pretty exhausted I told JC to take off and I just kept moving forward. The next aid station was at the base of a monstrous climb. I eventually made it up to the highway where I plodded along getting strange looks from all the tourists (gringos and Ticos alike) coming down from the national park. After what seemed like an eternity on the narrow highway without much of a shoulder I turned onto a dirt road that led to a finca (farm) and the final aid station. At the aid station, I got instructions to head down and readied my trekking poles for the final decent. The road eventually narrowed to an alley that wound through the community where the race began and would eventually end. Running through the small community, a couple of runners from the shorter distances passed me, but for the most part I was alone. At the sight of the inflatable arch that served as the starting/finish line (about a km out) I started to tear up. Shortly there after I got my legs churning and started running hard for the line. The final 400m or so were a blur as I sprinted through the pain towards the small crowd and the finish line. When I crossed the line, I threw my poles to the ground before throwing my body to the ground. I was quickly helped to my feet, awarded my finisher's medal, hugged by Tarah and offered hot drinks and food.

tarah ran the 20km (with another peace corps volunteer)
With the kilometers done, we waited for the few runners behind me and chatted with the other finishers. There was such a wonderful sense of community among the racers. We even got an invite to stay with JuanCarlos's family if we're ever in the area for another event. We eventually found a ride back to the hotel and hot showers, where I foolishly enjoyed a beer with dinner.

the aftermath - including nasty toes and pb&j
The next morning, the adventure wasn't over. We still had four buses back to our community and getting on, off and between those buses with heavy backpacks was interesting to say the least. After our third bus, we treated ourselves to pizza from our favorite spot in Puerto Viejo then boarded the final bus back to Colonia.

Like so many great adventures, the people were the highlights. Can't wait for the next ultra.


SDorsey said...

Congrats Chris (and Tarah and Meredith). Wow! Sounds like a tough, rewarding adventure. Steve

Angelo said...

Holy Cow! Chris, you are my hero. Te invito a un pedicure during AVC!!