Costa Rica Running Adventure

How does one possibly put the most amazing week-long adventure into words? It’s hard. Really hard. But I will do my best.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, you may remember that in September of 2014 my husband and I took a trip to Spain that included a 4-day running adventure with Running Costa Brava. The owner/operator/guide for that trip, Pablo, became a friend of ours and we’ve always known that we wanted to run with him again. So last year when he announced that he was going to do a 6-day running adventure in Costa Rica (where he is originally from), we signed up immediately. Neither my husband nor I had ever been to Costa Rica, but it’s been on our list, so now we had a real excuse to go.

I have to admit that I was nervous. The route of the trip included 96 miles of running with as much as 5,000 feet net elevation gain some days. We were told several times to take training for this trip seriously, especially considering that it would be extremely hot and humid on top of the difficult miles, and since I was nursing my plantar fasciitis for several months, I didn’t get in as much run training as I wanted to. I knew I could do it, but it was a matter of how hard it would be.

The idea of adventures like this is to see the country by foot and experience the true culture of the country. We ran every day as a means of transportation down the Southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica in places that you can’t even get to by car. We made our way from Quepos south to Drake Bay, each night staying in a different town (our luggage was transported for us).

In total there were 14 runners, plus 2 guides and 2 support crew (drivers and aide station support), plus a professional photographer that was with us for the last 3 days. We had people from 5 countries, including 3 married couples, 3 women on a girls’ trip, and 5 people who came solo, not knowing anyone else. We were a diverse bunch from all over the world, but became instant friends who bonded right away.

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Day 1 – 6 miles

The first day began with a 3-hour bus ride from San Jose to Quepos, where we would start running. We arrived about 9:00 am, which meant that the heat was already intense and would only get worse. This day was really just for us all to get acclimated and used to running in the heat and humidity. I think I vastly underestimated this part (more on that in a minute).

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The route on this day was really awesome. We ran on established trails through forests and along beaches, with a lot of short hills. We saw a ton of wildlife – monkeys, crocodiles (from a bridge above), a sloth, and a snake. We ended the day at Manuel Antonio National Park where we had sandwiches on the beach and then swam and hung out for a couple of hours before heading to our hotel for the evening.

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Unfortunately the heat got to both my husband and I, though my husband suffered the worst. He ended up with heat stroke and decided to cut out a few miles at the end. I made it the entire way, but did not feel well at all. I was really worried about how this would affect the rest of the trip, but luckily I bounced right back and was good as new on day 2 and it never happened again. My husband still had some lingering effects on the second day, so he took it easy in the morning and ran the last 2/3 of the day with us. By the third day he was back to his old self and was fine the rest of the trip.

The heat on that first day was a shock to the system for all of us. And our experience taught us a lot about hydrating, salt intake, cooling down in rivers, etc., that we would take with us the rest of the trip.

Day 2 – 18 miles

The second day is when things got real. Thankfully we were able to start running early in the morning right when the sun came up, so the first few hours weren’t as hot. Most of the day was through the jungle and on gravel roads, with several river crossings and AMAZING views. One of the highlights of the day was this suspension bridge:

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Can you see how long it is?!?!

There was a lot of climbing on this day. In total, we had about 4,500 feet of net elevation gain and 3,800 feet of net elevation loss. But the views we had made every step worth it.

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The biggest highlight from this day was the place we stayed that night. It is called Buenaventura and is an eco-lodge run by a San Francisco man who moved to Costa Rica to live the simple life. His sister runs the eco-education center and kitchen next door and made us the most amazing lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next morning. They live off of the earth, so everything we ate was directly from their farm. If they don’t grow it or raise it, they simply don’t eat it.

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We also got to do a blue clay treatment that evening. We put the clay all over our bodies, let it dry, then rubbed it off and rinsed in the river. It is supposed to reduce inflammation, accelerate blood circulation, rid the body of toxins, decrease stress, destroy bacteria, and exfoliate the skin, to name a few of its benefits. And I will admit that I felt fantastic afterwards.

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We were also treated to a chocolate tasting of the chocolate that Harlow (the owner of Buenaventura) makes from the cacao beans he grows.

Day 3 – 20 miles

Day 3 was a lot of the same. This day we ran from the mountains to the sea with a lot of river crossings, of which we made sure to jump in each time to cool off. Finding a river to sit in was like finding gold – it felt so good!!

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The last 2 miles of the day were along the beach, which was tough! After running 18 miles through the jungle and on gravel roads, running through sand felt really hard. At the end of the beach portion was our destination, Dominical. After checking into the hotel and grabbing a late lunch, we went down to the beach to have a beer and watch the sunset.

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Day 4 – 21 miles

Day 4 in one word: long. The entire 21 miles, including a lot of stops to eat, rest, and cool off in rivers, took 11 hours. Most of the terrain this day was very technical and was nearly impossible to run. The first several miles were through the river, either directly in the water or on the rocks of the river bank.

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We then came to the Nauyaca waterfall, which was stunning – definitely the highlight of the day. We swam in and around it, and had fun taking pictures jumping off of it. I actually think this was my first time standing under a waterfall, and it was so cool.

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Photo courtesy of Rob

Photo courtesy of Rob

The rest of the day was spent bushwhacking through the jungle, with a lot of steep hills, and then ending at the beach. In total, this day included over 5,000 feet of net elevation gain and another 5,000 feet net elevation loss.

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When we were 1-mile from the end of the day’s route, we were greeted with a fresh grilled chicken sandwich and French fries, which I think we all agreed was the best tasting sandwich we had ever eaten. We only had time to eat half of it, though, which was torture, and then we ate the rest at the end 1 mile later. By this time it was about 6:00 pm and the sandwich was the first real meal we had eaten since breakfast. When it was time for dinner 90 minutes later, though, we were all plenty hungry again and had no problem eating another full meal.

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Day 5 – 17.5 miles

Day 5 started bright and early with howler monkeys, roosters, and various other wildlife waking us up earlier than our alarm clock was set to go off. It was actually a cool way to wake up. Then after breakfast, we boarded a boat and rode through the Sierpe Mangroves for about 45 minutes until we reached our starting point.

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The rest of the day was more running through the jungle, past houses on gravel roads, and ending on the beach at Drake Bay. The day ended again with several miles of beach running, and then we all jumped in the ocean at the end. This time we saw a snake hanging out on the beach (and we got VERY close to it). It wasn’t until later that Pablo told us it was one of the most poisonous snakes in the world. I’m glad it didn’t mind us getting so close!

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Day 6 – 13.5 miles

Days 5 and 6 were the only nights that we stayed in the same hotel, which was in Drake Bay. The final day of running, then, was a loop course rather than point-to-point. We ran a large loop South through jungles, by a waterfall, several river crossings, and a trail that paralleled the beach for several miles. This last section was great because we were running next to the ocean, but on a shaded single track trail rather than through the sand.

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Once we saw our ending point back in Drake Bay, we all got together, held hands, and ran to the end together. I think we were all filled with emotions at this point – happy to have made it, sad it was over, a huge sense of accomplishment, comradery, etc. We all hugged and celebrated, and then grabbed some food, a beer, and immediately got on a boat to go snorkeling.

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The snorkeling was the perfect way to end the last day of running! We took a 45-minute boat ride out to Cano Island – an entire island that is a national park – and snorkeled not too far from the shore. Then once we got back to Drake Bay, we all celebrated with several rounds of beer, dinner, then back to the bar for more beer.

Goofing off

Goofing off

One thing that amazes me about this trip is that I never once was sore. Sure, there was stiffness every morning that took a few minutes of running to shake off, but there was never real soreness. Considering the volume and intensity of the miles, this absolutely baffles me. Every single night I went to bed thinking, “how am I going to do this all over again tomorrow?” and when I woke up the next day, I felt great and was able to do it. And as the days went on, the stronger I felt. It’s amazing the strength that is obtained in such a short amount of time from an intense week like that.

And my plantar fasciitis? Gone. It’s as if more running actually healed it rather than made it worse. Another very strange phenomenon. Now hopefully I can keep it away for good!

The guides on the trip were absolutely amazing! Sergio has been an organizer of the Coastal Challenge, a 230km race in Costa Rica, for many years and knows the entire area extremely well. He was typically the guide up front with a machete, cutting away the plants and foliage as we made our way through the jungle. It was also a little comforting knowing that he had a machete in case we happened upon a jaguar, snake, or crocodile. Sergio and Pablo spent many months planning our route and it really showed – I felt completely comfortable with my life in their hands. And then there’s Siddhar, our aide station support. Every day he would meet us at various points along the route with a full spread of fruit (watermelon, pineapple, bananas), cookies, peanuts, chips, Gatorade, and water. He became our savior, appearing at exactly the right times when we needed it the most.

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This trip definitely goes down as one of the best of my life. The country was absolutely gorgeous, the local people were so friendly and welcoming, our guides and support were amazing, and the other 12 people on the trip with us were so awesome and fun to be around. Pablo mentioned that he might plan a similar trip for the northern part of Costa Rica in the future and if that becomes a reality, I guarantee we will try to make that happen!

One Response to “Costa Rica Running Adventure”

  1. erin February 24, 2016 at 4:18 pm #

    What an amazing adventure! CR is one of my favorite places I’ve ever been (I was farther south on the Nicoya Peninsula). I can’t believe that crazy about of running – and, that you weren’t sore and that your PF went way! So awesome! Thanks for sharing… now I wanna add this to my bucket list 🙂

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