Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Event Review : Costa Rica Marathon

The warmth and exoticness of Costa Rica seems a distant memory now we're mid January but it was only a few weeks ago that Dean and I were out there for our honeymoon. A fortnight in the Central American country had been timed so that we finished with the Costa Rica Marathon on December 4th. A fitting honeymoon for a couple as active as we are!
It's not so sunny in the cloud forest
Of course the best way to prepare for a marathon is to spend the fortnight prior travelling around taking part in all sorts of activities and sports right? Can we call it cross-training? Hmm, probably not. We're not sitting-on-a-beach type of people, not for more than half a day anyway, as we proved to ourselves, so Dean had arranged for us to spend a few nights in different areas of the country to see  and do as much as possible. And it was fantastic. After flying in to San Jose we travelled straight to the Arenal volcanic region where we took part in white water rafting, canopy walks, canoeing, and Stand Up Paddleboarding. As it wasn't the height of the tourist season we got some of these tours and activities to ourselves!
White water rafting - one of my favourite activities from the trip
We travelled to Monteverde for caving (think scrambling through tunnels and wading through underground rivers) and zip lining then Rincon de la Vieja for horse riding, more zip lining, tubing and  hot springs. We finally got to Playa Hermosa beach for some real R'n'R, which in reality turned into morning runs on the beach, mornings in the sun and sea then either snorkelling or SUP in the afternoon. But it was exactly what we wanted to do and it was bliss. 
A friendly Boa at the snake garden
Running on the beach was great, and helped to get the legs and lungs acclimatised to things, reminding them that they had a rather big job ahead of them. And yes we did take our running club tops with us just for kicks. 
Smug club runners (spot the other runner behind us)
Finally we returned to San Jose the day before the marathon to collect our race packs. The event was to start at 6am on Sunday morning, presumably to avoid the heat of the day as much as possible, and roads were to be closed for the event which meant that we would have to walk from our hotel to the start as cabs wouldn't get through. Although our hotel was central, it was still a 45 minute walk on Saturday through the claustrophobic crowds to the stadium to collect race packs but at least proved that it was doable. The race packs were collected without issue and I tried to decipher the information pack as best I could but in the end, although I got the gist, just decided to treat it as any other race and hope for the best.

Sunday morning, we set off in the dark through the almost empty streets, packed breakfast in hand. It was still warm enough that we didn't need anything more than the t-shirts and shorts we were racing in and I'd slathered myself in sunscreen in preparation. As we neared the stadium I was relieved to start spotting other runners, striking up conversation with a couple from Minnesota (Minne-snow-ta!). The event was tiny compared to most of the other marathons I've taken part in, only around 1,500 people participating across 5 different distances from a fun run up to the full marathon. It was a real family atmosphere, lots of kiddies had been prised out of bed early for this!

We all set off together bang on 6am. Only the colour of the race number distinguished the different distance runners from each other. It was lively but not crowded. Spectators were sparse but enthusiastic as we left the area of the stadium and heading into the city centre. Roads were cordoned off and we saw lorries along the roadside setting up for bands, or so we thought. The mountains were visible on either side of the city, so although the city itself isn't especially picturesque, there were some lovely views.
We passed signs directing shorter distance runners off to one side and set about heading up to our turn around point in the city. The course for marathon runners was three loops into the city, back out past the stadium on the opposite side to our start point, and looping back again. We had it in our heads that it was a flat route... it was not. The first loop was pretty good, we had some excellent splits and although I wasn't pushing I didn't feel inclined to hold back too much, especially on downhill sections. I started on my gels and took water at roughly every other water station, of which there were many. It was light by now and warm despite being over cast.
The elevation chart from Strava
On the second lap I started to feel the hills. We slowed a bit, I allowed myself to walk on the steeper sections and continued with the gels. We started to notice people in white t-shirts starting to crowd the city centre. It was Sunday, the first of Advent, and they were heading to Mass. In addition to the water pouches on offer, there were also pouches of energy drinks. As I was starting to flag, Dean started pressing them into my hand. He's somewhat sensitive to energy drinks but these appeared to be magic and I don't think I've have gotten through without them; I just wish I knew what they were! He was still looking strong and throwing encouragement my way. 
Starting to flag
We'd agreed we were running the whole thing together and I know that had he not been by my side as we passed the start/end point for loop three, that I would have given up. The nice thing about three laps though, is that the first is easy, the second might be tough, but then you know there's only one to go, and if you can start it then you're damn well going to finish it. And start it we did. Both in some amount of discomfort now, walking a lot more and not always by choice. By the time we reached the city centre for the third time it became obvious that the trucks we thought were for music were for public services and the streets were jam packed with people attending mass in the great outdoors, so much so that we literally had to pick our way through (the route wasn't fully cordoned off). Running was not an option! It really was quite surreal but my legs were grateful. The last loop was a real grind. There were very few people around us, most having finished shorter distances. The clouds had started to break and the sun blazed through. I kept on with the energy drinks, kept putting one foot in front of the other, tried to run when Dean encouraged me.
Hard earned medals
Eventually, we came back around to the stadium. Dean almost missed the turn in to the finish inside; it wasn't well signposted and I only saw it as I had seen someone ahead of us take the turn. We rounded a corner into the stadium itself, under an arch... was that the finish? No. Around the track... over timing mats on the other side, no finishing arch... done! There was very little pomp or ceremony to the extent that we had to make our way back out of the stadium to the registration area to swap timing chips for medals and collect some fruit. No superfluous goody bags here!
I was beat. We'd done it, and well within the cut off time, not even my slowest marathon, but it had been a challenge. I was so happy to be finished. Dean collected our belongings from the bag drop and we put on fresh t-shirts before gingerly making our way to find a taxi. No way could I have walked back to the hotel. We were back before 2pm! The benefits of an early start. The rest of the afternoon was spent lazing in the hotel room before taking the lift up to the rooftop bar in the evening for a few beers.

We left Costa Rica the following day, but not until late evening so we had a morning in the hotel and once we'd exhausted the time we could spend there before check out we meandered around the city, easing out our legs prior to 12 hours of flights to the UK via Paris. I cannot sing the praises of compression socks highly enough! It was a fantastic honeymoon, amazing holiday and a memorable race, but we won't be going back on our anniversary for a repeat performance... Honolulu is on the radar though....!

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