XTERRA Costa Rica in on March 29th, marked the start of my 2015 triathlon season. The race was a good excuse to take the family to a warmer climate and get a race under my belt before the US XTERRA Pro series begins in April. It was also an opportunity to race in hot humid conditions similar, in fact hotter, than in Maui, where the XTERRA World Championships are Nov. 1st.
The race organizers, Sergio and Krista were incredibly accommodating which set the tone for the trip even before we set foot in the country. It was the first time for all of us going to Central America and we found traveling there quite easy, even with a bike, baby, stroller etc. Torin had his own airplane seat for the 1st time, which came at a hefty price but made travel much more comfortable. We had a 3-hour flight to Houston and another 3:30 flight to Liberia, where Sergio gave us a ride to the venue. Traveling to Liberia was more expensive but worth skipping the 4 hour shuttle from San Jose. We also stayed in the same time zone as Park City, which makes it easier for a toddler to stay on a schedule.
Costa Rica in a ‘Sea’ shell
We felt very safe in Costa Rica and the people were incredibly warm, especially with a toddler. Although traveling with a little person is challenging, it’s also a great icebreaker with the locals, or Ticos in Costa Rica, as the majority seemed to love kids. The first night in our hotel the manager picked up Torin a huge unsolicited hug complete with cheek on cheek squeeze, before we could figure out how to say in Spanish, ‘you might not want to do that as he’s got a wicked cough.’ Just a fair warning, toddlers in daycare are sick 110 percent of the time.
Getting by speaking minimal Spanish is easy and most restaurants we went to had English and Spanish on the menus. Costa Rica is very accommodating to US travelers, most restaurants, grocery stores, street/beach vendors take US dollars (although it will cost more) and most even gave us our change in local currency, Colones (if we asked.) Credit cards are widely accepted (although I’d prefer to use cash in most situations) and ATM were few and far between where we were.
There are a lot of affordable mom and pop or ‘boutique’ accommodations that were nice to see vs. a lot of Hawaii where there are tons of chain hotels, restaurants and stores. The closest town to the venue, Brasilito, had about 10 restaurants, most of which were small and called ‘Sodas.’ Prices, and I’m sure we were paying Gringo prices, were close to what we pay eating out in the US. The $20 beach massages, anytime all-day, outside the host resort, Reserva Conchal were certainly the best deal we found in town.
Food is relatively simple but fresh and healthy. The four food groups are: Rice, beans, plantains and fish, which you could eat at any meal. We quite liked eating rice and beans expecially with salsa lizano, for breakfast (usually with a side of eggs also.) According to Ian, Imperial is the better of the main domestic brews, but I would not know.
We did not have issues drinking the tap water and even the budget hotel we stayed in the first night had AC. I was also under the impression we’d see a lot of Americans living and owning businesses, but we saw little of that. Sure at the high end Reserva Conchal Resort catered to foreign travelers, but the there was also a lot of Costa Ricans as well. Finding a Wifi connection in general was easier than the states.
We stayed on the Northern Pacific side, the drier side of the country and March is during the dry season, and it sure was dry as most of the trees lose their leaves this time of year. There were palm trees and plenty of coconut water to drink! But there were also cacti. I was anticipating heat but not 10 degrees hotter than Maui.
Due to less snow in Park City this year I was able to ride outside more than usual, that being said, I did one intensity session on the bike outdoors and 1 set of running intervals on the treadmill. Overall I was happy with my base coming starting the season. However, I anticipated being in a world of hurt during the race, especially with the 100 degree heat and the effort it took to pre-ride the course. There was a lot more climbing than I had anticipated and although there were some fast road sections, most of the course was very loose whether it be sand, dirt or lava rock.
Racing in the heat is not something I take lightly and overheating in a race is something I try to avoid at all costs, even if it means spending more time in transition or carrying more weight as fluids.
I made sure to stay hydrated and electroyted (I am making that a word) in the days leading up to the race and tried to stay cool, although I did spend a fair amount of time in the heat thanks to a toddler who wants to ‘go in the pool’ 8 hours a day.
I’ll admit I went a bit overboard with my T2 cool down cooler. It contained: Frozen bottle of Coke, Frozen bottle of water, Frozen hat and Bag of ice. I’d also carry about 60 oz of GU Brew in a hydration pack on the bike along with a frozen water bottle I would us to cool off.
It’s rarely a 1st first race of the season without forgetting something important. I had a stressful day pre race figuring out how my bike’s dust cap disappeared sometime during transport. Then on the morning of the race I forgot my timing chip and spent my warm up time getting a new one and making it to the start with just minutes to spare.
Due to the heat, the race started at an early 6:45am. The swim was two laps in the ocean at Playa Conchal. A rarity in XTERRA, the pro women had their own wave a couple minutes after the men. This meant it would be a lonely swim. Super swimmers Sarah and Christine would be way out the front and Lesley with a bum shoulder would be behind me. Swimming solo makes the swim makes the swim longer, but this one seemed exceptionally long, I had to look at my watch between laps. Based on my time, I’m really hoping that was a long 1500 meters. I came out 5:30 minutes off the lead and 4:30 off 2nd.
I transitioned to the bike and headed down to the beach. I was racing on my Specialized S-Works Fate with Fast Trak tires, a 2.2 front and 2.0 rear and low tire pressure for the sand, about 20 psi. The first mile was in deep sand so it was a challenge to keep the wheels rolling and not sink. I missed the memo about duct taping my bike shoes and they soon filled with sand when the sand got so soft I had to dismount to run.
Just when I thought it would be nice time for a drink I realized I’d left my hydration pack in T1. It took me a few minutes to decide whether to go back or keep going. I’d felt I’d gone too far at this point to turn around and kept going, trying to come up with a hydration plan B. Luckily I did have some water on my bike and 3 GUs, but was very concerned about a total meltdown.
After the first mile on sand there was a huge, steep and loose climb followed by a technical downhill with a mandatory hike-a-bike section that took us to a remote beach where we rode through the sand again. This was the highlight of the race because I could hear howler monkeys! I had also made my way into first, which is a good feeling.
Due the early morning there was a fair amount of shade. It was bit lonely out there and I kept a close eye on the dirt looking for tire tracks to make sure I was going the right way. It was a long way to the first aid station but it was a relief to get there before my water ran out. I stopped to fill up my water bottle as there were only cups absolutely worth the seconds lost, but still could only take in half the fluid I had planned on drinking during the race.
Going away from the coast there was a lot of fast dirt road sections but also an energy zapping loose lava rock section where balance became key. Then the course lead us to more dry forest sections where there were a ton of ‘death vines.’ While preriding, another pro Alex Modesto got caught in one and managed to take me down with him, luckily we were both ok but it was reason enough for me to avoid them in the race.
It was great to see my family out on the course and it looked and felt like I had a big lead, although I certainly thought Lesley could potentially make up lost time on the swim during the bike. I rode hard but perhaps not with a sense of urgency. It was a long bike about 20 miles, but it seemed much easier than during the preride. There was about 1100 feet of climbing total, although it seemed like more because so much of the climbing was lose dirt or rocks.
Coming into T2 I was told Lesley was not racing, so I took a few seconds to sort through my frozen goodies, only to realize the contrary as I headed out of transition, Lesley was speeding in.
The run started on the road and uphill but quickly turned to dirt and back into the forest where the shade was welcoming. I was happy to be dancing around the roots in my brand new Salomon S-Lab Senses although I struggled to have a quick turnover off the bike. I did however, manage to survive the race without a blister! I knew it would be challenging to hold off Lesley, at about 3-4k into the race she made the pass and I could not match her pace. From the forest we went back down to the beach where I felt like I was running in place in the deep soft sand and a more direct sun beating down even though it was still early. What made it bearable was knowing how close I was to the finish where I crossed in 2nd place, 90 seconds off the lead.
Congrats to Lesley for the gritty win with what turned out to be a fractured shoulder (don’t try that at home kids.) I hope her recovery is quick as she is in killer form at the moment.
The best part about the 6:45am race start was we still had time to hit up the breakfast buffet at the Reserva Conchal Resort and pool post race. I also had most of the day to spend with the family, that is if they didn’t take a monster nap, race support is a tough job!
We spent the afternoon exploring up the coast, found a hidden gelato gem and a beach with more hermit crabs than I’ve ever seen before in my life.
We had high expectations for wildlife and it didn’t disappoint. We did not have to look to hard to see animals, if fact we were practically tripping over them. Monkeys, coatis, iguanas, and birds are everywhere. Disappointed I did not get to cuddle a sloth so I will have to go back!
I knew the country was big, but it took even longer to travel around Guanacaste than I anticipated due to most of the roads being two lane and windy. Most roads did not have shoulders and had a fair amount of car traffic but also a lot of locals rode bikes, almost always without a helmet and no lights at night and frequently with a child sitting on the top tube. It took a long time to get from the beach to the volcano or rainforest, so I’d suggest moving hotels when exploring different parts of the country.
We had a few extra days in to Costa Rica do some more tourist activities and beach time. We made it to the rain forest where we saw tons more birds.,I did see a toucan, although no queztal. I may not have won the race, but I am sure to win my next game of Scrabble with that word.