Costa Rica seemed like as good a place as any for my first international race. After a brutal east coast winter, the chance to trade snow for sunscreen in March made the decision all the easier.
RaceQuest Travel was kind enough to take care of the pros with their Xterra Costa Rica travel package, which was a great way to cut down on the logistics of figuring out where to stay and how to get there from the airport. Krista and her team provide a very professional, friendly and welcoming service for race week. If you are considering traveling internationally for a triathlon or other endurance event, check them out.
I arrived in Costa Rica very late on Thursday evening, and rushed on Friday morning to assemble my bike and hit the trails before the debilitating heat ramped up.
I had some company on the pre-ride, reigning Costa Rican champion Rom Akerson, and 2014 XTERRA USA pro champions Emma Garrard and Josiah Middaugh. Out on the course, we saw an impressive array of fauna, more new birds than I could count and several arm-length iguanas.
After the pre-ride, we checked out the swim course. While the Pacific coast of the United States is absolutely frigid this time of year, the water in Brasilito bay on the northwest coast of Costa Rica was 83 degrees. The beauty of the coast and the impressive variety of shore birds and wildlife justify the trip in their own right.
In the two days before the race, I was soaking up the beaches, the novel and diverse wildlife, and cuisine, and was actually enjoying the heat. Furthermore, I was looking forward to a racing all out against a stellar field. And then, the bottom fell out…
At midnight, seven hours before the race, I woke up and preceded to throw up my dinner, lunch, and then breakfast from the previous day over a period of about five hours. After my long battle with GI parasites, my stomach is still quite sensitive and something I ate or drank caused my system to go haywire. I’m sure the stress of international travel and pre-race jitters didn’t help the cause.
Dehydrated and completely drained, skipping the race seemed like an enticing option. After missing the XTERRA East championship last year due to similar GI issues, I didn’t want to have the lingering wonder of what might have happened if I sucked it up and raced. More importantly, I had just traveled most of the way to the equator and wasn’t about to miss out on the experience of at least finishing the course unless my body shut down. With my mind made up, I slowly sipped a cup of water over a 20 minute period, suited up, and hopped on my bike towards the race site.
Along the 3-mile ride from the hotel to the race site, I realized I would be surviving rather than racing the course. My body was completely drained and crawled along at a snail’s pace. Here’s how my “race” played out.
The swim alone is justification to come and experience Xterra Costa Rica. An 83 degree Pacific Ocean postcard swim simply doesn’t exist in the continental US. When the gun went off, the rest of the pro men bolted ahead of me into the water while I scampered in chase. It felt much better to be horizontal and non-weight-bearing, and I somehow managed to stick with the tail end of the pro field in the water. Exiting the water to round the shore buoy however, my fellow pack mates put at least 10 seconds into me on a 50 meter beach run, so I knew the rest of the day would be a serious struggle.
By the time I straggled from the beach to my bike in T1, my pack mates were already out on the course. The bike is more like a segment of an adventure race than a typical Xterra course. It mainly consisted of dirt and ATV roads with very deep and loose sand, dirt, and rocks. Most of the time, the course required constant power to the pedals; if you stopped pedaling, your wheels stopped turning. What it lacked in “conventional” technical single track, it made up for with arduous sand sections, some of the steepest, trickiest loose dirt hills I’ve ever tackled. The course, along with the destination, was truly unique and won’t easily be forgotten.
By the time I got on the run, I was in dead last in the pro men’s field and in full-on survival mode. I still couldn’t take in any food or gels but managed to drink about 25 oz of water without issue on the bike. Starting the race severely dehydrated, the 90+ degree temperate at 8am wasn’t helping the cause. Apart from a mild (for off-road standards) hill in the first mile, the run course was flat and well shaded to boot. The route consisted of a wide natural footpath in the forest, with some roots and loose dirt to contend with but quite moderate compared to the bike. The last mile or so runs along exquisite coast, that is to say, on energy- and speed-sapping sand. I crossed the finish line content to have completed the event.
I would have loved to be 100% on race morning and was relishing the opportunity to race full on, but the experience was still amazing and the season is still young.