By Karen Kefauver - Sentinel correspondent
October 30, 2009
Link to Sentinel article
My sister looked at me with incredulity.
"You're going on a running vacation?" she asked. "You don't run!"
She was right. But I had already signed up and was flying to Costa Rica for a seven-day organized trip called "The Coastal Experiences."
I hoped that my muscle memory would kick in and my body would remember all the 5-kilometer and 10k races I had run [slowly] during my seven years as a triathlete. But my swim-bike-run years ended in 2004. Since then, I have focused solely on cycling.
So why would I consider a trip that centered on running and promised on its Web site: "You will experience Costa Rica
like few others have.... If you're ready to move from watching the Eco Challenge, Ironman, and NYC Marathon races on TV to actually stepping up to your own challenge, please join us."
I was eager to tackle an adventure radically different than my usual group road or mountain bike tours. Right before my 40th birthday, it was time to try something out of my comfort zone in a place I had never visited. I also liked the trip's multi-sport
elements -- every day after running, there were additional activities offered, including ziplining, waterfall rappelling, volcano hikes, and snorkeling and scuba diving. Plus, on two mornings, all of us would try to stay in our rafts as we hit the white water of the Pacuare River's
Class IV rapids.
That's how I ended up in San Jose, Costa Rica, the first week of October. I tried to play it cool on the first day of the
trip. Our group of 70 guests and staff gathered to register and receive race numbers -- our running times would be officially recorded daily.
I braced for the potential shame of being last every day. Men and women, spanning ages 21 to 61, from all over the world -- England, Spain, Netherlands, Canada and mostly America -- were comparing notes on their recent marathon times, triathlons and adventure races. Though I was in shape, I was by no means in "race shape." I planned to walk, a lot.
I was also afraid of twisting my ankle in the jungle or stumbling upon a poisonous snake. I was relieved that there was a doctor on staff and that I was on the third annual Coastal Experiences. They told me everyone had survived so far!
The next day, which kicked off five days of running for a total of 40k off-road, I found a trio of women. They were old
friends who had signed up for the challenge together, and they made running near the back of the pack seem like fun.
"We will sweep the sweepers," said Jenni, a lively nurse from Texas. She meant that our crew would be alongside the
officials who were assigned to follow the last guests.
The next few days unfolded like a tropical dream, with just a few nightmarish moments. Each day, we started our run in a different location, making our way steadily toward our final stop in Puerto Viejo.
A highlight was a stay in the jungle lodge of Rios Tropicales, where we soaked in waterfalls after our run. It was also
thrilling to see the plumes of gases rise from the active volcano of Turiallba. The threat of lava flows helped distract me from the searing pain in my quads: running or even walking downhill, day after day, really fatigues those leg muscles. As a cyclist, I was more accustomed to working my hamstrings.
Through the five days of the tour, I did a lot of walking and some running. My feet sank into spectacularly soft sand on
the beach, slopped ankle-deep in mud that sucked off some of our shoes, and shimmied through river beds with slippery rocks. I got my hands dirty nearly every day, grabbing jungle vines and roots for steady footing. I watched colorful butterflies flit from the lush leaves.
Several times during the week, I welcomed overcast skies and gentle rains to keep me cool. It was hard. I loved it and
sometimes hated it because I was out of my comfort zone. But I was not always last.
While many in the group camped every night, I was relieved that I had chosen the lodging option and slept soundly to the insect hum each night. The trip was not about watching wildlife or doing a checklist of tourist spots. It was about connecting with the
beautiful land and sharing the experience with fellow travelers.
Since my return to Santa Cruz, I have had a joyous reunion with my mountain bike on the trails at Wilder Ranch State Park. It was nice to ride through mud rather than run through it and I had a renewed appreciation for the trails.
My friend Kim, a fitness coach, noticed I seemed stronger. "It must be the cross training," she said.
I'm not ready to give up the bike for my sneakers, but I have resolved to incorporate some trail and beach running into my bike workouts. And if I see you out running or riding while I'm on my bicycle, I'll be happy to raise my water bottle and salute you with Costa Rica's national mantra: "Pura Vida" life is good.