Monday, June 7, 2010

Welcome to the Jungle: Run to End the Runs #3

Costa Rica has made a name for itself in eco-tourism. One of the lesser known components of eco-tourism includes re-using human wastes to generate power through the use of biodigestors In layman’s terms, guests who stayed at our hotel about two months ago went to the bathroom. Their pee and poop went through an on-site treatment process which uses bacteria and anaerobic conditions to convert the wastes into methane gas, which in turn makes the lights go on and cooked my pre-race rice and beans.

Halfway into the hottest race I’ve ever run, I could have used some of that poop power to get up some of the hills. Race number three was located in the beautiful rainforests of Costa Rica, which attract millions of tourists each year. I’d bet most of them take their time exploring the hot and outrageously humid forests. Matt and I didn’t have that option if we wanted to finish the third Run to End the Runs with daylight!

We learned at the pre-race meeting that because of logistical issues, there would be no water stops between 15km and 30km. 9 miles with no place to fill up the two water bottles we each carried in a place where you start sweating just looking outside of your air-conditioned rental car. I usually drink a 16 ounce bottle in 90 minutes to 2 hours, so I thought I would be able to manage with my two 16 ouncers if I watched my liquid intake for those 9 miles-I was wrong.

I do love low-key trail runs. They are a refreshing change from the thousands of co-racers rubbing elbows and people jockeying for positions for the first couple of miles at larger road races. I’m also glad that I don’t follow a strict pre-race dinner or breakfast regime; we’d be in trouble! We had great Costa Rican food –plantains, beans, and rice-before hitting the panaderias and the market to find something to eat for breakfast. Tangerines, bananas, and bread would be our fuel for #3. Matt toyed with the idea of sleeping without our air conditioner on to ‘acclimatize’ for the race, but we enjoyed our humanure-powered air conditioning and managed to sleep for a few hours before our 4:30 am wake-up.

About 100 athletes toed the start line and we all counted down the start together. A quick couple of hundred meters on the road and we made a hard right onto a path. It got hilly fast. Short and steep hills, which I didn’t expect. We’ve been training in Arequipa on hills, but they are gradual-200 feet over a mile, and these were short and steep. I was holding myself back since I had been sweating since we got up and I knew I was in for a long day. I watched Matt’s back as he hung with the leaders, cresting the hills in front that I soon would be trudging up and cringed at the thought of running back up them hours from now on the way back. The race was a cherry stem loop-we did an out and back, with a big loop in the middle, meaning that the nice, fast downhills on the way out would be painful uphills on the way back.

Running in the rainforest is a bit like Nature’s Ipod. The howler monkeys, birds, and bugs made for interesting acoustics for the first couple of hours. I jockeyed with another woman through the first 10 miles for first place-but this wasn’t a race won in the first ten miles. Filling up my water bottles and drinking as much as I could at the second aid station at km 15, I started to fill the effects of the hundred degree weather, the hundred percent humidity, and the dehydrated body I already had. I started walking more of the hills and was conscious not to drink too much as I knew I had a long stretch before the next aid station. A vanilla Hammer Gel picked me up for a bit and I swapped out Nature’s Ipod for my own for a change.

This was some of the longest 10 miles I’ve ever “run.” I thought multiple times how I had zero desire to run the Badwater Race, or any athletic event between the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn. What little shade there was offered an unbelievable respite from the trail sauna. I underestimated how long it would take me to get to the next aid station and had no sense of mile markers, so got pretty dehydrated. The trees started looking like howler monkeys and the sticks littering the path like snakes as my body used what little liquid I was putting into it to keep my vitals functioning.

I’ve never been more grateful for a river crossing than the one shortly before the third and final aid station. I sat in the river, dunked my head in the river, and honestly thought more than once about taking a big gulp. Having had my fair share of gastrointestinal illnesses, what little sense I had left told me not to. What felt like Mt. Everest laid between me and the next aid station-a big, shadeless hill. The sight of two water jugs and sliced pineapple has never made me so happy. I drank a ton of Heed-a not so tasty electrolyte drink and water, ate pineapple and Gu, and filled up my water bottles for the last 10km. Everyone who came through that aid station-myself very much included-looked worked over and then some.

To make what felt like a very long race short, I crossed the finish line much slower than I anticipated, but I think that was the case for everybody that day. Happy to be done, Matt and I took off to the beach for some r&r with good friends and missed the awards ceremony. It wasn’t until later in the week that we learned we both placed third in our divisions-in a race where half the people DNFed or missed time cut-offs from the extreme conditions.

Lost a pair of shoes to the race and the ensuing tropical storm they sat in after the race, but another race is under our belts and we were proud to contribute to Costa Rica’s eco-tourism by helping fill the hotel’s biodigesters. Somebody will be able to turn the lights on in a few months thanks to those rice and beans and a few bacteria at Hotel Bambu. My hope with the Run to End the Runs is that people from Bolivia to India will be able to do the same as toilets move from a pipe dream to a reality.

Want to run your next race in style? Get people talking about poop? Get your Run to End the Runs t-shirt: available at

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