|By Damon Goerke|
The Coastal Challenge
is an annual 6 day, 225km adventure run through Costa Rica. The location alternates each year between the rainforest in the south and the volcanoes in the north. In 2012 I went to compete in the north, along what they call “The Route of Fire” with about 50 other competitors mainly from North and Central America. The race organisers moved our kit around and set up a camp for us each day, allowing us to run with only the minimal equipment. Each night a feast was also laid on for us, with more than enough food (provided you liked rice and beans).
The race start was in La Fortuna, next to Volcan Arenal, a classic cone shaped volcano towering 1500m above and would finish on the Pacific Coast within sight of Nicaragua. I ran most of the 25km of Day 1 which included 1500m of steep climbing, with Canadian Chris, until he dropped me on the final descent into Rancho Margot, our first camp for the race. I felt comfortable though and knew I had kept plenty in the tank for Day 2, which was to be the toughest stage - 63km and 4200m of ascent.
Day 2 started off fun with a few tricky river crossings before a steep and often muddy 900m climb. I got to the front early in the climb and I was with Chris again until he dropped off, only to be replaced by Roiny, a local who I was to have a great race with for the rest of the week. It took me about 40km to finally shake him as we ascended a ridge covered with wind turbines, before reaching the finish line in a local village. I must have pissed Roiny off, because he came out hard on the relatively easy 33km
Day 3, with another 1500m climb. We ran together until he got away from me in a neat little singletrack section and disappeared and I was unable to catch him again.
Day 4 was a little tougher, 47km and 1500m of climbing and I loaded up with Shotz gels
, determined not to let him get away again. After about 15km I made the first break on a long climb and managed to get out of sight for about 30 mins until Roiny came charging past on a steep downhill. The final km was up an awesome river canyon with several crossings and swims before finishing at a waterfall. This is what I had come to Costa Rica for and was one of the highlights of the race. The heat and humidity had been intense so it was refreshing to have a swim, and it was a good chance for me to wash as I’d forgotten to pack any spare clothes for the week and it was starting to be noticed.
Later at camp I was told that after the 4 stages and 165km of running, Roiny had taken the overall lead by 7 seconds! 3rd place was several hours behind so it was a 2 horse race. The remaining 2 days would be relatively easy, however it was promised to get even hotter in the areas we were to enter and I knew that would advantage the locals.
The final stages consisted of a 11.5km time trial and then 20km run on Day 5 and a 22km run to the finish on Day 6. Starting in reverse finishing order at 1 minute intervals, I set off and slowly caught all the runners ahead except for a few before finishing and turning to see how Roiny went. The minutes ticked by until it became apparent that something had gone wrong. He had missed a turn and ran an additional 5 kms before realising his mistake. He finally arrived just over an hour later, obviously devastated.
Knowing I now had a pretty handy lead, and with a fresh shirt donated by my suffering race mates, I could relax a bit and enjoy it (provided I didn’t get lost). To his credit, Roiny, the tenacious little bastard (the Americans loved me saying this), came good after his mistake and got back some time in the next 2 stages but I still managed to get the overall win by 1 hour in a total time of 20hr 38min. Roiny Villegas from Costa Rica was second and Chris “Turets” Barth from Canada was third. The first lady home was Laura Hronik from the US, followed by Kelly Wilson and Patricia Ossenbach
It was a sensational week of running in a real paradise, supported by a helpful crew of locals and volunteers, I can definitely recommend it.