Last updated: 04-Mar-16
By Ian Corless
“Who placed a hair dryer in front of my face?” It was a question that many were asking as windows opened on the coach as we travelled at 4am from San Jose to the coastal town of Quepos and the start of the 11th edition of the 2015 The Coastal Challenge.
Long days, intense heat, high humidity and a plethora of mixed terrain make ‘TCC’ an ultimate challenge for any discerning endurance athlete. Weaving in and out of the Talamancas (a coastal mountain range in the south western corner of Costa Rica) the race offers a point-to-point journey over 240-km’s.
Balancing distance, severity of terrain, a tropical climate and overnight camping, TCC really is the most perfect adventure holiday. Providing daily challenges in a stunning location. TCC manages to tick so many boxes… jungle, rainforest, mountains, single track, ridgelines, highlands, rocky outcrops, pristine beaches and stunning estuaries. You hear the words paradise, tough and hot… oh so hot on a daily basis.
Lasting six days, runner’s progress along the stunning coastline moving in-land and back to the coast like a weaving snake. Up, down, through and around the Costa Rican land of paradise. Camp is moved daily and although runners need to provide a tent for overnight camp, all food and liquid is supplied so this race is not about being self sufficient. It manages to provide the best of both worlds.
Frosty, Samantha Gash, Veronica Bravo, Nikki Kimball, Joe Grant, Karl Meltzer.
“It’s easy to go through life giving 80,90,95%… It’s safe, it’s predictable, and it’s easy to maintain the self-image that we want. At those outputs (in racing and in life), it’s possible to control both how we see ourselves and how we project ourselves to others (we sort of hide the bad spots). But things change when you absolutely lay it all out there, especially in a race. When you fully commit, and give everything that you have, then you strip yourself right down to the truth. It’s sometimes unpleasant or brutal, but it’s also cleansing and addictive. I always want to get back to that spot to see if I am any better/stronger than the last time. It’s tough to get there though; you can’t always find 100%…but when you make it there, it’s always worth it.” – Mike Murphy
Racing at the front was always going to be fast, aggressive. Take a look at the line-up: Karl Meltzer (USA), Iain Don Wauchope (SA), Joe Grant (UK/USA), Mike Murphy (CAN) and local Costa Rican, Ashur Youseffi and Roiny Villegas would head up the male field. For the ladies, Anna Frost (NZ), Samantha Gash (AUS), Nikki Kimball (USA) and Veronica Bravo (CHI) would battle for the female victory.
Anything can happen in a race that lasts multiple days and believe me, The Coastal Challenge provided more than its fair share of excitement. But as a battle raged at the front, behind, the story was one of survival, perseverance and enjoyment in equal measure.
Irrespective of pace or effort, the Costa Rican coastline never stopped providing inspiration. It’s important to look at the TCC as so much more than a race… It’s a journey, a running holiday and a voyage of discovery. Friendships made in the rainforests, on the beaches and in the camps are ones to last a lifetime.
Mike Murphy and Anna Frost took the race out hard; a clear sign that winning was a priority. But by the end of day one, a drama was unfolding and the script was thrown out of the window. Murphy went off course through a navigational error and Frosty blew up with just over 5km’s to go. Opening the doorway for Iain Don Wauchope and Veronica Bravo it was clear that the 11th edition of The Coastal Challenge was not going to be a predictable year.
Grabbing the bull by the horns, Murphy and Frost dictated the race on day two over the tough climbs, forest trails and long beach sections to provide a master class in aggressive racing. You would never have expected it but the duo clawed back lost time and then gained some to take the respective overall leads.
The beautiful beaches of Costa Rica.
The long day (day three) was always going to be a significant day. Traversing a long section of river bed, crossing left to right with sections of scrambling this was always going to be a day for Don Wauchope to shine, ‘The Otter’ course record holder revels in this sort of multi terrain and as he exited the stunning Nauyaca waterfalls it was clear that Murphy had a race on his hands. What followed by Don Wauchope is something seldom seen at a race of this level. Pulling away, a gap opened, the elastic stretched and then finally snapped. Taking technical descents with great speed and agility, Don Wauchope entered the final long beach section with a huge lead and then turned on the afterburners to extend his margin and re take the overall race lead… but only just! Don Wauchope had clawed back the deficit of day two and had reclaimed the lead by just 1 minute fifty-two seconds.
Frost ran a calculated day three allowing Bravo to gain no time and running side-by-side for most oft the day a stale mate was concluded. However, in both the men’s and ladies races, the action for the final podium place was wide open. Nikki Kimball, 2014 Marathon des Sables winner was running a consistent and solid race and for the men, Costa Ricans, Villegas and Youseffi were looking to fight for the coveted podium place and highest ranked Costa Rican.
The heat created an early morning inversion as runners climbed through dense forest before arriving on the undulating forest roads and trails that would dictate day four of the TCC. Don Wauchope continued his domination of the event and started to get ‘better-and-better’ as he exclaimed at checkpoint two. Murphy unfortunately was suffering. Lost food, misplaced nutrition and the relentless heat and humidity were resulting in a Canadian meltdown but he wouldn’t give in. Go hard or go home was most certainly the Canadians motto.
Frost was also staring to suffer too. Troublesome plantar fasciitis issues were resurfacing and causing the New Zealand runner severe pain and discomfort. Although Bravo and Frost ran much of the day together, Frost finally succumbed to the pain over the final kilometres and allowed Bravo to claw back some time.
A quiet moment for Roiny Villegas.
Torrential rain of biblical proportions was a welcome way to start day five and the journey to the beautiful Drake Bay. Mud glorious mud greeted the runners and with the rain, lower temperatures and lower humidity afforded each runner with several hours of comfort before conditions returned back to normal. Pushing hard, Murphy started to add the nails to his TCC coffin. Without wanting to give in, Murphy pushed himself to the edge in a way I have not witnessed before. His eyes told the story though, he had nothing left and during the evening of day five, Murphy was removed from the race on medical grounds. In the ladies race, Frost could no longer take the pain and midway through the stage arrived at a checkpoint and acknowledged her race was over. It was an emotional moment. Bravo reluctantly took the lead and never looked back.
Drake Bay is a Unesco Heritage Site and an inspirational and inspiring place to end an epic journey. The TCC 2015 champions were not in question and the ladies ran in unison. Don Wauchope ran easy but still made every one else look like they were standing still and behind, Villegas made a last bid attempt for second on the podium and although Youseffi was not having a good day, he held on enough to retain that coveted runner up slot.
TCC 2015 river crossing.
The 11th edition of The Coastal Challenge concluded on the beach, where else? Beers flowed and as the sun disappeared another stunning race came to an end. Don Wauchope and Bravo were crowned winners but as everyone knows, all those who achieved the finish line became a winner. TCC is more than a race; it’s a journey. A journey to the edge for many but as we all know, if it were easy it wouldn’t be interesting or challenging. Departing the bay in speedboats it was easy to see the inspiration on each participants face and the chatter turned from, ‘thank goodness that is over’ to ‘what’s next’ or ‘I can’t wait to come back.’ Roll on 2016.