By Alice Morrison
There are many iconic ultras around the world: UTMB, Badwater 135, Western States 100, Marathon des Sables… but The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica, has to be up there in terms of drama, beauty and sheer adventure.
It is a 230km, six-stage race which takes place every February and wins rave reviews from the runners. It is set along Costa Rica’s Pacific coastline but also crosses into the mountain range in the southwest of the country, the Talamancas.
Photo credit: RunUltra.
The terrain is hugely varied. If you want the world in one race, this is the one for you. There is jungle and virgin rainforest, mountain trails and single trails, beaches and reefs and lots and lots of river crossings. If you don’t like mud, definitely not one for you!
There are two categories: Adventure and Explore. The Explore category which has approximately 230 km and 10,400 metres of elevation gain and the shorter Adventure category which has approximately 137km and which excludes some sections of the Explore category.
The heat and humidity are two of the biggest factors of the race. Temperatures reach 40ºC and you are going to get to camp wet through regardless of whether you have stopped off to jump under a waterfall or not. Camp is relatively luxurious in that there are toilets and showers and the catering is fantastic. Luggage is transported so you can bring plenty of extra kit. There are checkpoints with water and snacks at around 10km intervals.
Photo credit: RunUltra.
Steve Diederich, ultra runner and The Coastal Challenge organiser for the UK, Ireland and South Africa, says:
“TCC is special and unique ... the course takes in single track cut through the rainforest, waterfall crossings, riverbed running, endless beaches, estuary traverses. Being a volcanic region, you are either doing the above, or tackling hefty climbs or descents. From an ambiance point of view, the race is very unencumbered. On the course you only need to carry what you need to get from check point to checkpoint (these are stocked with tropical fruit, snacks and hydration). All your bags are transported between camps and tents are put up in anticipation of your arrival. The race field is limited by the location of where we can overnight, so that the atmosphere is very intimate. The catering is really excellent and is one of the great highlights of the race - the menus are designed by a nutritional specialist and the quantities can ensure you go back heavier than you arrive.”
This year, 95 racers were at the start line to take up the challenge, including Suzie Chan, Anna Frost, Ester Alves and Elisabet Barnes for the women and Tom Owens, José Manuel Martínez, Jason Shlarb and Pablo Robles for the men.
Photo credit: RunUltra.
Steve Diederich again:
“Over the past two years, the course has been evolved to incorporate some stunning running. Not many races can boast finishing at a world heritage site, having arrived there by crossing an estuary by boat along some of the most spectacular beaches you can imagine. This year was very special as the women's competition was well-fought, pitching Anna Frost, a running legend, against a really strong field of Elisabet Barnes, Anna Comet and Ester Alves".
As always, the race was hotly contested and with so many different types of terrain, different sections played to different runners’ strengths. Anna Frost was on a mission as she had competed three times and never finished. She also had ankle problems which made her cautious on some of the descents. None of that held her back, though, and she nailed the win, much to her delight.
For Scot Tom Owens, his mountain running background helped with the steep climbs. He won with a good margin and said he loved the course and would be back “like a shot”. Just after the race he posted:
“An unforgettable 6-day adventure. I'm gonna miss Costa Rica and the race camaraderie big time.”
As always in ultra running. It's not just about the winners. It’s about guts. I asked Steve if there was any story that really epitomised that.
“Yes! Alice Dainty. She was pulled from the race due to the terrible state of her blistered feet on Day 3 .... still with feet in a trashed state, she toughed it out to complete the last day on the amazing Drakes Bay, not complaining once all the way round. She made it.”
Alice Dainty, has a quick break before pushing on through the pain. Photo credit: RunUltra.
Tom Owens - 22:29:45
José Manuel Martínez - 23:43:36
Jason Schlarb - 24:34:57
Anna Frost - 9th overall - 27:08:49
Anna Comet - 10th overall - 27:58:45
Ester Alves - 11th overall - 28:23:27
Suzie Chan – 1st overall – 18:46:46
Erika Reed – 2nd overall - 20:31:40
Jessica Hoskins – 4th overall – 22:58:33
Pablo Robles – 3rd overall – 21:28:00
Rodrigo Crespo – 5th overall – 23:46:44
Federico Escalante – 8th overall - 26:35:55
Interested? Register here.