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Coastal Challenge

The Coastal Challenge

08-Feb-2020 San Jose, Costa Rica


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Trail Race Race Terrain
236KM / 147Miles
6 Days - 100 Runners

DIFFICULTY Race Difficulty Brutal  

The Coastal Challenge is as difficult and demanding as it is breathtakingly spectacular

Known locally as the ‘Rainforest Run,’ the TCC is a stage race, run every year along Costa Rica’s lush and tropical Pacific coastline. Weaving in and out of the Talamancas – a coastal mountain range spread across the southwest corner of the country  – prepare to cover a demanding 236km over six days.

Part jungle, trail and alpine race, the TCC is an assault course of topography.

Up mountain, through rainforest, down dirt tracks and following trails over ridges, highlands and coastal ranges, the Costa Rica Coastal Challenge is bursting with terrain variety. You will run along gorgeous beaches, past reefs; wade through tantalisingly clear river estuaries and up and over barren rocky outcrops until you reach a Unesco World Heritage site, the Corcovado National Park. Here you will be rewarded with an experience of what is considered one of the world’s premier rainforests.

Take a moment to allow yourself to be transported to a place so vivid with colour – brilliant bright greens and rich browns – running past a cascading waterfall at sunrise; hopping rocks across a ravine to follow a trail through wide-open country fields down to the pristine, champagne-coloured sandy beach beyond. The rhythm of your breath may usually fill your ears, but here in Costa Rica it will be eclipsed by the chorus of thousands of creatures; insects, birds, butterflies – the vibrant buzz of life. If you think running 225km is pushing your limit, you will be surprised.

The stunning scenery will distract you.

Started in 2004 by Costa Rican adventure racer, Rodrigo Carazo, the race will be in its 11th consecutive year and continues to grow in popularity every edition. The TCC may be similar in format to the Marathon des Sables in that the race is multistage, point-to-point over six days, but unlike the MdS, the TCC is supported – you are not required to carry everything bar water that you need to survive. And this makes a massive difference, not only to your performance. Running light and fast, gear may be kept to a minimum – hand bottles or small bladder packs for hydration only. Delicious food is provided at the finish camp as well as at checkpoints or feed stations along the route. Base camp is setup by the race team, to which your luggage is transported. So you can expect your nights to pass physically spent, but pleasurably so, cradled comfortably in hammocks or tents.

If this sounds easy, think again.

It is not called the Coastal Challenge for nothing.

The Costa Rican coastline can be as hot as the Sahara and its sultry 35-degree heat comes with punishing humidity. The course boasts a total elevation gain of more than 34,000 feet – with the race finish near the border of Panama in a small and serene fishing village that until recently was only accessible by boat.

The Coastal Challenge is open to individuals and teams of individuals, amateur and professional runners, but unlike any other ultra-marathon, the TCC offers you a choice: to enter the Expedition or Adventure category. If you want to run hard and fast, the Expedition category is a true test for the more experienced runner. Or simply sign up for an adventure of a lifetime, through the diverse and challenging landscape of one of the most magical and inaccessible places in the world.

Read about the 2018 winner here.

Find out some 2018 updates about this race here.

Read Ian Corless' review of the 2015 edition here.

Read Ian Corless' review of the 2016 edition here.

You can register your interest for this race here.


Listen to interviews with 2015 runners:


Event Organiser
Steve Diederich



Elevation: Very little change < 500 metres. Benign running terrain, not technical.

Suitable for: First ultra runners completing a marathon or doing regular long distance running in the last six months.


Elevation: Increase of up to 1000 metres

Suitable for: Runners who have completed at least one ultra distance race (or similar event) or are doing long distance running (>26 miles) regularly, with elevation shown.


Elevation: Increase of up to 1500 metres

Suitable for: Runners who have completed several ultra distances or similar events, or are doing long distance running regularly, with elevation shown.


Elevation: Increase of up to 2000 metres with some challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity or heat) and or technical terrain

Suitable for: Experienced runners who have completed at least regular ultra distances in last 12 months, or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races may be subject to evidence of recent qualifying race participation and recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements.


Elevation: Increase of up to 2000 metres with very challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity, heat or at high altitude) and or technical terrain.

Suitable for: Very experienced long distance ultra runners (min 3 years’ experience) or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races is often subject to evidence of recent qualifying race participation and recent medical examination certificate. Purchase of specialist kit is often recommended for these races.

Endurance - Multi-activity

Type: An ultra distance race including at least two of the following activities such as running, swimming, cycling, kayaking, skiing and climbing. It may also include different climatic conditions (eg ice, snow, humidity, cold water, mud or heat).

Suitable for: Experienced multi-skilled athletes who have trained for the different activities included in this event. Admission to these races may be subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements and any specialist equipment required such as a wetsuit, skis or a mountain bike.

Global - Virtual

Type: A virtual race which can be run at any time shown on the dates shown, on any type of terrain in any country.

Suitable for: For runners from beginners to experienced as you choose your own course and challenge based on the guidelines and options set by the virtual race organiser.

Review The Coastal Challenge

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Tom Blackett

07:37 18-04-20

I recently returned from Costa Rica having cried and crawled my way through The 2020 Coastal Challenge - it was truly one of the most painful yet magical experiences I've ever gone through. I've genuinely thought about it every day since returning home.

For those of you looking for some more info on this epic race, I've had a short film made by Chris Emmerson - a professional videographer who captured some of the madness and supported me throughout the ordeal - you can see it here:


Some day I'll return! Amazing event!

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05:03 17-03-18

The 2018 TCC was a great experience; spectacular scenery and a very challenging multi-stage event in super hot/humid conditions. Given the February timing, the lure of a week in the sun for UK runners is strong but don't underestimate the conditions. There are enough checkpoints to mean you can travel fairly light and given the food in camp is unlimited the atmosphere around the race is very positive.

Costa Rica is a stunningly beautiful country, the people friendly and the race a great experience! Pura Vida!

Full blog report here...

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01:59 13-03-18

Having completed the MdS 2016 on virtually no training it would be fair to say I was complacent anout TCC. The MdS contingent all stated this race is tougher!
So originally I signed up for the Expedition and set off on day 1 with this in my sights. The searing heat sneaks up on you. There is no colling Saharan breeze. The sun bakes you and your feet get soaked and gritty in the various river crossings. They are a blessed relief for a baked body but can okay havoc on those of us with soft (and rubbish) feet. I struggled to feel positive on Day 1 getting back in the dark and finding all the water had been used for the showers. But a sleep sorted me out and I decided to drop to Adventure category day 2 as my feet were already blistered and peeling. I really enjoyed day 2 and seeing the elites in action was ace. Don’t by any means think this category is a cop out! There were previous MdS and ETR finishers in this! If you want to enjoy rather than suffer a lot this is the category for you!
Anyway I was medically withdrawn after day 2 and only allowed to compete again on the last day. The last day is truely stunning.
Throughout your time in the race the sounds of the jungle are like a beautiful chorus. Leave the headphones at home. Camp is small and low key with elites eating meals with everyone else and sharing race day stories. I said I would never go back. This was the hardest thing I had done and hard to fall apart so early on. But I will go back in a couple of years. I don’t know whether I would want to suffer as much as Expedition. I think TCC is easier to take that step down for. The MdS was either finish or bomb out. I think you should just conserve and enjoy the scenery with TCC unless you know you are bloody fit and your feet can withstand the abuse and you have the leg strength and nerve to deal with some very technical descents!

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Josephine Adams

10:28 06-03-18

I'd been told that TCC was more of a 'runner's holiday' than a race... 2 weeks on from competing in the 2018 edition and the magnitude of this event is still sinking in! Yes the running is challenging - terrain ranges from riverbeds to beach to thick junlge and there's enough ascent to make even the front runners a little jelly-legged at some stage - but the rewards are epic. Amazing scenery coupled with the fantastic organization and Costa Rican race-family you soon find yourself a part of, makes this a very special race indeed. It's not often I'd want to re-enter a race, but The Coastal Challenge?... I'd go back at the drop of a hat. Do it.

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02:21 19-03-17

For the first time in my life I entered a multi-day stage race; in Costa Rica, The Coastal Challenge 2017. I’d already visited the country two years ago as a guest, accompanying my husband who raced, so I knew what it involved - however I never thought I’d try such a race myself, so needed a lot of preparation, mentally and physically.
In the end I completed all six days of the race in full, apart from day 1 when, almost at the finishing point, my leg became frozen with a severe cramp and I just couldn’t move. At all! The race doctor decided I needed an IV drip due to dehydration and electrolyte deficiency, something we’d been warned about but was still such a surprise. I thought I’d prepared myself well - being born and bred in Japan, humidity and heat are not new to me. Still, running 36 km in the mountain jungle at the same time as coping with those conditions is a different story. I couldn’t just give up and watch people running though – I came here to run, not spectate, so I carried on with the rest of the five stages and was very glad I did, becoming stronger with each passing day.
Staying together in camp for the week, we runners soon started to get to know each other and become good friends, enjoying the tasty breakfasts, lunches and dinners prepared by The Coastal Challenge staff, who are very friendly and hard-working. There was always much laughter and music in the camp sites, with a decidedly Latin atmosphere.
I’m most grateful how I was looked after by the medical and other staff, when I couldn’t even walk on Day 1. They never left me alone, were very attentive and made sure I’d recovered well – I’ll never forget that. After that first day, I really appreciated how I could still run each day in this beautiful country, enjoying every single second running through the jungles, mountains, rivers and beaches, accompanied by a kaleidoscope of colourful plants, birds and butterflies.
It’s tough and extremely challenging for sure but I can highly recommend what is at times a brutal, yet so fascinating race; one that will stay in your heart forever if you too brave that hot, hot, hot start line.

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10:33 12-03-17

So much is written about this race and you can sense most articles feel a need to compare it to the MdS. Why? Because the TCC is one of the many contenders for the title 'toughest race' amongst the multi-day (6 day) events. The 2017 version was made to look all too easy by the leading runners, in particular the winner Tom Owens for whom the rugged terrain was well suited. Whilst brutal in parts and usually hot & humid, I would prefer to describe this race using words such as 'friendly, relaxed, varied and beautiful'. With a field numbering less than 100 there was always an intimacy about the event, best measured at the end of each day when elite runners and journeymen mingled freely exchanging experiences, encouragement and advice. There is less formality than some of the mass events but that did nothing to undermine the excellent organisation which included a marked route, amply stocked feed stations, excellent catering and very welcoming campsites at the end of each of the 6 days. Marshall's were always able to anticipate whether to offer a cup of water or to pour a bucket over your head; both were usually required. Personal equipment is transported each day enabling a fresh supply of clothes and personal comforters, so racers just needed to carry hydration, energy snacks (if required) and first aid; a sharp contrast to running a self sufficient event. But in exchange the course dealt a daily variety of terrain which usually comprised steep climbs, sharp ankle turning downhills, river sections, single track and beaches, all bathed in a searing heat that left you forever searching for running water for a quick cooling immersion. All of the 230km was route marked but any lapse in concentration risked a detour, and I seldom felt able - or the need - to reach for my music. When things go wrong and the wheels fall off - or if you prefer a shorter race - there's an option to start each day further along the route and this has the added enjoyment of seeing the leading racers come through. Whilst clearly an easier option, so much better than travelling with the kit lorry each day when you're struck out of the main race or are simply struggling with the terrain and the heat. In summary, it’s great; the TCC is an adventure with endless variety, as challenging as you wish to make it, but one where you're usually able to go to sleep with a smile on your face and a full belly. And in a fresh set of clothes!'

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Elisabet Barnes

07:44 27-02-16

The Coastal Challenge is a magical race in an equally magical place. The actual running is quite tough with lots of challenging terrain but offers great variety with dirt roads, jungle, beaches, highland, river crossings and even several stretches in river beds. The humidity and the heat adds to the test. This is however balanced by relaxing camp life with cooked meals supplied and luggage transported by the organisation every day. The atmosphere is fantastic and very friendly and you soon feel like you are part of a big family where everyone support each other. One of the best races I've done. Read my full blog here: http://ultraruneli.com/2016/02/27/the-coastal-challenge-pura-vida/

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Damian Hall

07:41 26-02-16

I loved this event. It was a fantastic holiday with some great running thrown in amongst the glorious beaches, jungles, mountains and rivers. The course was a real mix, some technical bits, hearty ascents and descents, but lots of faster sections on dirt roads and I especially liked the river sections. It could get hot at times, but not stupidly so. We were well looked after and the campsites were usually next to long, quiet, palm-fringed beaches. Ahhh, wish I was still there.

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09:54 02-06-15

2015 Coastal Challenge - what an adventure. Beach, jungle, mountain trails. Butterflies, macaws, iguanas and monkeys. All done in a super friendly environment, with plentiful food served up and delicious water melon and pineapple at the aid stations. It was hot, really hot but that helped make it awesome. This is running in paradise.

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01:22 26-01-15

I really didn’t know what to expect going into the TCC but on reflection I really wish I get the opportunity to go out and take part again, it was an awesome race! In 2014 there were circa 60 competitors and it was a really sociable event, the organisation was questionable but that didn’t matter, it was great fun and everyone whether professional whippet or eternal plodder mucked in together to enjoy the most amazing location and scenery. Costa Rica is so beautiful and running through it meant seeing places off the beaten track. This is not MDS and having the luxury of plentiful supplies of decent food each day cooked by the entertaining staff, kit transported, masseuses on hand and incredible campsites with showers makes for a more laid-back and somewhat luxurious race.

Because of the elevation gain the TCC is a more challenging route to my mind than MDS; However, with no ‘long day’ and having less to carry and without fending for yourself runners can go harder and rest more. The humidity was hard to deal with and it is certainly a hilly course with more hard-track trail and fire road than I was expecting although with interesting jungle and technical trail sections mixed in.

The mixture of ‘Expedition’ and ‘Adventure’ course is great – my girlfriend came along for the shorter course and it was her first Ultra and she loved it. We stayed on for a week afterwards in Drakes Bay and so altogether was a perfect two-week holiday for us.

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