With a landscape reminiscent of the garden island of Kauai, Costa Rica is steeped with lush green palm fronds amid towering trees which provide a canopy for a diverse population of birds and fruits – some native to the region, others all-too-familiar. Humidity hangs heavy in the air, not surprising since this is the rainy season as we are reminded by our guide Stephanie, “There are two seasons in Costa Rica – sun and rain. October…this is the start of the rainy season.”
This is also the month for the inaugural Costa Rica Skyrunning Race, the reason I have traveled here along with top U.S. trail runners Jason Delaney – 2012 Pikes Peak Ascent Champion – and Amber Moran – two-time winner of the Shut In Ridge Trail Run, and runner-up in this year’s USA 10K Trail Championships – who will race at the 21-kilometer distance of a three-race program on Sunday, October 28. Also on tap, a 5K and a 10K to be run almost mostly on trails around the base of the active Arenal Volcano near the rural village of La Fortuna.
“I’m looking forward to the race and seeing what the trails are going to be like,” said Delaney, “It looks like good terrain for me – big, long hills.
“I’ll see how I adjust to the humidity,” added the 32-year-old from the dry clime of Golden, CO, “I haven’t run in that in a long time. I’ll probably be cautious the first few miles” He smiled brightly and added, “I think I can already feel my chapped lips healing up.”
On October 13, Delaney won the Silent Trails Memorial Race in Wyoming, a ten miler on single-track trails with elevations ranging between 8,000 and 9,000 feet. “It was a blizzard for that race. Probably not similar to the conditions we’ll experience in Costa Rica. I almost broke my record from 2006 and that year the conditions were way better.”
On a scale of one to ten, Delaney rates his fitness at 8.5. “Not peak, but my training has been going pretty well. I’ve gotten on the trails prepping with some good grades. I’m not sure if I’m prepared for technical trails. We’ll have to see.”
Moran’s training has been the best in years, “I started working with Chad Newton in February and I’ve had my best season ever. He’s really cut back on my intensity and increased my volume. He believes in long singles, instead of doubles. This has allowed me to recover much better. We’re taking things one week at a time and tweaking as we need to.
Moran, who lives in Asheville, NC, recently traveled to Ogden, Utah for the XTERRA National Trail Half Marathon Championships. The 34-year-old finished a strong third place at the event. “I wasn’t sure how my body would react to the altitude (6000 feet or more), so I started out conservatively. I started to pick it up at about 8 miles. I passed Michele (Suszek), at about four miles to go and Megan (Kimmel) at two miles to go. I was happy with my result there.”
Looking to the race tomorrow, Moran said, “I’m excited. I’m the fittest I’ve been in a while. I’m looking forward to the experience and something completely different. Seeing what the trails are like and what critters are out there.”
In talking with race organizers, including race director Philippe Bukovec, two days before the race at the host hotel Montana de Fuego which doubles as the staging area for the start/finish, the humidity would be the biggest factor…plus the possibility of a snake sighting or two on the trail.
The course was measured at 13.49 miles and has a total ascent of 1,591 feet with a maximum elevation of 2,280 feet. There are four significant climbs in the course with average grades of 3 to 6 percent, but some climbs have a grade over 15%. The majority of the course is on single track terrain with sections through meadows and on rugged dirt roads. Because the race route is in a rainforest, muddy and rocky sections are common along the trail. For the race, there will be water stops at the start, 3.5K, 8K, 12K, and 17K. However, carrying additional hydration is advisable to all runners due to the high humidity and heat.
Results will be posted following the race a www.costaricarace.com.