We ran Ironman 70.3 Costa Rica. It was a gorgeous race in a stunning location, that challenged my legs as much as my mind, in a tropical paradise with sunny skies, and crossing that finish line was a milestone in many ways. I am proud of myself for completing this challenge, and super proud of my husband Acyuta for completing, rocking it, and being by my side as support and partner throughout the training and racing.
First off: I’m back, baby! The Half Ironman, also known as Ironman 70.3, Costa Rica is my first triathlon in four years. Yes, four years, that is nuts! And maybe slightly nuts of us to get back to swim, bike, run with a half ironman distance. Correction, definitely nuts. I am writing this on a Monday, day after the race, and all I can think is – I can’t wait for a sprint triathlon. That was super long. Longer than I remember.
Why did it take us four years to complete another triathlon? When we lived in South Florida, we were blessed to train and race literally year long. I did lots of sprints, and was part of a great training group, that practiced all three disciplines almost every Sunday, about 10 months out of the year. Then we moved to California, gorgeous place with challenging hills for both biking and running. I stopped cycling and didn’t swim in open waters at all, because San Francisco Bay is cold! Then we moved to Asheville, NC, which in many ways delivers cold temps for swimming, and hilly bikes and runs. We stopped cycling throughout the winter. Then I came to Costa Rica for what was supposed to be a temporary adventure, and my beauty of a bike got put in storage. I’m sad just typing this. We continued running, and I definitely have had my ups and downs with it. After a longer period of injury and moving to a different environment, I am currently not as fast as I used to be, and don’t really train for speed but more run for pleasure. I also try not to limit myself with petty competition, which we women suffer from too much as it is, and can be more damaging than helping in my opinion.
I have run quite a few running races, completing five full marathons and over a dozen half marathons in the last few years. But I sure missed triathlons. Three sports are better than one! So last year, I brought my bike to Costa Rica and began riding, first casually, and then more vigorously. We actually wrote down and followed a training plan, which is something I never do. However, the reason why this was a milestone in many ways, is that I also recently completed teaching the very first Hari OM Yoga and Ayurveda teacher training. The three months of yoga teacher training coincided with triathlon training, and both culminated two weeks apart, wrapping up what feels like a life chapter. Because I taught, and Acyuta participated, in the 200hr Yoga Teacher Training, we were super busy the whole Saturday and Sunday, every weekend for 13 weeks. On top of that, we of course had our regular life and professional responsibilities. So to have completed the half ironman with such limited time and energy is a great feat to me.
The Expo was on a great location, in center, and close to race start/finish, meaning close to where we stayed as well. They had everything! I am usually disappointed by Costa Rican expos as their selection of gels isn’t in my taste, and I’ve tried most of them. If you’re a fan of Gu, Hammer, Honey Stinger, and all those well-known US brands, you’ll find them here. I stacked up well as my supplies were running out. I got my bike pre-tuned and the guys were great and helpful. Acyuta bought a super awesome helmet, with a built-in magnetic eye protection so you don’t need glasses, which can get uncomfortable. I was trying one on too but I just looked like a hilarious bug, so I couldn’t get one for myself unfortunately. There was a nice selection of clothes, but very expensive in my opinion. Even the sale on Costa Rican IM merch was not really a sale, as the starting price was $100 even for a simple top, which made something at 50% markdown barely worth it. I didn’t get any clothes.
We got a bag, which is awesome! I got a zipper backpack, which they apparently ran out of in color selection, Acyuta got one with a buckle which he was happy with, but I didn’t like them. Post race survey mentioned a hat, I never saw or got one. The shirt is just….. blah. I’ll wear it proudly, but the design is not really in my taste. I am happy to have a race shirt to wear, as not every race provides one or they run out of sizes, and it is comfortable.
Costa Rica did not disappoint and the course was beautiful. This is only the second time this race is taking place, and last year, the race won overall best swim. It was scenic, the roads completely closed which made it feel safe, and the views of the beach and mountains were a nice distraction from the pain. With years, I’ve realized that I do care about the course and try to find beautiful races in nice locations. Ironman 70.3 Costa Rica makes for a gorgeous race-cation.
Like I said, the swim course won best overall swim of 2017, and for a reason. Playa de Coco is a perfect tropical paradise, and that’s coming from someone who has been in Costa Rica on and off for two years. The bay is amazingly calm for the Pacific coast, and the water warm. I completed the swim in an average time for me, 48 minutes (2:09/100 yards), in line with my half ironman swim best time (it’s worth nothing that this is slow). I am not a fast swimmer, but I have practiced swimming in open water in Manuel Antonio for the past few months, and I really come to enjoy it. So although I got stuck and ran over by a few people in the race, it was an enjoyable swim.
Oh boy! This is where the race got real. I knew there was a substantial climb at the beginning of the course, and being that we had to do the course twice, that I will be climbing it four times (on the way there, back and repeat). What I didn’t know, and the race site and pre-race athlete guide didn’t tell me, is that there was another climb in there. What the map said was the turn-around point, was actually another little loop going into a completely new road, all uphill for a few kms, turn around and down hill. Had to do that twice too. The first time around I was just shocked about this turn of events, and then the whole second loop I was dreading those uphills. Needless to say, my bike time was considerably slower than my previous half ironman, for 35 minutes to be exact. I was relatively proud of my 3:05 bike PR for half ironman, not great by any means, but you know, not bad. This was a total disaster! And I’m chuckling as I write it, because I am so proud I even made it. Man I do hate those uphills! The whole course had some rolling hills here and there, that made it a completely different experience than a nice flat Florida race. I should mention that every single triathlon of any distance I’ve done so far has been in Florida. So all in all, we made it.
I could not wait to get off the bike. The last 10 miles were just a tad too long, with those aforementioned hills just a killer. My legs and heart were tired, but the biggest issue I had at that point was crippling pain in my right foot. I’m not happy with my new cycling shoes, they are slightly too tight and poke me, only on the right side. So when I started running, I was just hoping this will go away quickly. On one hand you’re looking forward to the change of discipline, on the other I thought to myself – ‘a half marathon now?! Doh!’ I ran at what I call moving forward pace. The sun was out and it was hot now, so I appreciate the spectators who showered us with water sooo much! I stopped at almost every station for water, fruits, sports drinks, and was super on top of my nutrition the whole race. The run was 2.5 loops in a neighborhood where we were staying, covering sand three times, and going up and down some small hills that were just annoying at this point. I finished in 2:38, literally just pushing forward high on angel dust.
The finish line was by the beach, having to run on sand the last part, for the third time. I was so happy that it was the last time I’m doing this, and was just smiling. The area isn’t large, and I didn’t see any food or entertainment. I just found Acyuta waiting for me there, which made me super happy. We got to take post race pictures together, grabbed cold water, and headed over to the ocean to jump in. I started feeling all kinds of pains and shivered a bit in the water, which I am not sure if it was from suddenly feeling slightly cold or from the ridiculous amount of heat I just received during my midday half marathon. We soon packed up, went to transition for our bikes, and rode them to the Airbnb where we were staying. I unfortunately don’t have much to say again about finish line festivities, but finishing was all the celebration I needed.
The Medal rocks. Here’s proof:
Conclusions and Advice:
This was a gorgeous race, and I would recommend it. But with a note that the course isn’t easy. It is not the World Championship, but it isn’t a joke. In my international racing experience, I find the US, specially larger races, to be most friendly to beginners and all levels of athletes. That means you’ll find people running at various pace, even walking races. There is little fear of coming last or being alone on the course. In the states, everyone runs races every once in a while, not only runners, if that makes sense. Costa Rica seems to be a place that predominantly attracts serious athletes, and on the other hand, Latin American people are crazy passionate, specially for a Croatian like me. They were yelling “Si se puede!” (You can do it!) and all kinds of cheers during the course. Most races I’ve done here, or in Europe as well, attract people who really dedicate to the sports and are strong. All this made me feel slightly nervous before the race, and I looked at the results of the previous, inaugural year, to see what to expect, both in terms of the athletes attending and the course. Last year almost 2000 people attended, and this year that number was cut in half. It might be other factors, but I want to think that many didn’t repeat the race due to it’s difficulty. And on the other hand, everyone that showed up was very good, and looked strong too. The majority of attendees were Costa Rican, from the stats we got at Athlete briefing, and they know how to ride those hills.
Some advice I’d throw at someone thinking of participating next year:
- Staying close to race start and finish, and walking/cycling there and back was a great choice
- Consider the tropical environment more than anything else, which means:
- Hydrate like crazy before, during and after the race
- Include salt tabs to your nutrition plan
- Eat well on the bike and run if you can
- Drink Sport legs if you have that in your practice, your legs will thank you
- Pack at least two bottles on the bike, the course is long and the stations won’t cover you
- While you’re at it, practice grabbing bottles while moving, cause that is an art that needs to be mastered
- Take the time to put sun block on in both transitions
- I recommend both a hat and glasses on the run
- The run has lots of stations, you might not need a bottle/hydration pack; that said, I did take my small bottle with fizz water and ate two of three gels I had with me, along with fresh fruit provided
Stay in the area and explore! It’s gorgeous. I ate lots of delicious vegan foods and did yoga, I packed my TheBFF (The Miracle Body Buffer) with me and Acyuta and I massaged each other. We went to a beautiful resort post race for jacuzzi time, and really made sure to relax the muscles and recover as soon as possible. I’m just happy I have no strange pain and am not injured. I’m also super lucky to have the best Ayurvedic therapist at hand, my mom, who gave us acupressure massages when we got back.