Saturday, November 2, 2013

Pura Vida

My most recent adventure took me to Costa Rica to participate in La Ruta de Los Conquistadores.  A three day stage race riding across CR from the Pacific to the Caribbean.  I say participate because as the promoter, Roman Urbina declares it is more of an adventure than a race.  And what an adventure it was.  Having done two stage races in the US and one in South Africa I do have to say that this one was an adventure that is unmatched.  Yes South Africa was super tough and long, but La Ruta, it offered a new level of suffering and being alive.  
As a fellow participant Chris Case so eloquently stated in his write up, their are many things La Ruta is not, but it is not just any mountain bike stage race.  I have to agree with Chris and share with you his most accurate description: 

"What is La Ruta? A soul-sappingly hard, exotically wild, singular journey across laughably steep inclines, hysterically steeper descents, through jungles, plantations, villages, across ecosystems and temperate zones, over volcanoes and beaches and terrain that you never quite imagined you could ride on a bike."
After about 23,000+ feet of climbing over about 180 miles in three days, I am in awe of the ability to go within oneself and find will, determination and strength.  It took a balance of moments in time.  Some of triumph, such as pedaling a painful climb without stopping and some of death when time stood still and going forward seemed like the stupidest idea ever.  However, forward I did go.  The first two days were super tough for me and I felt as though I was more in a survival mode than a race mode.  I attribute it to the unknown and not necessarily having a plan of attack since it was nothing like I had ridden before.  I was also weary of the mud and railroad crossings plus I was tired.  I had not planned La Ruta in my long scheme of goals this year.  I felt pretty wiped out and was not so sure I could take more "suffering".  In fact I have relegated my suffering to 40 minutes nowadays with Cross taking a front row.  Despite all my fears I was not letting an opportunity slip by.  As Jim Meyer so kindly advised me, 
When shit gets weird, just tell yourself: "Show some fucking adaptability!" Put that on your top tube as a reminder. Gotta roll with the punches.

And weird it did get. Not only did I never ride there before, but the Race Bible was not so exact and after the first day you learned that all distances were futher, climbs longer steeper, and you need to just go with the flow, as they say keep it tranquilo. Its the only way to go. There is much more out of your control than in. Look at your top tube.

It is hard for me to process all that happened while I was there, but what stands out the most is really how incredibly well, regardless of all skeptisim, the race organization, workers and volunteers get you pre race breakfast, shuttle to race start, through the days stage, gather and keep track of your belongings, post race showers, post race meals, massages, bike maintenance and a shuttle to an overnight accommodation.  And shabby it is not.  Each meal was delicious and offered great nutrition even for us gluten free folks.  All accommodations were more than adequate and it was never "hard" to figure it all out.  I do believe that all the behind the scene people might just be even more wiped out than any of us racers.  Especially the race's ammbassador Erika.  Her energy is amazing and she truly was there for any of our questions or concerns with the biggest smile ever on her face.  She was the true model of Costa Rica's most commonly used phrase:  Pura Vida.  It literally means "Pure Life", but it is more about a way of life in Costa Rica.  It is the way of simply enjoying life and being happy.  It is hard to not catch this vibe while in Costa Rica.  As you ride you are constantly encouraged with shouts of Vamanos, Vamanos and cheers from all directions.  It helped you get thru all the "dark" moments and kept smiles on all faces.  The encouragement of the people and the kindness that seeped from them help fill your soul after each stage sucked a bit of it out.  Regardless of how sore or tired I was, I was never miserable, there was just too much good all around.
Day 1:

This day is the day I "sort of" knew the most about.  I was able to drive the first climb and at least knew where it ended.  The unknown was the jungle portion.  I have to admit I was a bit frightened of it.  The horror stories of the mud and who knows what lurking behind the huge green foliage.  I was not sure how much I could put out without falling apart.  I kept it reined in a bit, but one could not help needing to put energy into the steep climbs and concentration it took to navigate the jungle terrain.  I was able to keep the second place woman in sight until after the second aid station.  Not having support at aid stations I had to rely on filling up and loading up at each station.  I was determined to catch back on after each fill, but needing to fill my camel back at aid 2, it just took too much time.  My rabbit was gone.  Don't get the wrong idea though.  Each aid station had the best volunteers.  They did their absolute best to serve me as quickly as possible and take care of what ever I needed.  I am so thankful to them.  There is only so fast a gatorade water cooler can fill a water bottle or hydra pak.  It was a little disappointing to have this situation, but it was what I had to do and I accepted it.  I got thru this stage thinking that it was not as bad as predicted.  Most likely due to the mud not being very significant in depth, only slippery.  However, I never imagined just how much it would take to get thru the day.  The climbing is relentless and made the length of the stage seem to take forever.  I dug deep to not be discouraged and forge forward to that far reaching finish line.

Day 2:

My apprehension built this day.  Not only were we late due to the unbelievable traffic jam at the start line, I was facing a huge climb of 2 plus hours into elevation that I have not reached in years plus there was a possibility of it being super cold on top.  Not something I get to do in my training.  All it took was a deep breath and a knuckle whitening ride thru the city towards the volcano to settle my nerves.  Then climbing began and kept going and kept going.  Again, I was able to keep second place in my sights until the need for supplies arrived.  I had a steady stream of positive thoughts in my head, but every once in awhile negativity did arrive.  I believe I died a thousand deaths this day only to shake it off and go forward.  Once at the top I was quite relieved to start the downhill.  Fortunately it was not too cold, but I did put a jacket on.  The downhill part lasted for a bit, but there was a bit of traversing up and down to do before it really got down to business.  At one point I stopped to take off my jacket and watched a women blow past me with tons of spunk.  Just what I needed to get riled up and back in race mode.  I hurried to catch up and met Jane from CTS, a fellow american.  She and I rode the rest of the stage together and got to chat a bit.  It was just what I needed to get me back in the game and help me outrun my demons from that deathly climb.  Forturnately she also knew the course as it was her 3rd time there and she had pre-rode it at a training camp a few months prior.  This knowlegdge was key to allow us to rip the downhill at very high speed!  What fun.  Thanks to you Jane!  At this finish line I felt an overwhelming sense of uplifting.  The worse was over and I survived!  

Day 3
I can do this!  Sure the first climbs will be tough, and steep, but more punchy and short.  Just what I like.  At the start I got the sense from body language and close talk that the Costa Rican women in front of me and behind me in GC were plotting.  I knew I would have to be on guard to protect my third place in GC.  As the race got underway, I was amazed at how good I felt.  The two previous days cleansed my body to be at its best today.  The second place women, Adriana,  and I stuck together for the first half of the day.  As with the first two days aid stations is what separated us.   After the first one I dug super deep and caught up to her.  It was aid two that I had to fill a hydra pak and it took time, however I was climbing well and I knew I could catch her.  I flew out of the aid station and started my chase.  I spied the kit and  caught on but to my surprise it was not adriana, it was the women in fourth place GC.  It was bewildering to me how she caught up and was ahead since I had not seen her for hours.  Whatever, this is really where I need to be and hang onto her so she can not get away and make time on me.  For awhile it was  bit of a fight as she had some "ticos" working with her and doing what they could do to work against me.  The worst was going into a railroad crossing and having one of the men jump to get between us and then proceed to walk super slow across as the women got a gap.  I had to take a chance and pass him so that I could catch back up stay on. After that I believe they let up a bit and understood that I would hold my ground.  Being my first time on the railbed crossings they thought I would be scared, as did  I.  I found them to not be bad at all.  I have had to cross much scarier.  I just stayed focused and steadfast and was able to cross them rather quickly and as quick as those with experience.  Eventually our pack of riders caught up with adrianna and about 8 of us continued to pace line and stay together for the remaining of the flat roads, rail roads and crossings and beach front to the lovely end.  Tension to oust me also settled and the two ladies and the other ticos in our group welcomed me and made peace offerings.  They began to share food water to drink and water to pour over us as temperatures soared in the hundreds.  At one point towards the end the men in the group tried to get us women to slow down.  He mentioned that our placings would not change and we should let up.  However in my mind and I think theirs as well,  it was more about wanting to finish and jump into the carribean sea.  It was so hot and the finish line so close yet so far.  As long as we could keep going we were going to go and at a good clip.  The finish line at the carribean was super thrilling.  I accomplished a huge feat and I am super lucky for the opportunity to do so.  I could not get in the ocean fast enough.  

Many thanks for getting me to the start and finish of this adventure are in oder.  NUE and Roman Urbina for the opportunity.  Gettysburg bikes for dialing my bike, Sublime Athletics for dialing my fitness, Carborocket for keeping me hydrated, Specialized for my awesome FATE, TNW crew for helping me find speed, Stages cycling for equipping me with the ability to improve my power, Bruce from Pro Gold keeping my chain happy,  and last but not least the cupcakes for keeping it real.

Huge congrats to Pua for a superb win and also to Adrianna for a great performance.  Most of all Congrats to all finishers of the 2013 La Ruta.  A special shout out to Heidi for accomplishing more than you ever imagined!  It is more about the adventure than the race.  No matter where we finished we all shared in the amazing experience and all should be proud and filled with Pura Vida!

Time Magazine's Top 10 Hardest Endurance Competitions


  1. Only 2k to go! How many times did you hear that? I think back in 2007 when I raced it, I heard it at least 5 times ... and it was more like 10k.

    I wouldn't be surprised if 4th place had some "help" in the beginning climbs of Day 3. Saw alot of that during my La Ruta, although I've heard they tightened up on that sort of thing these days.

    A job well done! Take some time and breathe, woman!

  2. Great blog! Amazing adventure. Those elevation profiles + the thought of crazy jungle descents, wow! You are awesome. See you at the cx races very soon.

  3. You are an amazing athlete and can do anything you set your mind to! I am so proud of you and all you have accomplished! I can't wait to see what is in store for 2014!!

  4. Way to go Churtle! Always in awe of what you do. All of this in the middle of an incredible cx season!

  5. You crushed day three like no ones business . You are a total pro ! I know what you mean about filling the hydration pack . If you add it up over three days at every feed zone its over twenty minutes . The whatever and the blocking I think I explained that to you in the start corral , remember ? Nice piece on La Ruta .

    1. I think I remember. refresh. who is this?