Xterra Costa Rica... Not Your Typical Race Report


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      I have yet to find any of my races interesting enough to right up a race report, I've actually never had a blog before or even used one... but I figured it would be a crime not to share my travel and race experience that became known briefly as #ProjectCostaRica on my Instagram Stories. So here is my "race report" from some of the craziest traveling I have done all in order to race Xterra Costa Rica. And who knows, maybe this blog thing will stick through my summer adventures in the van.

January 1st, 2017: 12:00pm

     The adventure begins months ago when me and my coach/good friend Parker Spencer decided he was going to join me in his first Xterra down in Costa Rica so we booked matching plane tickets flying out of Roanoke, stopping through Atlanta with a final destination in Liberia. A pretty similar flight to the one I had taken last year when Xterra Costa Rica was my first race as a professional. Our biggest worry so far was that we had an almost 9 hour layover in Atlanta on the way back and we couldn't decide where we wanted to eat first, but hey we saved $200 on our flight.

April 5th, 2017: 9:38pm

      But of course things are never quite that simple...  As I walked through the door at Parker's new house the Wednesday night before we were supposed to leave we both simultaneously got a text from Delta alerting us that our flight (which was in 9 hours at this point) was cancelled from Roanoke to Atlanta but our Atlanta to Liberia flight was still scheduled. One look at the weather radar in Atlanta that night showed us why as they were getting hammered with thunderstorms and flights all over the country were getting delayed and/or cancelled due to Atlanta's complete shut down that night.

April 5th, 2017: 11:30pm

      We both went into research mode while simultaneously talking on the phone trying to find the cheapest (or free) option to get to Atlanta in time to make our connection. Unfortunately our process of decision making was way too slow compared to everyone else who also had their flight cancelled and we watched as our option quickly disappeared. After two hours of scrolling through about every flight company's website and sitting on an endless hold loop on the phone we final came to the conclusion that neither one of us wanted to actually voice out loud... that we would have to drive through the night to Atlanta to make our connection, which was about an 8 hour drive.

April 6th, 2017: "I haven't been up this late in forever"am

      That night we found out how important those rumble strips on highways really are. We fell into a solid routine of one person dozing off and on while the other person drove, while pounding coffee and listening to Blink-182 anthems on full volume. When that over stimulation suddenly became not enough (usually around the 2 hour mark) and we would "find" the rumble strips on the side of the road which signaled the passenger it was their turn to drive.

     Oh and just a friendly PSA: Most roadside rest areas are pretty sketchy between the hours of 1am-4am... just in case you were wondering

April 6th 2017: 7:30am

      It was about this time that Parker would say "Today's a new day! I think our luck is turning!" the sentence that just might have cursed our entire day. But hey, in his defense, it was with good reason. We had just parked my car, caught a shuttle to the international terminal in Atlanta, check our bikes (without paying any fees!!) cleared security AND ate some pretty good eggs all in about 45 minutes... which honestly might have qualified us for a Guinness World Record if we applied. So we settled down and camped out near a power outlet to wait to board our flight.

April 6th, 2017: 10:00am

     Well 10 am was supposed to be our boarding time, but instead it was the time of day we learned that our pilots were not in the airport (well actually nobody knew where they were... not even Delta) and we received our first first, somewhat comical 30 minute delay of the day. Little did we know that for the next 6 hours the same gate attendant would come over the loud speaker EVERY 30 MINUTES just to inform us that they had not found our pilots yet and that we were once again getting delayed.

     Yes... it was as fun as it sounds...

April 6th, 2017: 4:00pm

     Blame it on our now 36 hour lack of sleep (the last time I had seen a bed was Wednesday morning when I left its sweet embrace to go to an 8 am class) or really blame it on shear stupidity, I honestly think it was a combination of both but Parker and I began making some rather sketchy decisions. The main premise being that we both considered our flight to Liberia cancelled since nothing had changed in 6 hours. So we found a "similar" flight that left from Atlanta at 6pm and flew in to Managua.

     Yep I am referring to the Managua that is located in Nicaragua...

     Parker worked his sweet talking magic (stringing together words like "pro athlete" and "dream job") with the same gate attendant I found a growing hatred for, solely because she was the one we heard every half an hour for the past 6 hours delaying our flight. However, she quickly became our hero that day. Not only did she book us on the flight to Managua for no extra charge she also initiated a refund process for our total flight cost and then proceeded to personally move our bikes from the Liberia plane to the Managua plane. We knew we had made a good decision when she once again came over the loud speaker to officially declare the Liberia flight cancelled as she was printing our new boarding passes.

      A little back story on the decision to go to Managua. Out of all the flights we had found our last option was either this flight or to catch a flight that left Saturday afternoon to Liberia and put us in late at night the night before the race in Costa Rica.

April 6th, 2017: 5:14pm

     Never had I wished more that I paid more attention in high school Spanish class (all 5 years of it) than I did in this next half an hour as we tried to lay out our next steps in the #ProjectCostaRica plan. Our original idea was to rent a car in Managua and simply drive across the border into Costa Rica and to the Airbnb we had previously booked a few months ago. Well after dividing and conquering among the rental car companies and speaking our best broken Spanish we soon learned that it is actually illegal to drive a rental car across the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica... cool. We figured we should at least book a hotel in advance so I called up the local Best Western (it was fantastic to see such a familiar name) and proceeded, again in broken Spanish, to book a room for a typical, maybe somewhat expensive $95 a night (more on this later).

April 6th, 2017: 6:30pm

     The words "your flight is delayed another 30 minutes" will probably live in my nightmares for a little while after this trip. But hey this time we only had to listen to that sentence every half an hour for 4.5 hours... Our flight to Managua was being delayed again and again, this time due to the lack of ONE flight attendant. For some reason they wouldn't take me and Parker's offer of being the flight attendant that night and it wasn't until about 11:30pm that we would actually step foot on a plane for the first time that day.

April 7th, 2017: 1:30am (3:30am EST)

     After nodding off for the majority of the flight we arrived in Nicaragua... with a hotel reservation but no plan on getting out yet. It turns out $95 for a hotel in Nicaragua can take you a long ways and after purchasing a Nicaraguan visa at passport check for a whole $10 we met our second hero of the trip. A driver for the Best Western met us at baggage check, handled our bags through customs, loaded them in the van and drove us all 400 feet to the Ritz-Carlto... err... I mean... Best Western which was situated directly across the street from the airport.  We then checked in and were escorted through this outdoor style resort hotel to our apartment style suite where we were finally took some showers that were about 2 days late.

April 7th, 2017: 3:30am (5:30am EST)

     It was about this hour, after trying to make sense of the Nicaraguan bus routes and schedules that we uttered a couple words that weren't pretty and don't belong in a blog. We decided to just go to bed and figure our transportation out in the morning. So we set our alarms for 6:30am and proceeded to
get not even nearly enough sleep.

April 7th, 2017: 6:00am (8:00am EST)

 Our "Taxi" driver helping us unload our bikes at the border
   With a little sleep in us we were able to make our first smart decision in a while, which was giving the english speaking host at our hotel some money for a "taxi service" while we ate some more eggs for breakfast. I know... it sounds sketchy... but it worked. Our "Taxi" showed up 20 mins later which consisted of the host's friend in a pickup truck... Dead serious. Due to another small language barrier we basically rode in silence listening to Abba, the Backstreet Boys, and even N.W.A. (his choices, not ours).

      The 3 hour ride ahead of us turned out to be a doozy. Seeing the poverty of a 3rd world country firsthand can really put life as an American into perspective and showed me just how many oppurtunites we have being from a different country. Of course Parker passed out in the first half an hour but I was way to wired and glued to the window for the entire car ride.

The Gypsy colony that stopped up traffic for about 35 mins, there were about 1,000 total people

April 7th, 10:30am (12:30pm EST)

     Our taxi driver dropped us off at the border since he didn't have a visa to drive us all the way through to Costa Rica. This meant we got to walk across the border toting thousands of dollars of bikes along behind us. After being assaulted by vendors trying to sell us anything from bathroom tokens to those little white customs papers (even the customs lady in Costa Rica tried to sell us one) and having our passports checked at least 10 times we finally were able to cross through. We quickly found a taxi who would take us to our rental car at the Liberia airport. 

April 7th, 2017: 12pm (2pm EST)

     The taxi driver definitely earned himself a tip as we made the "hour and a half" drive in about 50 mins (probably because I saw the speedometer at about 150kph which comes out to about 95mph) and we finally picked up our rental car about a day late. Words cannot describe how wonderful it feels to finally be in control of your own travel after a few days of relying on other to cart you around. 

     Just because we were in control now didn't mean we were suddenly issue free. In fact we were wondering if we were hallucinating from sleep deprivation when we pulled up along a dust tornado and drove through a couple a wildfires that were just burning unattended. Here's some proof it actually was real and not from our imaginations. 
Some smoke and hard to see flames from one of the many wildfires we would see unattended.

"Is that a tornado? Yeah I think that's a tornado..." -Parker Spencer

April 7th, 2017: 2:00pm (4:00pm EST)

     Once we finally made it into Brasilito we connected with our Airbnb housemate and fellow professional triathlete Ian King who had already arrived at our... charming... house for the next couple days. It was here we would battle broken air conditioners (RIP Ian's fingers), ants, Iguanas and lizards looking for shade, cows and bulls on the bike course, and yes... even scorpions for the next couple days leading up to the race. 

Yes I did find this in my bed in the morning... And yes I did throw the sheets out on the front porch. As far as I know that's where they still are

One of the many cat sized Iguanas hanging around

Parker figuring out that maybe wearing a lot of red isn't a good idea around some bulls

April 9th, 2017: Race Day

      Race day rolled around much quicker than I would have liked that weekend, especially with me and Parker's particular lack of sleep. So when our alarms went off to make it to the 6am start I wasn't feeling too fresh rolling out of bed. I started to feel somewhat normal again on our ride to the race start in the pitch black along the beach... which was pretty cool. In T1 that morning Ian and I, being over 6 feet tall, ran into the same reoccurring problem currently plaguing us tall people in transition... short transition racks. I conveniently just dropped my Thompson dropper seat post that I had installed on my Felt Edict FRD this January while Ian set about to do a little landscaping in order to make his bike fit on the transition rack. 

Ian's solution to small transition racks, good thing this wasn't in a parking lot

The Swim:

     Pleasantly surprised is the term I would use to best describe the 1500m swim. After having a pretty good start I found myself in a pack that consisted of 2015 World Champ Josiah Middaugh, Utah Pro Michael Nunez, Belgian superstar Kris Coddens and Costa Rican Frederico Venegas Villegas (who had beaten me by seconds last year). Although I felt somewhat comfortable and probably could have gone a tough faster I knew that it wouldn't make sense swimming on my own with there being a vast amount of no-man's land between us and the front group of guys. So I took advantage of the pace and sat in for about 80% of the swim (sorry guys) and got out in good standing overall. 

Oh... and I guess there were jellyfish hanging around on the swim course? I guess I was lucky to miss them, perks of letting someone else take the lead. 

The swim start sprint into the water. Ian and I started far right in the photo. 

The Bike:

     Well my T1 was good... and then I started making mistakes. After having a rather speedy transition I got out on the bike just ahead of Kris Coddens, and then I found a tree... As we started out on the bike there was a rather soft sand section to pass through in order to get to the firmer sand down by the beach and then we would proceed to ride along the beach for somewhere between a quarter to half a mile. My best guess is that I found a root hiding just beneath the deep sand of a very poorly place tree. One second I was carving a straight line through the soft sand and then the next I was bear hugging a tree after going over the handlebars, and tangling Kris up behind me. 

Not one of my shining moments. (Photo credits and ownership belong to August Teague)

     After getting out of transiition in front of Michael and Frederico I was soon joined by them after the first hike-a-bike section and descent and we rode together for a little bit before being joined by Colorado legend Ryan Ignatz. For the first time during the day I started to feel the side effects of our grand adventure and lack of sleep. I was feeling fatigued overall and just didn't have the power in my legs. I fell off the back of our little group and proceeded to ride pretty slow, giving up on myself some and blaming it on our travel woes. 

     My main nutrition during the race took place on the bike and consisted of two bottles of Hammer Heed (I ended up downing about a bottle and a half), one Hammer banana gel just to settle a weird feeling of hunger, and an Hammer Endurolytes before the start of the race to help combat the Costa Rican heat. 

The Run:

     Whatever lack of power I felt on the bike seemed to fade away during the run, with every mile being better than the last. I ended up running down the guys who had dropped me on the bike and ended the day with a sprint down the beach with Frederico, where my Garmin clocked me somewhere around 5:15 pace to close the race down for 7th place, just 7 seconds ahead of 8th. I had a somewhat close finish behind Ian who had a killer race for 6th place after leading the race out of T1. Parker ended up having a super strong showing at his first off-road triathlon, where if he hadn't been DQ'ed for missing a potion of the run course (he even ran along the beach before he finished to make up the distance) he would have gotten 3rd overall amateur and qualified for Worlds.

Post Race:

      The craziness of our journey down to Costa Rica accounted for all of our issues for the weekend and the return journey was nowhere near as eventful as our journey down (thank God). As triathletes we can get pretty set into a routine and panic when things don't go according to the plan we lay out in our heads. I would be lying if I said I wasn't super angry and distraught when I was sitting in Atlanta thinking about all the preparation I had done for this race and now things weren't working out in my favor. But it's how we handle situations like this that defines us and I'm glad I had a really good friend with me to help make some rather sketchy decisions. Although the timing for an adventure like this wasn't perfect I wouldn't trade the experience from that weekend for anything and I am thankful to have the opportunities to travel and race across the world. 

Finally relaxing after the race and enjoying the sunset