MDS to TCC – Jo Meek Interview

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Who would have thought it, the 2013 Marathon des Sables turned out to be a great year for British performances. Danny Kendall placed the highest ever overall placing with 10th and Jo Meek placed 2nd lady overall. It was a stunning performance by a relatively unknown. Armed with a new belief in her ability, Jo will has now planned to switch from the heat of the Sahara and test herself in the heat and humidity of a Costa Rican rainforest at The Coastal Challenge. I caught up with Jo at the end of August and we had a chat about MDS and her expectations for TCC.

IC I bet April and the Marathon des Sable (MDS) seems such a long time ago?

JM Yes, it does seem ages ago. Considering I am walking now in late August in the pouring rain. It’s wet and miserable… it doesn’t seem that long ago in regard to memories. I just watched the video that was available for download and it brought it all back.

IC So sitting at home, watching everyone running in the sand with a tear in your eye?

JM Definitely no tear, I think I am happy not be running in the sand. I am still surprised how I adapted especially considering I am now at home running on the road again.

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IC Amazing eh that you can be in that environment, the sand, the wind, the bivouac, no washing, you are eating dried food and you adapt and then post race when we got in a luxury hotel, you said, you wished you could go back, you loved it didn’t you! You loved being in that environment. It was preferable to the clean hotel.

JM I did. Yes, I actually think I could be quite a ‘skanky’ person really. I am far happier roughing it than in luxury. I guess it sounds romantic but I like being at one with nature, eating, running and sleeping. Perfect. But I guess the other memory is the one from those clean white cotton sheets; that was quite special.

IC I have to say, the first shower, all that fresh hot water and then all the sand starts to escape from all the nooks and crannies. As you say, no more sleeping bags and a lovely comfy bed, it is quite a pleasure.

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JM My roll matt was about the size of A4 to keep it light and small, so my hip was pretty sore after a week in the bivouac. I have to say the cushioning of a bed was welcome.

IC The Bristh performed really well at MDS. No disrespect to you but we had no idea who Jo Meek was before MDS. We knew Laurence Klein was outright favorite and we knew Meghan Hicks was back, she had performed well previously but outside of that it was all unknown. On the first day you were up at the front and then continued to perform at the front of the race for the whole race. You had this great battle with Meghan. Laurence had a convincing lead but it all fell apart on the long day when she had to drop with dehydration. This opened it up for you and Meghan. Meghan had a great long day but I remember standing on the finish of the final day, it was the marathon distance, you nailed it. You said the marathon was your distance and you wanted to stamp your authority on it. You placed second overall, many look at MDS as one of those iconic mult- day races, how did you go from a relatively unknown to getting second. What was it in you that enabled you to focus and become so efficient in the sand?

JM A few things really. I am very good at setting a training plan and sticking to it. When I race, I always race. I don’t just enter to complete it. So, looking at the conditions I set myself up in a heat chamber and did training that was specific. I didn’t want heat to be an issue so I acclimatized. What was interesting over the six days was that I became less scared of what the heat could do. On the last day I thought, what have I got to loose. I do think back now and wonder could I have gone harder but it was an unknown. I didn’t know what would happen so I played cautious. Meghan taught me a lot without her realizing it. I followed her on a couple of stages and I watched how she tracked across the sand looking for the hard sand, even if it was out of the way. She would deviate and look for the harder and faster sand. Also her style, it’s a definite technique to sand running. You don’t want to be a toe runner.

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IC For sure, you need a flat foot.

JM Yes, you also want to shuffle. You don’t want big strides. A little like being in the army again. I learnt lots. I learnt also from training. I had done some awful ultras that were definitely worse than MDS. One race, a 40-mile race across Exmoor and the weather was awful… they said 40 but it was 43-miles I am sure. The last 3-miles were awful.

IC That can be good, a bad training experience. If you have had some tough and hard training and the race works out easier then that has to be a good thing. It’s a real positive.

JM I had no doubt that I wouldn’t finish the race. I had said that I wanted the podium at MDS but I had no idea what I based that on.

IC To put things in perspective you are a 2:46 marathon runner. Ability and speed are there. Many would die for a 2:46 marathon but also you are in the army. Does the combination of those two things make a good MDS runner?

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JM I think the marathon pace and training was key in terms of the speed. I didn’t have the same endurance as Meghan over the ultra distance. Many of the days were shorter in terms of ultra distance so I knew I had that potential. In terms of tent life and conditions, maybe the army helped but that is me… I like that. The army helped with discipline; eating, drinking and so on… it was feet first, food and then wash. You need to look after yourself.

IC Give us an insight into your background, you are a roadrunner really?

JM Yes, but I do like cross-country. I came second in the Nationals. Essentially I have done road running. I started in my teens to loose weight and then just kept going. I wouldn’t say I have natural talent in terms of speed but I have something that works, particularly over distance.

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IC How long have you been running?

JM 18 years, maybe 20!

IC So you have a great base of running and plenty of experience?

JM Yes. I always thought that maybe I should do ultra earlier and I thought, no rush! Particularly with how you develop with age and aerobic capacity. It seemed like the correct time for MDS. As you know, you don’t just enter MDS you have to enter years in advance.

IC Post MDS you really wanted to improve your marathon time. You put yourself on that path and recently you run a half marathon but you were disappointed with the performance. Many factors can affect a race, a conclusion you have arrived at is that you are now going to pursue trail and ultra running. So, you are going to another multi stage in early 2014 but this time you are going to a Rainforest. It’s a race that I was at earlier in 2013, The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica. Also known as the Rainforest Run. What’s the attraction?

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JM I am always very attracted to a country that is hotter than the UK. That is a no brainer! It’s the challenge, the opportunity to compete in something so different. This race I don’t need to carry all my kit, so, unlike the MDS I will be able to just run but admittedly for repeated days. It will be interesting and it should mean I can go faster.

IC The race is very different to MDS. Some things carry over such as the multi day. As you say, you don’t need to carry all your kit but you do need safety kit, food, water and just essentials. But you are correct, all your clothing, tent etc is moved for you and then food is provided. It’s a hot and very humid environment and even when it rains it is not a problem, it is so warm. All the daily campsites are in beautiful idyllic places. It’s such a wonderful environment. It’s a great combination of providing daily challenging runs but with just a touch of comfort. It’s perfect for those who may want an introduction to multi day racing.

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JM In some ways it will feel easier but in an evening you will be able to eat as much as you like and so will the competition, in theory you are all the same come the following day. But at MDS it is about survival and balance. It is more about balancing and economy and how you ration your food and water.

IC The race has so much more elevation than MDS and in particular, the terrain is much more varied. You have single track, double track, rocky sections, forest, dense forest, beautiful beaches and then some tough climbs and descents. The next edition of the TCC celebrates its tenth year so it may have a little more climbing than normal, we shall see? The variety is amazing. If you are lucky, you’ll see wildlife. You hear it but don’t always get to see it.

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JM I’m so excited. I can’t wait. I have some road races to do in the coming months and then I will start my TCC training three months out. I will use a heat chamber again. The heat chamber I used for MDS prep was stuck on 80% humidity so I have an idea of what conditions will feel like and I know what my sweat rate is like.

IC Costa Rica is very humid. It is almost 100% but it is not unpleasant. You really do sweat all the time, particularly when running. You need to be on the ball and balance your hydration.

JM I like it harsh and hard conditions. In some ways, the harder the better.

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IC How do you prepare for a multi day race? In some ways you had to guess for MDS and that worked! So, what do you take away from that experience and what will you do in preparation for TCC. The longest stage is around 50k and not 80k so that will make a difference. As we have said humidity and terrain are the key differences and you won’t need to carry a heavy pack.

JM I will do far hillier off road training. For MDS I had to train with the weight too, however for TCC I will just use essential kit and I will do plenty of back-to-back training at a faster pace. I will try to replicate the race really. In some respects it won’t be too different from my marathon training. The key will be the back-to-back runs..

IC We have so many different ways to look at training. Some runner’s just head out of the door and run on feel. No time set, no distance set. It all goes on feel. Are you like this or do you have a plan that has everything planned out?

JM I work full time so I must have a plan. I don’t have the luxury to say go out and run for three hours when I feel like it. I have commitments. I get up at 05:30 and I do what I can and then I add to this at lunchtime or the evening if required. I make every session count so I fit in threshold running, speed work and so on. I need to be very specific. At weekends I have more time and if I need three days consecutive I take a day off work.

IC Do you do core stability, stretching, strength and core.

JM Oh yes, I am a proper geek when it comes to this. I am a physio too so I have no excuse. I stretch everyday, I do two strength sessions and I do two core sessions per week.

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IC Wow, you are the perfect example for all of us. So often I ask this question and I get a blank answer. We all know we should do it but few of us apply it!

JM I am disciplined and I see the benefits. You have to be disciplined but it still doesn’t stop me getting injuries.

IC Ah well, injury can be caused with so many factors.

JM For me it is usually over doing it or being tired.

IC Yes, distance and speed increase injury risk. Slower and longer has more impact but you don’t overstretch muscles or tendons. Listen to your body and all will be good.

JM I never listen to my own advice… I am lucky, we have a gym at work so it makes strength work easy. If I didn’t have that available it would maybe be harder. I have been strict with this for four to five months and I can feel the difference.

IC TCC is still months away, are you planning on doing any trail races for late season in the build up?

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JM Yes, I love to race. I will enter races, from experience, if I enter races too far in advance I get injured, so I have entered a couple of marathons on the road for training and speed. In December and January I will look for options. Of course, options are reduced and conditions will be a little different to Costa Rica.

IC Late and early season events do crop up specifically designed to help people get ready for MDS so you will have some choice. Final question, many may be reading this and they are going to MDS or they may be tempted by TCC. What advice would you give to these people?

JM It very much depends on what you want to get out of it? I shared a tent at MDS with people who wanted to just complete, they wanted to enjoy the race and that is what they did. Set an objective and train accordingly. Ultimately it is all about fun and enjoyment.

IC If you had to give three tips. Three lessons you learnt at MDS that you would take to any race.

JM Good question. I learnt specifics like running in the sand but I guess the need to watch and keep on top of nutrition. Start eating early and don’t wait. Also, keep any eye on hydration and drink to thirst and then finally enjoyment is key! You must enjoy it.

IC I am sure you’re going to really enjoy TCC and Costa Rica. Many thanks for the time and insight into your progression and have fun in the Rainforest.

JM Thanks, as you say, really looking forward to it. It will be a real adventure.

 Links and information:

  • Marathon Des Sables images available HERE
  • The Coastal Challenge images HERE
  • Entry for the Marathon des Sables is available through the UK agent HERE
  • The Coastal Challenge website HERE

WANT TO RUN THE 2014 COASTAL CHALLENGE?

5% discount available using the form below for followers of iancorless.com

*Please note I will be at the 2014 TCC reporting on the race and capturing images at the invite of the race organisation.

Marathon des Sables – a race in images

A portfolio of selected imagery from the 28th edition of the Sultan Marathon des Sables is now on line in individual galleries for each day.

Please follow the links for each gallery.

Before the race – link HERE

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Stage one – Link HERE

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Stage Two – Link HERE

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Stage Three – Link HERE

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Stage Four – Link HERE

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Stage Five – Link HERE

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Stage Six (non-competitive charity stage) – Link HERE

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Patrick Bauer – The Interview

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Patrick Bauer has a passion and a love for the Marathon des Sables that the passing of the years has not suppressed. Back in 1984 he ventured into the Algerian Sahara to cover 350km’s alone in a self sufficient manner. Little did he know that his journey would not only change his life but also so many lives of so many others…

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Translation services provided by Niandi Carmont

IC Patrick, welcome. In 1984 you took a solo journey across the Algerian Sahara. Why, what inspired you?

PB In 1984 I decided to take a self-sufficient journey of 350km. It took me 12 days; because of my self-suffiency my pack weighed 35 kilos. I needed enough food water for the whole journey. I had no help. It was an incredible undertaking.

IC What was the motivation, It must have taken some planning?

PB I had lived in West Africa for two years. I was employed to sell Encyclopedias to teachers and books on medicine to doctors and pharmacists. Returning to France was difficult. I had no desire to stay… I just wanted to leave again. During my 2 years in Africa I had crossed the Sahara five to six times by car but I wanted to cross on my own, on foot. I remember it well, I had returned to France, I had no apartment so I returned to my parents. I was back sharing a room with my brother. I woke up one morning and said

“I am going to cross the Sahara on foot”

My brother said, “Ok, go to sleep… you had a nightmare”

I said to my brother you must help with a camera and sponsors. Just three weeks later I left to take the journey.

IC That journey influenced the rest of your life but importantly it changed your immediate life in the mid 80’s. In 1986 you decided to share that experience and create Marathon des Sables. What gave you the confidence to create such a race? How did you know you would have a market?

PB I realized when I did a presentation to my village. I had friends and sponsors present. It was a thank you but I had awoken curiosity and interest. Local runners did not want to make the journey alone, so, I decided to organize it. No other event compared, maybe Paris-Dakar. It was a ground breaking moment.

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IC In the early years, was participation mainly French?

PB Yes, French with the exception of one Moroccan. We had 23 runners at the first edition. It took 24 months to plan and create. Little did those 24 know that they would be the pioneers of one of the most beautiful stories that will soon be 30 years old?

IC In the early 1990’s you contacted ‘The Best of Morocco’ to introduce British and Irish runners, was this a long term plan to expand the race?

PB We already had contact with this agency (Best of Morocco) but by 1990 I had already done 5 editions of the Marathon des Sables. I wanted to expand internationally and I wanted as many countries present as possible. We started in a tentative way and today we have as many English runners as French and potentially more in the future.

IC British entries have reached 250+. The race is known worldwide. Did you know it would become so big?

PB I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined it would be what it is today. When a race is over, I start immediately on the next year. I have a passion and I don’t think about it all the time.  I want to be more strategic with my long-term vision. 2015 is the 30th edition; I like to plan 3 years ahead so I already anticipate higher demand for 2015.

IC What is it that makes the race so special. You appeal to novices and experienced runners. It is a difficult balance but you do it so well.

PB I think it is the concept. The cocktail of the desert, running and the self-sufficiency. Nobody at the beginning thought it would be possible to run with a pack. The expedition was an extra bonus…. You need to manage everything; calories, water, clothing, rest etc. All these elements combine to create the ultimate experience. It was new! Today we have additional security. Runners tell us that the safety element is key. Believe it or not, the average age is 40yrs+. These participants have families and children so risk is not negotiable. We want to offer security and safety for all these participants. We have helicopters, planes and insurance to make sure everyone is protected. Finally, it is about testing your limits; in our busy lives we find going back to basics a wonderful experience. Under the stars with friends, sat around a campfire, simple conversation and no luxuries. It is primal. It brings out true values that we may have forgotten. Because the desert facilitates all that is around us, the stars, the universe, you don’t need a book to tell you that ultimately we are all insignificant.

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IC What is it that makes runners that go back year after year?

PB Yes, we have some people returning for the 22nd or 23rd time. But it is not the same for all. If everyone came back we would have the same race, this would not be good. But we have a faithful family that we have created from the start. We have affinity and we love to find each other in the desert. We are also happy to find new friends. Maybe we have people return years later to celebrate a key moment such as a 50th birthday. We have a fraternity side, we share values. We have a respect for difference and other countries. All the languages that are spoken. These are the experiences that make the event. It is the combination of so many elements that make it great. We have an edge I think and that brings people back.

IC What is the future of the race? Will the race become bigger with more runners?

PB Yes, I think we will have more participants in 2013. We will have 350 from the UK. We had a meeting with worldwide representatives some time ago and it was decided that we would all work together on a communication strategy and we discussed the 30th edition. We have had great demand; we have refused more than 2,000 entries. I get messages about the 30th edition asking if it will be 300km as the 25th edition was 250km. Because of the worldwide economic crisis we may need to take more entries so that we can ensure the quality of the race such as safety. This is why we prepare 3 years ahead.

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IC As a race director can you give us an insight into the Marathon des Sables?

PB The advise to the runners is repeated every morning, like, hydration, protecting your head, sun block and more specific advice concerning the course. Storms can just arrive and then last a half-day or even 4-5 days. A few years ago we had floods… that year we had to plan from day-to-day. It wasn’t easy. The biggest problems are usually weather related. For the rest of us, it is a safe country. We have government backing should we have a problem, for example we have military assistance. We have trucks and soldiers who transport the tents everyday and we have 400 people who work on the event. If you add journalists, drivers, volunteers etc. then we have more like 450 people.  I have 110 people who directly report to me.

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IC It is so impressive, the tents, the staff, and the helicopters. A circus!

PB It is a little like the circus. Up and down, load up and move. I am always impressed. It is fantastic.

IC Since the beginning can you pinpoint any highlights?

PB The feeling you get from every event. We have an extraordinary experience. We share values with participants and it creates a bond. Some say ‘never again’ and then two years later we see them again. We all strive for equilibrium to balance the experience and we all strive for positive thoughts. If we have them then we can share beautiful things.

IC In 2005 you had an Opera singer to sing before the start. A magical experience.

PB Yes, for the 20th anniversary we had a spectacular start with an Opera singer and musicians. She was Japanese. It was a moving experience. Classical music is in harmony with the desert. At the beginning the runners are still fresh so they can enjoy the experience.

IC What do you think of Olympian James Cracknells performance at Marathon des Sables, he is not your ‘typical’ desert runner?

PB He was an excellent champion, a top-level athlete who understood how to test the limits. So I think he had a new experience in the Sahara. He asked himself what he was doing at the race several times I think. Discovery Channel did a documentary on him. He demanded respect as an athlete. As a man I did not get to know him but as a sportsman I am sure he has great values.

IC Has the race become easier over time or have you made adjustments to make the experience more challenging?

PB The race is not easier. The distance has increased over the years but water can be a key issue and we now have great water supplies which was not so in the past. In the past water was an issue. But we all have short memories. We forget the hardships. Every year has new demands. We now have more positive incline. We used to spend time in the valleys.

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IC True, we all forget hard times very quickly. We always remember the good times and they are our memories.

PB At the end you have sore feet and blisters… but your mind is selective. We filter the negative to retain the good. The human and sport experiences. We forget the soreness and remember the positive.

IC Do you still run, do you have the time?

PB Yes, I run after the sponsors, I run after my planes, I run after my trains… I started cycling a little and I do a little running. It’s not a good time for me. But then again, I always have an excuse. It is difficult but I am motivated to try to be more regular with my own exercise.

IC Patrick, it really has been excellent to get an insight into such an iconic race. Thank you so much.

PB Merci beaucoup

2013 RACE PREVIEW HERE

Patrick Bauer, Marathon des Sables copyright www.lest-eclair.fr

Patrick Bauer, Marathon des Sables copyright http://www.lest-eclair.fr

The Coastal Challenge – RUN247

Race report: Talk Ultra’s Ian Corless recently travelled to Costa Rica to cover the The Coastal Challenge 2013, a six day stage race

All things must come to an end…. the atmosphere around camp was a little subdued. Some participants looked relieved that they didn’t have to squeeze a pair of shoes onto blistered feet. Others seemed sad that another day on awesome Costa Rican trails didn’t await.

Some required quiet time away from the camp to walk Drake Beach as the sun welcomed a new day. Others huddled in groups telling stories of water crossings, quad busting descents and dehydration.

Ultimately every person had a story. Unique stories, personal to each participant, stories that they would hold within themselves forever. No matter how low the low points, the day after never seems so bad. If it was easy, everyone would do it. The Coastal Challenge offers some very testing terrain with relentless heat and humidity to provide an overall race experience that will test each and every person. To cross the line on the final day requires commitment, dedication and some luck.

The Coastal Challenge 2013

Photos © Ian Corless

The logistics of mobilising a camp and moving it everyday in tough terrain is nothing short of remarkable. The course marking and dedication from the TCC crew was available for all to see. This is no easy race to run, but it is certainly no easy race to coordinate. The catering team showed a dedication not often seen, rising at 0200 to have breakfast ready for 0400, break down camp, move to the next location, set up and then cook lunch ready for the runners arrival. Clear lunch and then prepare dinner all for the process to be repeated again. Respect!

Marking the course was done before the race and then every stage had TCC crew heading out in front of the race to ensure that nobody would get lost. While the race was underway, the camp crew would mobilise moving luggage, tents and all other elements of base camp and then set up again. All this in searing heat – it was tough work.

Base camp had a full medical team and feet specialists to ensure that everyone would be in the best shape possible to start the next day. It’s a really important aspect of multi stage racing and without it, many would not see the finish.

Stage races are not meant to be easy! Was the The Coastal Challenge too hard? No, of course not. Was it hard? Yes, without doubt.

The Coastal Challenge 2013

Photos © Ian Corless

Several runners at TCC had participated in Marathon des Sables several times, on questioning they all said that The Coastal Challenge was a much harder race. The combination of heat, humidity, climbing and tough technical terrain was a much greater test of mind and body.

A key aspect of this race is camp life. An opportunity to relax in beautiful locations, make new friends and sleep under the stars. Strangers by the end of day 1 became best friends by day 2. The comradeship, the willingness to sacrifice time to help another is a great thing to see. One persons’ suffering was taken on by others and the burden shared.

With the race over these friendships will continue and no doubt be renewed at other races in the future.

The excitement and beauty of 236km’s, with over 30,000ft of climbing in South American rainforest over six days was a joy to behold and conquer. The journey came to an end by boat. We left Drake Beach speeding through the ocean to our bus that would eventually return everyone to San Jose and a comfortable bed.

It was time to switch off, let the experience soak in and remember what had been achieved.

Congratulations to Dave James and Gemma Slaughter for the respective wins in the Expedition category.

Ultimately though, the credit goes to every participant who battled and endured the TCC Expedition or Adventure category. Tam Miller from Vancouver Canada summed it up for me when she said: “I feel whole and complete and I have no unfinished business”

Pura Vida!

The Coastal Challenge 2013

Photos © Ian Corless

You can read day to day blog posts here: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6

And you can view images from each day here: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6

Click here to check out the event website

Men’s results

1 David James 26:54
2 I. Dris 29:17
3 Jose Lopez 32:59

 

Women’s results

1 Gemma Slaughter 39:42
2 Angela Meyer 41:32
3 Irene Hale 41:38

The Coastal Challenge – Summary

iancorless.comP1070278All things must come to an end…. the atmosphere around camp was a little subdued. Some participants looked relieved that they didn’t have to squeeze a pair of shoes onto blistered feet. For others, they seemed sad that another day on awesome Costa Rican trails didn’t await.

iancorless.comP1070268Some required quiet time away from the camp to walk Drake Beach as the sun welcomed a new day. Others huddled in groups telling stories of water crossings, quad busting descents and dehydration.

Ultimately every person had a story. A unique story, personal to themselves that they would hold within them forever. No matter how low the low points, the day after never seems so bad. If it was easy, everyone would do it…. The Coastal Challenge offers some very testing terrain with relentless heat and humidity to provide an overall race experience that will test each and every person. To cross the line on the final day requires commitment, dedication and some luck.

iancorless.comP1070267

The logistics of mobilizing a camp and moving it everyday in tough terrain is nothing short of remarkable. The course marking and dedication from the TCC crew was available for all to see. This is no easy race to run, but it is certainly no easy race to coordinate. The catering team showed a dedication not often seen… rising at 0200 to have breakfast ready for 0400, break down camp, move to the next location, set up and then cook lunch ready for the runners arrival. Clear lunch and then prepare dinner all for the process to be repeated again. Respect

iancorless.comP1070256Marking the course was done before the race and then every stage had TCC crew heading out in front of the race to ensure that nobody would get lost. While the race was underway, the camp crew would mobilise moving luggage, tents and all other elements of base camp and then set up again. All this in searing heat… tough wor

iancorless.comP1060485Base camp had a full medical team and feet specialists to ensure that everyone could be in the best shape possible to start the next day. It’s a really important aspect of multi stage racing and without it, many would not see the fin

iancorless.comP1060512Stage races are not meant to be easy! Was the The Coastal Challenge too hard? No, of course not. Was it hard? Yes, without doubt.

Several runners at TCC had participated in Marathon des Sables several times, on questioning they all said that The Coastal Challenge was a much harder race. The combination of heat, humidity, climbing and tough technical terrain was a much greater test of mind and

iancorless.comP1070292A key aspect of this race is camp life. An opportunity to relax in beautiful locations, make new friends and sleep under the stars. Strangers by the end of day 1 became best friends by day 2. The comradeship, the willingness to sacrifice time to help another is a great thing to see. One persons suffering was taken on by others and the burden shared.

With the race over these friendships will continue and no doubt be renewed at other races in the future.

But it was time to l

iancorless.comP1070293The excitement and beauty of the six previous days was repeated with an incredible journey by boat to our bus that would eventually return everyone to San Jose and a comfortable b

iancorless.comP1070344It was time to switch off, let the experience soak in and remember what had been achieved.

Congratulations to Dave James and Gemma Slaughter for the respective wins in the Expedition category.

Ultimately though, the credit goes to every participant who battled and endured the TCC Expedition or Adventure category. Tam Miller from Vancouver Canada summed it up for me when she said:

“I feel whole and complete and I have no unfinished business”

Pura Vida!

You can read day to day blog posts here:

And you can view images from each day here:

Images available to view on FLICKR

The Coastal Challenge – Day 5

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Not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but 3-4 hours broken sleep seems to be no problem here in Costa Rica. The catering team were crashing pans and chatting at 0200 as they prepared our 0400 breakfast. No animal sounds or crashing waves to break the slumber, today it was the pitter-patter of rain. Not large quantities, it was splash, splash, splash, splash; big drops of rain. When I opened my tent a mist covered the camp providing an eerie feeling to glow of headlamps.

TCC stg 5

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Today’s stage required a short bus transfer and then a ferry to the race start. We transferred, waved the runners off and then had the use of a speedboat to make our way to CP2. No roads to this location…. I have to say the boat trip was a real treat. We saw the sunrise and wildlife emerge for a new day. The driver showed off a little by opening the throttle and weaving from right to left. At our stop point we transferred to the grounds of a private house and set up. I ran into the trail heading toward CP1 to pick my spot and await the front-runners.

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At 0600 the runners departed. Dave James had had rough night with broken sleep and was feeling a little under the weather. Would this provide an opportunity for Ismael?

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Todays course had less elevation but some of the most beautiful scenery. Dense rainforest with muddy/clay trails, single track that widened to double track and fire trail. Farming fields with long grass and lush vegetation. Water-crossings of varied in size and length. Just before the finish, a small section of road and a few hundred meters of idyllic beach. It had everything.

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Running a little behind predicted time, Dave arrived with Ismael just behind. This was about 1km before CP2 and just over 2 hours into the race.

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“Looking good Dave” I shouted… no response! Mmm he’s not having a good day I thought to myself. Despite what internal dilemmas he may be having he moved from left to right foot with ease. As Ismael passed, he waved with a big smile. He was obviously enjoying the day and course.

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Next to arrive was Jose Lopez who is currently placed 3rd overall. He was certainly finding the tough and slippery clay trail less to his liking than James and Dris. I ran into CP2 with him and then left ahead to capture additional images.

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The sun was rising high now and provided greater light as it broke through the patches in the dense canopy above. A small descent with slippery clay provided an opportunity to get an image of Henry Monestel. I then decided to run with him through to the next CP some 10km away.

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The canopy provided some great shade but when you moved out into the open sections, the sun hit and it hit hard. The difference between the two must have been 20 degrees! The logical thing is to run the shade and jog/ powerwalk the sun sections. It worked well. Every now and again I went ahead, captured an image and then ran with Henry again. The many streams provided an opportunity to completely submerge us and reduce our core temperature or take of a hat and soak it, so important when the heat and humidity is so high.

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CP3 arrived and no other runners were in sight. I decided to push on keeping Henry for company. Up trail and down trail, Palm trees everywhere. The diversity and difference in the vegetation is incredible. In no time CP4 arrived and I waited a little while in the hope I would see some other runners.

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Rodrigo Curazo, RD for the race told confirmed that Dave was struggling. He had arrived at the CP just behind Ismael but they had left together. Lopez currently in 3rd was also struggling. Ultimately the overall positions in the race wouldn’t change but certainly the fight for overall 3rd place was on.

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A steep climb straight out of the CP and then the trail dropped to a small village, a right turn and then a water crossing. It was the final section of the race now and a short stretch of road provided access to an awesome stretch of beach and the finish of stage 5.

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Dave and Ismael ran the beach together with Ismael taking the stage win by 1 second. Lopez held on to 3rd place despite his issues.

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For the ladies, Gemma Slaughter did exactly what she said she would do and attacked! Behind Hale and Meyer worked together to hopefully pull back some time but it was all to no avail. Gemma ran onto the beach beaming safe in the knowledge that had she not only won the stage but also confirmed that her consistency will almost certainly secure her the overall win now. By the time Hale & Meyer crossed the line (together) they were another 35 minutes behind giving Slaughter a 1-hour margin.

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The setting for today’s stage was a remarkable testament not only to the diversity and beauty that Costa Rica offers but also a testament to Rodrigo and his team who provided access to trails that nobody runs on. The final setting at Drakes Beach is a picture postcard setting and our campsite is little more than 100m from the waters edge.

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Days running and relaxing afterwards don’t get much better than what The Coastal Challenge have offered today. Apparently, tomorrow’s stage, a circular loop back to our campsite is also ‘special’. I can’t wait. We also get another night at this incredible campsite.

Pura Vida!

Tomorrows stage is the final of the race and a loop circuit back to our day 5 campsite.

TCC stg 6

 A full set of images from day 5 can be viewed HERE

Results for stage

  1. I Dris 11:11
  2. D James 11:12
  3. J Lopez 12:17
  1. G Slaughter 12:57
  2. I Hale 1:32
  3. A Meyer 1:32

The Coastal Challenge – Day 4

Coronado to Palmar Sur 37.5km

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It’s routine now… the camp comes alive at 0330 as runners rise to prepare for a day ahead. Breakfast has been on the go since 0200. The catering team really are troopers!

Last nights sleep was awesome. The sound of the ocean accompanied us throughout… waves making a watery nursery rhyme to help us all drift off. The soft splashing of waves was interrupted by the chatter of Monkeys! We had invaded their environment and they were letting us know.

At 0500 the runners departed by bus for a short transfer to the race start some 20 minutes away. Temperatures were much cooler today, for sure, it would mean the early running would be much more pleasureable.

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I headed up the course to CP3 approximately 20km from the finish. My intention was to run in from here and capture images from strategic locations as the race unfolded. With my first spot found; I waited. The early morning mist that had engulfed us started to burn away as the sun started to heat the atmosphere.

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Dave James appeared on the horizon and danced his way towards me and then past me “I had forgot how beautiful it is up here man” he shouted.

“Your looking good Dave”

“Yeah, I feel good, just trying to enjoy the day”

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Over twenty minutes later, Ismael and Henry arrived. Dave was killing it once again… he really is head and shoulders above the completion here and that is saying something, Ismael is no slouch!

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After a short section of single track; a tough, technical and twisty descent dropped to a stream and then a tough long climb waited. The heat started to beat down. It was tough.

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At the top of this section it was then mostly wide fire trail. Like a roller coaster it went up and down. A beautiful vista on the left with rolling hills and green pastures. To the right, dense jungle and an assault of noise. Terrain is good underfoot, to all intents and purposes its easy running. A right turn and then a long tough and technical descent through dense jungle to the final few road kilometers that would lead to the finish line.

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I waited at strategic points, captured images and slowly moved forward to my own finish line. It was a tough day. I wasn’t doing much running today but even so; it took some time for runners to come to me. By the time I reached the finish only 10 had arrived.

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I was fortunate to see Gemma Slaughter (Canada) arrive at the finish. She had placed 2nd on day 1, 2nd on day 2 and gave away the lead on day 3 in the final km’s (due to fatigue) to finish 4th. She put the record straight today though. She had not only won the stage but with a combination of her having a ‘good day’ and the other ladies have a ‘less good’ day she had taken the overall lead by 25 minutes.

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I caught up with Gemma on today’s win:

Tell me about your strategy for today. You had a tough day yesterday, after leading pretty much all day you relinquished the lead in the final 6km?

“To finish”

You had no more aspirations?

“I knew how much I struggled yesterday. I have no objectives, as I don’t know my potential. I thought I had to make the most of the day and see what happens”

So you lead from the front today, did you keep looking behind?

“I looked for the first 4km and then I was on the trail… I was shocked at how tough that climb was. It was scrambling, knees on chest; wow!”

So at the top of the climb you then hit the rolling terrain, it is like a series of dippers?

“I walked the climbs and probably ran 80% of the flats and shuffled the downs”

Was your body hurting?

“My quads felt like they were being stabbed by knives, it was so painful. I was with Bryce and Brent from Canada”

Did they help pace you?

“I ran the downs faster but they climbed quicker, it evened out”

From checkpoint 3 what happened?

“I pushed on after eating and drinking. I walk at first and then ease myself back into running.”

How was the final descent?

“I felt like Kilian… arms in the air bouncing from rocks. It’s like dot-to-dot. My feet join the dots. Its so mental concentrating on the terrain I thought I need to push it and maximize time”

And did you find that descent difficult?

“ For sure, I thought I may hurt myself but hey, that’s the race…”

So, the final stretch was a couple K of road. Did you have it sewn up?

“No, it’s like dangling a carrot. I had no idea how far the finish was. I also had no idea how far behind the next lady was. I kept my pace and pushed on to the finish. Kids came out and waved and smiled. I took that energy and used it”

So you got the stage win today but you are now in the overall lead by 25 min?

“It doesn’t feel real. I don’t know how I feel. My friends are sharing all this on Facebook. I am so shocked… it hasn’t sunk in. I am done now.”

So tomorrow, defend or attack?

“Attack, always attack”

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Finally Gemma tells me about the special story that brings you to The Coastal Challenge?

“Graham Snowden. He put our team together. About 10 months ago he asked me if I wanted to take part and I said yes. I am really new to running. This is my first race…”

Tell me about the other reason?

“Two things. My team, Tam, Tony, Graham, Shawn, Pavel and Marissa. We all want to support each other and that motivates all of us. The other one is test my own physical ability”

The men’s race barring a disaster is over. Dave James has a convincing lead that will not be relinquished. However, with two days to go and tomorrows long stage, anything can happen for 2md and 3rd.

The ladies race is far more open. Gemma now has a strong lead but as stage 4 shows, it only takes one person to have a good day and another to have a bad day for things to change dramatically.

Images from stage 4 can be viewed HERE

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Results

  1. Dave James 5:05
  2. Ismael Dris jnt 2nd 5:53
  3. Jose Lopez jnt 2nd 5:53 (now moved up into 3rd place)
  1. Gemma Slaughter 7:49 (now 25 min lead overall)
  2. Angela Mayer 8:45
  3. Irene Hale 8:46

Stage 5 is one of the most beautiful. The start can only be reached by boat so it’s an early start for everyone at the camp… I can’t help but think tomorrow’s blog my start with stories of fatigue and mosquitoes.

Pura Vida

  • TCC stg 5

The Coastal Challenge – Day 2

Saverge Valley to Dominical Beach via Brujo, Dos Boscas and Hatillo

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The sound didn’t stop… a million ‘Chichara’ echoed into the night providing the most awesome soundtrack to a night in a tent! Believe it or not, most people hit the sack by 1930hrs. For a few adventurous runners it was 2000hrs.

The heat had subsided but it was still a warm and humid night. Tents are pitched ‘inner’ only so as to allow for more airflow and sleeping bag? No, no, no… most definitely not required.

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0330 alarms disturbed the now quiet beach. The Chichara had finally gone for some RnR, it was our turn to disturb them. The kitchen staff had once again done an incredible job. These guys are doing an endurance event themselves. Cook breakfast for 0400, pack up and load up, move to the next stage finish, unpack and set up and then start cooking ready for the arrival of the runners. Provide lunch and then cook dinner. The next day, do it all again.

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I went ahead of the race today, as I wanted to climb to the second summit at 760m and capture images on the way as the front-runners came towards me. This section of the course had dense forest, mud and a whole mixture of different terrain. It was ‘proper’ jungle! I was on the trail by 0630 and I anticipated the front-runners around 0815.

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Back at camp runners assembled and started at 0545 with the start of a new days light. The sky was red… it was going to be a hot day. Total distance for the day was 39km but CP1 and CP2 although only 11k apart on this terrain and with the heat, this is quite far. Carrying enough liquid was essential.

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Day 1’s eagerness was tempered with a little carried over fatigue and the realization that this was going to be a much harder day. Dave James in the lead by 46 mins overall was going to run with Ismael Dris today. He had said to me the night before “I have no need to run any harder that Dris wants too, it will be nice to spend time with him on the trail”.

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Like clockwork they arrived at my ‘hiding place’ at around 0825. Dave, looked very relaxed and in control with no shirt and two hand bottles. Dris looked less secure as he immediately fell behind. They sped past with Dave stopping for a moment “make sure you go up Ian, the trail is awesome, some really dense undergrowth” and they were off!

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Monestel and Lopez placed 3rd and 4th and held these positions to the end. Dripped in sweat they ran along the trail eyes focused on each step ahead.

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I headed up the trail and the undergrowth closed in. It was really great to see. Noises wrung out from all around me. You can’t pinpoint anyone sound, it’s just a carcophony of noise. However the roar I had heard earlier (twice) did prick up my ears.

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Just before I reached the summit a bunch of runners came through, obviously using the approach of safety in numbers. And then the first lady, Tricia Lopez from Costa Rica.

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I continued up the trail and then turned and started my run back to the finish line. The objective to track Tricia and get a selection of images and then leapfrog to get some images on the beach.

iancorless.comP1050662By this stage Dave and Ismael had finished the day in just over 5hr (5:01), 3rd place Monestel arrived 1hr and 20 mins later.

The beach section, although completely flat seemed to be the ‘gripe’ of the day. By this time runners were dehydrated, tired and just wanted to finish. However, it did have a couple of great water crossings to help cool everyone down,

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Tricia held on to her advantage and crossed the line first lady at 1:14 pm, some 2 hours and 22 mins after the lead men, Angela Mayer from the USA and Gemma Slaughter finished in joint 2nd just 10 minutes behind Tina. They had definitely closed over the latter stages.

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The Coastal Challenge is all about participation and as Kami Holtz, Pam Nielsen (both from Minnesota) and Helen Lavin (California) all first timers at The Coastal Challenge are as they say themselves, ‘middle of the packer’ but they had a great day finishing in just over 8 hours – “It was a challenging course, it was muddy, technical with tough climbs but we are rewarded with beautiful views. It is what we are here for. However, the beach at the end went on forever. Plus the sun was up at this point just beating down on us.”

You can see a full set of images from today HERE

Results and other additional race information are available on the race website HERE

Tomorrow

Stage 3 is a longer and tougher stage. Starting at Dominical Beach we head up and up to a highpoint of 800m but this terrain includes river running and some stunning waterfalls. At 48k it will test already tired runners and again, we have another beach finish.

TCC stg 3

The Coastal Challenge – Day 1

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Not even a 4am start could dampen the spirits of the participants of the 9th edition of The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica.

Leaving the Best Western in San Jose some 100+ racers, crew and staff made the 2.5 hour journey to the coast and the start of the first stage at Quepos. A total distance of just under 34k this day was billed as an ‘easy’ day to allow the participants to adjust to the heat and humidity. Believe me, they needed it…

TCC stg 1

 

Quepos is a small town on the coast of Costa Rica and the arrival of several buses was certainly a point of interest, pre-breakfast in this little town. Runners congregated at the start and prepared for the challenge ahead. Filling packs, getting bottles ready and nervously laughing.

 

 

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At 0900 they left the town and the first 10k was on road or pathway. Unusual you would think for a rainforest race? But a flat 10k of consistent surface is maybe just what all the runners needed to ease them into the day ahead. As expected Dave James hit the front and stayed in that place all the way to the finish.

Dave James dominating the race from the front

Dave James dominating the race from the front

I had gone to checkpoint 1 at 10k and then left following the course and ultimately would make the journey to the finish line under my own steam. My plan was to get into the jungle and then capture the runners as they approached.

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Coming from a cold winter in the UK the heat and the humidity hit me straight away. Within minutes I was soaking wet and remained that way for the whole day. The front runners seemed in control but very early on it became apparent that if you pushed too hard it was going to be a tricky day.

Follow the pink ribbons

Follow the pink ribbons

The course was a mixture of rocky fire trail and jungle. Apart from the heat the most notacable thing was the noise from the canopy. Millions and millions of insects created a chorus that was deafening.

As the course progressed and we descended down to the river, a metal bridge facilitated a safe crossing and checkpoint 3. From here it was just 6k to the finish.

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The Coastal Challenge team was already busy laying out peoples tents and arranging luggage so that it was ready for our arrival.

I have to say I was pleased to see the finish line. The heat really drained and as runners arrived you could see the stress and the impact on faces.

“This is the easy day” one lady said.

“Yeah, tell me about it… today is gonna be so interesting” replied another.

Cool campsite on the beach next to the river

Cool campsite on the beach next to the river

With a river to cool off in and food available the recovery process immediately starts. The runners, the team and the location is excellent. What more could you ask…

When the running is done, the relaxing begins

When the running is done, the relaxing begins

Dave James finished in 1st place in just under 3 hours (tbc)

T Dris had an excellent run to pull back into 2nd place. He had early gone off course in the day and when he passed me he said he had run an extra 6k! A top 10 finisher at MDS he has now 46 mins behind James.

In 3rd J Lupez finished just a handful of minutes behind Dris.

Stage Results

Stage Results

You can view The Coastal Challenge website HERE

Tomorrows stage is 39k with 2250m of ascent and we get underway early at 0530.

TCC stg 2