Laruta 3 Day Race

La Ruta de los Conquistadores 3 day mountain bike race. 150+ miles with ~20K ft ascent November 1st - 3rd 2012

Distance and elevation increases by day:
63 mi and 10,783 ft day 1
53 mi and 7,800 ft day 2
36 mi and 869 ft day 3

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Pat picked Carlie and I up at the San Jose airport a couple days before the race. Over the next two days we'd meet with other crazies, migrate to the race start and line up to complete the fabled "La Ruta." Needless to day we where overflowing with anticipation and nerviouse exicitement. Pat magically fit all the bags and boxes fit in his vehicle and drove us to his apartment where we had a beverage up by the pool which had a fantastic view of the city. While soaking in the sight we discussed the race and our plans for the next day. Carlie and I had no idea what or where we needed to be for the week so we were anxious to hear the plan. The entire next day would be dedicated to prepping for the race and driving a couple hours to get to Herradura on the west coast where the race would start.

We woke up early the next day and started to put our "boxed" bikes back together. Luckily everything came together well, though my back disc brake was slightly bent from the bike box and rubbed with every rotation. Per Pat's instructions we repacked everything we'd need for the 3 day bike race and Pat came to collect us later in the morning. From there we went to Pat's wife Kathya's house to consolidate vehicles. She has a great house and property surrounded by some serious security including multiple large dogs! In addition to enjoying the great views I was quite enamored with the single lane lap pool.

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Before we knew it we were on our way to Herradura. Along the way we stopped by a non-discrete bridge, walked to the middle and looked down. From above we could see the shoreline was inhabited by 30+ crocodiles! I've seen them in a zoo before but never in the "wild" and so many... Amazing!

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In the early afternoon the tropical rain started. Per Pat and Kathya it was nearly an everyday occurrence and part of living in the tropics. Locals didn't seem to mind a bit and just went about their everyday business. We stopped at an EXCELLENT taco stand. They had fruit smoothies without sugar added and great pita dishes. I was really impressed with the vegetarian options. If they had a similar taco stand in Bentonville I would be a regular.

Before I knew it we were at the hotel in Herradura for the race check-in. I brought my bike to the check in mechanic (William) to fix my rear disc break. We spent several hours there looking out over the scenic beach watching the tropical rains fall as we waited for the pre-race meeting to start. While we were waiting we signed up to get our pictures from the event photographers (only $30 for all the original digital pictures they took of us during the event!!!) and we met Heart who has done La Ruta for 15 years in jean shorts and sandals or flip flops without a shirt on! He never missed a cutoff.

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At the pre-race meeting Roman and his excellent staff walked us through what to expect. They were kind enough to give the talk in English even though 2/3 of the racers were Costa Rican. Race Director Roman stated that Costa Rica is a developing country and that the route changes somewhat every year. He also stressed that this was an individual challenge - I soon found this to be quite true.

That night before the first day we were all focused on preparing for day 1 of the race. We were well aware that the first day is supposed to be by far the most grueling and the "make it or break it day. I reviewed the course map for the next day, converting kilometers to miles so I'd have a good idea where the aid stations were for water and nutrition purposes. In hindsight I wish that I would have paid more attention to the cut off times.

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We woke early the next morning, ate breakfast, grabbed our water bottles and stuffed all our gear and nutrition into the right bags. I had mistakenly put my camelpack into the freezer instead of the fridge and, much to Kathya's dismay, took to running hot water over it to partially thaw it out. The logistics were interesting since we needed to bring with us to the race start, our large “La Ruta” issued duffel bag full of everything we’d need for the duration of the 3 day race. We all made it out the door and down the street to the gathering area more than 1/2 hour prior to race start with all the gear in tow.

With anticipation we left the bag drop off area and queued up for the start chute about 200 meters away on the beach. On the way there when I stood up to pedal up a small incline my whole rear wheel came off! A bit shaken, I jumped off my bike, checked everything and put the wheel back on. In my haste to build the bike I must have not tightened it properly.If that was my attempt to work out all the bugs prior to the race it failed!

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We snapped some pictures and I checked the GoPro one last time prior to starting (turns out I left the disc in my laptop so I needed to use the spare I brought). They checked our numbers as we entered the starting chute. Amidst the loud speakers, helicopter overhead, and general chaos that surrounds the start line, it was difficult to hear anything.  We stood there for a few minutes with high anticipation. Finally we could see the heads of those on the start line start to bleed onto the course  its on!

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The first few miles were relatively flat on asphalt and it was a great warmup and it felt good to spin the pedals. I biked part of this with Heart - very cool to talk to him since he'd done this so many times. I assumed he was kind of a hippie who lived in a shack off the beach. Turns out he was a theoretical physicist who ran his own company doing R&D on green technology. Just as the conversation was getting interesting someone came from out of nowhere behind us and crashed into him dumping poor old Heart onto the pebbly road. I bet there were times during the race when he wished he wore a shirt.

After 7 miles the now pebbly road shot straight up. I simply couldn't believe how steep the incline was. We are climbing up that? We quickly learned that Carlie's gears weren't working correctly so she was stuck pushing her bike up. She had plenty of company. It wasn't long until Pat and Kathya caught us then rode on. I was diligently watching my heart rate. Even spinning in granny gear I was in HR zones 4 and 5 and it was much too early in the long day for that kind of exertion. The grade was up to 30% in some places as the road wound up the side of the mountain. It seemed to flatten out in sections but I was surprised that I was still on a 15% percent grade in many of those sections (which is a steep hill on an ordinary day). The uphill seemed to never end. I dismounted in a couple spots, caught my breath and waited for Carlie and her malfunctioning bike to catch up. Even though she was pushing her bike I wasn't riding much faster riding.

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After 11 miles and 1:37 minutes we finally crested the top of the first hill and took in some amazing views from the top. Costa Rica is breathtaking (and not just because we were biking up the volcanoes). The vegetation in Costa Rica is so different than the US and throughout the race I enjoyed taking it all in.

The next few miles were a thrill! The roads were fast, scenic and fun. We made good time and stopped at a small town with a few onlookers. One of the Costa Ricans came to Carlie's aid and magically fixed her gears in a few seconds. What a saint!

After several stretches of pebbly roads we were introduced to something I was wholly unprepared for - Costa Rican Mud. Prior to the race Pat told me to wear spikes in my mountain biking shoes. I like to ride through everything so I figured I'd just slop through it mostly while sitting on my seat. I was shocked at how slick yet tacky the mud was. It is difficult to describe but, after landing squarely on my butt after the first 50 meters I had a newfound respect for the stuff. This coupled with the fact that there wasn't a clear line through it caught me off-guard. The path had a 2-6 foot crevasse that zigzagged from side to side of the trail which made riding all but impossible. As I picked myself up, a Costa Rican racer behind me had the quote of the day. "It is kind of tough around here." Manuel, I believe that is an understatement.

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 After a muddy hike we made it to the first checkpoint at El Sur. Carlie and I did a quick inventory and realized that she had lost her glasses. Id dropped mine as well and accidently ran them over  such is life. I filled up my water, reapplied some Skin Strong and we set out. Before you knew it we were thick in the mud again. We pushed hard to get through it and I threw heart rate caution to the wind and trudged up and down the muddy slopes. We brought along gear brushes and that proved to be an invaluable tool. It was so muddy that the wheels stopped turning several times. In hindsight if I could go back and change my strategy I definitely would have hiked with my bike on my back for more of the muddy sections. I believe that getting the bike that caked with mud then washing it off in the river damaged my bottom bracket.

At ~mile 24 the sun was out in earnest as was the Costa Rica humidity. We'd been racing now for about 4 hours and 30 minutes and were finally out of the mud. A few things happened in quick succession. 1) The leg cramps I started to feel at mile 20 hit my legs in earnest 2) I could hear thunder in my ears which means I was over tired or I'm starting to get heat stroke 3) I ran out of water and 4) I had a BAD case of chain suck (chain sticks to gears locking up the ability to pedal) from all the crap in my chain and the lack of lubrication. I had blown my legs. Cardiovascularly I was still fine but I'd built up too much lactose acid in my legs  not good. If I wanted to finish the day I'd need to limp the next 40 miles. At this point in the day not knowing what the rest of the course held, I had to mentally switch gears and stop thinking about finishing in the top 1/3 and focus on doing everything I could to finish the race.

While climbing a hill I dismounted my bike and Pat, Kathya and Carlie passed me. I took some shot bloks with caffeine and electrolytes then rested for a minute or two and until the thunder stopped. I oiled my chain then slowly made my way up the rest of the hill. On the top some Costa Rican riders spotted a farmer and asked him to turn on his water. While I was not sure of the water quality requirements for rural Costa Rica I was at a point where hydration was key for finishing the race. Without hesitation I used the hose to fill up my hydration pack and started pushing the pedals again.

Soon afterwards I was pointed downhill towards the next aid station. There were portions of the road on pavement and it seemed like I was exerting a lot of effort to move the bike forward. I got off twice to spin the wheels and see if anything was rubbing - everything seemed fine. I chalked it up to the fact that I had put an all-terrain tire on the back instead of my usual cross-country tire. I told myself to suck it up and keep pedaling. I'm not one to make excuses but if I fast forward a week my bike shop Mojo's called and told me I'd blown my bottom bracket and they were getting a lot of resistance pedaling it around the parking lot. They were baffled on how the sand and pebbles got inside (picture here).They showed me the bottom bracket and how the bearing and grease made it turn easily and how mine simply didn't. I believe all the trecking through the mud and corresponding "river washings" did my bearings in and added extra resistance for the rest of my race.

Picture of my Bottom Bracket taken by Mojo's after the race. Crank would barely turn.

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At the aid station Carlie was still there. She had waited for me a few times on the trail and took her time at the aid station. I grabbed some more water reapplied Skin Strong and sunscreen and was ready to go. Carlie introduced me to her riding friend Giorgio from Italy. I rode with them for a mile or two and enjoyed the conversation. When the road bent upwards again they pulled ahead and I settled into my own cadence at a markedly slower pace.

Riding while trying to avoid cramping is tricky business. I liken it to knowing how long to cook a potato in the microwave. Put it in till it explodes and dont cook the next one so long. I'd push until I could feel the cramping then back off a little. I was taking a lot of nutrition including Sports Legs and caffeinated Shot Bloks with electrolytes in hopes of moving more lactic acid.

From mile 30 to mile 50 there was a LONG climb. At first it was on pebbly roads and soon transitioned to asphalt. That was the longest climb I've ever done on a bike. In my current state I was going between 2 and 4 MPH and couldn't hold a faster speed. At mile 36 ~6:40 minutes into the race the abundance of nutrition I'd been force feeding myself caused some serious gut rot. Basically my body told me that it would no longer take any additional food. I know this because when Ive had this condition before in other races and pushed more food down everything ends up coming back up and I have to start the nutrition plan over. The only strategy that I know of is to stop eating everything and drink water sparingly to give my body time to work through it. It isn't a very sustainable strategy and so I needed to hope it would pass so I could start eating again.

I realized about halfway up the climb that I might not make it before the cutoff. I met Pat and Kathya's friend Carlos at about mile 42. My very broken Spanish paralleled his English. I asked him what time the cutoff was for the 4th aid station and he thought it was 3PM. It was about 2 PM and we had 6 miles left to go. Doing the simple math that meant I needed to go 6 MPH and I simply didn't enough juice. I kept up with him for about ten minutes but my body was out of gas and I slipped back in to my 3 MPH pace. I didn't pass a single person on the climb and offered the road ahead of me to anyone who came from behind. I wasn't going to quit but the prospect of missing the cutoff was incredibly demoralizing. It was during that hour that I visited some dark places. I needed and received a hand from up above that kept me going at this point.

As the pedals went around I decided to take a quick break. At this point every time I stopped the my legs locked up for about a minute and Id need to stand completely still and let the spasming stop. From my pack I grabbed the map and checkpoint information for the day. I saw that the 4th checkpoint actually closed at 3:30!!! Hurray! I climbed back into the saddle and resumed my crawl up the hill. I was at least going to check in at the 4th aid station on time!

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Another few miles and I did just that. At just after 3 I arrived, dropped my bike and waddled over to a chair careful not to bend my knees. I sat down and one of the guys at the aid station took pity on me. He brought me over a coke and some power aid. I'm usually not one to eat or drink anything other than water offered at aid stations instead using nutrition that I've tested on my body during training. With how the day was going I was way so far off any planned regiment I gladly took the drinks. He then proceeded to tell me in detail about the rest of the course. I was nearly to the top of the climb then most of the rest of the course is downhill. I appreciated his enthusiasm and support and with renewed strength I mounted up once more.

I've heard ironman athletes discuss the healing powers of Coke and I always listened with interest. I was not sure if the healing powers were true but I was hopeful that I'd never have to find out. Now that Id had a cup of Coke I found it AMAZING. I still had cramping but I felt energized for the first time in hours and it actually settled my stomach. That's right, the stuff that is supposed to be able to dissolve a nail actually settled my stomach. At that moment Coke was the 8th wonder of the world!

The downhill that followed was fun but I did have to stop every few miles and let the cramps and spasms work their way out of my legs. After spending the last 3 hours climbing it felt good just to let the wheels roll. Towns and scenery rushed by. In hindsight I was a bit too focused on how to tackle the last uphill to enjoy the downhill in its entirety. Each time there was a small hill I hoped it was the start of the last incline so I could start my final obstacle and try to complete the race.

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The last climb was only about 1000 feet spread out over 7 miles. Knowing that I could keep a slow and steady pace and still finish the race encouraged me. I'd alternate positions in the saddle and standing to hold off the cramping episodes. For the next hour and ten minutes I just kept spinning the pedals and looking around at the road and scenery. About a mile from the finish line, dusk set in accompanied by a warm tropical rain. I stopped underneath a tree to eat and work the cramps out. Another rider passed me with the all too familiar cry of “vamonos!” His excited pointing indicated that he thought we were almost there. Several other riders and support vehicles had mentioned similar things up to this point so I wasn't getting my hopes up too high. Now more than 11 hours in, I moved back into my familiar position in the saddle and continued to crank.

Before I knew it, I could see other racers who had already finished the race walking their bikes and hanging out by the road. It was like seeing seagulls after being on the ocean for months. The finish line HAD to be nearby now.

I made a turn and could see the chute. I coasted in and dismounted. Hurray! It felt so good to get off my bike. I just wanted to sit down and not move. Staff was extremely nice and made sure I was united with my friends. Carlos found me and helped me find Carlie and connect with Pat and Kathya. I mentally forgave him for conveying the incorrect cutoff time of 3PM for the fourth checkpoint 🙂 I dropped my bike with the mechanics who are charged with getting them washed and tuned up for the next day.

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I had a beverage with Carlie to celebrate finishing the first day. I was simply relieved to be done for the day and stationary for a change. After an hour or so we were picked up, had massages, then went straight back to the Sleep Inn Hotel for the night. We spent about an hour trying to get clothes and gear clean. Clothes were absolutely filthy. After washing them several times in the tub the dirt simply would not come out.

The next morning we woke early and finished preparations for the day. Day 1 had been pretty traumatizing on my body and, although the massage helped, my stomach was not right the night before or the morning of day 2. I ate as much fruit as I could muster to get calories. At 4:30 AM the bus came to take us to a shopping mall where wed start Day 2. Given how difficult it was for me to pedal my bike the first day, I switched my back tire to my regular cross country tread. William looked at the rotation of the tire and asked if I wanted traction or speed. Rapido William Rapido!

We moved into position with the other racers. Day 2 was the day of the volcano. Wed need to climb up one side then descend down the other. Carlie and I were quite calm compared to the previous day. I was very encouraged that day two was only 53 miles compared to the 63 miles the previous day.

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Day2
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As soon as I got on my bike on Day 2 I was very hungry. Since I didn't eat a big dinner or breakfast my body was demanding fuel now. I followed my nutrition plan with sustained energy but, after eating that for 11+ hours the day before I didn't have much of a hankering for it. By the time I arrived at the first aid station my strategy to eat only what I had brought along was shoved aside. After I put down the 9th cookie I had to reel myself back in. That is way too much sugar for the boy who had cut sugar out of his diet. I was pretty sure that with the climb in front of me the sugar would be used up before I would get lightheaded. This turned out to be only partially true.

The scenery was simply gorgeous for most of the climb. We passed through little towns and could look at the local farms and livestock as they, in turn, stared back at us. As we ascended towards the heavens a heavy mist hung in the air and stole our visibility. By the time we reached the top we couldn't see more than 100 feet in front of us.

And then, the downhill! We had an amazing 26 mile 8000 ft descent in our path. Once we past the 3rd aid station things started to get fun (of course I stopped to get a Coke).  The downhill was incredible!  The rocks were wet but definitely rideable.  As for the road itself, only part of it was really ideal for riding, which made it similar to the single track Im used to.  According to Pat, Costa Ricans don't have very much single track and aren't as comfortable with that type downhill. I likely passed 75-100 people on the way down. About halfway into the descent I caught up to Carlie and Giorgio.  I continued to fly down the volcano (singing most of the way) until I reached blacktop. That was the highlight of the race for me and the most fun I've had in a LONG time.

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Once on the blacktop we still had ~ 10 miles of downhill left to navigate. It is rare that I get my mountain bike up to 30 mph and I'm pretty sure I've never held that pace for so long. It was quite a rush to go whizzing down a volcano at top speed. The best part was that as we zig zagged our way through small towns and the locals came out to watch and cheer.  

Day 2 ended with a bike ride through a working plantation. I believe they had pineapples, bananas and plantains. The race director Roman threw this additional plantation ride in and didn't tell the participants to add a little more adventure! A few more miles of pedaling brought us to the finish line! I was in good spirits and felt great.

Carlie finishing Day 2

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After the race I dropped my bike to be cleaned and headed to the showers.  The showers were packed so I donned a swimming suit, rinsed off and lowered myself into the Olympic size swimming pool.  My butt was so raw I pulled myself right back out of the pool and issued a chlorine induced yelp. I tried two more times before I could get all the way in. As I was drying off I noticed that there was a 3 inch strip if skin hanging from my bum. Uh oh that will make for an interesting day 3.

That evening after we had dinner, we made our way over to get quick massages (off-site). By the time we returned to the "Day 2 Finish" the restaurant where the athletes had been eating was quiet. We tried to get a ride to our hotel, the Rancho Naturalista. As it turns out it was quite a distance from town since the La Ruta event packs all the local hotels.   The good news was Romano's sister, Florencia, and her daughter, Nina, were driving out to stay at the Rancho Naturalista as well.

The drive there was quite an experience.  We stopped about 6 times to ask for directions. Answers differed each time. The last direction was to pass the crane then take a left.  None of us saw the crane but luckily Nina saw a sign for the Rancho Naturalista. 

As an aside it turns out there are not addresses in Costa Rica. Major landmarks (like a large Panasonic sign) that exist or once existed are referred to by the locals. A few noteable notes about getting around in that country:

 1) It is very common to stop and ask for directions

 2) Locals will give directions if they know where the destination is or not

 3) Directions often include instructions on where to get more directions (drive a certain direction - when you get to banana trees on the right ask for more directions)

 4) Distance is relative depending on who you are asking for directions

 5) During the bike race on day 1 I asked several people how much further the finish line was. When I averaged their responses it was remarkably accurate.

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The offroad vehicle ride that ensued was one for the records.  Florencia flew down the path through the jungle. I thought for sure we'd flat and/or hit a tree. After a wrong turn and a bit of a drive through the forest we landed at a distinguished log cabin.  As it turns out Rancho Naturalista is a world renowned destination for bird watchers. It felt similar to a bed and breakfast.  There was a hotel up the hill where the rest if the athletes were staying but we were in the main cabin / lodge. It really felt like we were in someone else's home which is a bit unnerving at first. Kathy and John Erb, the owners, immediately made us feel welcome. We immediately sat down once we arrived since the local server had prepared a huge homestyle dinner. Hours earlier we were flying down a volcano covered in mud and now we were trying to carry on a respectful dinner conversation.

I believe John said he is 84 (he almost broke my hand with his steel grip when he said goodbye) and was a jack of all trades. Evidently he owned his own engineering company for several years before he somewhat cashed out but ran the operations from Cost Rica. One of his projects is to replace the pedaling required in a man-made submarine with fins similar to that of a tuna fish. Per John, tuna fish are one of the only fish that do not swim with their body - only their tail. He built a prototype and needed a young man like me to test it out. But alas there was a race for me to do and besides he didn't have the right material (very thin plastic) to properly finish the design. He also pointed out his hydro garden where he was growing most of their vegetables. In 6 weeks he could grow a full head of lettuce from a seed. It is much more efficient than using soil. A very interesting man indeed.

Though the amenities in the cabin were nice, we didn't sleep very much. I had overhydrated during the day and had to use the bathroom several times. At 2:30 the dogs barking announced that the cook had arrived to make us breakfast. At 4AM the alarms sang! Whole wheat pancakes with real maple syrup, homemade sausage from their own stock of pigs and a fruit plate Amazing!... It made up for any loss of sleep.

John drove us to catch a bus with a few other athletes staying in the proper rooms atop the hill. We said our goodbyes and headed off with the other athletes. We briefly stopped at the finish location from the previous day to drop our bags.

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We boarded another set of buses that took us to the river so we could raft to the starting line of day 3. We filed along misty CR roads for 40 minutes until we reached the hill leading down to our destination. The buses couldn't seem to make it down all the way to the bottom so we dragged our groggy selves off the buses and started a careful shuffle down the steep road. Conversations ranged from being tired, to yesterday’s race, to speculating about the day’s rafting adventure. After a 10 minute hike we arrived at a rocky beach. The rafts were inflated and ready to go.We split the groups into rafts of Spanish speaking and none-Spanish speaking and filed to the boats for our 2 minute tutorial.

Carlie and I walked up to the front of the boat and got in. Its the wettest part of the boat and we figured what the heck. We'd be tackling level 2 - 4 rapids that day and there were many commands we'd need to master. Unfortunately the Spanish-accented commands from the back of the boat were often quite hard to hear. I had a hellova time sitting on the side of the raft with my chaffed backside. I finally positioned myself somewhat inside the raft and leaned over the side which seemed to work the best. It was interesting to be rafting in full bike gear including shoes and helmets. We were soggy after only minutes and remained in that state for the rest of the day until after the bike race.

Rafting started with a few level two rapids where the guide tested our skills and barked out commands. After he was satisfied, he started to point us towards harder lines through harder rapids. Sometimes it was hard to paddle since we were so enthralled with the scenery. It felt like it was taken from a storybook. In total we rafted for about 2 ½ hours. After about 2 hours Carlie and I were getting pretty cold so we switched seats and moved back in the raft so we didn’t catch quite as much water. Overall rafting was a great part of the Costa Rica experience. I could understand why so many people would make Costa Rica their destination for rafting and Kayaking.

After we docked we lounged for an hour or so waiting for race start. It was cold but nice just to sit for a bit and socialize. I spoke to Giorgio from Italy for much of the time. He was an established distance athlete in having completed distance races all over the world including multiple Ironmans and a deca Ultratriathlon. I wasn't aware that there was a deca Ultratriathlon. Essentially the athletes does 10 iron distance races over the course of a month. Athletes do all the events in serial order. Swim (3 day cutoff) then bike, then run. When you think you are an endurance athlete there is always someone who goes further. I was surrounded by adventurers, iron athletes and, in general, those interested in inflicting pain upon themselves.

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The day three race started at mid-day. Again Carlie and I were quite calm leading up to the race start. Day 3 is the easiest of the days since it is less than 36 miles and quite flat. Rafting for the better part of the morning then drying ourselves out in the cool morning took a lot of energy. Carlie felt like she was going to fall asleep!

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Once the race started, all the racers shot off like a bullet from a gun because the shorter flat course (relative to the days prior). We were in the midst of a tropical rain and everything was quite wet. We spent the majority of the first few miles on wet asphalt and riders were swerving in and out trying to gain better positions. I saw one pretty bad crash and Carlie witnessed a few others.

It was immediately apparent that my butt was damaged from the preceding two days. The race started on a pebbly road and I quickly realized that unless I was on pavement my butt couldn't touch the seat and Id need to stand on the pedals. On the short sections of the race that were on the blacktop, I could sit, but had to rotate my pelvis way forward and lean back in order to present to the seat a side of my butt that had skin left on it. Unfortunately that was not a powerful position and it was hard to get leverage on the pedals. I must have looked pretty uncomfortable, as another racer rode up next to me and asked if everything was alright. I gave him the 411 and a 20 minute conversation ensued on the best products and methods for applying skin saving salves. I was able to cruise along at about 15 MPH for most of the first 16 miles.

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Once the race started, all the racers shot off like a bullet from a gun because the shorter flat course (relative to the days prior). We were in the midst of a tropical rain and everything was quite wet. We spent the majority of the first few miles on wet asphalt and riders were swerving in and out trying to gain better positions. I saw one pretty bad crash and Carlie witnessed a few others.

It was immediately apparent that my butt was damaged from the preceding two days. The race started on a pebbly road and I quickly realized that unless I was on pavement my butt couldn't touch the seat and Id need to stand on the pedals. On the short sections of the race that were on the blacktop, I could sit, but had to rotate my pelvis way forward and lean back in order to present to the seat a side of my butt that had skin left on it. Unfortunately that was not a powerful position and it was hard to get leverage on the pedals. I must have looked pretty uncomfortable, as another racer rode up next to me and asked if everything was alright. I gave him the 411 and a 20 minute conversation ensued on the best products and methods for applying skin saving salves. I was able to cruise along at about 15 MPH for most of the first 16 miles.

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The draft line promptly disbanded at about mile 24 when the course called for us to ride single file on a railroad track.�� Instead of being the wide wooden beams we have in the US, in Costa Rica they have about a 4 inch thick concrete beam elevated 1 to 6 inches out of the ground depending on how much gravel was packed between them.� They were usually spaced out every 2-3 feet. So if the gravel levels were right then then it was easy to ride across them. When the gravel was low it made for a very choppy obstacle. At one time the gravel was so low that it made using the railroad track very difficult and riders chose to use the side of the track on single track. I, too, was using the single track and biking fairly close to the rider ahead of me. The concrete beams from under the railroad jutted out from the track very close to the single track we were riding but they were hidden by a cover of long grass. While standing and pedaling I veered too far to the left. My left shoe made solid contact with the concrete beam and since I was standing much of my weight was up and somewhat forward, and it sent me sailing ass over tea kettle into one of the next concrete beams. I had just purchased a new helmet for just such an event and I was quite happy with its performance. I pulled my bike to the side of the path, collected myself, had a little food then hit the trail err started again down the path.

With about 10 miles left I took my time. We travelled through many towns on the way to Limon. Kids of all ages would line up and scream for us and hold out their hands to be slapped as we rode through. According to Pat some of the towns were not very well off and it was nice that they enjoyed the show and came out to welcome us. That was my favorite part of the day.

It wasn't long until I arrived at the 2nd and last aid station for the day (I missed the first one since we were travelling so quickly on the road). I stopped and grabbed some water, a few small potatoes dipped in salt (delicious) and of course more of that miracle Coke. Just as I was leaving a lady athlete pulled out as well. She had passed me prior to the aid station so I tried to hold her back wheel and draft for awhile. Now we were on the coast so the view was pretty amazing. While standing, I'd pedal a few cranks and pull right up to her back wheel, then I'd coast back while looking around, then start the process all over with a few more cranks. We pretty much held this little formation for the next 8 miles. Kudos to her - she pulled me nearly all the way to the finish.

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As we approached the finish we turned off the main road, and I wasn't quite sure what to expect. After the last few hills I followed my faithful leader to the turnoff. As we approached the chute she slowed dramatically. I slowed behind her as she deserved to finish first. She navigated down some concrete steps onto the sandy beach to an announcer and cheering crowd.“This is really it,” I thought to myself… “time to finish La Ruta!” I followed suit down the concrete steps and rode out onto the beach to finish (still standing of course).

It felt GREAT to finish and get off the bike. Carlie, Giorgio, Kathy and Pat were already done so we snapped a quick picture. Hurray! After only a minute of letting it sink in we decided to go for a swim in the ocean. The water was perfect and the salt water felt great. We played in the waves for about 45 minutes talking about the day’s race and celebrating!

It felt GREAT to finish and get off the bike. Carlie, Giorgio, Kathy and Pat were already done so we snapped a quick picture. Hurray! After only a minute of letting it sink in we decided to go for a swim in the ocean. The water was perfect and the salt water felt great. We played in the waves for about 45 minutes talking about the day’s race and celebrating!

La Ruta was a combination of many things that truly made it an adventure. Each day had its share of challenges and it felt great to complete each leg for different reasons. Looking back on the whole experience I am glad that I did it. I learned about myself and how my body does with multi-day events. I learned a little about nutrition, mountain bike dos and donts and now appreciate a good massage. Though in hindsight I would have brought along some additional gear and done a few things differently each day, I don’t feel compelled to do the race again. Suffice it to say I had enough skin in the game the first time around.

I'm sincerely grateful for those that made the experience of La Ruta 2012 possible. First and foremost, many thanks to Maria for being tolerant of my long prep rides and letting me take a vacation annually to do crazy things like this. Many thanks, too, to Pat and Kaytha for putting us up and putting up with us. Thanks to Carlie for her company and waiting up for me at many of the turns, aid stations and hotel lobbies.

 The end.

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