Sunday, November 2, 2008

Tattered Dreams and Freedom Fires

Well here it very first blog. What do I say? Something witty and charming?My mind is blank and my wit a dull blade. My adorable dog and cat are both snoring away as they smartly decided against waiting up for me. Alas, my bed is calling my half-opened eyes so this first blog will be just a quickie about yours truly (it is my blog of course).

I am 32 and a trauma ICU nurse. I am highly optimistic, truly stubborn, and have a soft sensitive spot for all things nature and furry (yes, I shave my legs and pits AND wear deodorant- except for discount days at Whole Foods). I have lived all of my life on the East coast, however am currently living in the lovely state of Colorado. I moved here a year ago and was instantly hooked. The people here are healthy, active, and full of energy! The plethora of trails to run, mountains to climb, and paths to bike from town to town are too numerous to count. Exercise facilities/yoga studios outnumber fast food restaurants 2:1, there is something to do every single season, and you couldn't spit five feet without hitting some sort of wildlife.


I have always been an "athlete" of some sort growing up. I always viewed myself as a tomboy, but my parents frequently remind me that I was the little blondie in the field picking flowers, doing cartwheels, and making daisy chains instead of watching for the ball. Not like T-ball was extremely riveting, I say in defense. I played soccer and rugby in college. I still continue to play an occasional pick-up game of indoor soccer, but my main love affair these days is trail running, adventure racing, and triathlon.

As far as racing goes, to date I have finished a handful of races I am super proud of. I finished a six day running race in Costa Rica in January of this year. It was so amazingly beautiful and was a chance to sort through/purge of a lot of painful things I have gone through in the past few years. Needless to say, I learned a lot about myself.
I also competed in my first series of duathlons and finished top in my division (that would be female fat-tire....and yes, I only had to beat like three other women). This year I finished my first triathlon, my first 24hr relay race from Colorado to Wyoming and back, along with my very first full marathon. I have a lot of work cut out for me if I wish to do an ironman, but my stubborness runs high and "can't" is not part of my vocabulary.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Costa Rica Day 6

Race start was before dawn at 0545. Toby had joined up with Simi and Rachel who both decided to walk the last stage together since Rachel's ankle was injured. Simi, although a body builder and personal trainer, is not a cardio man. We all shook our heads and gave the "you're not going to wear that?" look as he pulled on short little all-cotton socks and designer type sneakers that were worn so thin from use. He looked at us staring at him and said, "what?" in his deep Swarzenager accent. "Sai Pei" he said grinning ear to ear. (In Tonga that means: don't worry about it).

The sun was just beginning to rise as we headed off down the beach. I started with a walk trying to loosen up, plugged into my iPod, and only started to jog once I hit the woods coming off the beach. Today my body was having major noncompliance issues in responding to what my heart and mind wanted to do. After we broke through the woods we came upon curvy, very flat and wide dirt roads.Utterly delicious. It was a road runners heaven- smooth and swift. My heart leaped with joy and my mind gave my muscles a pep talk, "all right fellas, this is what's gonna happen...we're gonna hit this thing strong and fly down these pristine roads. You dominate this playground." The iPod clicked into a fast paced, bass pumping song, and a cool breeze came out of no where. I took off. I glided over the road, my mind melting into my subconscious. I reflected on my last several days, all the experiences of the race, all the the pain I had endured, and all the wonderful people I had met. My eyes filled with tears as I reached back and recalled my recent painful struggle and the feelings I repressed in order to cope. Many of those feelings, I had to admit, led me to signing up for this race. Washing my hands of the past, I turned my thoughts on the present and those tears of hurt and anger were replaced by tears of wonder and happiness. I thought about my accomplishments, my family's encouragement, and the amazing and rare love I had finally found when I wasn't looking. I felt like the luckiest person alive to have these people in my life, to be where I was, and to be doing what I loved to do. This was a very spiritual moment for me. I was so grateful to be in this beautiful world and to have all that I have in life.

So. I kept running and contemplating life's mysteries and hidden meanings while in this euphoric state (yes, this is what running does for me). I kept running until slowly a stern voice crept up in the back of my mind, ever so slowly, taking over my pleasant thoughts. My body was screaming bloody murder at me and I was not listening. I noticed I had been limping without realizing it. I was playing the "I can't hear you" game and unfortunately, I was losing. Coming out of my subconscious was like hitting a brick wall going 60 mph. Both of my knees felt like they were grinding bone on bone, my hips were wobbly and painful, the back of my left knee was swollen and tight, my toes were slammed against the tips of my shoes, and my left foot suggested a potential overuse stress fracture. I suddenly felt the pain tenfold. My legs buckled and seized to a crashing halt. My body had given up on me, I was done. I tried in vain to press override. I attempted to walk/run: a minute on, a minute off, thirty seconds on, thirty seconds off, ten seconds was no use. I moaned, fought off the tears, and limped a few feet down the road and around a curve. There, I came to a beautiful field where a small handful of cows (the cute floppy-eared ones) were grazing. They were standing in the midst of a field of tiny purple flowers surrounded by lush greenery. A small volcano posed as a backdrop, the sky was clear blue, and a large bird glided gracefully in the air above me (or was that a buzzard doing circles...hmmm). It was a beautiful, almost out of body, scene. The cows halted their grazing, and stared at me. I stared back. It was there I came to the heartbreaking conclusion that I could not go on any further. I limped over to a fallen log near the aged fence and slowly lowered myself onto it and continued to stare back at the cows. I can conjure many hilarious cartoon captions for what the cows were thinking at that moment, us staring motionless at each other. They returned to their chewing, still keeping their eyes on me. I put my face in my hands and cried. I felt like I had failed myself.

Through the tears I finally came to the acceptance that I was unable to run any further. I decided I wanted to wait for Toby so that we could at least finish this race together and enjoy each other's company. I was determined to finish, even if I had to gimp it. I massaged my muscles and waited.

Simi, with Tica running next to him, Rachel, and Toby appeared awhile later with the "sweepers" in tow. I stood up waiting until they got near and started to walk with them. Toby caught up with me, looking concerned, and all my emotions flooded back. I cried into his shoulder blubbering words of shame and self-loathing, telling him he couldn't even hold my man-hands because they hurt too much. Toby stood in front of me, hands on my shoulders, and said, "you have just run five days straight, do you realize that? You're amazing and I'm proud of you.You have done exactly what you came here to do." I smiled through the everlasting snot and tears, realizing my accomplishment. I was still going to finish this thing and that had been my goal. I just wanted to finish. Toby was going to help me see this through, even if he had to carry me on his back, he said. (Would this disqualify me?)

We continued the walk, arm in arm, snapping pictures and enjoying the views. The heat overwhelmed Tica who would dodge into the shade of a tree for a moment to rest. I picked her up and carried her, taking my mind off the pain. Toby fashioned a sling from my long sleeved white shirt and we stuck Tica in it like a little papoose. She was quite content, her head peaking out of the top. We would stop at the checkpoints, spend some time relaxing and mending Simi's blistering feet, then move on towards the next checkpoint. At one point Rachel and I had gotten ahead of the men and found ourselves in on a secluded overgrown part of the road where a small run-down house stood off to the right. A group of young children were playing outside and brightened when they saw us coming. I noticed two young (five maybe six years old) boys hacking at some weeds with a monstrous machete. The group of children, mostly girls ranged from about 3 to 7 or 8 years old, clustered around Rachel and I smiling. We had gotten accustomed to seeing kids race out of their houses to watch us run by, cheering, clapping, and waving. Our assumption that these kids were here to cheer us on dissipated at their cries for "dineros" with their little palms stretched upward. "No, no dineros, lo siento" I said "no money, I'm sorry". The children continued to beg, clustering closer and closer to us. It started to give us a very eerie feeling. My eyes stayed peeled to the little machete boys in the corner, still whacking at the weeds. The girls started to fondle our packs and touching our arms. We picked up the pace, still saying No. The group broke up and started heading back to the house when suddenly one little girl turned around, ran up to Rachel, and slapped her on the back. The eldest girl's eyes got very wide and she froze, waiting to see how we would react. Rachel and I looked at each other and then kept walking. A little ways down the road we realized compassionate Toby and big hearted Simi were still lagging behind and would have to endure the scary Children of the Corn reenactment. Together, we decided to leg it back up the trail to guide the men through. No sooner had we reached the little shack did we see Toby coming down the hill, giving the little girls hand-outs. The young girl who had hit Rachel was sitting with a scowl on the front stoop of the shack. Obviously someone tattled. When Toby reached us we found out he had been giving the girls the cookies we had scavenged from the last checkpoint. "I was tired of carrying them" he said with a shrug. After we collected the men through the swarm, we finished the last leg of the trail which led us out onto the ocean's reefs.

The reefs were stunning. Big smooth rocks layered upon layers, boulders and stepping stones. The waves crashed foamy water against the rocks then slowly retreated back to sea. If I had fresh legs this would be paradise, I thought. I loved to skip along stones, leaping and jumping rock to rock. Slowly we picked our way through the maze of boulders and stones. A snorkeler surfaced a few feet from us holding up an octopus he just caught. We finally rounded a corner and there was the finish line along the beach. I put Tica down so our little mascot could finish with a good run as people called to her from the finish line. Simi and Toby dropped back as Rachel and I limped our way across the finish line together. We hugged and high fived each other. We made it! Jo, our everlasting cheerleader, met us with hugs and good words and Stephanie tackled me in an embrace. You did it girl! She said and then shared her own tears about hurting her ankle on the rocks and limping to the finish line.

Leaving was bittersweet. We knew the chances of ever seeing these new-found friends again was slim, but the fond memories we have of each other will last for years to come. Toby and I couldn't wait to get home and get a real hot shower and sleep on a soft bed. Our night had been less than plush: cold showers (only a few runners found they had hot water), extremely hard beds, broken air conditioner, cold food, and a severe thrashing by hundreds of mosquitoes that crept through our window during the night. Toby had woken up (closest to the window as we were given two single beds) with his sheets covered in streaks of blood! A closer inspection and we discovered dead mosquitoes mixed with the bloody sheets. Hot from the broken air conditioner, he had stripped to his skivvies. He looked like he was covered in chicken pox! He had snored through the entire feasting of his body. I had slept with my legs propped up on the action packers and draped in a sheet. I had suffered very little compared to Toby.

So...we boarded our bus and headed on a 6hr ride back to the hotel. The thing I remember the most about this trip is that my kidneys finally kicked in and my body began the wonderful task of diuresis. Meaning: my organs were finally starting to pull off the copious amounts of fluid that had accumulating throughout my now chubby little body. It was like scenes from "The Apple Dumpling Gang" as I kept tapping the driver's shoulder and saying, "I gotta pee." My kidneys were on overdrive trying to flush out my system. Slowly I noticed parts of my body started shrinking back to their original size, thank goodness.

The next morning we got up at sunrise and jumped in the hot tub to soak before heading to the airport. Home sweet home!

Costa Rica Day 5

Today was a late start for the Adventure racers since the Expedition runners were on yet another "timed trial" in the early morning. We all woke early to cheer on the competitors as they raced for time placement in an 11k. The Adventure runners hung back, packed our gear into our action packers, and loaded into a shuttle to take us to the Expedition runner's finish line (a small park in the middle of a quaint town). The park looked very similar to La Fortuna's cement gazebo structure where we started day 1.

By the time we reached the park, all the Expedition runners were already stretched out in the gazebo, heads propped on their packs and hats over their faces resting up for the next run. It was yet another day of "hurry up and wait" as the race directors clumsily attempted to locate the second bus that was to transport the entire group of racers to the start of the next run. We were all a bit restless as we looked to the horizon and saw the giant ball of fire rising in the sky leading us to realize exactly what the day had in store for us. A long, scorching run in the blistering heat. I chuckled to myself as I saw other runners slathering sunscreen over their ears, stealing glances at me.

The day's entertainment came when someone shouted out that there was a monkey in the park. I was absolutely thrilled. I had been waiting this entire race to see me a monkey, although I had hoped to see it in the jungle to place the finishing touches on my picture perfect memory. There was this little black monkey with a white face, wide black eyes, and long tail perched on a park bench. He was adorable! I mentally morphed into a 2 year old wanting to shout "mine!" and grab the monkey by the neck, hugging and squeezing the poor thing with no mercy. I controlled myself and offered the monkey a bit of my peanut butter and pretzel Mojo bar I had been munching in hopes of bonding with this little creature. His tiny baby fingers curled around the nugget and brushed up against mine. Goosebumps crawled up my spine. I was in awe over the contact yet also a bit freaked out. His hands felt leathery, cracked, and scratchy- (quick! someone grab me my Bag of Balm!) To my disappointment, he sniffed the bar, licked it, and then threw it on the ground. Someone handed him a peanut butter sandwich. He took it, sniffed, and peeled open the slices with both hands closely inspecting its contents. The sandwich met the same fate as my Mojo bar. I decided instantly that this little guy was obviously not a peanut butter lover and wouldn't fare well in my home. Too bad.

Tica was with Simi attempting to get a drink from a mini fountain on the ground. The monkey leaped toward Tica, teeth bared in a creepy open mouthed grin and fur raised on its scruff. Simi scooped up Tica seconds before the monkey took a swoop at the little dog. The monkey promptly covered the running water with both hands and hunched his entire body over the fountain claiming ownership. His eyes glared and scanned the crowd, condemning us. He then uncovered his hands and pompously peed all over the fountain. My childhood dreams crushed, I thought, "Hey Holly, monkeys are freakin' evil!" People snapped pictures as the monkey climbed from tree to tree and then dived onto the trash can in the corner of the park. He came out with a bottle of discarded yogurt, popped the top like a pro, and then tilted the bottle back, shaking the container to gulp it's thick cream. He quickly looked back at us, yogurt dripping down his face, and flashed us a million dollar grin. I completely understood where the term "mischievous little monkey" came from.

My calves had doubled in size, were tight, and throbbed, so I propped my feet in the gazebo on one of the cement pillars. I reflected on how I would get patients that would come in with thick, rough calves and angry-red cellulitis and I thought, "Oh my god, I am becoming one of those!" My feet filled my shoes. I began to wish I had swallowed my pride and bought an entire size larger. Another important lesson learned. As I was laying there contemplating my cankles, Rachel offered me a Costa Rican Croissant from a bakery she found around the corner. They were delicious! They were thick rolls, not a croissant by any Frenchie's standards, but more like the state's Hawaiian sweet rolls. They had a touch of sugary goodness coated on the tops of the rolls that teased you take another bite. Toby headed back over with Rachel and bought more which we shared with Stephanie. I think we ate about three each! Stephanie kept apologizing for eating so many but Toby said, "the more you two eat, the less I have to carry!" So we ate up.

The bus arrived and with our bellies full and sunscreen lathered heavily we were transported to a large side road blocked by a heavy farm gate. As we all gathered on the other side of the gate (people slipping off into the fields to relieve themselves) the race director announced we would have to stand there waiting for yet another twenty minutes in the heat. I was trying to figure out if this stall tactic the director was using was to wear us out and make the run more "exciting" in his terms. As the sun reached it's very peak around noon we finally got the ok to start our 22K. During last night's race briefing we were told that this trail would contain potential snakes and some prickly branches that had a habit of tearing up the skin.

Today was the first day I ran with my iPod for inspiration and to drown out the laments from my body. I took off strong, listening to the intense fast paced sounds of "Animal" by Nickleback. The music gave me speed and a swift kick in the derriere. I was back to having fun again. The race began, as usual, up a steep rocky climb and broke into a field of thick, waist high, wheat-type of grass. There was no distinct path so you had to navigate by steering towards the orange marker fluttering (in the unnoticeable breeze) from a tree on the other side of the field. It was hot and arid here. A harsh, musty ash odor reached my nose and every once in awhile I came across burnt patches of dry grass and branches. In order to prevent the wheat from tangling up my legs, I had to leap into the air and plant each leg so that I crunched the grass down under my foot. It was an awkward way to run but it worked. I could feel the grass giving me little paper-cut stings as it whipped against my legs and thighs. Every second or third step I would hit a patch of dry thorny bushes which I just plowed through without trying to think of it too much. I kept my hands high for balance but out of range to get cut. My eyes feasted on the thin woods ahead which held my sanctuary from the sun.

The woods were very peaceful. The ground was covered in dry crisp brown leaves, soft rays of light penetrated the canopy in random spots, and a narrow compacted dirt trail twisted between the trees. The woods reminded me very much of "The Village" scene where the blind girl had gone off to the town for some medicine. A few bright flowers scattered the area in patches. It was so beautiful that I clicked off my iPod to fully appreciate my surroundings. I wanted, so bad, to stop and soak up those woods but the heat kept my feet moving. The trail eventually widened and provided us again with sloping hills, roots, and obstacles. At one point I came crashing through the woods only to come across a red-cross medic sitting off to my left. He smiled and waved. "Well, that's quite random," I thought, "why is he here?" I was preoccupied with looking at the medic and trying to make sense of it all that I failed to immediately notice the monstrous abysmal ravine, or what I would call "canyon" off to my right. A steep ten, maybe fifteen story, drop about 2-3 feet away from my body with nothing but the air between us. I skidded to a halt, sucking in my breath, my mouth agape as I mentally rewinded my last moves leading to a potentially fatal crash landing. Well, that's pretty darn cool, I heard myself say peering down the brown abyss. I can't believe I just said that.

The trail continued around the lip of the ravine and ran smack into a large leaning tree trunk. I ran up, grabbed this tree trunk and hugged it tight as I dangled my body over the ravine and swung it around onto the path beyond. Wow that was awesome! As I ran off down the trail I couldn't wait to tell Toby and my parents. At the time, I didn't think how seriously unthrilled they would be.
A couple of stream crossings later and through some farming villages (saw a woman outside of her house milking a cow) I came to another dirt road with pastures on either side. I thought back to when Toby and I would watch Man vs. Wild and Bear Grylls would shout out "Yo Bear!" to ward off any inhabitants of the woods. I was completely alone and the thought of snakes rustling in the leaves at the path's edges unnerved me. I started shouting, "Yo Snake!" as I ran and began to crack myself up with every shout.

The trail opened up to a larger, more traveled, road. Cars would pass every once in awhile and honk their horn or hold out watermelon. It was good to get some encouragement because my knees, hips and now the bridge of my left foot had finally started to scream louder than I could ignore. At this point my hands also started to swell. I had noticed my hands swelling on occasion when we were at the tops of the volcanoes and out in the heat. They would just swell a little but noticeably enough. The docs said the Ticos had told them that the Americans often suffered slight minor swelling when dealing with the change in climate and its humidity. I would check my hydration and electrolyte status often and try to elevate my hands as best as I could while running. It never became a problem....until now.

My hands got so tight and fat that I began to feel my "heartbeat" pulsating in my palms stretching to my fingertips. It was a very uncomfortable and awkward feeling. I was having a hard time closing my hands into a fist to try to pump blood in and pull the fluid out. I slowed my pace and finally walked, my knees and hips needed a break. I tried to open a Gu packet but found my hands to be too swollen to tear off the top. I resorted to ripping it off with my teeth and downing the chocolaty goo (these moments were heavenly as this flavor, after warming in the sun, tasted like hershey's syrup). I swung my arms too and fro, held my arms in the air like I was singing the gospel, and even tried massaging out the edema. Nothing worked so I did what I do best. I turned my iPod back on and started to jog, my hands held up like surgeons who just scrubbed in.

A few miles ahead , the trail suddenly stopped and in front of me was beautiful shimmery sand- yeah I made it to the beach! I veered left and headed down the coastline. I ran down to the water to the compacted wet sand and gave it my best. A mile or so down the beach I could see people playing in the water; I knew I was close. I heaved my heavy body down the beach and to the finish line, completing the race in under three hours.
I ran over to the medic tent to show them my hands and ask exasperatedly "Is this normal?" in which I got some pretty blank, open mouthed and raised eye stares. I concluded by their silence and facial expressions that this wasn't normal and nobody knew what to do with my man-hands and cankles. "You might try elevating them" came the reply from the NP. Thanks genius.

I lumbered over to the massage area located under some beautiful giant trees and threw myself up on the table with my money held out. "Hurt me" I begged. The man-woman massage therapist switched tactics on me and began to ice down my legs and arms. As a world-renowned ice detester (that's like a hundred times more than just a hater) I actually found solace in this treatment. He-She stroked my legs gently pushing and pulling my muscles like the candy makers pull stiff taffy. It was a calming massage and I started to fall asleep. Toby was by my side rubbing my head and commenting how the tree above me was a tamarind tree and how he was going to eat one. I recall how he was very excited about this and it made me happy. I drifted off until the therapist gently tapped me awake to let me know she was done. I thanked her graciously, got up and dropped myself into our hammock. Toby brought me Ceviche: raw fish, usually tilapia, marinated in herbs and lemon juice. The acid in the lemon juice eventually "cooks" the fish. I had heard of this dish and had always wanted to try it. It was absolutely out of this world good, so fresh and lemony. I had two, okay maybe three:), helpings. Finally a post run dish that was loaded with protein.

Showers were pretty good here on the beach. It was actually a public beach park so there were a bunch of families running around but it was clean and the showers weren't too cold. They had individual stalls with actual doors and shower heads. I really scrubbed clean today and "pampered" myself with a long shower. The sun was starting to set so Toby and I decided to stroll down the beach for a little together time. When we got back, dinner was being served. We sat and ate while chatting with our friends. We discovered the "German" had literally elbowed her way past the two female power walkers today on the trail. Little did this woman know but she was pissing off two "pro" power walkers that held titles in their races. Right before the finish line these woman turned on their motors and sped past (walking, mind you) the running German. "I wanted her to see this" the walker said pointing to her tush "as we finished in front of her". These women were my idols! Simi got this perfect "finish" all on video, so I am trying to get him to send me the footage!

That is all for a busy and draining day 5. Toby informed me tonight I was going to lose my Sherpa as he wanted to walk the last stage. We packed the action packers to eliminate most of the morning chaos and tucked in for our last tent-filled night. Tomorrow we were promised a night in a resort with our heads on real pillows and beds.

Costa Rica Day 4

I forgot to mention that yesterday while I was in the hammock, Simi had awakened and gotten us a bunch of coconuts. It was so much fun! We had many different coconuts of all ages, it was like a wine tasting but for coconuts. There were young coconuts filled with milk and "jelly"- my favorite. There were mature coconuts with more meat and less juice, and then there was a coconut that was spongy inside, no juice. It had a funny texture for me- like a styrofoam ball. Simi said this was like bread to his people in Tonga.

Anyways, Day four, again the crack of dawn....By this time our night time preparation was down to a science. All the running gear and clothes were prepared and laid out in sequence, all ready to go. Minimal thinking for a not-so-morning person was essential. This is the morning where I discovered Costa Rican yogurt. Yum it was a creamy smoothie with little bits of fruit. Very satisfying for someone who doesn't like eggs and beans every morning. I managed to nibble a few eggs just for their protein to repair my muscles, but was not enjoying them. Toby hunted down more "cafe con leche y adzuka" for liquid gold. He was my hero. He had even bought a large thermal mug off the locals in one of the towns while I was on trail so that my morning coffee was the main course instead of the little espresso type cardboard cups they provided.

One of the experimental foot care things I did was toe caps. They were these silicon little covering for each of my smaller toes. With my previous running experience I knew I always got blisters on the tops of my toes. I believe as I run I tend to curl my toes a little leading to friction only on the tips of my piggies. These toe caps came highly recommended in my book (thanks Dad) so I decided to give it a try. One of the local Costa Rican volunteers witnessed my foot care ritual one morning and asked me, "are you putting condoms on your toes?" "Yes "I replied. "It is safer this way." I left him to wonder:) Crazy americans.

The race began at 0545 all heading uphill (again) for a big start. It was incredibly rocky! I was feeling very spirited and energetic today and powered past Stephanie who's feet were hurting her today. She gave me the ok sign and I left her with the power walkers, knowing full well I would eventually see her down the road. She was very much like me in that her competitive nature sprang her to life in moments of struggle. My goal today was to truck through this trail and get back to camp asap. I did not want to be out in the open fields and tops of volcanos when the hot arid sun reached its peak. The volcano runs were one of my favorite next to the jungle. As we ran across the tops of the volcanos you could feel your body rumble and it sounded like distant thunder. These volcanoes were inactive that we were running on but you could feel and hear the rumbling from the active ones right near by! I learned through the stream crossings (new to me before this race) that Gortex shoes hold in the water, although are good for light rain. Today I ran with my gaitors and non-gortex Solomons (love these shoes and have become a huge advocate for gaitors). I had had a very large fear of getting my feet wet before this race. I had read and heard horror stories on how water and sweat are the worst things for long runs. Your feet get pruny and create more friction leading to big deep tunneling blisters, think stage III ulcers. Through this race I adapted and learned great lessons: fear not the water in your shoes. The non-gortex shoes drained quickly and with every pounding step my feet squeezed out the water from my soles. My favorite socks : Injinji running toe socks were my savior, I shall never run in anything else, as they kept my toes from rubbing against each other and wicked away the sweat. It was neat to learn all these things. I felt like a "real" runner:)

I kept stride with the Austria team and then passed them along with the German girl. CP1 was a quick fill up and more pineapple then on to a cement road. By this time Rachel and Stephanie caught up to me as I had dallied at the CP1 eating way too much pineapple. Stephanie said, "passed me a German back there". I had to smile. There was a non-verbal competition between the two of us and two other girls. The German girl had been gnawing our nerves the last few days that we made it a point every day to finish before her. The other girl we had benched because she pushed too hard to try to beat us and hurt her knee. She had made it a point to say to my face that she just wanted to beat me. As us runners say "you have to run your own race." Bless her heart.

High fives and we were off running again. The three of us spent the next few miles running and chatting about personal training. We milked Rachel's brain for advice as Stephanie just got her license as a personal trainer. As we were talking, I reached up to my left ear tip and went to itch it. It felt funny, like a slug on my ear. All of a sudden I pulled my hand back as I heard a pop and came back with a saturated hand and a large blob of gray goo in my palm. I threw my hand down to get rid of it and it fell with a splat on the cement. A stinging pain spread throughout my ear. I guess because we were constantly running with the sun on one side of us, my ear had suffered a severe sunburn and blistered up. The gray goo was a pile of dead goopy skin. GROSS! New motivation to run faster: I was afraid of getting additional sunburn on top of this now open raw ear. See ya later ladies.

Through town and onto my last very rocky and dirty trail, Stephanie caught up to me again with the slowed movements over the rocks. I had to pee so bad, my ear stung, and my legs were beginning to feel like jello. Stephanie and I took turns giving each other inspirational pep talks. I finally gave into my bladder and pulled down my shorts to pee (we were alone....well if you don't count the cows), however my legs failed to respond to my needs. Try as I might I couldn't get my quads to cooperate to squat so as not to pee all over myself! I finally hobbled over to a tree with willowy type of branches. I swear there was a bright light surrounding the tree with angels singing. I grabbed a branch and slowly lowered myself into a squatting position and did the duty. Stephanie was howling with laughter...nice friend. I then tried to pull up my shorts which was very difficult to do given the amount of perspiration soaked into the fabric, my thighs were sticky from the heat, and my muscles were so fatigued. I started running til Stephanie pointed out my butt cheek was still hanging out of my shorts. "keep running" she said, "the people at camp will be so tired they probably won't even notice". I fixed myself and we finished strong at just over three hours. That was the fastest day with the most motivation!

I laid in a hammock to recover and wait for our shuttle to take us to camp. I suddenly became cold, shaky, and nauseated. When we got back to camp I had a coke and some snacks and eventually felt better. I was emptying out my running pack and counted out my Gu packets. I realized that I had somehow skipped an hour during my run (every hour I would nibble on something). At least that explained the horrible feeling I had at the end. Toby had my stuff ready and I took the first good shower of the race. The water was still cold but bearable and a bit more refreshing. I laid down and took a very hot and sweaty nap after getting my ear mended by the nurse practitioner on staff. I found out today that she was an NP not a medical director as she had been telling everyone. She lacked supplies and had no antiseptic!! It said a lot to me when I carried more medical supplies and meds than she did. There was also a male podiatrist and a woman MD doctor from the UK- although they were considered volunteers, not active doctors at the race. Toby and I were given nasty looks when we asked to be seen by the doctor instead of the NP, however, the doc was much more prepared than the NP was and the NP had her way paid! When I woke up I went back to the doc instead of the NP and asked her to fix my ear. The NP had put a simple bandaid (ouch!) over my ear and it was too small. "See" said Joe the UK doc in her great english accent "this is what you nurses to do each other. You look ridiculous!" Douggie, the podiatrist and my new bestest friend ever, chuckled at me. People had been calling me Spock:(
Joe used my supplies and mended my ear better, although I still looked absolutely silly. I had at least five people come up to me and ask if they could take a picture. Make fun of the injured girl, I see how it is!
Last laugh was on them, however, because by the end of the next day four more girls had ear bandages on just like mine! HA! I'm the leader of this club!

This was also the day that I discovered one of my toes was severely infected. I had noticed a big blister on the tip yesterday. The toe cap, unfortunately, was not breathable and had let water into the tip. My toe suffered the pruning effect and turned into a large bubbling blister. Each slam of my foot pushed more fluid towards the tips of my toes and created a monster in my second toe. My toe looked like a grape and had raised the nail up off the nail bed. My nail was literally floating on top of a large water bubble. I had asked Douggie to tape it after he let some of the fluid out for comfort yesterday. He taped it good but a full day of running had made the bubble bigger and now there was a yellow-white pus pocket at the base of the nailbed. Joe luckily had brought a supply of antibiotics in which she gave me a weeks supply. Toby, again, stepped up to the plate and made sure twice a day I had a yogurt to drink with my pills. He had connections with the staff- way to network! I had thought my sunburn on my legs and inflammation of my leg muscles were the cause of my feverish spells, but now I wonder if it was the toe that was the source....or all three.

Tonight was the best dinner ever. They had lightly dusted tilapia (the cooks laughing told us it was gold fish) and then pan fried it til golden. It was light and delightful. Climbed a small bouldered area and watched the sunset with Toby. Breathtaking. Headed to bed only to find a tarantula near our tent! Told by the Ticos that they are harmless, just really hairy. Slept really well regardless of the spider.

Costa Rica Day 3

The biggest thing I remember from this day is #1 not wanting to run today, and #2 rocking gently in a hammock with my feet propped and sucking down coconuts because I am a stubborn mule and ran today.

The morning started out windy and rainy. I was so sore and feverish that I was trying to convince myself that I shouldn't run today. It took every effort to grab my thermarest mattress for leverage to turn my body over at night. Toby arrived at the doorstop of the tent breakfast in hand with my favorite liquid gold, used a little reverse psychology on me (totally took advantage of my competitive nature), and I was dressed, ready to run. I did my special "soopah stah" pose and I was off.

The coarse was 24km today of jungle and rocky dirt trails, they threw in a few surprise stream crossing (now to be a regular occurance on the next stages) without telling us. We first crossed through a "wind farm". This was a long stretch of land at the top of a mountain that held many many wind mills. Great white structures looking as if they came straight from NASA. The wind was so powerful! You had to lean sideways against the wind as it gusted so you didn't get knocked over. Then suddenly the gust would cease and you would stumble from keeping your body braced so tight. It was like that for a good 2-3 miles. Stephanie and I ran together again, keeping a good pace. Almost from the beginning my heels started to rub and I could feel a hot spot forming. I had read extensively on blister prevention since running this distance was new to me. Rule #1 from book: Don't ever experiment the day of the race; know what your feet can tolerate ahead of time. No new products. Okay, that rule was totally thrown out the window as everything I was doing was experimental. I was secretly ashamed of myself for being so silly as to think I could pull of acting like I knew what I was doing. I was among elitist and people that ate up miles like candy. Stephanie and I stopped and took a few precious minutes to carefully apply moleskin and duct tape to my heels. It was a little sad seeing everyone passing us as we sat on the side of the road doing foot care but I knew from reading that if you let the hotspots go even a few seconds longer the hotspots would be severe blisters that could lead to my DNF (did not finish) of this race. I wasn't going to let that happen. As we got back on the trail we reached a branch in the road. The orange flags marking our way curved off to the right so we headed right. All of a sudden we see a cluster of runners coming from the left branch towards us. We were bewildered for a moment as these were the hares of the race. The runners that you have never seen before except at camp because they left before you and arrived back an hour later. A runner caught up to us and explained that the entire race group had turned the wrong way not seeing the markers. All the runners behind them just followed the leaders and went the wrong way too. They went a good 5k out of their way until they hit a dead end and some farmers looking quite puzzled. Hurray! For once in the entire race Stephanie and I were in the lead!!!! At least for a few seconds.

The jungle was just as beautiful as I remember and just as mucky. We heard many howler monkeys but didn't see any in the trees. The jungle opened up to fields and pastures. The cows here are really quite cute. They have long hound dog looking ears that hang down, saggy skin, big sad doe eyes, and long noses. Toby said they were Brahma Cows like they have in India. They were cute. I was so focused on the cows (see...never lose focus on a trail run) that I never saw the snake I was just about to run over. I caught movement from the corner of my eye and looked down. Right between my legs, in mid stride, was a very long, very big green snake. It's head was right under me. Startled, my gait changed, and my back leg swung through my stride and nailed the snake right in the noggin'. "Snake!" I yelled to the girls lagging behind me. They screamed big girly screams and pranced trying to see where the snake was. I had burst out laughing at the site of these big elite runners transformed into little girls in pig tails screaming and holding their shorts. Stephanie was behind me and was trying to figure out how to get around the snake. "Go around the tail end silly," I told her, "not the head. I think I knocked the thing out so it may be now!"
We continued to run and saw one more snake that slithered in front of me. It was a bit creepy as you ran, the leaves on the side of the trail would rustle, indicating something was disturbed by our presence. Sometimes the trail was so rocky and dusty that the safest place to run without twisting an ankle was the shoulder. I kept recalling how I saw on Discovery Channel that snakes can strike from yards away. Run quicker became my motto for the day.

Some of the race I ran completely alone. It was peaceful and I was able to do some life reflection for a few miles. The last leg was on a highway where I felt my life was more in danger than with the snake.

I finished the day just at four hours. It was a fast four hours as the trails were decently flat. I came chugging up the trail to camp where Toby met me holding pineapple out and keeping pace with me for encouragement to the finish line. Snacks were mashed black beans with garlic in a homemade tortilla. Yum! The camp was actually a schoolhouse which resembled a large barn. Showers were again icy, however this time for added pleasure, the shower was shared with a toilet (no seat) with a black tarp separating the two. The "showers" were a garden hose draped over a ledge. I had to hold onto the frame of the door (no actual door...just burlap) to pee as my quads were shredded so bad I couldn't squat. Refer back to the NuSkin episode....repeat x1.

The rest of the evening was spent relaxing and contemplation. We had met a couple that Toby had befriended while setting up camp. The woman, Rachel, was a runner in the race and her husband was her Sherpa, setting camp and being her motivator. They were both personal trainers and Simi (the husband) was from Tonga (near Fiji) and a pro body builder. He was huge! but also a very big teddy bear. As I hung out in the hammock, Simi and Rachel laid out on their blanket taking a nap with "Tica". I guess this is where I realize I forgot to tell you about "Tica".
This story makes me tear up.....on day one at La Fortuna there were a bunch of wild dogs running around. A few of them were biting and picking on this little white dog. As we started out the race a small little white dog, looking like a cross between a terrier, spots like a dalmation, and wiener dog began running alongside us. That little dog ran the entire 21km across Costa Rica. She hung out with us at the camp, spent the night and woke up with the racers early in the morning. The next day she ran again with us. She jumped right into the rivers, started to get swept away with the current and was scooped out by the top runners on the other side. She ran the entire second day! This little power ball had more in her than I did. She instantly became glued to Simi...this massive dark skinned, intimidating looking man. She wouldn't leave his side. She would run around camp, get little scraps from the runners and head back to Simi licking his face in excitement. Later, we found out that Simi had been begging Rachel for a "little white dog" for the past 2 years. For the rest of the race, Simi transported this little dog with him in the bus to the next camp. So now, named "Tica" by Simi, the three of them lay snoozing (Tica squashed contently between the two) on their blanket. We joked with them that now they had to adopt the stray and take him back to San Francisco.

Dinner was good today. Ziti with marinara. I had two helpings. Off to bed for a wake up at 0430.

Costa Rica Day 2

Day 2:

Bright and early rise....whew I could hardly stuff anything down for breakfast. I had been sore all night, tossing and turning to keep me off my sore hips and bony prominences. Toby was amazing- when I woke up he had all my clothes for the day laid out, breakfast in the tent, my footcare, gu packets and electrolytes together, my running bag packed and water to go. I just had to choke down some food and get dressed (no easy task). Morning meals consisted of black beans and rice (this was a Costa Rican staple for all meals) and eggs. Toby some how found some coffee. I had horrid thoughts of what beans would do to me while on this long run for the day (31km with three river crossings and a handful more stream crossings) but I stuffed a few down just to get some fiber and protein in my system.

Now, real quick, lemme just mention one thing. Very very important. Those that can visualize these kilometers in their head and are thinking...31km? That ain't nothin. I got something to say. A 5k on these muddy, torturous, steep volcanos is absolutely nothing like running a road race. A road race is smooth and simple. One foot in front of the other, don't really have to think about running. You can let your mind wander to solve the nagging problems of the day while you run. Smooth, fast, and competitive. A trail race, especially this one in Costa Rica, is a completely different ball game. You let your mind wander and your teeth will be permanently implanted into the side of a tree. You start making a grocery list and your forehead will get up close and personal with a large boulder. You can't hit the pace and speed of a road race- near impossible. Your feet don't glide, they stomp and stagger. No fluid continuous motion here, muscles you never ever ever knew you had are utilized to keep your balance and stride. So. A 5k that normally takes under half an hour on the road can easily take an hour here. Now I will continue......

0615, no sun yet, and we were off running. Almost immediately we slammed into the first river. A rope was strung across to help with footing since the currants were so fierce. I had worn my Keen sandals and SealSkinz sock, and slathered my feet in vaseline to waterproof them well through the rivers then I planned to switch to my sneakers that I had strapped to my back after the water. Surprisingly the river crossings were tons of fun and the coolness felt good on my muscles. After the third river crossing we started running again and hit total swamp lands. It was crazy! Mud sucking at your feet up to your mid calf at times. We hit a dry patch and I considered for a minute putting on my shoes. Heck no....we then slam damn ran into pure grade-A spa quality muddy clay. This stuff was thick like quicksand and deep...past my knees! I ended up running half the race in my sandals- which I ended up getting sucked off my feet twice. At one point I had to run in my socks because my shoes were more of a mud trap. It felt cool squishing between my toes and spongy under my heels. I lost one of my shoes so bad I had to dig for it up past my elbow to retrieve it! It was so insane Stephanie and I were laughing madly so as not to crack. We had mud stuck in every crevice and smeared across our may have thought we were attempting to camouflage. We climbed up and up again. Part of the trail made you feel like you were in a canyon, the walls sloped up a good 8 feet above your head and it was a single track trail- no passing.

Finally we reached the top of the mountain where it was so windy! Gusts and gusts; we had to tuck ourselves in a rock alcove just to hear each other. We stopped and removed our socks, dried our feet and removed the mud to the best of our ability, revaselined and powdered our feet, and put on dry socks/shoes. It was the best feeling that I didn't care it took ten minutes out of our run. We set off again at a good pace. I got a bit nervous because an hour prior to the checkpoint I ran out of water. With the humidity and heat I was parched and trying to stay on top of my electrolytes. Previously I had lent some of my water to a struggling guy who was running out of water. Stephanie lent me some of her water as we ran and I made it just fine to the checkpoint to refill my camelbak and feast on pineapple.

This stage of the race was a "timed trial". Those that didn't make the cutoff at Checkpoint 2 would automatically be dropped to the Adventure category. Stephanie and I agreed that although we felt we were more Adventure category material (neither of us had done an ultra run before) we wanted to make the cutoff so that we could make that decision ourselves:) So, we ran and ran...through hills and valley, and through these tangly weeded fields to the final climb to CP2. We made it! We made the cut off and "gracefully declined" to continue to the rest of the 26km (total 57km) Expedition race. Seven hours and twenty minutes and we were beat. Cashed in- as we say it. I propped my feet straight up to get down the edema that had started to collect in my toes and calves as I ate pineapple and little peanut butter sandwiches.

We were shuttled to camp where I took yet another frozen shower, found I had a severe case of sports bra burn, and applied a product (which was lent to us by another "friendly" runner) called NuSkin over the angry wound. Stephanie had thigh rub- angry oozing mess and also applied the NuSkin. Now, the nice runner said it would sting "a little". HOLY CRAP. I couldn't catch my breath I was in so much pain and then came the belted out screams...yes screams, from the both of us as our breaths came back. It was as if acid had been poured over my chest. Slowly, ever so very slowly, the pain subsided and I was left with a nice rubbery layer of skin over my wound. I could then apply Glide over the fake skin and the rub was no more. Unfortunately, we also found out that showering the next day promptly turned the skin into a series of little rubbery gooey balls that were a mess. So came the rubbing to get it off and then the reapplication of the Nuskin....along with the screams and prancing. Definitely not something I will ever forget.

Now to end the night, I decided (since I could barely move and my calves had seized to be flexible and willing) to splurge a little and for $20 get a message. These Ticos were Licensed Physical Therapist, not just massage therapists. They meant serious business, no fluffy stuff here. I heard yells and moans of agony coming from the barrier put up to shield the public from the horror of "the massage". Another runner came limping out of the tent. Go, he told me, it hurts like hell but you will be able to walk afterwards and it'll feel better tomorrow. I can't believe I am doing this to myself, I thought, as I paid my money and climbed onto the ice saturated table. This woman was a man in disguise. She had to be...she made me squeal like a little piggie. My god! She hit every single one of my pressure points that had a knot in them; from my gluteous maximus, to my neck muscles. She would tell me "ok, this is going to hurt worse than the last one", a young boy would translate for me, and she was right! Soon enough I learned it in english was necessary to tell me this was gonna hurt like hell. Toby was so worried about the screams he was hearing that he came behind the screen to hold my hand. The therapists were trying hard not to giggle at all us screaming and crying with each stroke of their hands. I had to stuff my shirt in my mouth to muffle my agony. When it was done I had to admit. It hurt, but it hurt good. I was able to get off the table by myself and my first few steps, albeit shaky, were functional and accurate. I limped back to camp and fell into a deep sleep again, my voice hoarse from all the screaming done today. Alarm clock was set for the bright and early time of 0600. Yes, folks, I paid to be tortured like this.

Costa Rica Day 1

First of all I want to thank graciously each and every one of you who sent us all shout outs. Toby and I are back in Colorado and have taken a few days to recover (mostly sleeping heavily and eating). We were very inspired by all the words that were sent to us, many brought tears to our eyes.

Costa Rica was amazing and the views were stunning.. It was fun to practice our spanish, as broken as it may have been, with the local "Ticos". We found we knew their language a lot better than we thought we did. Toby did the first stage of the race but was forced to sit out the next day due to a huge blister on his heel. To make matters worse, he then stepped barefoot on a tent stake that night benching him from the race. He was very disappointed but found he enjoyed being my sherpa much more than having to run. (I think his yell of pain was more of a "thank GOD!") He was a great asset to the camp: helping exhausted runners set up their tents and hammocks at the end of the day, chatting it up with the chefs (two hilarious brothers who would tease the runners about serving dog instead of beef), bringing back coconuts and Costa Rican history facts from the locals, loading up the action packers full of runner's gear into the truck to go from one camp to the next, and many other things. My mornings were less hectic due to his help, I don't think I could have finished this race without him. I am going to try to recount each day as brief as I can.

There were teams and individuals from all over the world. There was a male team from Spain who were often heard laughing hysterically and kept most of us up at night with their heavy drinking and boisterous chattering. Bless their little hearts. There was a woman from Germany, a three person team from Austria (who I tended to run next to a lot), a man from France, a couple of local Ticos, a military team from the UK, a man from Singapore, a female and male team from Canada, and a bunch of us good 'ol Americans. It was neat to hear all the different languages. I ran mostly with an ER nurse.

The first stage was 21km (as stated on our useless maps however, we found out later from a runner with a GPS unit that most of our days were between 3-6km longer than the race directors told us). We ran from La Fortuna to a self-sustaining ranch called Rancho Margot. The first day was one of the best in my memories as it was filled with anticipation, beautiful scenery, and probably the only day I had a full gas tank of energy in my body. After a crazy fast and twisty 3 hour bus ride (involving puking runners) from the city of San Jose to the quaint town of La Fortuna, we began the race that led us through the streets and onto a long dirt road where we began our ascent up a large volcanic mountain. At a total elevation climb of 1200 it was quite the climb. Right in the beginning I got chased by a wild dog, go figure. The dog came out of no where towards Stephanie (the ER nurse). We both froze in panic. And then I though WWJD? ( As in What Would Jinx Do?) and I immediately without really thinking squeeked my voice up real high, sweet, and girly. I congratulated the mangly snarling mutt as if it just pooped in the potty all by itself, wiped, and flushed. A lot of "good girl! good girl! Who's a good girl? You're a good girl! (girl? boy? had no idea and didn't care)". The dog's legs instantly buckled as if I was this big towering dominant giant and it looked like it was going to pee on itself. It's tail wagged madly and ears drooped in submission. It wiggled it's butt frantically to please me. It was hilarious! Stephanie, still frozen, was looking at me like she was having second thoughts about being my friend. "Just go with it" I told her "I have a dog. We just showed the dog we were alpha, don't ask me how". Needless to say, she stayed my friend and running partner til the end. We never discussed the dog thing again.

As we got higher and higher up the volcano it started to mist lightly. It felt refreshing and cool on my hot face. Fog would roll in and out in front of me. It was beautiful. the trail gave way to steep rooted "steps" and a ways up you could see a thick wall of green. The jungle was right in front of our eyes yet you couldn't see into it. It was so dense! The path looked like it stopped right in front of the wall of jungle but, like the movie Labyrinth or Secret Garden, right when you got up close you saw there was a little turn into the forest. Literally one step into the jungle and you were clothed in greeness. It was amazing! I felt as if I stepped right into the Discovery Channel. The pics say it all. You had to look closely for the trail as it was covered in thick flat leaves and vines. We were warned at our pre-registration meeting to always look before grabbing a branch as Costa Rica was home to 7 of the deadliest snakes in the world. Niiiiiice. I was very careful to keep my hands close to my body and only grab out after a thorough inspection. The air was damp and earthy. And still we climbed......hand on thigh type of climb- leverage anywhere you could find it to pull yourself up to the next step.

Once we got to the top it was hard to see through the jungle down below. And then came the most exciting down climb ever. Stephanie and I took off from the rest of the pack who were slowly and carefully picking their way down so as not to roll an ankle or catch a root. It was really really muddy and slippery. We were like two little kids with no fear. We whoooped and hollared all the way down. We grabbed branches and swung from them, leaping and bouncing from one root to another. We were crazy fast and not caring. Our eyes felt like they were on speed scanning ten feet ahead of our next leap. Making mental notes to adjust our bodies just so in order to land gracefully into the next bounding leap. I had never felt so free before. We easily gained an hour ahead of the pack we had been climbing up with. When we broke from the jungle we were met with rolling plains and farmland and we took off at a good marathon running pace and stuffing our faces with fresh juicy pineapple and melon at our checkpoint stations. We saw a coati which is similar to the US racoon. Actually more like a mix with a racoon and an anteater! Silly looking things. May I make note here that the pineapple in Costa Rica is the most delicious thing I ever ate. Maybe it was the 20+ miles talking but the pineapple was so sweet and dripping down your elbow juicy. Nothing like the states. You don't get fresher than this. It was my favorite thing to eat at the checkpoint stations. I had to be careful because once I ate so much I gave myself a sour stomach running on it.

We had one more big climb (really big) on a dirt one lane road and then a horribly muddy down climb before we hit camp for the day. 4 1/2 hrs from the start and I was pooped! Camp was cool although I was so tired that I didn't even know it was a sustainable farm. I wished now I had gotten a better look around as Toby did the next day. Toby had not gotten back yet to camp. As the girls and I had climbed the first hike to the jungle we had been joking around whether or not I would be left with a boyfriend at the end of the sixth day or not. I had not anticipated this strenuous of a trail and was worried how he was taking it. When I got back to camp I wanted to set up the tent for Toby (it was now raining) that I didn't eat right away and therefore my brain was not working properly to inform my hands how to set the super easy tent up! It took me a good while and even then I found out later I set up the rain fly backwards. Note to self: eat first tasks later. brain needs glucose! Toby finally came in and (surprise!) with a smile on his face! He was so exhausted but still in good spirits. This night we started a nice tradition of a real coca cola...yes real with real sugar not that high fructose crap. We both took ice (and I mean gasping for breath ice) cold showers and trucked our gear through the saturated fields to our tent. After dinner we fell into a deep deep slumber until our alarms woke us at 0410 am.