Friday, February 15, 2008

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.

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