Some quick stats: 4 days, 230 miles, 39000 feet, 1 two pound canister of Powerade Endurance, 40 Powergels, 2 flat tires, 1 set of brake pads, 1 guardian angel, and 1 pulled hamstring (which is the price I paid to save my life - more on that later).
I knew the race was going to be very difficult and taxing (both physically and mentally), but I forgot to multiply by a factor of 10. The attrition rate ended up being about 30%. There was also many races after the race. The race to get your bike clean and prepared for the next day, the race to get showered, the race to get a shuttle back to the hotel, the race to eat, and the race to get a decent night's sleep. Needless to say, I did not do so well at the post-race races which then led to a subpar (by my standards) performance on the bike.
The phrases which entered my mind on a routine basis throughout the race were: 1. Oh My God! 2. WTF! and 3. You have got to be kidding me!
Day 1 was by far my best day even after just 5 1/2 hours of sleep and a 2:30 am wake-up call. After a brief 3k (that's kilometers for you Americans) warm-up on pavement and flat dirt roads, the course pitched violently upwards. I was quickly off the bike as there were people falling and struggling all over the place. The grade had to be at least 15% and sometimes felt like 20%. After pushing the bike for 45 minutes, I was glad to be able to climb back on for some sweet descents. Hike-a-bike is definitely a skill I need to work on. How I loved to fly on the downhills ... until I came to quite a lot of racers who either were trying to conserve their energy or just did not know how to carry their momentum up the next grade. Very frustrating for me indeed as I like to spin my legs out on the descents.
This was pretty much how the first day went: steep ascents and steep descents, multiple creek crossings, lots of mud = hiking uphill and focusing on the downhill. The pavement climb was sweet and where I got into a rhythm and met Raoul, a Costa Rican racer. We paced one another up that long climb. Everything was going well until we hit the freshly laid asphalt (fresh as in still hot and tacky)! I swear that if I had come to a complete stop, I could have trackstanded with no hands.
I experienced my first bag of Coke. Oh, so good! Their were many (illegal) support vehicles for the locals. They had food and liquids and spare bike parts for them. They would stop for them near the top of the climbs and hand them fresh gear and fuel. But they were also nice enough to give to me, too (also illegal). One local gave me a bag of ice cold coke, partially flat. I would bite a corner off and drink on the go. Man, that was so refreshing! Muchos gracias, ticos!
The last dirt road climb to the finish was dry and not quite as steep. I was still feeling good and had dropped Raoul on the previous descent so I was on my own. I had a chance to look at the country and realized that Costa Rica is breathtakingly beautiful. I saw a critter scamper across the road which looked like a cross between a bush baby, raccoon, and a red squirrel. (I later found out that this was an oppossum, which looks nothing like ours). I heard many different sounds up in the trees (monkeys, toucans, and macaws). Unfortunately I did not see them; the foliage is so dense. I came in to the finish with a smile on my face ... until I saw the 10 meter mud pit I had to cross! Ugh. Luckily, I found some concrete to scamper across.
I was pretty happy with my 9th place finish and felt like I still had some in the tank for Day 2. Boy was I wrong!