Discovering La Ruta was pure coincidence. By chance I saw post from a guy on the Leadville 100 mountain bike news group asking if anyone doing Leadville had an available room for a Costa Rican Pro in exchange for accommodation at La Ruta.
This peaked my curiosity so I Googled all Costa Rican adventure and mountain bike races. I eventually found La Ruta, a coast to coast 3 day mountain bike race. What made this even better was that the race start was 6 miles from where we were going to be staying in Playa Hermosa! The timing and location were perfect!
Will Muecke (from the Leadville LT100 newsgroup) and I emailed back and forth and I discovered as much relevant information about the race as possible – what a great resource to have. Will is a partner with CoreCo, a Central American investment company, whose leprechaun green race kit I purchased just prior to Leadville. The kit is mostly green and white with Team CoreCo, dwinQ, and other logos in pink, black and green, certainly not ideal colors for the thick red mud of La Ruta!
A few days after arriving in Playa Hermosa with my mountain bike it was time to get some serious local training in. I asked a few of my new La Ruta friends how to get to the start of the race course from Jaco. Over the next 2 mornings, thinking I was following the correct directions, I went up and up and up where I found even more fun rolling hills. I was also greeted by Capuchin white faced monkeys in the trees at the side of the road and the sounds of a very active rainforest. There were only a few vehicles on what could be described as a 2 lane dirt track which passed occasional houses and workers. I later found out that this was not the correct route, but it was still perfect training with the hills and dirt!
On my third day of training rides, after reading the La Ruta course map more closely and getting some sound advice from previous years riders, I found the start of the race. It was pretty much opposite the second turn leading into Jaco near a tram / canopy ride sign (funny thing – on day one I’d actually been in this same spot but turned around). It started off nice and flat but very soon I came to the start of the steepest section of the entire race. The road went up for around 3 miles with very little change in the gradient, sometimes getting steeper than 25%. Fortunately this was a training ride and I could take in the awesome views, slow down when I felt like it, and even stop for the odd mug of Costa Rican coffee!
At the top of the climb the road descended into a typical Costa Rican town connected to the outside world only by gravel dirt tracks. I had already spotted where breakfast was going to be upon my return from reaching the Carara rainforest section, my turnaround for the day. Heading out of town for another few miles, always keeping an eye out for the La Ruta arrows usually fastened to trees and posts at intersections I came to what looked like a mudbath, and bearing in mind that I had chosen to ride in continuous rain this morning it was hardly surprising. There was water flowing down the next part of the route and the thickest red mud I’d seen yet – I decided to fasten the GoPro to my helmet and ride down it for a few hundred meters – that was fun! I didn’t go far as I knew I had to turn around and hike my bike back up the trail. I didn’t mind so much as I knew I’d be sitting at the breakfast table soon!
Breakfast went by far too fast. I knew the off road section of the return ride was 6 miles of mostly downhill, followed by 16 miles of paved highway, finally! At the end of the ride I’d still only completed 50 miles and the actual distance of La Ruta Day One is 110km or 66 miles, but I’m only a week out from the race and I feel like my legs are ready!
On Saturday before the race, I finally met Will and my La Ruta CoreCo teammates in San Jose for a couple hours of riding starting from the Day One finish line in reverse. This gave me a good idea of pretty much the entire Day One course and its 12,000+ft of elevation gain, known by the competitors as the ‘make it or break it day’.
Monday was my last big training ride before the race. As I was nearing home I heard a clicking noise in my bike…uh oh… a broken rear spoke, with no spare! And to make it worse I had Bike America in Boca Raton order a few prior to leaving which they received and subsequently lost – now I was really pissed at them! I dismantled the rear wheel, then spent the rest of the day on the phone and sending emails to everyone I knew either in Costa Rica or on their way for the race. I had limited luck with Team CoreCo folks but I did manage to speak with Jose, from the Specialized distributor in San Jose. Later that evening he confirmed that he had the 3 bright red spokes I had asked for in his hand and that they would be with the Specialized team on race registration day. Phew, that’s the day before the race but far better than no spokes!
I had the Specialized / Bike Station mechanics fit 2 new spokes, true the wheel and fill with Stans tubeless sealant. I then cycled the 12 miles home in the pouring rain to get the bike cleaned up and ready for the next 3 days of intense racing, which is where I realized that the gears weren’t changing as well as I expected, and for a race of many ups and downs this could well end up being a very frustrating problem. After Andrea finished work for the day we headed back to the race headquarters in Herradura for the race briefing and to hopefully find the mechanics still floating around. My lucky day, they ended up replacing my rear derailleur cable and fixed the shifting – muchas gracias guys!
Race Day 1
Just like all other races this one was here before I knew it. The alarm was screaming at 4am and it was time to get ready. I had changed plans at the last minute and decided not to wear a camelback with my liquid and tools, etc.. but to have 2 bottles on my bike, one with concentrated Infinit and the other just water and to fill them at the aid stations. I had my camelback, just in case I changed plans on day 2 in my duffel bag that was transported from day to day with hotel clothes, nutrition and anything else that was required during the other race days.
Andrea drove me to Los Suenos at Herradura to meet Will and the other Team CoreCo racers, and couldn’t resist having her photo taken with Sami Inkinen, one of the top age group Ironman triathletes in Kona, and coincidentally the guy who unbeknownst to him had been coaching her for the past year. Andrea had found a blog entry from him online and much preferred his ’less is more’ approach to training!
Everyone headed to the edge of the Pacific in preparation for the 6am start. There were 500 eager mountain bikers ready for 3 days of dirt, hills and heat. I felt great. I was certainly ready and raring to get down to business, although looking at the talent around me I was totally unsure of how things would go and how far back I would be.
The start got under way and we had around 5 miles of tarmac behind a La Ruta escort vehicle. I could see Team CoreCo riders in their leprechaun green outfits, me included, jostling for positions and moving through the throng of riders to get positioned for the first big climb of the day. All I was concentrating on was staying upright through these first few miles, just as I had done at the start of Leadville some months earlier.
It wasn’t long before a lot of space opened up, that’s what big hills do, enabling me to reel people in one at a time. I love this part of a race when I know everyone around me is hurting and I feel fairly comfortable, although it’s still hard. With the big climb out of the way and into the nice rollers leading into Bijagual, we’re now at the start of the Carara rainforest section I’d peeked into a few days earlier.
It was just as muddy as I’d seen it when it was pouring, even though it was definitely rideable, at least the downhill was! It wasn’t long before the mud got the better of everyone and the 5 or 6 people I was riding with were all pushing their bikes uphill and more often than not pushing downhill too, mainly due to the deep ruts and holes in the trail. I went down a few times, fortunately without injury and providing me the chance to pull some of the mud off from around my derailleurs. It was fun being completely caked in thick red clay in a Costa Rican rainforest with my super light Specialized mountain bike – I was loving life. It was also going on far longer than I wanted it to and every time it seemed to flatten out it went up some more – the end had to be close but due to never having ridden this I really had no idea when it was coming!
Both inside Carara and on the way to San Pedro we had stream / river crossings to ride through which were perfect for washing the bike. However, it also washed away all the lubricant my bike needed to function properly. This was soon to become the least of my problems!
Upon leaving the rainforest, still going uphill and battling with gears that refused to get low enough for the steep climbs, we hit gravel roads. They were not quite major highways so hardly any vehicles, but wide enough for some major speed on the downhill sections. No one was around me and I thinking about the upcoming aid station where I could lubricate the bike to get the gears working again and get some much needed refreshments.
I have no idea what happened, but I knew it was going to be messy for both me and my new bike. I eventually came to a stop after my elbow had just slid across the dirt at 20+ mph. What a mess – I didn’t need or want to look at it twice! I lifted my bike up which looked perfectly fine, picked Andrea’s Garmin up off the floor after the strap had broken, and told a passing racer that I probably needed a medic at the next aid station. I looked down and noticed the tears in my prized Team CoreCo bibs and the bloody mess from the road rash on my right hip, damn!
I needed to get to that aid station quickly, fortunately only 2-3 miles away. I knew it probably wasn’t smart, but I washed away the blood in a few of the river crossings along the way. I felt like I needed to clean the wound. It’s amazing how people love the sight of injuries more than anything, as I was at a particular water crossing a photographer snapping photo’s saw me washing the wound he yelled for his friend to come over with a helmet camera and video the mess I was in. Absolute classic behavior, although I’m sure I would have done the same!
I limped into the Team CoreCo aid area where they patched up my arm because I was determined to get to the end of Day One. Mark Wynn’s wife was there asking if I wanted to know what position I was in – I told her no, but I really wanted to know!! I yelled back “yes please, what number am I?”. She told me I was in 40th or 41st position which I thought was awesome as it was well inside the top 10%. Sami was there too getting a puncture fixed after having to run with his bike for the last 2km.
By now I was at approximately 30 miles with another 35 to go, and things weren’t going to plan. Not too long after getting patched up, I had someone pull alongside me to lube the chain. At that point, my front derailleur cable mount decided to separate itself from my bike frame preventing me from using the highest 10 gears. Luckily, the rest of the day was mostly uphill. I guess I wasn’t going to be flying down any hills today anyway. I was pretty sure these were bonded to the frame so this was not going to be a cheap fix, and maybe even a new frame, argh!
Fortunately there was now a long steady climb on paved roads, followed by a downhill section, also paved, and then another not too steep climb going to the finish area at Hacienda El Rodeo. This paved section made the rest of my day comfortable as I could barely grip the handlebar with my right hand and an uneven surface vibrated all the way up my arm causing great discomfort. With a smile I was still passing people, not many but at least I was not being passed – I finished the day in 39th with a time of 6:51, well inside the 11:45 cutoff for the day. Now it was time for damage control. The medics told me straight away that I needed to go to hospital and have the wound fixed due to how deep and messy it was, typically all I could argue back was that I needed to race the next day! I lamely showered, ate and found one of the CoreCo vehicles to put my bike in so that their mechanics would get it all prepared for the next day of racing.
The La Ruta organizers were extremely proficient and allocated me a member of staff to take me to the hospital some 20 miles away in San Jose and ensure that my gear bag for the upcoming days went with me to that evenings hotel. Evelyn, I think that was her name, remained with me at the hospital whilst I had examinations, x-rays, and the eventual cleaning and stitching up of the wound – she was very helpful and put on a brave face for me even though I think she knew that my race was over. I, on the other hand, at least whilst I was under local anesthetic thought otherwise. I was racing the next day no matter what! The plastic surgeon who repaired me said under no circumstances was I to race as the risk of infection was too great and explained that he couldn’t stitch it closed due to the missing skin and flesh. He did his best to partially close it. I was very positive right now as there was no pain and this continued to be the case for the next few hours. Then the adrenaline went away, anesthetic began wearing off, and oh boy did I start feeling lousy. I tried eating something at the hotel and soon ended up shivering in my hotel room, trying to clean the mud out of my outfit ready for the next day. I couldn’t help but wonder how this was going to happen. I had spent so much money and trained hard for this and I knew now that it was slipping away and that there would be a DNF against my name by the morning!
There is always 2013 and I will be back for sure as this is one hell of an experience with second to none organization and support. Being involved with Team CoreCo was so much appreciated as the guys were so helpful and fun to be around – a big thank you to Will, Nat, Rom, the mechanics and anyone else that I missed out.
November 1st – November 2nd 2012