2: Costa Rica

On 26th November 2016, I smugly boarded my flight at Gatwick airport where the weather was cold and gloomy, on route to Costa Rica for marathon number 2. I was so excited to be reunited with one of my best friends and my ultimate travel companion (Deveda) when I touched down on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Me and Deveda have a few very important things in common:

1)      We love to travel

2)      We love to drink

3)      We can both be easily persuaded by the other one to take part in number 1 or number 2 (see above).

I remember the day we were sitting drinking coffee (another love of both of ours) in the cold rainy English weather when I told her I wanted to go to Costa Rica, to go ziplining through the rainforest and do a bit of sloth-spotting. Deveda hadn’t heard much about Costa Rica before, but immediately sounded interested. When I told her about my marathon mission this year I knew I wanted to get her involved. Conveniently she had some annual leave around the time of the Costa Rica marathon (it must have been fate) and was easily persuaded to come along.  We booked our flights and began dreaming about toucans, sloths and allll the cocktails we were going to enjoy in sunny Costa Rica…

Ironically, a few days before we left, Costa Rica was hit by a hurricane. You may not have heard about many hurricanes hitting Costa Rica…. because the last hurricane to hit the country was in 1851! So it was just typical that a major storm struck just before we were due to visit.

It meant that instead of arriving to the glorious sunshine we had anticipated, we arrived to rain. And God did it rain and rain and rain. But we weren’t going to let a bit of rain ruin the holiday we had fantasised about.

Rather than stay in one place, we decided to hire a car so that we could travel around the country and explore at our leisure. Our trip started with a brief night in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica and the place we would return to later in the trip as it was the location for the marathon.  After a well needed catch up (rum involved) and a good night’s sleep, we awoke to breakfast where we sampled fresh, local, Costa Rican pineapple for the first time (and we would go on to devour more than our fair share of the unbelievably sweet pineapple whilst we were there!)

The road infrastructure in Costa Rica is not as developed as in the UK, so we sensibly opted to hire a sat nav along with our car. After trying to haggle the price of car hire, we eventually settled on a deal and got the keys to our motor for the week. Deveda was in the driving seat and I was front seat passenger AKA chief sat nav operator and music maestro. The sun had started shining, the car windows were open and we were cruising along the highway on route from San Jose to Arenal. What could possibly go wrong?

After about thirty minutes we started to question the reliability of the sat nav, as the roads it was taking us down seemed very rural. We had been told the route to Arenal involved driving through the mountains however, so as we ascended a steep mountain we assumed we were heading in the right direction. As we were driving up, the rain started pouring down. Up and up we went, steeper and steeper and the rain got heavier and heavier. The sat nav told us to keep going up, so we did. The road became perishingly narrow, with shear drops on either side. The thick fog and pouring rain meant we could barely see 5 metres in front of us. An hour and a half after leaving San Jose we reached the top of a mountain, where several local cars were parked.  We asked one of the locals how far we were from Arenal. He laughed and told us we were a longgg way away. It was at that point we realised the sat nav was on demonstration mode and we had driven 90 minutes in completely the wrong direction!!

As we descended down the mountain (sat nav now switched to correct mode) Rick Astley “Never gonna give you up” came on the radio. We looked at each other, burst out laughing, opened up the car windows and starting singing along at the top of our voices. It wasn’t the start to the trip that we had planned, but it certainly proved to be a memorable one!

Rick Astley was the first of many old school tunes we were treated to on what became our 5 hour trip to Arenal. Arenal is Costa Rica’s adventure capital and is host to some beautiful rainforests, a volcano, several waterfalls and hot springs. We had booked to stay in a rainforest lodge which looked incredible in the photos- hummingbirds and butterflies buzzing by your window, a view of the volcano from the breakfast table and lush vegetation viewable for miles around.

We soon learnt there are a few things the travel brochures don’t mention about rainforests:

1)      When it rains, it RAINS! Not just a little bit of Blighty drizzle, but full force tropical downpours that will soak through the most water repellent raincoat in seconds.

2)      In addition to the beautiful toucans, sloths and monkeys there are lots of creatures lurking in the rainforest that you would rather not see. Snakes, frogs, bugs and iguanas the size of small children all welcomed us when we entered their natural habitat (*shudder*).

3)      The roads leading to the rainforest are not like the m25. They are single carriageway, bumpy, steeper than you could ever imagine and will put even the knarliest 4×4 to the test.

I won’t go into too much detail, but our rainforest stay was certainly interesting. Two helpless girls… staying in the isolated lodge… in dark, stormy weather… with a creepy single American guy staying in the lodge next door… it had horror movie script written all over it!!

Creepy scenarios, snakes and mosquito bites aside, we had a great time in Arenal – the highlight of which was definitely visiting the Tabaccon hot springs, with its swim up cocktail bar. Simply bliss.

From Arenal we headed to surfer city Jaco, where we drunk lots of cocktails, zip-lined through the forest and closely missed being decapitated by a metre long iguana which fell off a veranda under which we were sitting!

And finally from Jaco we went to Manuel Antonio national park, the dream destination for bird watchers, hikers and nature enthusiasts… AKA lots of people rocking the binoculars + socks and sandals combo. I’m normally one for trying new things, but didn’t fancy trying that particular look. But it turned out you didn’t need to sport socks, sandals and beige clothing to see sloths, toucans and racoons (who it turns out are absolute pests) in their natural habitat- the scenery in Manuel Antonio was absolutely stunning. And the fact that the sun came out whilst we were there made things all the better!

We sadly said goodbye to Manuel Antonio to make our way back to San Jose for the marathon, which took place on Sunday 4th December. I thought this marathon was going to be tougher than my first marathon in New York- and that certainly proved to be true!

The marathon started at 06:00, which meant a very early start in order to get some pre-race carbs in and let them digest before the run. I left our hotel in a cab at 5:30. The streets were dark and deserted. Despite it being so early in the morning, it was uncomfortably humid. As well as the marathon, there was also a half marathon, 10km and 5km race on the day, all runners were starting at the same time and our bibs were colour coded according to what distance we would be running. Looking round at the start line, I noted there were lots of people doing 10km and half marathon, but hardly anyone was wearing a marathon distance bib…

The starting gun fired and I set off in a mass frenzy of people running much shorter distances who were desperate to get ahead! I tried to keep to my own pace, but its difficult when you run with other people as you tend to be spurred forwards with them and try to keep up with them.

The marathon route was three 8 mile loops of the same circuit through San Jose city. Potholes, uneven drain covers and vehicles ignoring the “road closed” signs meant the race turned out to be a bit of an obstacle course (or should I say danger run!) The city itself doesn’t have a huge amount of sights, but it does have a ridiculous number of McDonalds branches (which proved to come in very handy later in the race).  There were barely any supporters on the streets, but what the race lacked in supporters it unfortunately made up for in hills!! So in summary it was a hilly, humid and isolated run, made all the worse by the fact that they ran out of water between miles 16-20! Oh and I experienced every runners nightmare… I had a dodgy tummy. Yep. 26.2 miles with a rumbling tummy. Hence why those McDonalds branches came in so handy- I basically ran from McDonalds branch to McDonalds branch (not for the big macs, just for the toilet facilities!)

You might question why I am sharing way too much information about my dodgy stomach (which almost certainly don’t want read about). I included it because for a while during that race I felt crappy (excuse the pun) and was feeling a bit sorry for myself. I got to a point where I could have cried, but instead I just started laughing. Yes I probably looked like a crazy person- hot, sweaty and chuckling away to myself whilst running in and out of McDonalds toilets. I laughed because when I thought about it, a dodgy stomach wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t the end of the world.

In December 2015 I was working on a respiratory ward in Gloucester. I will always remember the 31 year old man who was admitted to our ward after coughing up blood. He was a healthy young guy, who regularly went to the gym and didn’t smoke. He had a four year old daughter and his wife was pregnant with their second child. It was two weeks before Christmas when we told him he had advanced, incurable lung cancer. Despite the maximal treatment the NHS could provide he passed away weeks later. He never met his unborn child.

It is so easy to become hung up with your own problems, but there are always people worse off than you.  We all get stressed at times, we all have bad days, we are never going to be the best at everything, but perhaps we should think about the bigger picture more and put our “issues” into perspective.

Marathon number 2 is dedicated to the man who made me realise I am not going to live forever. Why waste precious time being stressed, worried or hung up about things you can’t change. Do things that make you happy and be around people whose company you enjoy. Let go of the past. “Bad days” are only as bad as you make them.


Costa Rica – 3 hours 51 minutes (minus toilet stops)


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