- A vine-framed trail at Reserva Conchal.
- Coach Roberto Solano and Olympian Leo Chacon preview the course at Hacienda Pinilla with two young Tico athletes.
- Post-race sunset at the JW Marriott in Hacienda Pinilla.
- Athletes crowd the start line at the JW Marriott in Hacienda Pinilla.
- Playa Coco, site of Central America's first triathlon.
- The swim venue for Unlimited Productions' TriCross Reserva Conchal race.
- Race Quest campers loosening up with coach Michael Lovato.
Triathlon’s growth in laid-back Costa Rica is anything but tranquilo. In 2011, 700 athletes were registered with FEUTRI (Federación Unida de Triatlón, Costa Rica’s triathlon federation). In 2012 that number jumped to 1200, and an estimated 1500 Costa Ricans will be registered with the federation by the end of 2013. But while the swim, bike, run trifecta has become particularly popular in this tropical paradise in recent years, the country also claims what is believed to be Central America’s first-ever triathlon, with roots dating back to 1982.
Still going strong 30 years later, the Clásico El Coco Triathlon was created by a group of friends bunking together in a house in Coco Beach. The friends had heard of something called the Ironman, held in a similarly hot and humid locale. Realizing that they already swam and biked about on a regular basis, the buddies figured: What the heck? The distances–which still stand today–are unique with a 16m swim, 60km bike and 16km run. Another unique aspect of the race–which thankfully has evolved since the event’s inception–was that the women enjoyed a makeshift changing room whereas the men swapped swim trunks for cycle shorts in the open air.
Today, the Tico enthusiasm for triathlon is easily evident at any number of events filling the Costa Rican race calendar. Unlimited Productions, producers of nine triathlon race weekends and growing, is helping to shepherd the trend of a burgeoning multisport culture. Unlimited’s event series includes five road and four off-road triathlons (the Triathlon BMW Costa Rica Series and the TriCross AMPM Costa Rica Series), with plans in the works for several new endurance events and unusual venues, including an off-road duathlon (part of the Green Cup series) that traverses hanging bridges within Selvatura Adventure Park in the Monteverde cloud forest.
I visited Costa Rica as a guest of Unlimited Productions and was guided through several of the country’s prime training, racing and tourism destinations [watch for a Tour Guide feature on the country in an upcoming issue of Triathlete] by Sergio Sanchez, Unlimited Productions’ co-director and a skilled adventure racer and ultra runner, and Rodolfo Beeche, the company’s commercial director. Both men are staunchly committed to producing athlete-focused events that also highlight their home country’s diverse natural beauty and chill culture. Adding to the rich experience of my five-day journey through Costa Rica’s triathlon hot spots was the opportunity to join Race Quest Travel’s Costa Rica Camp, with Michael and Amanda Lovato serving as guest coaches and more than two dozen local athletes benefitting from the clinics, training sessions and race day encouragement shared with these seasoned professionals.
Race Quest Travel’s co-founder Krista Baker-Scheyer has a long-standing love for Costa Rica–so much so that she considers it her second home and spends time there whenever possible. It’s a passion that led her to partner with Unlimited Productions to provide the professional-level triathlon camp for Tico triathletes eager to glean valuable insight during a key race weekend in the country’s wild and wonderful Guanacaste province. It’s the same passion that radiates from local triathletes–whether beloved Olympian Leo Chacon, his coach Roberto Solano (largely responsible for Costa Rican youth development in the sport), or the contingent of age group athletes, from seasoned elites to smiling newbies–all eager to get out and, well, tri.
Anywhere from 200-500 athletes flock to each of Unlimited Productions’ start lines–a number large enough to illicit a supportive crowd and volunteer network, yet small enough that practically everyone knows everyone else. No worries if you’re a foreigner, though–Ticos will always be the first to strike up a conversation and make you feel right at home. Happiness is simply a way of life in Costa Rica–even the army was abolished here in 1948. The welcoming vibe of this Pura Vida focused nation was perhaps best illustrated by an athlete in last Sunday’s BMW Series Olympic distance race. I was cheering from the sidelines just meters from the finish chute as he ran past me, surely exhausted by the hot and humid race conditions and eager to cross the line. Yet he called out to me, clearly recognizing me from the article I posted earlier in the race week [Costa Rica Flashback], documenting my first journey to Costa Rica 21 years prior. “Holly Bennett!” he chirped, flashing me a warm Tico smile. “Welcome back!”
Interested in sharing a destination triathlon adventure with Race Quest Travel? While last week’s camp was geared toward Costa Rican attendees, a five-day camp in February 2014 will provide international triathletes an opportunity to experience Costa Rica from an endurance athlete’s perspective.
“I have a background in travel and a passion for the sport of triathlon,” said Krista Baker-Scheyer, co-founder of Race Quest, who previously served as the pro athlete and VIP liaison for the Rev3 race series. “I wanted to create a boutique, turnkey travel service within triathlon, taking people to races they may not normally feel are accessible to them. That’s evolved into the creation of training camp and race packages focused on events where there are a lot of newbie triathletes, first generation races where people are ripe for learning and destinations where athletes really benefit from our support because they’re unfamiliar with the logistics.”
Race Quests camps and race excursions are highlighted by the attendance of a pro triathlete familiar with the specific course–or in the case of the Costa Rica camp, familiar with the language and culture (for example, Michael Lovato speaks fluent Spanish and has traveled extensively in Latin America). In addition to the Costa Rica venue, the company recently hosted a camp in Lake Tahoe and will soon announce details for Ironman Florida camp and race packages–including guaranteed entry to the race. They even offer a 10-day Kona training package, open to all athletes whether or not they’re competing in the world championship. Future plans include a women’s specific component because “there’s a huge contingent of women triathletes who want to travel but might not necessarily do so alone–women adventurers like myself,” said Baker-Scheyer. Watch www.race-quest.com for details.
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