Race Profile: The Coastal Challenge Costa Rica

Are you looking for the adventure of a lifetime? Look no further because I have the perfect one for you!

The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica.

Over 6 days and 225k, this race takes in the best of Costa Rica!

My experience running the Coastal Challenge was out of this world, and if you are a stage-race lover, or looking to train hard to run your first, this is one you have to add to your bucket list.

Race Profile: The Coastal Challenge Costa Rica
Photograph: Andrés Vargas, The Coastal Challenge

What is The Coastal Challenge?

The Coastal Challenge is known as one of the toughest, but most exhilarating stage races in the world! 

It’s a 6-day, 225 kilometer journey that takes you on an incredible adventure as you run on pristine beaches, through lush and tropical forests and bathe in secluded waterfalls. 

In addition to the 225k Expedition race, there is a 132k Adventure category for runners who are not quite ready to take on the entire course.

You get to enjoy the same spectacular views and lively atmosphere, but with a few shorter days to make it more accessible.

If you want to see Costa Rica from a completely different perspective than a run-of-the-mill tourist, what better way to do so than to run it! 

The places you will visit are so remote that you’ll experience parts of Costa Rica that most locals will never even see.

Race Profile: The Coastal Challenge Costa Rica
Photograph: Andrés Vargas, The Coastal Challenge

Where is the Coastal Challenge?

The Coastal Challenge runs through a tropical paradise! 

Costa Rica. 

Need I say more? 

I’m sure Costa Rica is already on your list of places to visit, so go ahead and visit in the most exciting way possible!

During the race, you’ll travel along the Pacific coastline while at the same time weave in and out of the Talamanca mountain range. The race begins at Del Rey beach in Manuel Antonio National Park, and ends on the secluded Ganadito Beach near Drake Bay. 

Costa Rica boasts breathtaking views and tropical flora and fauna that you just won’t see anywhere else. Be sure to bring your phone along to snap plenty of photos.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you’ll want to hang on to those memories forever.

Race Profile: The Coastal Challenge Costa Rica
Photograph: Andrés Vargas, The Coastal Challenge

When is the Coastal Challenge?

The Coastal Challenge takes place in the second week of February during Costa Rica’s dry season.

What is the elevation gain and loss in the Coastal Challenge?

Expedition

Throughout the six stages of the Coastal Challenge Expedition race, you will climb over 10,000 vertical meters (32,800 feet), and descend those 10,000 meters as well.

Adventure

Throughout the six stages of the Adventure Race, you will climb just over 4,000 vertical meters (13,000 feet), and descend about 5,000 meters (16,400 feet).

What makes The Coastal Challenge challenging?

It’s The Coastal Challenge. You have “challenge” right there in the name, so I think that pretty much sums it up!  

Everything about this race is challenging, but that’s part of what makes it such an awesome goal to want to achieve. The feeling of crossing that final finish line is indescribable.  

The two most important factors to prepare for while training for this race are the heat and the varied terrain.

Race Profile: The Coastal Challenge Costa Rica
Photograph: Andrés Vargas, The Coastal Challenge

How hot is it during the race?

February is one of the best months to visit Costa Rica as there is barely any rain and the sun shines all day long. This means that for the race, you will most definitely be running in the heat

During the day, temperatures can range from 86° to 104°F, (30°- 40° C).

While preparing for this race in particular, it’s very important to incorporate hot weather runs into your training plan.  You will need to practice staying hydrated and cooling down your body temperature. 

My secret for running in the heat is to never let a river go by without submerging myself in it.

You will cross plenty of bodies of water throughout the race, so be sure to dip into all of them.

Race Profile: The Coastal Challenge Costa Rica
Photograph: Andrés Vargas, The Coastal Challenge

What type of terrain will I find in the Coastal Challenge?

Every. Single. Type. Of. Terrain. 

You will need to be ready for anything in the Coastal Challenge. Throughout the race, the terrain is extremely varied, so you need to be a well-rounded runner to be able to withstand running on all sorts of surfaces. 

There are single-track trails through jungle and rainforest, ridgeline mountain crossings, beaches, reefs, river crossings, gravel roads, and plenty of hills!

Each stage of the race is designed to allow runners to see the country in a unique and memorable way while ensuring safety protocols and accommodating for runners’ needs.

The course director has done an incredible job of putting together routes that will make your jaw drop.

Let’s take a look at the different types of terrain you will encounter during this race.

Race Profile: The Coastal Challenge Costa Rica
Photograph: Andrés Vargas, The Coastal Challenge

Coastline

Throughout the race you will run about 18 kilometers of beautiful coastline

Now, you may think “it’s flat, so that will be the easy part, right?” 

Wrong.

The consistency of the sand will depend on what time you make it to the beach sections and the daily tide schedule.

The softer the sand, the more effort you will need to put into each stride.  Pulling those heavy feet along will be no easy task. 

And remember, you will be running in direct sunlight, so I can’t stress enough how practicing running in the heat will be indispensable. 

Single Track Trail

This race is full of fun, technical trails where you find yourself in untouched, pristine jungle.

Be ready to put your technical skills to the test while tackling this rough terrain. Uphills, downhills, and obstacles, you’ll literally run into it all and have a blast while doing it.

River Crossings

One of the most challenging parts of the race for me was the six kilometer trek through a river basin.

On one hand, I was thankful because it cooled me off but what a challenge it was for my body and mind to plan the best path and maneuver myself from one side to the other over and over again. 

I can assure you, you’ll never do anything quite like it!

Race Profile: The Coastal Challenge Costa Rica
Photograph: Andrés Vargas, The Coastal Challenge

Gravel

There is a substantial amount of gravel throughout the race. This can provide your mind a bit of a break as you won’t be dodging the same number of obstacles as you would on single-track trails. 

However, these gravel roads bring challenges of their own

You’ll have to be ready for a lot of runnable terrain, which for some trail runners can actually be the bigger challenge. Sometimes we are just waiting for that hill so we can hike a bit and slow down. 

But don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of massive climbs and descents as well, so brush up on your hiking skills and your downhill running technique.

If you can believe it, there are only 7 kilometers of asphalt in the entire race! So if you are looking for a road run, this is not it!

Race Profile: The Coastal Challenge Costa Rica
Photograph: Andrés Vargas, The Coastal Challenge

What are the logistics of the race?

The Coastal Challenge has been around for the last 17 years, so the organization has the logistics down to a science. Runners and staff meet at the Best Western in San José the day before, for check-in and the race briefing. 

The next morning all of the runners are taken by bus to the first start line in Manuel Antonio. All of the transportation is provided, sometimes you travel by bus and sometimes, by boat! It’s always an adventure! 

During each stage, you only need to bring the required daily equipment and nutrition with you. You will leave the rest of your things with the organization and they will bring it from campsite to campsite, so when you arrive everything will be there waiting for you. 

There are aid stations about every 10 kilometers and they are equipped with water, electrolytes, fruit, nuts and cookies to help keep you going. I suggest you fill up at every aid station so you never run out of fuel.  

As for the sleeping logistics, you can bring your own tent and leave it in your equipment box, but you also have the option to rent a tent from the organization…and they even set it up for you! I suggest you choose this option because you really are beat after each stage and the last thing you want to do is set up a tent. 

As for meals, a very experienced sports nutritionist and trail runner herself is in charge of all of the food, and it is amazing! She knows exactly how hungry trail runners can get so there will always be plenty of food to satisfy your cravings.

Race Profile: The Coastal Challenge Costa Rica 1
Photograph: Andrés Vargas, The Coastal Challenge

What is the atmosphere like?

After crossing each stage’s finish line and arriving at the new campsite each day, you get to look forward to hanging out with all of the amazing people you are sharing the race with.

It is an absolute blast to marvel together at the incredible sights you saw, the technical trails you ran, and the emotional roller coaster you went through while doing it. 

Connecting with other trail runners and swapping stories was truly something I looked forward to every single day.

The experience of running the Coastal Challenge bonds people.  I met people who became life-long friends. We had fun together, pushed through together, celebrated together, and now look for new running adventures to share together.

The feeling of camaraderie in The Coastal Challenge community makes for a special experience for all runners. You’ll run into people who have run the Coastal Challenge a number of times and will be able to pick their brains at mealtimes for advice before each stage. 

coastal challenge
Photograph: Andrés Vargas, The Coastal Challenge

You will also surely help others who may be running their first stage race ever and are looking for some pointers or just plain old support.  

The Coastal Challenge is also no stranger to some of the best runners in the world. Anna Frost, Tom Owens, Thomas Evans, Timothy Olsen, Anna Comet, and Ragna Debats are just a handful of international professional runners who have taken on The Coastal Challenge.

What are the course records?

Because of the complexity of the course, the routes vary slightly from year to year, which is why it’s impossible to boast only one course record. 

However, there are some stand-out performances that are extremely inspiring to mention. 
In 2018, Thomas Evans ran the 236-kilometer, 10,000 meters-of-vertical-gain race in only 21:44, and Ida Nilsson in 23:36 in 2019. Amazing!

Race Profile: The Coastal Challenge Costa Rica
Photograph: Andrés Vargas, The Coastal Challenge

Why must this race be on your list?

I’m sure you are already convinced and are looking at the website right now to see how to register, aren’t you? 

Who wouldn’t want to travel though Costa Rican jungles and beaches on foot, marveling at the absolute beauty of this tropical paradise, and then after hundreds of kilometers cross the final finish line and feel that immense sense of accomplishment?

Go ahead, sign up, you’ll thank me!

Race Profile: The Coastal Challenge Costa Rica
Photograph: Andrés Vargas, The Coastal Challenge
Katelyn Tocci

Katelyn Tocci

Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community she is known for her ear to ear smile even under the toughest race conditions. She loves sharing her knowledge and experience with everyone and has a great desire to motivate others to hit the trails alongside her. Run for fun!

2 thoughts on “Race Profile: The Coastal Challenge Costa Rica”

    • Hi Sue! You’re very welcome, I hope you decide to run the race! The temps at night go down to the 70’s F. The humidity always lingers, but you are able to sleep without any trouble. Let me know if you have any other questions!

      Reply

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