Don't you love those moments when you know that you are in the middle of a situation that you will remember for the rest of your life? I knew when I signed up to race XTERRA Costa Rica that it was going to be an adventure but would have never imagined how crazy things would get. It could have easily been its own book in the "Series of Unfortunate Events" but I wouldn't trade those 5 days for much of anything. Well maybe the last day where I got a speeding ticket on the way back to Virginia :(
One of my favorite things about my job is that I get to work with a lot of athletes that have very different goals. I have been one of Greg Schott's coaches since 2012 and have been blessed with the opportunity to watch his development from a young junior triathlete trying to compete with the best in the country to a successful professional off-road triathlete. Greg his big goals and he also has great potential. Last year was his first year as a professional and this year we have planned to use last year's experiences to set him up for a breakthrough year in the XTERRA Pan-American Series. We strategically planned for Costa Rica to be his first off-road race of the year. I wanted to travel with Greg to this race and experience XTERRA first hand to allow me to gain an additional understanding of exactly what Greg needs to be one of the best pro's in the world. It was also another excuse to race in a cool place and buy another bike :) Greg and I trained each week on the 60 mile trail system that Liberty University has right on campus which prepared us well for the terrain in Costa Rica.
We planned the entire trip out and had the details dialed in months before the race. We would drive an easy 45 minutes to the Roanoke Airport for a 7am flight and be in Costa Rica before noon on Thursday. I rented a car for $6/day and we booked an airbnb only a mile or so from the race site. It would be an easy logistical trip in a beautiful part of the world with no drama....or not! The Wednesday before race day would be the start of the craziest adventure that both Greg and I have been on. At 6pm that night we had a great open water swim on Liberty's Ivy Lake with the triathlon team and then went out to dinner to celebrate one of our team captain's birthdays. On the way back to my house I received a text message from Delta saying our flight from Roanoke to Atlanta was canceled for the next morning. (Side Note: Delta is the worst airline on the planet and you should join me in boycotting them for the rest of your life). We spent the next 2 hours looking for another flight to Atlanta but there was nothing. So at 11pm Greg and I loaded up in his car and drove through the night to Atlanta. We parked the car at 7am and we checked our bikes in, walked through security and were at our gate in 35 minutes, which if you have ever flown through Atlanta you know that is crazy. I looked at Greg and said "Things are looking up! Our luck is turing around towards the better!" I would eat those words so hard over the next 72 hours.
At 10am when our flight was scheduled to leave, we got the announcement for our first delay. Ever 30 minutes until 5pm we were delayed another 30 minutes due to not being able to locate our pilot. Realizing that this flight was most likely not going to happen, we started researching other flights. To our disappointment there was nothing into Libera or San Jose Costa Rica until Saturday morning and we would not be at the race site until Saturday afternoon for a 6am start time on Sunday. At this point our decision making skills were a little skewed due to be awake for over 48 hours with only 30 minutes of sleep here and there. I looked on a map and saw an airport in Managua, Nicaragua that was leaving two hours from the time I saw it. I asked Greg if he was up for it and we decided to give it a shot. I called my uncle who has been to Nicaragua quite a bit to be sure it would be safe. He told me we would be fine but just not to get arrested because they do not clothe or feed you in prison there so we would basically die in prison. Sounded like a safe enough gamble so we went for it! Ha!
I walked up to the gate agent and told her what we wanted to do. She asked if we realized Nicaragua was a 3rd world country..haha. She felt so bad for us as she booked the ticket she gave us the refund phone number to call and get our money back for our ticket. We watched them move our bikes from one plane to the other and walked to our new gate only to have the same delay scenario happen for another 4 hours due to a missing flight attendant. Finally at 11pm on Thursday they found the missing flight attendant and we were in the air to Nicaragua. We booked a Best Western hotel that was directly across the street from the airport. Once we landed you would have thought that we booked a Four Season the way they treated us! After finding out we needed to have a visa to get into the country we were able to purchase one from immigration services and had the 5 star treatment from the hotel staff as soon as we walked into the baggage claim area. They loaded our bikes and drove us 100 feet to the hotel were they escorted us to our suite. Keep in mind we only paid $65 for the hotel and had booked it only several hours before our stay. We got into our room at 2am their time and 4am our time. We had no idea how we were actually going to get to Costa Rica so we spent the next 2 hours trying to book a bus ticket to Liberia. After realizing that it would be a 12 hour bus ride we just went to sleep for 2 hours and decided we would figure it out after some rest. We woke up at 5:30am their time after a nice 1.5 hour nap. Waking up in that room was the only time on this trip that I had the feeling of "oh crap, what the heck did we do! We are in freaking Nicaragua and have no plan on how to get out of here!". The only person that I could find that spoke english was the hotel manager. My uncle told me that in Nicaragua your money definitely talks and can get you what you need. I told the guy at the hotel that we needed to get to Liberia, Costa Rica and he told me we would have to take a bus. I told him we needed to get there as soon as possible and he said the bus was the best option and only $5. I then handed him $200 and told him to get us to the border which was as far as he could legally go. He told us to go get some "free" breakfast and he would have someone to take us in 10 minutes. Haha!
At 6am a friend of his in a pick up truck picked us up at the hotel and we were on our way to the border. The poverty we saw was overwhelming to see. It was hard to see the conditions that some of those people live in and really puts our lives in America in perspective. I slept in the truck for about 2 hours while Greg said he he couldn't sleep at all due to thinking he needed to be awake to keep us alive not knowing if this guy was actually taking us to the border and thinking he could possibly be kidnapping us..haha! We rolled up to the border and who would have ever known that there was an actual wall between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Almost like they were protecting there borders or something. Good ole Donald Trump was onto something after all!
The driver stopped the truck and said this was as far as he could go. At least that is what I think he said. I really should have tried harder in spanish class. As soon as we got out of the truck we were bombarded with people trying to sell us things or ask for money. We walked to the border wall where there was a barbwire fence with a border police officer standing at a door. We walk to him with our bike boxes and backpacks and handed him our passport. After a series of multiple passport checks, immigration officers trying to scam us to pay them something for nothing and more people begging us for money we made it to the other side of the border. To my amazement there was an Alamo Rent-A-Car on the other side. This was perfect! We would drive ourselves to our airbnb in just an hour or so and be on with the pre-race schedule. I only needed a car for 3 days and kept in mind that I still had a reservation for a car in Liberia for $6/day which was about an hour from where we were at the time. The Alamo agent tried to charge us $3,000 american dollars for a 3 day rental. After realizing that we weren't morons he dropped the price twice to eventual land at $350. I still told him it was not going to happen and we found another guy nearby that we gave $80 to take us to our other car we rented.
From there things went pretty smooth. I thought I was hallucinating from lack of sleep at this point and asked Greg if he saw the tornado and forest fire I was seeing on the drive to the airport. He let me know I was in fact not hallucinating and there was a tornado and forest fire that no one seemed to care was destroying things. We got our rental car, drive to the airbnb, put our bikes together and went out on a ride to get the legs moving and enjoy the beautiful area of the world we were in. It truly was an awesome place to ride and I only crashed down a mountain once! We went back to our house that we were sharing with fellow professional triathlete Ian King and ate dinner at a cool restaurant right on the ocean.
Saturday morning we woke up early to get in our pre-race workouts before it was 110 degrees. We went on a great ride on the course, dodged several Bulls and listened to the sounds of monkeys in the woods as we finished up our easy ride. Our pre-race swim felt great! To our surprise our bodies didn't feel nearly as trashed as all of the travel and lack of sleep should have done to them. We were about 15 minutes into the swim before a little boy started screaming at us. Ian spoke spanish so he said the boy was yelling that there was a sting ray in the water. To our surprise it was not a sting ray but a 6 foot shark swimming just feet from where we were practicing starts for the race. That was enough to call it a day and head back to the house before pre-race meetings.
Sunday morning rolls around and we were all ready to go! We rode our bikes from the house on the beach to the race site and set up transition. Greg and Ian started first and I stated about 20 minutes after them. They both looked great coming out of the water and in great condition. My swim felt fine and even made some jelly fish friends in the middle of the swim course. I was honestly having a blast then entire race. The off-road triathlon thing was pretty freaking cool! The challenge of the first several miles of the bike course was fun and I even got to see my Bull friend from the day before again on the course. They kindly just stood there and let me roll past them. It was fun looking back and seeing my HR file where I went into zone 6 for about a minute at that same section of the course. I am glad we didn't pre-ride the entire course because the back half was crazy. While not super technical we had to ride over lava rock and up and down some crazy hills before rolling back into the Westin Resort in Reserva Conchal. I got off the bike and felt like I was flying! I passed 15 guys in the first mile. I knew at about 3 miles in there was a turn around I needed to hit but didn't know if its exact location. I ran up to an aid station and asked the volunteer if I needed to turn or keep going. She had no idea what I was saying since she didn't speak english and I had no idea what she was saying and well....I went the wrong way. I hit the finish line stretch in 4 miles when it was a 10k run. I was pissed! I tuned around and ran back wanting to at least get in 6.2 miles to say I finished this dang race. I finished after running the correct distance but not the correct course. I found the race director immediately and told him my mistake and that I needed to be DQ'd. To my surprise there were loads of other people, including professionals that did the exact same things as me. Many of them were devastated. I just had to laugh. My goal was to qualify for the World Championships in Maui later this year but this was just the icing on the cake for this trip. Risking our lives to make it from one country to another, hundreds of dollars spent all to get DQ'd. For me, I love to compete and see what my body can do but over the years I have learned that you never know what this sport is going to throw at you. A race can not only be a celebration of hard work but also a time to reflect on how God has blessed us with health, passion and the ability to race in crazy cool places. Of course I was disappointed expecially after finding out I would have been 3rd overall but this just puts more fuel on the fire to race hard and enjoy the races that go much better.
Greg and Ian both had fantastic races finishing 6th and 7th overall professional. I am really proud of Greg for an awesome performance and not letting the past several days get in his head during the race. We have really been working on his swim and run and he destroyed both of those. I am excited for the rest of his season.
The travel home was not nearly as eventful other than a speeding ticket I got in Greensboro. I tried to tell the cop this story but something about 30 over doesn't let you get out of much. Unfortunately I didn't see the speed limit change and neither did the 5 other people that were getting tickets at the same time that I was.
Life throws some crazy curve balls our way sometimes. How we react to them can be the difference between a miserable experience or getting done with a trip like this and thinking about how awesome it all was! This was truly a trip of a lifetime and one I still wouldn't trade for much of anything. Flying across the world with one of your closest friends and navigating your way through a 3rd world country to get to another country where you are going to race in an epic triathlon is up on the top of my list for one of the coolest things I have ever done. Lets hope Barcelona 70.3 in a month is a little less eventful though :)