Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A Cyclist Shifts to 40km running in The Coastal Experiences in Costa RIca

Here's my first story about my week-long running adventure in Costa Rica with The Coastal Experiences. The article appeared in the sports section of the Santa Cruz Sentinel, on Friday, October 30, 2009. Click on the link or read my story, below.

 I got to climb up this waterfall during one of the most challenging days of The Coastal Experiences running vacation in Costa Rica.
Photo Credit: Eduardo Baldioceda

Spin City: Changing Gears -- A cyclist goes on a running vacation
By Karen Kefauver
Posted: 10/30/2009 01:30:02 AM PDT

My sister looked at me with incredulity.

"You're going on a running vacation?" she asked. "You don't run!"

She was right. But I had already signed up and was flying to Costa Rica for a seven-day organized trip called "The Coastal Experiences."

I hoped that my muscle memory would kick in and my body would remember all the 5-kilometer and 10k races I had run [slowly] during my seven years as a triathlete. But my swim-bike-run years ended in 2004. Since then, I have focused solely on cycling.

So why would I consider a trip that centered on running and promised on its Web site: "You will experience Costa Rica like few others have.... If you're ready to move from watching the Eco Challenge, Ironman, and NYC Marathon races on TV to actually stepping up to your own challenge, please join us."

I was eager to tackle an adventure radically different than my usual group road or mountain bike tours. Right before my 40th birthday, it was time to try something out of my comfort zone in a place I had never visited. I also liked the trip's multi-sport elements -- every day after running, there were additional activities offered, including ziplining, waterfall rappelling, volcano hikes, and snorkeling and scuba diving. Plus, on two mornings, all of us would try to stay in our rafts as we hit the white water of the Pacuare River's Class IV rapids.

That's how I ended up in San Jose, Costa Rica, the first week of October. I tried to play it cool on the first day of the trip. Our group of 70 guests and staff gathered to register and receive race numbers -- our running times would be officially recorded daily.

I braced for the potential shame of being last every day. Men and women, spanning ages 21 to 61, from all over the world -- England, Spain, Netherlands, Canada and mostly America -- were comparing notes on their recent marathon times, triathlons and adventure races. Though I was in shape, I was by no means in "race shape." I planned to walk, a lot.

I was also afraid of twisting my ankle in the jungle or stumbling upon a poisonous snake. I was relieved that there was a doctor on staff and that I was on the third annual Coastal Experiences. They told me everyone had survived so far!

The next day, which kicked off five days of running for a total of 40k off-road, I found a trio of women. They were old friends who had signed up for the challenge together, and they made running near the back of the pack seem like fun.

"We will sweep the sweepers," said Jenni, a lively nurse from Texas. She meant that our crew would be alongside the officials who were assigned to follow the last guests.

The next few days unfolded like a tropical dream, with just a few nightmarish moments. Each day, we started our run in a different location, making our way steadily toward our final stop in Puerto Viejo.

A highlight was a stay in the jungle lodge of Rios Tropicales, where we soaked in waterfalls after our run. It was also thrilling to see the plumes of gases rise from the active volcano of Turiallba. The threat of lava flows helped distract me from the searing pain in my quads: running or even walking downhill, day after day, really fatigues those leg muscles. As a cyclist, I was more accustomed to working my hamstrings.

Through the five days of the tour, I did a lot of walking and some running. My feet sank into spectacularly soft sand on the beach, slopped ankle-deep in mud that sucked off some of our shoes, and shimmied through river beds with slippery rocks. I got my hands dirty nearly every day, grabbing jungle vines and roots for steady footing. I watched colorful butterflies flit from the lush leaves.

Several times during the week, I welcomed overcast skies and gentle rains to keep me cool. It was hard. I loved it and sometimes hated it because I was out of my comfort zone. But I was not always last.

While many in the group camped every night, I was relieved that I had chosen the lodging option and slept soundly to the insect hum each night. The trip was not about watching wildlife or doing a checklist of tourist spots. It was about connecting with the beautiful land and sharing the experience with fellow travelers.

Since my return to Santa Cruz, I have had a joyous reunion with my mountain bike on the trails at Wilder Ranch State Park. It was nice to ride through mud rather than run through it and I had a renewed appreciation for the trails.

My friend Kim, a fitness coach, noticed I seemed stronger. "It must be the cross training," she said.

I'm not ready to give up the bike for my sneakers, but I have resolved to incorporate some trail and beach running into my bike workouts. And if I see you out running or riding while I'm on my bicycle, I'll be happy to raise my water bottle and salute you with Costa Rica's national mantra: "Pura Vida" = life is good.

If You Go
For more information on this trip and others offered by the same company, visit www.thecoastalexperiences.com.

Karen Kefauver is a sports and travel freelance journalist. She blogs weekly about bicycling for the Sentinel at www.santacruzlive.com/blogs/outside.http://www.santacruzlive.com/blogs/outside.

Feat of the Feet
The top tip that I have for cyclists, like me, who want to start running on vacation or otherwise: Be prepared to pay special attention to your feet.
On a bike, feet are important, but since they don't bear all your weight, they are not as vulnerable as when you're pounding the trails. Know that your foes will be blisters, toe nails that fall off and spots on your foot that rub and become "hot spots," a warning from your body that is best heeded. Blister treatment prevention includes lubing the feet, monitoring hot spots and treating with bandages.
Ask for more foot care details at your local running stores.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

The High-Flying Life of American Expat and Pilot Art Dawley - An Interview

When I met Art Dawley in San Jose, Costa Rica,  in early October 2009, I asked him about life there as an American ex-pat and the charter plane business he launched, Paradise Air. It was fun to talk with a pilot who spent years flying Hollywood’s top executives, including Steven Spielberg and his partners at Dreamworks movie studio, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Art said Paradise Air, with three planes and five U.S.-certified airline transport pilots, is the first air taxi company to be certified under the new, stricter aviation laws of Costa Rica. The company offers aerial tours, air transportation and transfers, safaris and executive services.

Art and I had tea and talked at the lovely patio of the historic Hotel Grano de Oro in San Jose, Costa Rica, on October 11, 2009.

1. QUESTION:  How did you choose to live in Costa Rica?
ANSWER: I am from Ohio and grew up in California. My former brother-in-law told me that there was a small airline charter business for sale in Costa Rica. I was looking for a new challenge. The opportunity could have been anywhere in the world, but it was here in Costa Rica... I moved here in November 2004. I didn't know Spanish.

2. Q: What do you like most about living in Costa Rica after nearly five years here?
A: I like the people…As a pilot, you get to know many people. In addition to my work, I have also helped with search and rescue and medical flights. I also like the physical beauty of the country. I prefer the mountains and the cloud forests for their cooler temperatures.

3. Q: What were you doing before you came to Costa Rica?
A: I spent my whole life in aviation - 24 years. For seven years, I worked as a pilot for Steven Spielberg and before that, 17 years with Petersen Publishing Company, which owned about 47 magazines including Motor Trends and Hot Rods.

4. Q: What was it like flying for Spielberg and the others?
A: I really enjoyed flying Spielberg and my non-disclosure agreement doesn't prevent me from saying that! I enjoyed the travel and excitement of the job not to mention flying the most advanced equipment (airplanes) in the world.

5. Q: Why did you leave what some might consider an ideal job?
A: I wanted to pursue my dream of owning my own aviation company.

6. Q: What’s been the biggest challenge living in Costa Rica?
A: Doing business here. For one thing, the language barrier. Very little is done in English. When I got here, I discovered an amazing maze of inefficiency. All the forms and data were entered by hand; nothing was computerized. Getting permits and licenses was nearly impossible.

7. Q: Why did you choose to stay?
A: I had no choice. I had sold everything I owned - two houses – and I left a full -time job.

8. Q: What else are you doing?
A: I have two other companies. I run a helicopter corps maintenance facility and SEACSA, which are helicopters that do maintenance on electrical lines. That’s where I am putting a lot of energy right now.

9. Q: What is most rewarding about building your own aviation business?
A: With Paradise Air, I brought a new level of customer service to the business. I set the bar higher in providing high-end customer service. And I also brought a new internationally recognized standard of aviation. On a personal level,  I enjoy flying with families who have young kids. I’m a dad myself – my son is 13 and my daughter is 10. I love seeing how excited the kids get when they see the forests, the turtles…

10. Q: You have built three companies in the time you have been here. What’s next?
A: I don’t plan on retiring! I enjoy my work too much. I truly love living and working here. I have my eye on expansion through the Caribbean and Central and South America.

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