The Coastal Challenge

6 days, 240 kms of jungle, beach, gravels, trails and hills in extreme humidity and heat. A real adventure run!

This is Sannas story from Costa Rica.

First, I would like to emphasize that Coastal Challenge is not really a running race. It is an adventure, an expedition that test a human being’s capabilities in tough and rough terrain with the heat and humidity as the biggest obstacles. It is a real challenge for anyone. You have to make sure to take care of your feet with baby cream, get enough sleep, drink enough water and electrolytes, get the carbs and food in, keep the spirit and motivation up, have a good digestion, not be ill or sick, and if you are unlucky with that or other illnesses or accidents on course, have medications or get the right treatment at the medics. But what I experienced was that it is exciting to put myself outside my comfort zone, realizing I could finish it even though I doubted many times, and that on this race, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. At least mentally.

Day one
Apparently for the 20th year anniversary they have added some vert and change some of the original routes.
I woke up early on the hotel in San José after some nightmares of crocodiles eating me alive and getting lost in the forest. Typical nerves before an exciting race. We had breakfast boxes in the lobby and were prepared for the bus. But due to some problems the bus was 1,5hour late. (Which also meant we would start 1,5hour later than planned and that meant more heat...).
The bus drive took us some hours. Don't know the times. But when we got off, it was hot and humid and we walked all together on a gravel road 2k to the beach. Once reaching the ocean I just wanted to stay there. What a liberty!

But the course went straight away from there into the palm woods and hot gravel roads. Everyone that had done the course before told us to stay calm and run very slow this day. Otherwise, you will get destroyed. I wanted to run in a steady, controlled pace. But once we went off, I already felt dehydrated and an upset stomach. It got only worse. So just after the 10k I struggled to stop here and there in the forest. And every little water I could find, rivers or pounds I jumped in, soaked myself to get a little bit refreshed for a minute or so. I asked for medicine on the 2nd aid station and they had a pill for me. It helped so I didn't have to stop all the time, but I was drained. We were also to face a brutal climb in the forest only made clear with a machete.

After about 30 k I put in a gel and got some highlights and could run on a fun trail and over a very high bridge over a river. When I could hear the finish (what I thought) people cheering my stomach started war again. But the trail was fun and I tried to be positive and run the best I could. Came out on a stone beach that was super fun to jump on the rocks to reach a big river that we would cross. People were there and flags on the other side. I was totally empty and thought "okay, don't pass out in the stream now" once you are over, it is over". And I jumped in, swam with the current to the other side and walked into the finish where Cody Lind said, "Well done Sanna, 1k to go!" My smile might have disappeared by I just said "yep" and continued to run as I was absolutely aware of this. But after a few steps my legs felt better after the refreshed swim so the last 100metres was actually pretty enjoyable and reaching the finish line by a beautiful lodge in an open forest grassy field with the green tents I felt happy. But also, very tired and destroyed so went straight to the toilet again.

There were outdoor showers, very simple and very nice! :D

The afternoon and evening were nice with good food, nice chats with the other runners, cooling down by a nice pool there and get familiar with the camp life. We took a massage and the bug guy really destroyed my legs, but in a good way, so they felt so much fresher than before.

Lina and I slept outside by the pool that night under a sky full of stars. That was amazing.

All pictures from Ian Corless and us

Day two
We started by dawn so first 15 k was a bit dark but also super fun since it was a proper and fun trail I had a blast running. We came out of the forest by a grassy hill with a zigzag trail and the sunrise over the forest hills of Costa Rica was a stunning scenery I will never forget. It felt like the alps but tropical. I said “Wowowowow” out loud to myself since by this time I was alone. It was a bit of a climb and I loved it.

We came out on some sandy, rolling mountain bike trails which were also super fun running and the woods were beautiful with so many different kinds of leaves and bushes, crawling together to one big piece of art.
The sounds of nature were so intense. The crickets were crazy loud in different tones. The decent was a hard mixture of dense jungle and deep grass on a steep trail where you couldn't really see the bottom. I walked some parts and tiptoed myself forward, afraid of twisting my unstable ankles. But I made it to the gravel road and now the heat of the day started to grill us all. That's why you want to start as early as possible because even 7am in the morning the heat and humidity are extreme. Everyone is also swollen. Me extra it felt like. My dehydration made my body and feet and legs fill up tons, and I felt like an elephant running. This stayed for the whole week. And just by the last days of recovery with mum and Lina I felt like normal again.

As I ran on a road, suddenly a big black cat walked towards me on the road. What an unusually big tail it had I thought just when I realized it was a monkey! So exotic. It got aware of my presence when I was about 5 meters from it and ran into and up the trees. Those small encounters meant much and made me in a good mode.

I had some knee pain and couldn't run so well. But didn't stress that would only kill me. We came on a trail out to the ocean and had a river crossing on the beach. The stage ended with a 5k in the sand. There were big waves and surfers all along it. It was a breeze and pretty nice. And I found a big message on the sand, realizing it was meant for me; “HEJA SANNA!”I go so happy for it, and was in a good mode in the finish. But that vanished pretty fast when I met mum in camp and she said Lina maybe had broken her arm! Wft?

She had fallen on a stone in the middle part. But could run still. And had won the stage. So honestly, I wasn't too worried. But after that I was her servant whole week in camp. The stages she made excellent but as soon as in camp and to do shores, she had to had help with most stuff.

No, but seriously not so funny. Now at home we found out she has a small fracture, but impressed how she could manage the tough week in Costa Rica with one arm. I used both mine A LOT during all stages. She had tons of pain (still has) but the motivation to continue and go through The Coastal Challenge was bigger than the self-care. The care of oneself is a bit different from people to people. Lina thinks more on herself by completing the race than to skip it, because she would feel worse to miss everything than not risk to get more injured in the arm. I think I would be the same.

Another good runner, Pierre, also had bad luck on this stage and twisted his ankle badly. I still can't understand how he finished all stages. He limped so much in the camps, and then struggled through so many kilometers, almost always with a happy smile and funny jokes.

Day three

Huge blisters had appeared between my legs in my groins. I couldn't wear shorts and took the starting Coastal Challenge oversized t-shirt and mums skirt to run with. Looked awful, but felt so much better.

With a challenge like this, many runners are experienced and we talked much about other similar races and stories about crazy situations on the trails. I told some people about my dehydration on a mountain race in France a few years ago when I got unconscious in the forest on the last decent and woke up on the hospital and had been thinking I was in “The Hunger games” and fought and smashed the nurses when they came close to me. And the day after on stage 3 I also felt I was a part of it. The nature in Costa Rica was special and something I haven't been experiencing before. The jungle. A magical green wall in thousands of nuances and it wouldn’t surprise me if different weird objects or dangerous animals would appear from behind a tree.

How ever, stage 3 started with a road towards a river. I saw another animal crossing the road. Not quite sure yet what it was, it looked like a big rat without a tail and with a long nose.

We ran in the river for more than 5 k. It was technical slippery, deep and sometimes shallow. At parts I crawled over, swam and zigzag forward. It was fun, but I was worried for Lina and even though I had very fresh legs I stopped and waited, letting many people pass to see how she was. I ran some meters with her and said we could do it together. I wouldn't be happy to finish and hear later Lina had fallen again and broken her arm totally or something. But she told me to run my race. I didn't really feel good about it and the whole race I held back considering to stop and wait for Lina.

When the river was over a group of people sat down to empty their shoes of small stones and sand. I didn't bother doing that and went off as 1st. After some 100metres though I could feel the not so comfy stones itching here and there. But didn't do anything about it. Soon there were stairs down to a stunning waterfall. All cameramen were there. Honestly, I felt a bit stressed by their cheering and would have enjoyed a second more from the beautiful scenery if they wouldn't have been there. But of course, it is also nice with a picture of me from there.

I had trouble running and couldn't reach any speed. I picked up two sticks to use as poles. One was actually perfect of bamboo, but the other one a bit too heavy and not straight. But it was a relief to use them. On the other stages I would definitely bring my Leki-poles.

I had been alone for some hours and made my way through the river bed. Climbing up on wet, yet cool stone formations further in. And finally reached a hidden waterfall with some pools. And as I stopped and looked on the waterfall the sun beams came through the leaves right into my face as to say, "Congrats gal, you made it to next checkpoint!" It was a magical moment.

I had a very low hour coming up next with a painful foot. And couldn't run properly. Finally at the aid station they, to my surprise, had ice, so with some ice in the hat and vest I felt fresher as I came out on the beach with three other runners. At first, they were faster than me. But as we had 8 k on the sand, I held back a bit not wanting to run too fast when we were that exposed. But the wind was fresh and the mind clear so I had a good time here.

Another girl, Lindsey came from nowhere and passed me easily it looked like. But I thought to myself she was running so fast. We had still 15 k to go. I had her about 50 meters in front. Foot marks from other runners were clearly visible in straight lines. But Lindsays were more like a snake. She went running in curves from left to right and couldn't hold a straight line. Maybe that was her running style? Or something was wrong. I was coming closer and closer and soon we were crossing a small river that came out on the beach. It was a little gap from the beach to the river. And I saw her dropped down there. Like falling on her stomach. She went up but then straight down again. Luckily her coach and a local was just there. I also laid down in the water since they told me to, but was fine. I asked if she was okay. She just looked at me. And her coach and the other man told her to sit in the water for some time to cool down. She really hit a heat stroke. I met her later in the finish and she was laughing about it. So, she got alright sometime after and had finished the stage too.

I caught the boys just by the end of the beach and continued myself. My running was miserable. And Lina also came up from nowhere seeming she hadn't been struggling at all. She was super fresh and I tried to hang on. We had some fun moments on a trail and a beautiful little beach and got a message from the other Swedes Sussi and Stefan "HEJA Lina och Sanna" was written in the sand again. We thought this stage would be 50 k. But as we saw the TCC flags on the beach ahead with just 46 k on the watches we were relieved. Happy finishing together and meeting mum in the finish.

Day four

Once again waking up at 2.40. Same for everyone, brekkie at 3am, packing everything together if not prepared in the evening (mostly I was too tired in the evenings) and most times around 5. I let go of the skirt and ran only in swimming underwear and the oversized shirt.

The start for me was tough. I had really pain in my heal, this I hadn’t the other days, new pain places appeared. My knees and hip also complained. Old injuries that now after some days of running and bad recovery were more present than ever. In the climb every step in my heel bone hurt and I thought it could burst any minute. But I had a rhythm and tried to keep it. I could run in most hills at first. (They became insanely steep later on). Later on it still hurt, but when warmup it was a bit better.

The morning was gorgeous and we came up in the highlands between farms and meadows. This was one of my best parts. It was runnable beautiful trails, not too hot yet (would have said it was too hot for running before I had experienced the previous days of heat) at one little river by a bridge where I had climb down to soak myself, Katie passed, whom I knew should be in front of me. She had taking a wrong way in a sharp turn and continued down a steep hill. We chatted for a while and had a nice run. She seemed at bit destroyed and admitted her legs were smashed.

I went in front when we entered a forest with cows. They were about 10 of them on the narrow trail in front of us and I started to make sounds and punch my poles together like herding sticks to make them run away. One cow (or a bull) went away from the group and was behind us. I was focused on running and get the group away from the trail. Once it was free, I was alone. By then I saw Lina a bit further in front. And caught her. We had a few meters together before we realized we were wrong. It was very well marked the rest of the courses, but just those two wrong turns by Katie and us, close to each other. We turned back and walked up the hill and saw pink ribbons and the right hill side. Katie entered the forest and yelled in panic "SAAaNNNNAA!" She was chased by the bull. 🤣 The three of us climb away a bit from the trail to get rid of the bull and then managed to continue. It was a fun but also a scary scene. I was faster to descent than the others and later on I waited for them to pass me, but I never saw them until the finish.

There were long steep up and down gravel roads that never ended. One especially beautiful single track on a grassy part before two long river crossings. (Which were refreshing and super beautiful). The last descent we had been warned about wasn’t so steep and gnarly as they had said because it was changed last minute and was pretty runnable though with lots of big leaves and very dense and humid air, so I got the feeling of not being able to breathe. The finish was by a river with some pools we could cool down in. I had won the stage and was happy with it even though I can’t say I run fast for it.

Day five

I let go of the big shirts since they were disgusting at this point. Not good washed and not dry. It would mean more chafing on the wounds, but at least looking slightly better.

At this point I had another problem. Stomach pain. It is hard to describe but it is like someone is smashing you with a baseball racket all the time. Every step hurts. If you've ever had a football or something similar smashed into your belly and you lose air. It feels like that but without stopping. So, the last two days this was a very big and uncomfy problem. The sixth days I couldn't run in the downhills. I had to walk or slowly tiptoe down with as little bounce as possible to make myself moving forward.

The start of stage five took some time. We were transported in buses in groups and got dropped off at a road corner by a little ferry that would take all the race cars and us over a crocodile filled river.

Most runners had sleep deprivation. I felt really bad and tired and lay down on the asphalt trying to sleep around chit chatters of some excited runners. I felt I just wanted to complete the day and go to sleep. I told myself to start easy and let the body wake up in its own pace. On the other hand, I couldn't do anything else. My stomach hurt so much on the flat and in the downhill. And it felt it was only flat and downhill this course. I was further back in the field than previous days but really, I just fought to get through every stage. The farmland and the small houses we passed were super cute and it was a pleasure to run in this environment despite the problems I had.

The routines during the stages were the same. On every river or water, we came across I filled my hat three times and poured over myself. If it was deep enough, I sat or laid down for a bit. Because we never knew for how long we would be without water. In between the aid stations I had a rule for myself to complete one bottle of water and one of electrolytes to then fill up. At longer parts in between I had one or two bottles extra with me in case. I had one Näak bar with me and one or two gels, and also if they had on the stations I could grab more. But often it were salty cookies, water melon, pineapple, peanuts, sometimes bars and gels, and salt pills.

Due to my stomach pain, (not from eating anything weird) it made also pressure on my lungs and as I had a handful of salty peanuts on an aid station, I felt a slight reaction and couldn't really breath for about 10k. It was a bit scary and not so nice. I also had such an insane knee pain that I cried. This stage was by far the most difficult for me because my whole body just screamed “NOOOO!” in different ways. I felt like such a baby. The aid stations didn't had Paracetamol and with just 10 k to go one of the other runners, a kind older Costa Rican man had heard me asking for Paracetamol on every aid. He said “Tranquila hija, quieres Paracetamol?” He opened a hand for me with one. I wouldn't recommend others running with painkillers to keep going. But this was such a relief and it helped so much! I could finally increase my speed, even in the very technical jungle sections I seemed to move much better. Maybe a part of placebo effect. But so much pain was gone and my motivation rose.

I had tears up in my eyes and couldn't speak much but passed many runners on my way to a little river crossing we would do with a tiny boat. I really sprinted there to fast get over and managed to get there just when the boat arrived to the shore. Me and another runner who had broken one pole. I was completely done after my sprint. But according to the roadbook it would only be two kilometers to the finish from here. Though the gravel road we came on to never ended and the sun continued to burn us even more and the dust from the road filled my lungs. I was so afraid to collapse of exhaustion from the heat before coming to the camp.

I told myself that every step counted. I was angry because my watched showed now over three k from the boat. But by then I saw the flags and all I could think of was cold water. "Where are the showers?" Were the only words I uttered, and stumbled directly there. I had sort of a panic inside of me, so afraid of collapsing and just wished to cool down. It was not refreshing in the sea, first because it was too warm, but secondly because it was salt water, which was terrible for my blister between my legs. I sat down in the shower and had the time of my life for a few seconds before realizing the water was empty. It came and went away for some minutes before I gave up. At least I was a little bit cooled off. Later they had fixed the showers though. But you learn to live easy on these kinds of event. Walk around pretty dirty all the time. sandy, sweaty (even when you've had your showers) tired, and with pain on weird places. However, all people, volunteers and runners were so funny, kind and nice to hang out with, it was worth it. Both in camp and on course I had a great time even though I write down the very obvious feelings of a tough race. I struggled hard in between having a very good time and unforgetable experience.

Day six, last day

One last stage. I had the whole day to complete it if I wanted too. Stage 5 had been hard, but the start of stage 6 was one of the most painful I have ever done. My blisters felt like shotguns every step and it was like a man punched me very hard in my belly every bounce. In the uphill’s I tried to run and push the best I could, to then walk fast in the downhills. After an hour warmup I was more controlled with the pain and could increase my speed a bit and had a blast on the first trail we hit towards another river and amazing waterfall. It was when we came up on dirt roads that I had the most trouble again. Probably because there you are supposed to run fast, and I just couldn't but tried anyway which then caused so much pain in my belly. I remembered on Transalpine run the last stages I had similar belly symptoms, and it is because of too much intensity without recovery I guess.

How ever it was the last day, and I really took in every little part of Costa Rica. I enjoyed so much being out there and looked up on the trees, saved the colors of the birds, butterflies and flowers in my heart and smiled. Though at times, Jurrasic park felt real. I mean there are many leguaans, lizards and crocodiles, maybe the people here just missed some dinosaurs still here deep into the jungle just to be ready for the little swede coming into their territory.

When arriving to the coast it was so much fun. A nice very variated trail rolled in and out from small beaches, rocks that the waves crushed into, and palm trees hanging out from. And suddenly five small dogs, probably siblings, accompanied me. They ran around my feet, sometimes waiting for me to make sure I was with them. And we had a very good time for some kilometers. I couldn’t have had a better last day. Also, one dog living at the camp run some part with me in the beginning, later caught up with me, and I also had some trail moments with him. I later heard he had done the whole course, running with different people the whole way, swimming in the deep river, jumping on the big rocks and completed 36 kilometers with those tiny legs of his. He was sleepy in my lap that evening in the camp. I just wanted to bring him home.


I'm very happy to finish the race on the beach with a big smile on my face, happy to have completed such a tough challenge that The Coastal Challenge is. And it was very nice to have some days after with Lina and mum of pure recovery and relaxing by the sea.

It was funny with this race. The whole time I felt like running in slow motion. But with that I could also feel more of the jungle, beach, and tropics that I guess I will not have for awhile. ;)