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Casperson completes Coastal Challenge

Whistler runner recalls Costa Rica race

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Whistler runner Christina Casperson has a short and sweet reason for why she opted to complete the Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica last month.

"I was crazy. That's why," she said with a chuckle.

Running in the expedition division, Casperson placed 22nd among women, completing the six-stage course in 56 hours, 32 minutes and 33 seconds, or just over 30 hours back of champion Ragna Debats.

The runners traversed nearly 225 kilometres and ran up almost nine kilometres of ascent over the course of six days through a variety of weather conditions.

"You'd go from dirt roads, which was a good portion of the race, to the most crazy technical that I've ever done. You wouldn't be just on a trail, you'd be on a bushwhack trail that they created just for the race. You wouldn't be by a river, you'd be inside a river for 10 km, just stomping through the river," she recalled. "Day 3 (which covered 44.6 km) was a good example of everything because we started off in a river for eight km, from there we went onto a travel road to a waterfall, crossed a waterfall, then we're on a dirt road, then to a very technical bushwhack section. You're getting hit with branches, tripping on pines, having ants falling on you."

Casperson added some sections were so steep that she was apprehensive approaching them, because "if you fall, you're not going to be able to stop." The day ended with a five-km section on a beach.

Even worse for Casperson, it was the second consecutive day she went off-course, adding about an hour to her day.

"You're just following little pink flags in the forest. It's really easy to keep going in the same direction, so you have to always keep looking," she said. "They do a good job of marking it, but if you're focused and you just have your head down, it's easy to miss."

Though the terrain was, at times, treacherous, Casperson said the weather was the most daunting challenge. After starting each stage at 5:30 a.m., the runners would make about two hours of progress before the sun showed itself as an opponent and crank the temperature to 35 degrees or higher.

"You only had a couple hours a day where the sun wasn't beating on your back. You'd come back into camp and the sun would still be out. You never really had a break from the heat at all. It was just a break from the sun. You were always hot. It was unrelenting," she said. "Coming from here and going to that environment, you have almost a 40-degree temperature change."

During the downtime, Casperson would cool down in water, try to make up as much of her calorie deficit as possible, usually with a local meal of rice and beans, and then visit the on-site podiatrist to take care of her feet.

"I'd try to dry out my shoes, which never happened. It took two full days at home to dry them out completely," she said.

Sure enough, Casperson was abruptly zapped right back to reality when her plane descended into YVR in a snowstorm. She tried to go for a run shortly after her return and found she was "frozen."

"I can't believe I was hoping for this when I was in Costa Rica. 'I wish it was snowing and cold again!'" she chuckled.

Casperson first heard of the race after going to a retreat in Costa Rica three years ago through Squamish-based Run Like A Girl. She gave it some thought once again after meeting a previous participant in Peru last year. The participant told Casperson she'd completed it soon after running her first 50-kilometre race. Casperson was fresh off her 50-km event, the Squamish 50, and figured she should give it a try.

"I signed up, realized what I did, and was like 'Oh my gosh, I'd better get started,'" she recalled.

Casperson added that she would go do the race again if provided the opportunity.

"It's a strange feeling. I tried to explain it to people when I'm back here. You come home and everything is a little different from when you left because of what you go through every single day out there," she said. "It's definitely worth doing, though."

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