Bear with me friends as I find my footing around this story. It’s not as simple as I went to Costa Rica. Beautiful. Fun. The end.
It’s complex with emotions from “I want to go home” to “this is the most wonderful human I’ve ever met” to “hope I don’t die alone in the jungle, but wow look at that view.”
I’m not bi-polar, so why the vast range? Expectations.Billed as Yoga, Adventure, Wellness Retreat, the Run Like a Girl Retreat program is still new and very much designed to blast you out of your comfort zone, give back to the local community with a very low carbon foot print and provide an opportunity to connect with like minded women.
However, Adventure Challenge seems the more appropriate name, which many other participants agreed this was more about challenging yourself in every way, which is something we could probably all use a little dose of once in awhile.
Funny, how changing the title immediately changes your perception of what to expect right?
Both are fabulous ways to escape your daily grind, but one sounds a little more relaxing and the other like you’re prepared to go hard core. I simply wasn’t in the right head space going in due to expectations and some recent bad news with my blood work…which meant I was a bit off kilter much of the retreat.
This lead a few friends to ask me “how do you know if a retreat is right for you?”
- Ask what the skill level is of other participants
- Ask what base level of fitness you should have
- Ask what the goals are of the retreat: is it education? challenge? relaxation?
- Ask about the experience level of the instructors
- Consider how much experience they have in running retreats
- Consider what you want out of the retreat and make sure it’s truly inline with what’s offered
- Consider what’s happening in your life and what you might need emotionally from a getaway
My goal is always to be honest and real with you, so that’s why I’m not skimming over the rough patches to just show the moments in the sun.
Knowing that, here’s some highlights and of course this will be multiple posts as I couldn’t possibly cram 7 days of a crazy fun active vacation in to one!
Our first full day in Costa Rica, 14 new to each other women boarded a bus with our luggage bound for a place not even on a map. No electricity, no checking in on Facebook, no heat or air to escape the weather, just immersion in nature.
As you can see the main platform at Chakra looks out over the valley and weather it’s filled with afternoon mist or clear in the early morning sun, it’s simply stunning.
Hard to look away and harder not to let go of your worries (except being cold and wet, I hung on to that ha!). While this trip is jungle based, there are plenty of resorts in Costa Rica that offer all the amenities you could want while still being surrounded by stunning natural beauty. As you know my first camping attempt was an utter fail, but here I was Kelty bag in hand ready to sleep in the jungle for 4 nights. You know what? That part was A-OK.
I loved hearing the crashing water from a nearby waterfall as I drifted off and found that I could easily control my cold or hot feelings with the internal blanket or foot zipper of the Kelty bag (yup made especially for women as we heat up at night)!! The mosquito net worked like a charm, so the only issue was waking up in the middle of the night to pee and not wanting to put on wet shoes to traipse to the outhouse.
Chakra is a beautiful place built of love and cared for by locals who daily hiked in to cook meals with fresh jicama, pineapple, rice and black beans, plantains, homemade granola and so many other fresh local ingredients. They even convinced a few diehard meat eaters that vegetarian eating wasn’t so bad with the great fresh flavors.
I could eat that way for life…if someone would just make it for me! And talk about realizing how fortunate we are, these wonderful people were cooking sans electricity!Besides the main platform where were did our twice daily yoga and meals were cooked, the retreat included 4 other platforms that slept 4 people each, 2 showers (which produced surprisingly at least luke warm showers!) and 2 outhouses (yes full toilets, no squatting here we saved that for the trail.)Getting to the Chakra lodge was step 1 of the Adventure Challenge.
After touring a local coffee farm, we began the 5KM hike uphill to the lodge. Everyone was eager to get there and interested to see why exactly a car couldn’t travel the road…that became quickly apparent and we were happy to be on foot taking in the surroundings and not the rural road.
Only downside was Mother Nature set upon us with heavy rain during the hike, which meant day 1 we had wet shoes and unfortunately awhile before we had access to dry clothes. Let’s be honest, it was also the moment this never been camping, new to trails, used to sleeping in a hotel with a hot shower, girl realized I might be out of my element.But for those moments of discomfort you’re rewarded with 360 uninterrupted jungle views. Cows roaming the hillsides, watching locals make fresh coffee from beans you can pick and clean beautiful air to fill your lungs.
Trail Running…not so much
This was their first official trail running retreat and I was like a toddler imitating Simon Biles on the playground.
I’ve only been doing trails since this summer on the weekends, so no shocker to find the Ultra runners and long time trail runners left me in their dust (or mud in this case). However, even these advanced runners said day 2 was a technical and hard trail, made harder by hours of rain creating slip and slide downhills, moss covered rocks that left no traction and then attempting to do water crossings on logs in mud caked shoes.Only struggle is relative…where they struggled to run, I struggled to stay standing up right. There would be no running for me on this trail, mostly attempting not to lose my shoe in the mud or slide right down the flowing rivers as I scooted my way across fallen trees as bridges.
Most people don’t have opportunities to truly challenge themselves
and that’s what RLAG is trying to provide, in hopes of giving you a transformative experience.
In fact, it was the first time the retreat has used this 8 mile trail. So if you’re going on a normal retreat, you can still expect to work hard, but don’t worry it won’t be quite as technical as what I’m describing.It’s like Where’s Waldo! Can you pick out the trail? This isn’t like heading out for your groomed packed dirt California trail or even some of the rocky Colorado trails I’ve come to love.
This trail requires skill.
Understanding where the path goes, how to safely navigate slick rocks or climb muddy hills. I know none of this and thus I was a serious mess. As some attempted running, I felt pretty solid about even completing a hike. Later I’d learn the value of trekking poles and how they may have made this whole experience easier.Looking for a serious adventure challenge to break your routine? Check this out #travel Click To Tweet
Of course for every obstacle conquered you got to peak a bit farther in to the jungle and for that you can’t be anything but grateful. Nature is a balm that can make so many things better and part of what keeps us going on the trails.Our 8 mile trek took us past 11 waterfalls which were in every way majestic, beautiful and so amazing in this vibrant emerald world. Some were at a distance, but many were so close the spray misted our sweaty faces and illuminated why the ground remains mucky.
But the fun didn’t stop there for me, no no, I had to find a way to make it more challenging. After we made it the peak point the lead group dashed off and left a small group of us without any guides, we started inching our way down. I fell nearly every 5 feet as I thought wearing old shoes for the muck was smart…it’s not. Lesson #22 now learned, old shoes might be great for getting dirty to throw away, but bad for slippery trails.
Eventually they too moved ahead and I was alone. I found the path which I thought led back to the road, yup the same road up to the lodge meaning even once you finished…you had to hike. A cruel, but funny irony and one that this fit group could easily handle.Yup that’s part of the final road to the lodge.
Making the correct choices at each Y in the trail, I found the road, but then started to get confused.
Was it this road? Was I going the right way? What should I do if I’m not? Well there isn’t much to do if you’re in the wrong place, but keep moving. I finally saw a little boy and after a bit of shouting in Spanish back and forth along the mountain he pointed me in the right direction.
The Long Hike
Not to be out done by the technical 8 miler, day 3 was a 20 mile hike. I have to admit that this one didn’t really phase me from a physical stand point. I didn’t wake up sore the next day, I didn’t run out of energy, for some reason I just mentally wasn’t in to it. I think this goes back to how mental running is, when your body and mind are preoccupied with other things it can really take you out of it.
While I’m a newbie to trails, I’m a strong climber and found myself with the lead group on the way up to the peak of Mount Ena, so I just kept plugging along turning around to take in the views and suddenly 5 hours later we’d arrived at the peak.
This was one of the clearest days they’ve ever seen, allowing us to see for miles across the valleys and even to the ocean where the clouds were beginning to roll in for the afternoon. And yes the views are worth the effort, as is the case in every trail I’ve done!Unfortunately a smaller group was behind us and we left just moments before they reached the top, which made me so sad because we didn’t get a true group photo!! However, the decision was made based on weather and not knowing where they were. Hopefully guides will use walkie talkies or something in the future so they know where everyone is.
While this trail was less technical, it did have one very dominate element: mud.
I wasn’t so much concerned about dirty shoes, I mean that was a given in the first 10 seconds, again I just struggled with footing and in fact found my shoe sucked off at one point (a bizarre and funny moment)! Melanie behind me had to help dig it out so I could reinsert myself and continue upward.As we descended, it was recommending that I try trekking poles.
Boom! Life changed!
I’ve never used them before, but found immediately that for the steep downhill and muddy areas I was more surefooted. It didn’t take long to figure out how to best use them and I am 100% getting my own for Colorado hiking, as I know it will open up new trails to me.
I love pushing my way up, up and up…but down has always scared me. Again, I just don’t have the technique or confidence yet so the poles are a way to provide that stability as i grow comfortable. Oh and it takes pressure off your knees.On the way back out, our panoramic views were hidden by a dense fog.
The funny thing is that actually forces you to look at what’s around you rather than the vistas in the distance. The downside is as our merry band of 3 got separated from the group, after 2 hours alone nothing looked familiar any more! Just part of our journey to embrace the challenge.
Lisa the stud taught me a lot about perspective and trails. While Heather simply brought a light to the whole experience with her singing and joyful attitude.
As though it was a karaoke bar, we made our way down singing and laughing for a few hours…then dear Heather hit the dreaded wall that many of us know so well from the marathon. We were 8.5 hours in and she’d never done anything that far, we weren’t sure where we were and didn’t know how much was left.
It was frustrating and let’s be honest, kind of scary to feel totally alone in the jungle! It’s not like you can call AAA. She screamed out the names of our leaders, but to no avail, so I pushed us onward and downward…surely it had to lead to a dirt road somewhere.
At 9.75 hours, we found a log bridge and I knew we were in the right place with just a mile left. It was a painful mile, trying to encourage a woman who is normally the LIFE of the party. Because I know how it is to have reached that point where you just want to lay down and everyone’s cheerful smiles make you feel a bit like punching them in the face.
But we made it in just over 10 hours! She got some hydration, some food and the singing returned.
I’ll never forget our little song and dance party!Here my new adorable friend Bea, celebrated arriving at the top with the Costa Rica flag.
Of course you know things don’t end there right?!
Tomorrow’s post is on the rappelling, tree climbing, SUPing and slack lining. Plus of course what you pack in you pack out, so we finished our 5 days in the jungle by hiking the 5KM back out to the local town where we painted a local building as a service project (love the emphasis on giving to this local community).Of course the benefit of hiking out, is it’s largely downhill!
Considering a running retreat or a wellness getaway like RLAG? Feel free to send your questions and I can provide more info! If you’re looking to break out of your comfort zone, to experience nature in it’s raw beauty and meet some wonderful people, you won’t be disappointed.
Have you ever done a running retreat?
What type of trails do you usually run?
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