Whenever I travel abroad the first items on my packing list now are my running gear. Of course that obviously had to be the case for 2 of my recent trips, the half marathons in Jerusalem, and Marseilles, but when organising for Costa Rica my running shoes, socks, shorts and top where first in the bag. Because a lot of the holiday involved early starts (I actually out of bed before 6.00am for 14 consecutive days and I cannot remember when I last did that – ever?) either for excursions or to move on to a new resort, I realised running was not be the first activity I could expect to do. In fact it wasn’t until day 10 when we were at Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Coast that I managed to put the gear to use. Even then it was only for a 4.5k run along the beach because we did have an early morning forest walk organised, but it was enough. The temperature was in the mid 20s C when I set out, and as soon as the sun came over the palm tress (just after 6.00am) the (my) temperature rocketed and running became very hard work. I started out a few minutes earlier the next day (even I found it difficult to justify getting up before 5.30am on holiday) and managed almost 6k before the wall of sunlight hit. But just running along a sandy beach (albeit in trainers, as previously in Zanzibar I had ‘shredded’ toes when running barefoot) was so refreshing after months of the Riddlesdown Parkrun mud!
It was however my third and final run while away that was an amazing experience after we had moved back to San Jose in preparation for the flight home. We had originally been allocated a hotel near to the airport, but decided that with a 4.55pm flight, if we stayed in San Jose we would be able to explore the city in the morning. We ended up a couple of km from the centre, very close to the new national football stadium which is at one end of La Sabana Metropolitan Park. One of my first impressions of San Jose, on our first morning in the country (a Thursday) at the beginning of the holiday, had been the large number of runners we passed in the outskirts of the City as we were being driven out to Volcano Poás; before arriving I had no the idea that running was so popular in Costa Rica (why should I have had!) But even this experience had not prepared me for my run in the La Sabana Metropolitan Park. We had visited it the evening before, a Sunday, and it was clear it was the equivalent of Hyde Park in London or Central Park in New York, filled with families enjoying the usual hot weekend.
One of my first observations was a small wooden post about 30cm high clearly having a function other than to trip up unsuspecting tourists. My astute eyes, more use to picking out potholes and mud patches, soon noticed more of them, forming a winding trail through the trees, maybe just a sensible way to make sure the whole area didn’t get trodden down? But soon it became clear that the main users of this trail were not families but the occasional runner. Great, I thought, a route to follow tomorrow. A bit further through the park, it was actually after 6.00pm and dark, an actually running track appeared (the middle used for roller hockey); maybe I could also use this next day?
So before 6.00am on Monday morning I set off for my individual San Jose ‘Parkrun’. My first positive experience was when the driver of a huge truck, the kind you see on films that drive long distances on highways through the US ‘deserts’, stopped for me. I wasn’t trying to dart through a gap across the road at the corner of the park, as I normally would if there was a long stream of traffic, I was just waiting with the only vehicle on the road, this lorry, to pass. But it was inside the park that the real revelation took place. At such an early hour, on a work day, there were 100s of runners, some using the marked trail but most others running along the many paths. And the actually running track was crowded with both serious club runners and enthusiastic ‘amateurs’ like myself. If this wasn’t a big enough surprise, scattered around the area were tables with water, other hydration drinks and even fruit, all of which appeared to be free. I was disappointed that I only had time for a 7k run as I needed to get back for breakfast and our brief walk around San Jose. It was on this that I realised why the park was essential for the runners of San Jose city. The pavements are terrible and the curbs the highest I have seen anywhere, totally unsuitable and unsafe for walking, never mind running!
We walked through the park at midday when the temperature was in the high 20s C and there were still plenty of runners (not workers on a lunch break). I wanted to come home with a San Jose running top, but of course the shops that sold kit only had the logo-ed tops you can get anywhere where the world. I did spot a runner with one in the park and spoke to him; I don’t have
much any Spanish, and him no English, which made it difficult but his top was from the 2012 10.5k run in the city and he won’t have wanted to part with it whilst I would have been a fraud to wear it!
When I make my list of top 10 places to run, La Sabana Metropolitan Park, San Jose, Costa Rica will definitely be one of them. Pura Vida.