AS I trotted down a gravel road on a cloudy, rainySaturday morning, well-trained and able-bodied runnersstretched out in a line behind me, and uncertainties filledthe mountainous forest ahead. In an unforeseen and split seconddecision, this trusty Tico Times reporter hadgone from observer to participant in a race of wits andphysical endurance – and I hoped I had enough of bothto keep up.Soon, I was pounding through the jungle on a paththat, for the most part, was little more than a muddyswath cut through the underbrush. Jumping over logs,maneuvering brush piles, sliding under fallen trees andtripping over vines and roots, I managed to stay on thetail of the two runners in front of me, thanks in part totheir occasional spills as well.Sergio Blanco, a massage therapist and welder,and Luciana Smannia, who works for IBM, had beentraining for this race for weeks, perhaps months. Likeevery other official contestant in the race, they hadtaken part in a day-long course on land navigation andmap reading, and looked every bit prepared, with theiradvanced-technology poly-fiber outfits and their lightweightbackpacks containing hydration systems andnutritionally balanced, carbohydrate-heavy snacks. Iclutched a donated water bottle in one hand, and mycotton cargo pants were soaked and heavy with mudfrom the knees down. If worse came to worst, all I hadto eat was my waterlogged notebook and wallet.THIS May 14 race in the Heredia mountains, north ofSan José, marked the second event by Euforia, a husband andwife operation that is the brainchild of Andrés Vargasand Susan Mora, a couple who passionately hope to developadventure racing in Costa Rica. The first competition,held March 19 outside of Monteverde, in the north-centralregion of the country, combined running, mountain bikingand rappelling with orienteering (TT, April 8).The race in which I found myself focused only on landnavigation. Racers had to find their way on foot through acourse of eight checkpoints, or puestos de control – calledPCs for short. At each PC, we received the coordinates forthe next one, and the contestants would whip out their mapsfrom waterproof bags and, using rulers and compasses, findtheir coordinates and plot their courses.As in the race in Monteverde, participants competed asindividuals rather than on teams. The point, Vargasexplained, was to develop the mental aspect of the competitionmore than the physical.This mental advantage proved to be key in Saturday’srace. The stretch that proved most difficult for the runnerswas actually the least physically challenging – between thestarting point at the mountain chalet Hotel Tirol and PC 3.Nearly half the 14 contestants got lost, spending hourssearching and backtracking along the small, unmarked dirtroads leading up the mountain. This led to the most dangeroussituation of the race, when reportedly a few runnersaccidentally ended up on a private animal reserve and cameface to face with an angry, irrational “gringo loco” wieldinga shotgun and threatening to shoot the clearly identifiedcontestants if they didn’t leave immediately.THANKFULLY, this confusion left the contestants noworse off than scared and a little disoriented. But the firststretch did prove to be decisive in the race. The firstrunner to arrive back at the hotel, finishing the 22.7-kilometer course in an astonishing four hours and 10minutes, was Rodney Jiménez, who also won theevent in Monteverde. When, after stumbling out of thejungle myself four hours later, I asked the by-thenshowered, combed and sparkling winner what hisadvantage had been, he answered without hesitating:“Navigation.”“I like navigation a lot, and I’ve practiced,” addedJiménez, who also belongs to an adventure-racingteam sponsored by BMW, for which he is the teamnavigator. “The competitions Euforia is doing are verydemanding, and if you don’t know what you aredoing, you can get lost very easily.”BOTH Vargas and Mora said they felt the eventwas an enormous success, measured by the smiles andjoy the participants exuded later that evening, after therace was done and they gathered for a small and personalaward ceremony. Having survived myself,despite falling behind on my return and briefly gettinglost, I could think of only one word to describe what Ifelt sitting among these diehard competitors, nowmore of an equal than an outsider: euphoria.Euforia has two other major races planned for this year:a multi-day, multi-sport race between both coasts startingJuly 23, offering a $12,000 cash prize for the winner, andanother multi-day competition between volcanoes, thedates still undecided. The outfit also offers courses onmountaineering, vertical rescue, rescue with ropes and orienteeringcourses. For information, visit www.euforiaexpeditions.com or call 263-2752, 386-8423 or 849-1271.