Brenda Williams started running just five years ago. She would run as far as her legs would take her, starting at 5 or 6 kilometers and building up to 10 or 12.
Soon after, she was gone for entire days, taking off on trails and roads in the mountains that surrounded her home in Canada. Her passion for running – combined with a strong desire to escape the icy winters of the Canadian Rockies – led the 46-year-old to Costa Rica for the second annual running of the coast-to-coast Transtica.
“I tend to sign up for races not knowing whether I can complete the distance,” said Williams on the eve of running four days of back-to-back marathons (around 40 kilometers each day). “I started running shorter races and soon began taking on greater distances.”
Last Friday, Nov. 20, Williams and 31 other runners began the grueling trek from Manuel Antonio on the central Pacific coast over the spine of the Central American isthmus to finish Thursday on the Caribbean coast.
Last year, intense rains caused bridge outages and unplanned detours, leading runners to face muddied roads and heavy downpours.
Race director Vincent Gallois, who coordinated the race through the French tourism company Authentic Tour, said he hoped for better luck this year.
“The competitors’ spirits seem high,” he said at an inaugural reception at the home of the French ambassador last week.
Yet the Transtica isn’t just about running. On the cross-country tour – which climbs from Manuel Antonio to Esperanza and passes near Turrialba before descending through Siquirres and on to the Caribbean coast – runners donate to rural communities.
Last year, the assistance consisted of more than $33,000 worth of sporting equipment and medical supplies.
“Running is a self-absorbed sport,” said Williams, explaining that training programs can take one’s attention away from others and turn it to oneself. “The thing that attracted me to this competition was its humanitarian angle. To me, it’s a beautiful combination.”
Partnering with Costa Rica firefighters and several other organizations, the event began as a social effort and it’s been anchored in the mission of helping others since then.
While Gallois and other organizers spend all year gathering the supplies to donate, runners are busy preparing their legs, all in anticipation of a joint effort on race day.
Williams tends not to train during the winters, but as soon as the ice begins to thaw in April, she spends every non-working moment on the trails.
“I am not fixated on being fast,” she said. “I do it because I enjoy it.”
And while Williams expected to see more muddy roads than open beaches, she added that it will be “a cross-section of Costa Rica, but I am sure it will just be a tease and I’ll want to come back for more.”