February 8th, 2020 is the Las Catalinas Triathlon, the eighth edition of an event that covers over 40 km of trails, beaches, waterfront, and walkable streets in and around Las Catalinas. El TRI started in 2013 with 160 competitors, and in the ensuing years the event has grown into Guanacaste’s premier off road triathlon, which hosts over 400 racers who work solo or in teams to race across all that town and the surrounding environment have to offer.
Past winners include Olympian Leo Chacón and XTerra World Champion Rom Akerson, and the event as a whole is inclusive for many skill levels, offering a team relay option, the Aguas Abiertas two-distance swimming competition, and the kids’ race through the streets of town.
The start of the kids' race
TRI time is a lively time to be in town, and an experience for the whole family. The walkable town, sea, and trails around Las Catalinas invite everyone to explore and pursue outdoor activities like mountain biking, kayak and stand up paddle, trail running and hikes, beachfront yoga, and more.
Throughout the weekend athletes can train and race, families can offer support and cheer on TRI day, and then everyone can come together to celebrate at the end of the weekend.
For those who are familiar with town and el TRI, the Las Catalinas Triathlon 2020 will offer the return of a favorite town tradition. For first time competitors and visitors to town, this long running town event is a chance to embrace the love of sports, the beauty of nature, and the friendly people that define Las Catalinas.
The Las Catalinas Triathlon in 2019
In the beginning, it was inevitable that town would host a triathlon. World-class trails suited to trail running and mountain biking rose right from town across the hills, valleys, forests, and cliffs surrounding Las Catalinas, and a calm open water bay meant that all the pieces for an off road triathlon were available right in town.
The Las Catalinas Triathlon’s first year was 2013 and featured 160 competitors. Acclaim for the first year’s race and a strong core of returning racers then fueled the race’s growth over the next seven years. The tradition of triathlon weekend began to grow as well, creating the town-wide gathering of athletes that has come to define TRI time in recent years.
Rom's first place finish in 2018
Two notable competitors that have made an impact on the triathlon are Olympian Leo Chacón and XTerra World Champion Rom Akerson, two centerpieces of the Costa Rican triathlon scene. Both athletes have contributed their tremendous talent, their welcoming personalities, and their desire to give back to the sport in past years, hosting events like open water swim workshops and providing support to fellow racers throughout race day.
Photos from Rom and Leo's Open Water training in 2019
The whole week surrounding the triathlon is a lively time in town, with the first signs of triathlon weekend arriving well before the event takes place. For example, in previous years RaceQuest have hosted a camp the week before, where triathletes of all levels come to town to refine their skills under the guidance of coaches like Chip Beard and Jessica Jacobs, before testing their skills at the TRI.
Many competitors arrive early to town to get used to the trails, beaches, and water around Las Catalinas and practice potential routes. Throughout the year it’s usually easy to find someone around town to share a ride, a swim, or a run, but during TRI week these impromptu trainings are commonplace.
The families, homeowners, and visitors to town during the week of el TRI play a major part of the festivities as well. Even for those who aren’t training for el TRI, the active lifestyle in Las Catalinas combined with the atmosphere of triathlon weekend is contagious, and people of all ages get into the swing of things.
On race day there’s an electric energy in the air, one that begins as early as 4am. The town starts to rise well before the dawn, with lights all along the beachfront from competitors staying in Las Catalinas and dotting the hills as visitors arrive in town.
The transition area ready before the race
With the rising of the sun, the racers gather along Playa Danta. The transition stations are set, racers warm up and prepare with teammates, and as the beginning of the race gets closer, there are the last well-wishes of good luck before the column of racers forms at the starting line, and the race begins.
The Las Catalinas TRI is a mass-start event, and the first leg is out in the waters around Las Catalinas, comprising a distance of 1200 m in 2020’s edition. There tends to be minimal current in the area, and conditions at 6am are generally calm and favorable, as wind does not usually pick up until mid morning, and water temperatures range from 70-80 degrees F.
The start of the Open Water Swim
A steady swell can be a moderate factor while swimming out from shore, and provide a helpful edge on the last stretch, but there are no notable obstacles to consider on the course, which is a simple circuit rounding several buoys before returning to the starting line. All transitions in el TRI happen in the same pens about 50 yards from the water on Playa Danta, making for a quick transition from water to bike for the next leg of the race.
TRI Day also includes Aguas Abiertas Las Catalinas, an open water swim competition that features distances of both 1600 m and 3200 m in the same sheltered bay as the Triathlon’s swim. Conditions are similar, with the two main differences being that water temperatures are slightly warmer and surface conditions are slightly more active, due to the later start time.
The biking portion of el TRI takes places on the world class single-track mountain biking trails around Las Catalinas, and will covers a distance of 25 km in 2020. The early morning temperatures put trail conditions around 82-85 degrees during February, and it’s important to be aware of the topography when planning a race.
The hilltop trails on the biking route, a steady and flowing portion of the route
Departing from Playa Danta, there are five major sections to note in the biking portion of el TRI, which can come at different times depending on the route (which is to be determined). The first is always a climb out of the bowl surrounding Las Catalinas, a quick ascent up to the tops of the ridges around town.
The trails atop the ridges have more of a flow, which allows the experienced rider to swoop along the trails maintaining speed thanks to the minimal net elevation change.
On the back side of the ridges is the Zapotal Valley, with trails that make the long and winding descent into the valley, as well as the steady climb out of it. Depending on when the Zapotal loop comes, maintaining energy for the steady climb can be crucial.
The last phase is always a descent back into the bowl around town, a quick and skillful downhill that leads to the second transition.
The last portion of el TRI, the run, is an 8 km trail run along the coastal trails surrounding Las Catalinas. By the time most racers hit the run, the sun has risen and temperatures further on in the valley can be in the mid 80s depending on cloud cover, which makes the ocean breeze coming off of the cliffs and the water a refreshing relief.
The home stretch of the Triathlon is a trail run through the coastal hills around town
The route for this trail features quick ascents and descents along the coastal hills from Playa Danta towards Dantita Beach, offering an active set of uphills and downhills winding along town’s topography. The route eventually loops back across the beach at Playa Danta, climbing up into the hills past Punta Penca, and then finally finishes down through the streets of town, reaching the finish line down Paseo del Mar by Plaza Danta.
It’s here on Plaza Danta where the congregation of racers, families, and supporters comes together to cheer on the finish and fellow racers, and begin the much-welcome process of recovery. As the afternoon goes on, the last event is the kids race, a short race through the streets of town.
As the TRI and the kids race wind down, there is an awards ceremony and a gentle settling in of the excitement of race day, and the rest of the weekend is time for relaxation and family.
The beachfront of Playa Danta as the TRI wins down
Whether staying in a home with the Las Catalinas Collection or visiting at the Santarena Hotel, the best way to enjoy el TRI is staying in town. The gourmet grocery and all of town’s restaurants are just steps away. Both Wake Day Spa, with pre- and post- exercise treatments, as well as the Beach Club, with lap pool and fitness facility, are never further than a brief walk. On TRI day, staying in town removes any travel complications, leaving visitors to focus on racing the best possible race.
Town is also the center for events throughout the weekend. In the past there have been social occasions and pre-race dinners, group training sessions, as well as a variety of different training camps and informal events that bring together a diverse group of triathlon lovers. TRI weekend keeps growing and changing, and more information will come closer to February about this year’s surrounding events.
At Santarena, the Santarena’s Triathlon Weekend package offers a special rate on double rooms for 2 nights during TRI weekend, to stay just steps away from the starting line. Santarena also offers their TRI Weekend Meal Package, where 2 guests can stay for 2 nights with breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
At the vacation rentals of the Las Catalinas Collection, the Home Base in Town package features 2 nights in a 2 bedroom flat for up to 4 guests in the heart of town.
To learn more about the Las Catalinas TRI, including information on how to register for both team and solo divisions, links to accommodation package, and more, click here. There will also be new information, including updates on the route and news on the official weekend schedule, on Facebook and Instagram.
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