The Coastal Challenge

Just over three years ago, I signed up for The Coastal Challenge—235 kilometers of remote trail running in jungles, up mountains, and along beaches in Costa Rica. It was my next big, audacious goal. I was ecstatic to commit to this adventure and was on top of the world. This was going to be my year.

But then, three weeks later, my sister Rachel died by suicide.

In the wake of her death, my entire world burned to the ground. I was left with nothing but a faint whisper, begging me to find a way to rebuild. To redefine. To renew. To forgive—both myself and the world.

As I painfully laid down new soil and mixed it with the ashes that now existed, I began to cultivate new blossoms. And with this, there was a liberation, a defiant courage – a permission to let go: of relationships not serving me, of futures I thought I wanted, of expectations that held me back.

And although the flames had already scorched the canvas where my sister and I had painted images of the rest of our lives together, there was one thing I could not let go of: The Coastal Challenge. If I could get there, hundreds of days later, thousands of tears shed, a body trained and ready, a mind broken and rebuilt, it would mean that I survived.

That I survived at least a piece of this horrific first year of grief.

When I look back on them today, those six finish lines at The Coastal Challenge were so much more than a wild adventure, a formidable race. They were the culmination of the year that I crawled out of rock bottom. The year I kept searching, scraping, battling, and holding on. Every. Single. Painful. Day.

Those six finish lines will forever be my reminder that good can come. That good will come. That the light—one day—will come pouring in. We must simply have the courage to sit with our darkness, until we find it.

Light will come and we will survive, always.

DAY ONE: Into the Furnace | 34KM Distance, 890M Elevation

I stared out the tinted windows of the transport bus, watching streaks of mountainsides and jungle trees melt together into a blur. There was a distinct buzz of anticipation in the air, which was slowly getting thicker, heavier, and sweatier as we made our way from San Jose to the coast.

Finally, we were all here—almost 100 strangers from around the world. Our trail running gear was still crisp and clean, the scent of laundry detergent still recognizable. Sunscreen was slathered onto our skin and nervous smiles were stretched across our faces. I observed quietly as friends passed each other snacks between seats and strangers engaged in small talk. We were a hodgepodge of nationalities, ages, careers, and athletic abilities, each with our own unique stories that led us to toe the start line. Yet by some star-crossed chance of this universe, for the next six days, our stories would intersect. This group of strangers would imprint into each others’ lives—simply because we shared one thing in common: slightly different flavours of the same formidable spirit.

Because really, who signs up to run hundreds of kilometers in the Costa Rican wilderness?
(and in 35-degree, 85% humidity weather, no less!)

After boarding the bus at five o’clock and travelling for a few hours, we diverted onto a bumpy dirt road and disembarked. Nerves shivered down my spine. Were we ready for this? Was I ready for this? It didn’t matter.

3… 2… 1… Go!

There was no turning back now.


Sweat pouring down my face, moving slowly through the life-sized Costa Rican furnace, I looked down at my watch: 185 beats per minute. Back in rainy Vancouver, that heartrate would only be achieved in my fastest, most powerful sprint… and even then, I may not hit that number. “Oh shit,” I thought to myself, “this is not ideal. Okay. Slow down. Pace yourself. You need to adjust—there’s no way you can keep up this intensity.”

Only, I wasn’t moving with intensity. I was shuffling along a dusty, sun-exposed plantation road—lined by rows upon rows of perfectly placed palm trees. And although it felt like I had already been running for hours, I was still in the first 5km of the race. This was WILD. There was no sauna training that could have prepared me for this—it was like nothing I had experienced before. Although I’d heeded the warnings from previous racers, it was now even more so clear: this first day would be all about acclimation to the heat.

I talked myself through my intention for the day, which was already shaping up differently than I had imagined: “okay, settle into this pace and get yourself to the first finish line without heatstroke.” That would be my mission – slow and steady, militantly managing my salt and water intake along the way. I stopped for a moment to adjust an irregular discomfort in my shoes and then refocused on the road ahead.

I shuffled along the dirt, traipsed through a shallow river, turned a corner, and before I knew it, could see the first aid station in the distance. As if on cue, a vulture swooped down and landed fifteen feet in front of me, like an omen daring me to move onward toward my unknown fate. “Take me,” my mind whispered as my eyes met the dark depths of his. After our momentary stand-off, he flew away and I carried on, interpreting his departure as a sign that I didn’t look as dilapidated as I felt.

The first aid station was a-buzz with action, focus, and half-laughter-half-fear as the reality of what we had signed up for were now crystal clear. I filled up my water bladder, grabbed some pineapple, and whipped out my trekking poles in preparation for the mountain climb ahead. The next 3-4 hours until the finish line would represent my introduction into the Costa Rican wilderness:

At 13KM: Myself and a racer from Costa Rica shared the same pace: “has anyone told you about the snakes?” He warned me to steer clear of the ditches along the road, where fallen palm fronds and leaves created the perfect shady, cool spots for snakes to lurk. Welcomed advice—given that Costa Rica is home to 140 species of snakes, 23 of them being venomous (big yikes!).

At 14KM: The trail turned from dirt road to jungle. It was less of a trail and more of a tiny corridor that led through a maze of dense jungle foliage to the top of a mountain—we’d learn later in the week that the trails for this race are not used during the rest of the year. So, each year, before the race, local volunteers must travel the length of the course, bushwhacking the overgrown sections.

At 15KM: I was submerged in a moment of poetic hilarity as I paused to catch my breath underneath a zipline course. It was a collision of two worlds: clean tourists, donned in colourful shirts, screaming with excitement as they slid down the zipline, against a backdrop of trail-runners-turned-cavemen: Greasy. Sunscreen-streaked. Hungry. Thirsty. Grunting and groaning as they made their way through the jungle climb.

At 16KM: There was a man in the 50–60-year-old age range, laying down, knees tucked in, on the mountain trail in front of me. I could not believe my eyes. The reality of the conditions we were in and the fragility of our health was further cemented in my mind. I crouched beside him. He was alert enough to claim that he was okay and simply resting from the heat. Recognizing that I have zero medical expertise, I decided to move quickly through the final 200 meters of the climb, where I was able to alert a race volunteer who could attend to the man. He ended up being pulled from this day of the race, but safely recovered afterward.

At 17KM: I burst out of the jungle onto another road. Its dusty, deep red dirt was a welcome change of scenery. A tall dark-featured man from Greece had caught up to me, his camera crew trailing him closely—he was being filmed for a National Geographic-esque series. We travelled up and down the undulating road, absolutely parched. And then, I saw him, an elderly gentleman standing at the end of his driveway armed with two containers of water: one for drinking, one for dousing our bodies. He was one of many local Costa Ricans who look forward to cheering on the racers that come past his home each year.

At 19KM: A medic held a garden hose at the base of my neck as I sat on a white plastic chair at a road-side aid station. I was one of three racers in an assembly-line of cool-down tactics. With temperatures above 30-degrees and 80%+ humidity, the importance of using every trickle of water in sight had become strikingly apparent. From this point forward, I would stop at every single stream or river along the way and either dunk my body or use my hands to shovel water onto my body. I was wet and soggy for the rest of the race.

At 29KM: I marched into a small, dirty, cement structure with open doorways and shuttered windows—the final aid station of the day. Inside was a heatstroke battleground. Three or four men were strewn across chairs on the ground—their faces flushed, and their bodies visibly scorched from the sun. Medics were tending to their ailments: covering their extremities in ice packs, dousing them with hoses, and encouraging their consumption of electrolytes. They would not be permitted to leave the aid station until they received the go-ahead from the medical staff. The scene before me was a stark wake up call; a recognition of the fine line we were all dancing between a-okay and dangerously overheated.

“You look great!” The medic’s voice cut through my trance.
“Oh wow, really?” I responded.
“Yes, you’re good to go.”

And so, I went.

The medic’s words echoed in my mind as I continued along the road, her assessment lifting my spirits considerably and reaffirming my sense of belonging. After hours of trudging through the hot jungle, I was still physically fit to continue. Sure, I was slower than normal, and my feet were nagging at me, but my ability to balance my salt, water, and nutrition intake was impeccable. Maybe I would make it through this. It was a reminder that I was prepared for this, that I knew my body, and that I understood my capabilities.

Then, in a moment of clarity, I found myself audibly giggling at the day’s escapades: this was WILD.

How on earth did I get here? I could never have imagined how challenging this would be, nor the sights I’d see, in day one, alone. But here I was. A part of the wild. A wild woman running through the wilderness.

I was exactly who and where I wanted to be.

But as that clarity and hilarity dissipated, I reverted to thoughts of reality: I was nearing the end of my 33KM trek but was also acutely aware that every step today had been accompanied by a deep, searing, unpleasant aching. An aching that I had never felt in my trail running before. By now, running itself was out of the question—I was forced to hobble-jog the final descent, wincing with each turn of the trail.

And then, there it was. I could see the finish line of day one. All that was standing between me, a chair, endless fluids, and a heaping plate of beans, rice, and fruit was a river. And not a small one. It was one of those “hmmm… where can I cross this” type of rivers. No small feat for my tired mind.

“Alright, here I come.”

I not-so-carefully-enough observed for a place to cross, my mind convincing me that the shorter the distance, the better. Rookie river-crosser mistake. Let it be known, the narrower the portion of the river, the faster, more aggressive the water will be. In hindsight, I forgive myself for this comedic gem of a decision, on account of not being able to realistically expect much more from my dreary 7-hours-in running brain.

I started making my way through the waves, trying to get a sturdy footing on slippery river rocks, my battered feet and legs laughing back at me: “girl, good luck with this.” My first few steps were defiantly courageous, “I can do this, I’ve got this.” The current was tough, but I was tougher. And then, whooooosh! …there I went, tumbling down the river, thrashing my legs and body against large river boulders. Partly submerged and unable to stand back up, panic had struck, and a couple of tears brimmed the edge of my eyes.

Then, between waterlogged moments and catching glimpses of the blue-bird sky, a running pole stretching out toward me. The pole was the result of the efforts of a husband-and-wife duo—of nearly 70 years old—who were running the race together. Mortified of my audience, but thankful for the rescue, I grabbed a hold of the pole and tumbled two or three more times until I was back on my feet.

Out of the river, a few minutes later I crossed the finish line.  

What did I even just do?
I wracked my brain to re-cycle through events of the day.
I wasn’t sure how—but I did it.

And mentally, I was SO ready to do it all again tomorrow.
But physically, my feet were throbbing uncontrollably.

Since this was only my fifth trail race and my second stage-race, I figured the soreness was simply day-one-super-heat-exhaustion-blues, and that the pain would subside by tomorrow. So, I pushed onward, smiling. After all, I signed up for this pain, didn’t I? Sitting near the river, my legs cooling off, and the weight of the day releasing from my shoulders, I quietly and cautiously celebrated my Stage One finish as doubt seeped into my mind. I was nervous that I was in over my head; that I was edging dangerously close to my limit; and that if I got any closer, it would end in disappointment. I didn’t want to be THAT racer. THAT racer with eyes bigger than her stomach and without the fortitude to push through. THAT racer who overestimated her capabilities. I was nervous that I wasn’t ready for this—and that everyone around me already knew it.

As I shuffled through the campsite, the adventure-magic in the air was palpable. Nearly 40 tents were nestled between tropical trees, sweaty running gear was strewn along makeshift clotheslines, twinkle lights were glowing softly against the dusk sky, and cicadas exercised their tymbal on full blast. I found our tent, #42—a Canadian Tire-style behemoth, large enough to stand in. My 90L North Face duffel was already delivered, my sleeping pad and bag were arranged, and my running supplies for tomorrow were laid out in categorical fashion. I know what you’re thinking – wow, the service! But really, this was all on account of the hard work of my husband—one of few “companions” who had agreed to sleep in dirt (and suffer through a barrage of tired-runner attitude) as they followed their racer from campsite-to-campsite during the week.

I watched as other runners bustled through their belongings, set up camp, rolled out their aches, and washed up for dinner—but here I was, all camp chores already complete, feet up and being massaged by Marshall. Over the next few days, the challenge at hand would quickly reframe his presence from a luxury to a necessity. I was privileged to have Marshall truck through this with me as my support-crew teammate. And I was in awe of those making it through this without the same support.


Exhausted, but alive and well, we all filled our plates and bellies with food, exchanging pleasantries and stories of the day’s battles. All racers cheered and applauded the entrance of the final runners of the day, who crossed the finish line in darkness, by headlamp. I considered how uneasy it must have felt to be running in darkness, in a foreign country—it wasn’t something I had even considered as a possibility when I had been preparing for the race, and I hoped it would not be in the cards for the remainder of my days here.

Before tucking in for the evening, all of the racers, volunteers, and race directors gathered in a circle for the pre-race briefing—a nightly event that would share a glimpse of the next day’s fate.

I was then kissed goodnight by a 7-inch-long grasshopper that landed smack-dab on my face.

Pura Vida.

DAY TWO: Solo In The Jungle | 40KM Distance, 1740M Elevation

“RAAAAAACCCCEEEERRRRRS! Do not let the horrors of yesterday, burden you today!”

Our 3:30AM wake up call bellowed through the air as if we were Spartans being called to battle by our commander. My lips curled into a half smile. I let out a soft groan and rolled toward the tent door, quickly learning that my lips and their related muscles were the only inches of my body that weren’t sore. I reminded myself that I signed up for this, giggled accordingly, and slid on my gear. My clothes were fresh, but my pack was slimy, covered in salt from yesterday’s evaporated sweat, and already developing a foul jungle-odour.

I re-taped my feet and slid on my shoes. Ah, that was better. There was no pain. My heart sighed with relief—maybe I was right after all, the pain had merely been some end-of-day-one, heat exhaustion blues.

We stumbled through darkness toward the start line. Today we’d be racing a longer distance, which required a pre-sunrise departure in an attempt to beat the mid-afternoon heat. With a new-found pep in my step, I was prepared to greet the unknown day ahead. What an adventure this is, I thought, nerves pulsing through my veins as I waited for the countdown to ensue.

3… 2… 1… we were off. Or should I say… up.

The whole group started climbing up our first jungle-covered mountain of the day—the elite racers quickly left our sight. I was encouraged at my ability to maintain my pace in the middle of the pack and pleased that the trail wasn’t a bushwhacked hole in the trees. Climbing was no stranger to me and I was confident in my ability to continue trucking uphill for hours. But then I felt it. A quiet throbbing at first. “Uh, oh. Here we go.” My legs slowed as racers started to pass me, and pass me, and pass me.

Within the first five kilometers I had summited the mountain and was soaking in 360-degree views on the most stunning vista—but the front, mid, and back of the pack had pulled away from me. There was not a runner in sight. I was entirely alone, and as far as I could see along the horizon, all that existed around me was the remote wilderness of the Costa Rican jungle.

There were snakes, and monkeys, and (big gnarly) spiders, and pumas, and the vast wilderness of a foreign country, and not enough water, and ME. A tingle of fear radiated through my body. I worked hard to keep my mind preoccupied on the task at hand rather than the danger that lay around me. The running was so difficult that I was uncertain whether I could manage the additional weight of acknowledging the fear of my current circumstance. And so, I became laser-focused on spotting the pink-ribbon trail markers, spaced 10-15 metres apart—one, another one, another one, another one. I’d slowly count them down—my trail to safety.

What I appreciate about long distance trail running is that your mind has so many hours to explore all facets of what you are experiencing. Negative. Positive. Good. Bad. Dark. Light. Neutral. Thoughts move briskly in and out of your consciousness as you process the task at hand and as you reflect on who you’ve been, who you are, who you will be, and why you’re even out here. It’s a cycle of intense reflection on past, present, and future—brought on by the stripping away of comfort. And so, as my stream of thoughts shifted from dark to light, they brought forth the recognition of the special kind of magic that exists while running alone.

Out here, there was no one to lean on but myself. It was me vs. me.

It was the purest test of my own heart, discipline, and perseverance.
It was a different kind of vulnerability to tackle a challenge,

Where the truest answer to the question of “can I do this?”
Was a big fat question mark—entirely unknown.

And in this moment,
I was so darn proud of myself
for having the courage
to step into this ring.
Me vs. me.


I turned a corner to see a white bucket hat bobbing to-and-fro in the distance. There was not a doubt in my mind that the person in front of me was MissShellShock—or if we’re not talking Instagram handles, Michele.

I had followed Michele for the past year on social media, as we both trained for the race. We had exchanged messages of encouragement here and there—but didn’t really know each other.

When Marshall and I had arrived at the hotel four days earlier, there were nerves abound. We had traveled alone and did not know any of the other racers. We had spent the first two nights in the hotel tending to a irritation in my plantar fascia and breathing deep in preparation for the grand task ahead. As racers trickled into the hotel, it felt reminiscent of a first day at a new school. It was like I was quietly wandering around trying to understand where I fit in. So, you can only imagine the sense of belonging that swept over me while I was sitting next to the pool and heard a loud “Is that Madeline?!?!” echoing through the courtyard.

Michele welcomed me into her tight-knit, badass crew of ladies without hesitation: herself, Kristy, and Sherri. Sherri was injured a week prior to the race so would be unable to run, but Michele and Kristy would both be running the Expedition course, like me. Encouraged by their warm welcome, I dragged my sun-bathing towel beside theirs, joined them on a shakeout run in San Jose, and felt comforted by the first moments of a friendship that would solidify through common suffering over the coming days, while continuing to build long after the race. Michele’s unequivocal friendship was one of the single most influential acts of kindness that I experienced throughout the race. She gave me a place to sit at a table, a crew to commiserate with, and most importantly, a sense of belonging that I so deeply craved in this running community.

Both Michele and Kristy finished day one ahead of me and strong. So, although I was relieved to see another racer today, I was confused that it was Michele. We arrived at the first aid station together—it had taken us both more than two and a half hours to complete 12 kilometers. I was out of water and my stomach grumbled. I looked at the aid station table and told myself that I wouldn’t leave until I ate half a pineapple. I conquered it, piece by piece—it was a difficult task to eat in this heat.

Michele and I sat at the aid station, evaluating our state. Now that I was here, with water, and electrolytes, and sustenance, I was relieved and energized—and ready to continue. But Michele needed more time to assess, so we parted ways. I felt horrid leaving Michele at the aid station by herself, like I was unable to return the friendship she had so graciously shared with me a few days prior—but at the same time, I didn’t feel like I had a choice. Medically, I was okay to continue. But I was on the edge of packing it in. I was acutely aware that if I lingered too long here, in the comfort of this aid station, that there was a chance my brain would shift the narrative and convince me that I was not able to continue my forward momentum.

Shortly after, a truck would pass me on the road—with Michele in the back seat. In that moment, what I craved more than anything was to flag down the truck and join her. But there was something wild inside me that managed to scrounge up a “no, not yet”. And so, I watched the back end of the truck as it drifted out of sight. With its departure, it became abundantly clear that I was the last runner on the course.

I am a solid mid- to back-of-the-pack trail runner. I am not fast in any sense of the word, but I am determined and persistent. I crave adventure—and that’s what I come out to races for: to dance ever so closely to the edge of my comfort zone. In previous races I used the phrase “as long as you’re not last, it’s okay” to keep my feet moving and my mind at ease whenever I was falling “behind”. Upon reflection, I now know that this mindset was deeply rooted in the struggle I have with extreme conscientiousness. I am embarrassed at the thought of inconveniencing or disappointing others. The thought of people waiting around for me to cross a finish line before they could carry on with their lives was painful. I was fearful about what they’d say as they waited—that I couldn’t control the narrative. That I couldn’t explain myself. That somehow the achievement of what I had conquered out there would be irrelevant if I were slower than everyone else.

The irony of it all, is that if I were sitting on a log watching someone cross a finish line after 11 hours of running through the jungle, I would be undeniably impressed. I would cheer them on, floored at their achievement. We are our own harshest critic—and if there’s any superpower I wish I could have, it would be to see myself through another’s eyes.

But now, here I was. The last runner.
The one that everyone would be waiting for.
I couldn’t avoid it anymore. It was just a fact.
I silently wished for an invisibility cloak.

I put my head down and continued.

What surprised me most, was that once my feet were moving again, my outlook didn’t waver. Yes, this was painful. Yes, I was moving diabolically slow. But even though I was the last runner, I was arriving at each aid station well before the cut-off times. If there was anything I found comfort in, that was it—it was like the race itself was telling me that it expected someone to be chipping away at this course, this late in the day. And so, I wouldn’t call it quits just yet. I figured that I was already here, with so many of the day’s kilometers under my belt, that I may as well keep plodding away at the trail in front of me. I negotiated an agreement with myself: the only reason I would stop moving forward was if someone else—a medic or race director—decided I couldn’t carry on.

Because I owed it to myself to try to make it.
Because I was afraid of the disappointment I would have,
If I pulled myself off the trail,
When I knew deep down,
I still had more to give.


All-to-soon I was trudging up the next mountain. The ground beneath me was sloppy mud. Where there was a thin layer, it was slippery. Where there was a thick layer, my foot sunk deep into mucky holes on the trail. My shoes and shins and trekking poles were slathered in a burnt-umber coloured mess. I gave in to my snail pace and reached for my headphones for the first time in the race: “I’m gonna send my baby a braaaaand new twenty-dollar bill.” It was a concert for one as Colin James serenaded my climb.

I tend to avoid listening to music for as long as I can in a race. Putting my headphones in often represents the turning point where my mind is swirling in such a way that it needs a distraction to carry onward. It made me nervous that part way through day two I was already deep into my pain cave—one that had started early day one and didn’t seem to have an end in sight. The donning of my headphones this early was a reminder that stage races are a different ball game—sure, there would be the arc of my experience across all six days, but this wouldn’t unveil itself until the end of day six. What I would feel more intensely were the mini-arcs that made up each single day of racing. They would each include their own cycles of ups and downs and downs and ups—and as such, it was perfectly reasonable that I would need help from my tunes on day two. If this were a one day-race, I wouldn’t even think twice about it. I needed to reset my thinking: one day at a time.

On this day, this album, National Steel, felt right. It was the soundtrack of adventures past—of driving to the put-in of multi-week ocean kayaking adventures, of building my kayak in the shop night after night after night with my Dad. It was a reminder that I could do hard things, that I had already done hard things, and that this hard thing would be no different. I’d make it through. Slowly and surely. One step at a time.

Into the second play-through of the album I reached an outcropping. To my left there were steep rolling hills, folding into each other, tightly blanketed in chest-high plants with broad leaves. Partway down there was a man donned in a white hazmat suit and respirator mask. Moving back and forth he used a hand-held device to spray the crops with what I assume were pesticides. I wondered what he’d think if he knew I was out here, traipsing through the jungle alone—Would he think I was brave? Or would he have cautioned me against it?


As the movement of my legs shifted into autopilot, my mind wandered. I was ruminating over my ability to continue onward despite this pain—puzzled at the unrelenting confidence I was seeming to muster. Where did that come from? What was the force behind this strength—this mental toughness?

These types of moments are why I have fallen in love with endurance sports: because irrespective of the unknowns of the course you’re tackling, what is known is that you will almost-always encounter bare-all situations—where all comforts are stripped away; where you have no choice but to critically assess what you are doing, who you are, and why you’ve found yourself here. It’s rawness and grittiness at it’s finest.

It’s a sadistic soul-search that brings clarity of self. And I crave it deeply.

As I continued to climb, I thought about my Sister and about the mental illness that the universe decided she would need to bare. And then I thought about all the humans in this world in a similar situation as hers: waking up each day knowing that it will be a fight. Battling a chemical imbalance in their brains with gumption and grit. Defeating the odds. Again, and again, and again. If they could be courageous enough to make it through, then I had absolutely no excuse. Because even here, physically and mentally exhausted, I still did not have the faintest understanding of what “mental toughness” was, and what the power of the human spirit was. I was privileged to choose this suffering—to be healthy enough to decide the ways in which I would test myself. I had no excuse not to keep going. This was easy, in the grand, grand scheme of it all.

I then thought about myself and my place within this—recognizing that the world had also been unkind to me. This “unkindness” was different than battling mental illness, but it was unkindness just the same. 

You see, there are moments in our lives, where growth is thrust upon us. Where our world comes crashing down and we are forced to find a way to redefine, rebuild, renew. To lay, unable to face the day, on our living room floor. To painfully shuffle one foot in front of the other, without any choice in the matter. This had been my life for the last year. I was forced to bear the unbearable: the loss of a loved one.

But oh, when I found myself here, halfway up a steep muddy mountain, partway through a grand adventure I had dreamed of for years—I stood with confidence, and a healthy tremble in my legs, knowing that the inevitable suffering that lay before me was intentional. For the first time since the death of my sister, I was not being thrashed around at the whim of the universe’s merciless actions.

Instead, I was mid-way through the challenge I got to choose.

For me, no matter the discomfort
that my legs, and lungs, and heart
were facing as I climbed this trail,

Having the privilege
to suffer, grow, and change
on my own time
and on my own terms
was the biggest,
most unobstructed
breath of fresh air
I could ever ask for.

And so, I continued to climb.
For me. For my Sister.
And for all the others,
Who do not have
The privilege to choose.


In one of the Coastal Challenge race recap videos there’s a clip of Courtney Dauwalter running on dirt farm road, alongside a herd of cattle—in the clip, her and the cattle are seemingly running together as one. As I dreamed about the race during my training, I had pre-pictured myself in this exact spot. Only, the experience in my dreams was a little more glamourous for two reasons: (1) I did not understand how enormous a cow was, and (2) I assumed the cows would enjoy my presence.

Well, it was nearly a year after seeing the video, and here I was.

The cows were in front of me—around 10 or 12 of them, standing on either side of this back-mountain dirt road. As I walked nervously toward the herd, the largest beast of a brown cow I’ve ever seen sauntered purposefully into the middle of the road, paused defiantly, and turned her head to look straight at me. She was standing directly in my path, in front of her baby, with broad shoulders as high as mine and fierce eyes daring me to move forward. I stopped, frozen in my tracks. In my exhausted state, I quickly contemplated the reality of situation; of how dire it would be if something went wrong here.

“Heeeeeeeey cow,” I said, in my best authoritative, but calm voice
“Would yah mind moooooovin’ over?”

I held my breath as I made it through the herd.


A list of the unexpected delights from the last 15KM of Day 2:

  • Running along a mountain vista between thick walls of grass that were almost as tall as me!
  • Soaking in 3 or 4 inches of water in the middle of remote backroads, attempting to cool down.
  • The heavy chuckle I shared with a Red Cross Medic at the second-to-last aid station, when we slathered some much-needed Vaseline onto the inside of my chafed thighs.
  • Watching the course sweepers behind me (the individuals who take down the course ribbons after all racers make it through) and being graciously appreciative that they always lingered about 40-50 feet back, instead of right on my tail, pressuring me to move faster.
  • Being afraid that I could no longer see trail markers as I ran through a tiny coastal town—until I saw a child walking toward me, with pink ribbons in his hand that he had plucked off street poles. Phew.


I shuffled the final 100M before the last aid station of the day. One of the aid station volunteers ran toward me. He had mid-length brown stringy hair tied in a knot, his legs and arms adorned with tattoos, his skin darkened by a life in the sun. He grabbed my shoulders, looked deep into my eyes, and said with authority: “do you know where you are?” He was checking for lucidity, to confirm whether I would need to be removed from the course, given my pace and the number of hours I’d spent baking under the sun.

Still coherent enough to understand the hilarity of my situation, I replied:
“Unfortunately, I know exactly where I am.”

He laughed.
I laughed.

Ultrarunners. lol.

I proceeded to demolish the potato scraps that remained on the aid station table. A few minutes later, refuelled but exhausted, I was on my way. The heat of the afternoon sun had subsided, but there were eight more kilometers to go, fully exposed. One of the aid station volunteers would run (ahem… walk) the remaining distance with me. The sweepers, again, would continue to follow 30-40 feet behind, too.

I knew I wouldn’t quit. Eight more kilometers were possible, so long as I kept my feet moving.

“How are you feeling?” my aid-station-volunteer-companion asked.

“My spirits are so high,” I replied, “It’s just my feet, they are in so much pain.”

And I meant it. I was okay. But my feet felt like they were bursting at the seams; like my skin would split open if I pushed any further. I couldn’t make them move faster. To make it even more challenging, it was almost high tide. This meant that there was no longer hard packed sand to run on, only a sloshy soft mess that I sank into with every step.

Within one or two kilometres, my shuffle had turned to a crawl. Now with others watching my pace, I felt embarrassed at the state of my body; the way it was disappointing me. The way I didn’t understand why it was disappointing me. I longed deeply to be back in the loneliness of the jungle—quietly moving through the trail without any fear of judgement, without onlookers. I felt overwhelmed as I began to imagine what the sweepers behind me must have been thinking: “wow, she’s so slow”; “we’d already be at camp drinking beers if this girl was a better runner”; “I’m so bored”; and my most destructive one: “she shouldn’t be here.”

I hardly even shared a glance with any of them, ashamed.

What was I doing here? Maybe this was my final sign that I had misjudged my capabilities;
that I was unaware of where the limits of my physical and mental abilities lie.


The only thing that stood between me and the finish line was a wavy river and paddle board crossing. “Well, hopefully this goes well,” I thought. The race volunteer threw the paddle board my way, as I was instructed to jump on and lay down, so they could pull me across with a rope—like a toddler on a sled. In true end-of-a-long-day-fashion, I flopped on clumsily, desperately grasping the edges to prevent a total dunking. It was a perfect representation of the energy I had left: zero.

As I hobbled across the Day Two finish line right in time for sunset, the embarrassment of coming DFL— “dead fucking last” as they say—melted away. I made it. I was here. It was okay. This was all I needed. I knew I would get across the finish line, no matter what, and here I was, against so many odds. In the words of Mirna Valerio, it’s not “dead fucking last”, but rather, “did finish last”. Did. Finish.

I smiled—half chuckling in disbelief at this absurdity, half in relief and filled with pride. I survived the jungle. The distance. The cows. The solitude. The heat. The mud. My feet.

MY FEET. Oh, my goodness.

I slid off my shoes. Both feet were swollen and blistered. Yikes. Good thing I never took off my shoes before this moment; the sight of my feet alone would have been enough to call it a day. But still nervous that my inexperience was plastered across my performance for the day, I played it cool. I sat on a log nonchalantly, as if to catch my triumphant breath. As if I was spending a little extra time on this log to soak in the Pacific Ocean view and laid-back surfer-vibes of Dominical Beach.

All the while thinking, in a slightly panicked state:
“how on EARTH am I going to stand up and walk from here to the campsite?!”


I stood hunched over, bent at the waist, defeated. My eyes gazed through the darkness toward what I could see of the terracotta floor tiles beneath my feet. Water sputtered out of the broken showerhead above me and slapped against my back. I was shivering out of control. The Race Physician’s warning played through my mind: “if you are shivering, you are not cold; you are overheated. You must stay in the water until it stops.”

But it was SO cold.

I let the icy trickle of water run along my back, down my neck, against my face, and onto the dirty floor. My body wouldn’t move an inch, even if it needed to. Dilapidated and still fully clothed, I began to peel away sticky layers of running attire, rolling my shorts down my thighs to my ankles and sliding my bra off my back. Naked and with full-body aches, I wanted to cry. But even that seemed insurmountable.

How did I get here? How did I end up in this dirty, freezing cold shower, in the Costa Rican jungle, with four more days to go? And more importantly: was there any way to teleport out of here? How on Earth would I get out of here?! The only way out is through, I suppose.

One step at a time, I suppose. Right? Right. Right. Right.

“Maddie, I have your clean clothes, towel, and flip flops”

Bless. My husband’s. Soul.

The fact that he was even here at all added to the hilarity of this race.

The fact that he waited 11 hours for me to reach the finish line today was outrageous.

The fact he would willingly sleep in each dirty, bug filled campsite for four more days, was unbelievable.

If there’s one moment where I’ve truly understood the love he has for me, it was this one.


I hobbled toward the dinner buffet, delicately pressing each foot down, wincing with the pain—while simultaneously trying to hide it from those around me.

The dinner plate in front of me was full, but my appetite was non-existent. It wasn’t the heat nor the exhaustion that prevented my consumption of much-needed calories. It was the butterflies that were churning around in my stomach. My experience today revealed that tonight or tomorrow morning I would need to make a very real decision about whether to remain in the Expedition category or drop to the Adventure category. The Adventure category was still six days long, but 135km instead of the 230km I was signed up for. A racer was permitted at any time, to change to Adventure—but would not be allowed to move back up to Expedition. If I dropped to Adventure now, I would race a total of 155km over the week.

The thought of making this decision made me sick to my stomach. One of the greatest prides I have about myself is my ability to precisely measure my capabilities—to accurately understand the pressure I can handle, the output I can muster, and the ability I have to conquer. My nervousness around dropping to the adventure category was not related to viewing 135km as “lesser than” (because make no mistake, running 135km in these conditions was a formidable challenge) but rather, it was having to admit to myself that I misjudged.

It broke my heart to come all this way to “fail” at the task at hand.

I stared at my food in silence.


My foot was raised on the Doctor’s lap. He was a race veteran, having serviced racers’ foot ailments at this race (and many other races) for years. His headlight illuminated both my feet and the bugs fluttering around us. At this point I was already lovingly referring to my bruised, blistered appendages as zombie toes. I’d never seen them in this condition before. There’s a first time for everything, I suppose!

The Doctor popped my blisters, disinfecting them with iodine as we exchanged pleasantries. “The good thing,” he said, was that my feet were “not the worst ones he’d seen today”. I shared the hilarity and horrors I had encountered throughout the day as he taped them up. I mused around the reality that this situation wasn’t so fun, but that I was still keen to see it through. Then he said it, in his thick Irish accent:

“It’s not about fun. It’s about the accomplishment.”

That was it. My lightbulb moment.

He was right.

This is what I signed up for. I entered this race to understand who I would become and what decisions I would make when the situation would far exceed my physical, emotional, and psychological limit. That’s what we all signed up for – nearly one hundred of us, out here in the remote jungles of Costa Rica – a test of the human spirit. That’s what this was. Because my lips could still manage to curl into a half-ish-smile, I determined my spirit was still alive.

As I lay awake in my tent, legs hoisted up onto my duffle bag with the hopes that some of the blood would rush back into the rest of my body, the Foot Doctor’s words continued to dance in my head. And like profound advice from a wise, respected friend — his words awakened a new determination inside of me. It was no longer a debate; the path forward was crystal clear.

I would wake up and race the long course tomorrow.
Because I wasn’t broken yet, not quite.
And as a result, I would be remiss to not even try.

DAY THREE: The Whale’s Tail | 13KM Distance, 200M Elevation

My eyes reluctantly opened to another morning of darkness, my legs still elevated on my duffle bag. I breathed deep and tried to stand up. But as soon as my feet were underneath me, they were searing in pain. I sat back down, defeated, wearily contemplating my next move.

Tent door half open, legs outside of it, bum inside of it, arms wrapped around my knees—with what I can imagine was a dazed look in my eyes—an elite racer walked past and smiled: “Madeline, what’s going on, you’re crushing this”. His encouraging words tugged at me—mostly because I knew I was not “crushing it”

And as soon as he was out of earshot, tears quietly rolled down my face at the painful reality of the situation. After years of dreaming and a year of training: this was magnificent, but not what I had pictured it to be. I had envisioned myself strong, unwavering, capable. But here I was: my mind ready, but my body defeated.

My heart ached at the thought of this being my Coastal Challenge story. That after everything it took to get here, after the excruciating pain I survived over the past year, I wouldn’t quite make it.

But I knew that the decision was officially here: stay in Expedition or switch to Adventure. I had never had to make this type of a decision in a race before—and had always been curious about the thought process that led to other racers’ decisions in these scenarios.

In light of that, here is the string of logic I used to evaluate:

What I wanted more than anything was to race all six days.

I was fairly certain that if I moved to the Adventure category, I could find some way to push through the pain. The daily distances would be shorter, so I stood a chance to fight through it (or at least thought I could).

But if I continued in the Expedition category, there was a real chance that the pain would persist, I would not make a cut off time, would be pulled from the course, and would not have enough in me to continue racing.

On top of that, I had raced from pre-sunrise to sunset yesterday. Today I would need to run another 7km on top of yesterday’s distance. That would mean I would undoubtedly finish after dark; likely by myself.

The numbers didn’t add up.

And with no improvement in my feet, running faster today was a miracle that was simply not in my cards.

“Expedition Racers to the start line, last call”

I put my runners aside and slid my sandals back on.
Today I would race in the Adventure category.

As I packed up my bag and delivered it to the transport vehicle in darkness, it felt odd to hear the soft thunder of feet move away from the campsite—and to not be a part of it. It was a complex feeling: I had disappointed myself but was simultaneously relieved to make a decision that I knew, deep-down, was right.

The Adventure category would be running the beach section of the Expedition course: 13KM on white-sand beaches that would take us past Marino Ballena National Park, famous for it’s enormous “whale tail” shape at low tide. AND because I wouldn’t be trailing far behind the group and racing against the movement of the sun across the horizon and incoming tide today, I’d experience the beach while it was at its best: hard packed sand. Almost as easy as (and way more gorgeous than) running on pavement.

With a couple of hours left to spare before our bus would leave, I regrouped with Sarah and Allison – whom I’d shared dinner with at the hotel on day one. This morning we sat at a half-closed open air-restaurant. Stomach grumbling from the lack of food the night before, I salivated over the menu.

I ordered a quesadilla and scarfed it down. It felt strange to be munching on cheesy goodness while others trucked through the jungle. not the worst situation to be in, for sure. I was disappointed, but relieved.


We stood at the start line, waiting to begin. This was the first day that there was no question in my mind about my ability to finish. Thirteen kilometers was achievable, even with a hurting foot. I told myself to relax; to ease into the experience and just get there. It would be nearly impossible for me to roll-in to the campsite at or after sundown, and as a result, there’d be ample time for rest today. I was relieved.

This was also the first day I would have the pleasure of running with others—it was a comforting reprieve from the cyclical thoughts of my solo-running mind. Allison, Sarah, Julie, and I hunkered down in the heat of the day, steadily clicking off the kilometers. We shared laughter as we lounged in rivers, disappointment when there was extremely limited water at the final aid station, and an abundance of cursing on the final kilometers of hot, hot, hot, exposed asphalt. Their presence re-filled my cup. It was a reminder that we all were truly in this together and that we were all battling a slightly different flavour of the same challenge.

Other pockets of beautiful that were a direct result of crossing the finish line earlier today:

  • I watched howler monkeys swing through the campsite trees. Legend has it, that one year a racer left his tent open, the monkeys rolled in, and they left an unfortunate feces-laden mess.
  • I played in the ocean waves under the afternoon sun with Sherri, Michele, and other racers—and for a tiny second, was able to mentally transport myself to a resort-life fantasy.
  • I gobbled down a mountain of homemade potato chips (YES!) that were served with lunch.
  • I beat Marshall to the campsite—and was alert enough to listen to his stories of spending the day horseback riding to Nauyaca waterfall.

But still, I hobbled through the campsite with pain. Despite a reprieve from the distance, I couldn’t ignore that the fact that even thirteen kilometers was close to unbearable. I lay in my tent with what was, quite frankly, a bad attitude as Marshall massaged my feet. This situation was wearing on me. I knew that something was wrong but couldn’t figure it out. All throughout the race I had toiled with what it would feel like to “quit” but the reality of needing to had not yet felt as real as it did in this moment. I tried to quiet my “maybe I need to drop from this race, altogether” thought. But try as I might, I couldn’t conceptualize a world in which I could continue onward, not even at the Adventure distance. I was tough, but not this tough. And it pained me to think that I was lacking the toughness that so many others around me so clearly had.

I watched and cheered the Expedition racers as they came across the finish and was further relieved by my decision that morning. There was something about day three that seemed to wear on the entire group. Maybe it was the distance—47km—or the cumulative impacts of the humid weather and difficult terrain, or more likely, it was both. There seemed to be more stories of adventure and race-ending injuries today:

  • Racers were required to wade through waist-deep river water for multiple kilometers
  • The same elite racer who shared encouragement with me this morning fell in one of the waterfall sections and was required to pull out of the race.
  • Kristy and two others were led astray by a local who had moved the trail markers to send racers to his “for sale” vacation property – leaving them with extra kilometers, dampened spirits, and Kristy with a mega-blister on the underside of her foot.
  • A woman from my hometown of Langley, BC who I shared a seat next to on the bus on day one, ran so hard into a small stick that a few inches of it splintered off and lodged itself deep inside her shin.

Dinner was quieter this evening—the reality that there were three more days seemed to linger heavy in the air. Halfway to go but only halfway there. I looked around at this group of almost-not-strangers—each with our own unique stories, intersecting. What I found most magical about this group of runners out here in these elements beyond our wildest dreams was that there was no visible complaining or sulking. Instead, there was focus, grit, and determination—quiet battles being fought, but not on display. Despite the challenges past and unknown challenges ahead, there was still laser-focus on the task at hand.

We were battered, for sure, but not yet broken.
And so, here we were, ready to take on another day.
Not because we had to, but because we chose to.

The determination around me lifted my spirits. I decided to sleep on it, to see if I felt different in the morning. But I knew it was a Hail Mary. Something would need to drastically change to get me across the rest of the finish lines—and I was hopeful, but realistically doubtful that I would conjure up that change in my slumber.

Marshall and I decided to take in the sunset—the blood orange sky fading to deep purple as the waves lapped beside our campsite. I rested on the dirt ground, slightly above the beachy rocks. A few moments later, as I was almost settled in, I felt a sea of fire-y pinches on my bottom.

I had sat directly on top of a fire ant hill.

What. a. LIFE.

DAY FOUR: Crushing the Borucas | 16.5KM Distance, 650M Elevation

“I think my shoes are too small”

The words tumbled out of my mouth and onto my beans and rice breakfast. I’m not sure what led me to conclude that my feet were heat-swollen, suffocated by the confines of my runners, but I did. You see, I had trained in this size and style of trail runners for over a year. I had used them in both single and multi-day races; I never had any issues with them before – not even a blister.

I’m not sure what led me to conclude that they were too small, but I did.

And in a moment that can only be described as representative of the quintessential essence of the trail running community, Sherri (with the injured foot!), a woman I had met only 5 days earlier stood up, walked to her tent, and came back with the same style of runner, but 1.5 sizes bigger than mine. She brought them along with her “just in case she needed them”.

I slid them onto my battered feet and stood up.

For the first moment in four days, there was no pain. No throbbing toes. No aching arches. No searing blisters. In an instant, I was beaming. Hopeful but guarded, I hopped up and down a couple times to test them, and then rushed to the transport bus. This was IT. My chance for redemption.

I could never have anticipated that the Costa Rican heat would have swelled my feet 1.5 sizes.

Today’sroute would have us wind up and down over mountain vistas, run multiple kilometers down slippery, rocky riverbeds, travel down a technical descent, and then through a small town to the finish line. My only objective was to run with less pain.

The whistle blew and my feet started to move.

For the first time in four days, my cadence was swift. My feet turned over without effort. I was holding my pace and my place in the crowd. I was elated.

This. Was. ME.

The perfect storm had arrived.
The stars had finally aligned.
And at last, all was sublime.

My darkest depths of self doubt, defeat, embarrassment, imposter syndrome, and disappointment melted away, to be replaced with vivacious energy, bravery, and determination.

I couldn’t keep my legs from quickening their pace; from moving forward. Onward. Upward. Downward.

I was on my favourite terrain: tricky technical and a whole lot of downhill. And as I sailed through the descent, I wasn’t just holding my pace, I was accelerating. I passed one runner. And then another. And then another. And another. And another. And before I knew it, I had lost count.

I flew into the final aid station almost too quick to stop, a shock to both myself and the volunteers—the same volunteers who had walked me to the finish line two days ago. “Don’t waste time here,” they said.

Don’t waste time here, I repeated in my mind, moderately perplexed as they re-filled my water bottles.

Why would they say that?

“It can’t be,” I thought.

“But, it might be,” I thought.

Maybe, just maybe, you are at the front of the pack.

With guarded optimism, my heart fluttered: don’t you dare slow down now, girl.

For the first time in my two years of trail running I was not just running—I was racing.

I gracefully shoved a heap of boiled, salted potatoes into my mouth (and one into my pack for the road) and then quickly carried onward.

My heart was beating fast. But most importantly, it was full. Filled to the brim with gratitude. This. was. ME. My feet slapped against the hot asphalt as I navigated between houses and through a construction zone. I was close now. I knew it. And I could feel it.

I looked behind me. There was no one. It was me and this road. Fuelled solely by my own gumption to keep moving at this full-out pace. I was exhausted. But this was it: my redemption.

I cleared a corner and there it was: the finish line.

I crossed it. 5th place female.

My only objective was to run this day without pain. Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that at my best, I would be competitive here. That thought seemed so foreign and unrealistic—especially after the last two days.

I sat down. The other women—whom I was honoured to be in the company of—congratulated me with so much warmth. A smile stretched across my worn face. I did it. I was filled with indelible pride—the kind of pride that’s only possible after you’ve clawed your way back from watching your aspirations flash before your eyes, seemingly juuuust out of reach. The kind of pride that can’t be stolen away.

Today and the next and the next I would prove to myself that my previous struggles were not a result of my own shortcomings. I would also reaffirm to myself that the only way out was through—that if I had given up on day one, or day two, or day three, I would not have made it here. I would not have had my best performance in a race, ever. It was not a subtle, but rather stark reminder that everything I needed was within me all along; that my spirit was—and will always be—the largest determinant of success.

A new fire had been lit. The Costa Rican-furnace now burned inside of me.

The next two days I would cross the remaining finish lines exhausted, elated, and in absolute awe:

Stage Five: 6th place female

Stage Six: 5th place female

Remember when I was DFL on Stage Two? Remember when I spiralled into the depths of self-doubt? It was not me after all, but rather, those ill-fitting shoes. And so, on Day Four, as I slurped down my spaghetti and meat sauce, looked up at the stars, and was lulled to sleep by the now sweet buzzing of the cicadas, I couldn’t help but reflect on mine—and our, more collectively—tendency to suffer in silence.

Maybe the fourth finish line taught me instead of suffering in silence, we should breathe deep, let go, and speak up. Maybe what that fourth finish line taught me was that it’s not weak to ask for help; but rather, a sign of defiant bravery—of trusting and knowing ourselves. It signifies an understanding of who we are and what feels right (and wrong). It represents a deep humility in the face of the unknown.

I didn’t ask for help in those first three days because I was embarrassed at my “inexperience”. I was afraid that others would see me as presumptuous or naive for thinking I could tackle such a wild challenge. I was assuming that it was myself, instead of my environment, that was problematic. And I was petrified that I did not belong here—that at any moment someone would expose my audacity to the world.

I had a community of highly experienced trail runners around me with toolkits upon toolkits of resources at my fingertips. Yet, I was unable to leverage them, out of fear of judgement. I was the only one who was standing in my way. Imagine if I had asked for help on day one.

Because after all, the help we receive is the help we seek. Especially when we are treading the fine line of what’s possible: physically, emotionally, and psychologically. How can we expect ourselves to boldly face, alone, that which is beyond our comfort zone, and as a result, is entirely foreign and unknown?

And so,
Maybe what that fourth finish line
taught me, was that:

In the face of adversity,
perhaps all we need
is breathe deep, let go,
share our suffering,
and ask for help.

And in doing so, maybe
we can all find our own version
of perfectly fitting, race-saving shoes.

DAY FIVE: The (second to) Last Stand | 29KM Distance, 1200M Elevation

I sat in the first row of the transport van behind the driver’s seat—other racers were packed in tight beside and behind me. We had just disembarked a run-down passenger ferry that carried us across a wide, murky, green river. The van door slid shut, seatbelts clicked, and we were on our way. I was accompanied by my usual focus-silence, less nervous than in previous days, but still tingling with anticipation—even with my feet now freed from their previous small-shoe prison, I knew that quite the challenge lay ahead.

We ferociously twisted up, down, left, and right along narrow red-dirt backroads toward the start line. This driver was on a mission to deliver us as quickly as possible. Five minutes passed, then ten minutes, then fifteen, then twenty. The turns were coming so fast that my brain could no longer keep up. I started to worry. You see, even on a good day I have an infantile capacity to prevent motion sickness. I turned my gaze toward the horizon, focused on keeping my outward-cool, and fervently hoped for our destination to appear around each corner. And then, it hit me: “stop the van!” I yelped as I clambered quickly over the laps of my seatmates, with what I can only imagine was a worried look in my eyes.

And then there I was, dry heaving on the side of the road.
A busload of onlookers patiently awaiting my completion.

Oh well, better out than in.

I returned to my seat and was handed a piece of gum.

In the moment: I was embarrassed, but not surprised.
In retrospect: the way I carried on nonchalant, as if nothing had happened, was hilarious.

If I had watched a racer do that, I would’ve slotted them into the “badass” category.


We piled into a tiny cabin by the roadside, savouring the last few minutes of shade before we’d hit the course. We were patiently awaiting our start time. The Adventure Category course was always the latter section of the Expedition course. As a result, Adventure Racers were not permitted to start until the first elite runners came past the Adventure Category starting point. This would ensure that the elite runners would not need to dodge Adventure Racers throughout the course—they could run freely and unobstructed.

The elite racers rushed through the aid station. I observed intently. This was the first time I had seen elite runners in action, up close and personal. Like a Formula 1 pitstop, aid station attendants mobilized around them: ripping their empty water bottles out of their packs and replacing them with full ones, while racers readjusted their gear and shoveled calories into their mouths.  

As quickly as they flew in, they were off.

The whistle blew and we were moving—the thought of spending another day pushing my speed and my capabilities was intoxicating. I craved a repeat of yesterday and my feet delivered. They were turning over quickly, crushing the first ascent and descent. I ran through a thigh-high river to reach the first aid station. As I rolled in, breathing heavy—I was caught off guard as the aid station attendants ripped MY bottles out of my bag and replaced them. Why were they doing this? I thought it may be on account of extra-attentive attendants today. What I’d find out later was that I was trucking along in third place in the Adventure Category for the first half of today. THIRD place!!! I was elated. Day Two Maddie would have keeled over in disbelief if she could see me now. She would have been floored by this against-all-odds turnaround. She would have welled up with pride to witness the determination I mustered; that I was able to somehow keep waking up each day believing that it was a new day with a clean slate, and that so long as I kept trying, anything was possible.

Because it was.
Being open to the possibility of success,
And being open to flexing my original definition of success,
Was what kept my feet moving away from the possibility of failure.


On the next stretch of dirt road, I was holding a steady pace as I passed fields of long, wheat-coloured grass. My skin was already baking underneath the morning sun. Once again, I was alone. But this time, it was because I was in the front of the pack. It was an absolute dream. Another delicious taste of race-magic.

I looked in the direction of where I had already travelled. One of the transport buses was closing in on me. Each day while we were out running, the transport buses would take companions, volunteers, and racers who had dropped from the race or were taking a day off, from campsite to campsite. Generally, the bus would take a more direct route—but today, a stretch of the bus’s route would intersect with the course.

“Yaaaaahhhh!!! Wooooot wooooot! Go Maddie Go!!”

A symphony of celebration filled the air as arms flailed out windows. This was the first day that those on the bus had seen racers on the course—the first time Marshall had seen me plodding away at this wild situation.

Their cheers warmed my heart. Here I was, thirsty and exhausted, but elated and full. And for the first time in the entire race, the possibility of finishing was no longer a question mark. Today was tough. Tomorrow would be tough, too. But I was over the hump. Every step I took now brought me closer to the finish.

The bus turned one way and I another. While I was busy climbing another mountain, my husband was having his own adventure. Shortly down the road, the bus pulled over to make way for oncoming traffic… only… it pulled over a bit too far. With a quiet thump the bus had fully slid off the soft dirt road, tilting rightward to the low trees, brush, and sloped countryside on its right. One by one the companions and volunteers nervously squeezed out through the door to the safety of the road—concerned faces abound. The driver completed what Marshall labelled a “teeter totter” maneuver, righting the bus as if nothing had happened.



As the trail changed from singletrack to exposed, wide dirt road, my pace slowed. A few other racers passed me, and I was officially “spitting dust” as they say—thirsty as thirsty could be. I made my way up and down and up and down, plugging away at the course one step at a time. I passed a derelict house with a bucket of running water that I should have taken a drink from—but my worry of a resulting upset stomach convinced me otherwise.

I arrived at the final river crossing—too deep and too wide to be tackled by foot. A local Costa Rican with a wooden 3- or 4-person rowboat stood at the edge of the riverbank, waiting for enough runners to arrive. We climbed in, me and two men. The boat sat low in the water and as it started to drift away from the shore, we were quiet. It was as if we were holding our breath, in fear of disturbing our balance.

Our crossing was uneventful. What I’d learn later, after the final racers crossed the finish line after dark, was that this was not the case for everyone. In the rush of trying to get the final Expedition Category racers across the river, this little rowboat boat would be overloaded. Partway across the boat would capsize, sending the racers down far down the river where they would be forced to stay, holding onto mangroves, fearful of crocodiles, waiting for help—which wouldn’t arrive until much later.


We laid on beach towels, resting our weary bodies, and soaking in afternoon rays as we watched and cheered others across the finish. I found myself in reminiscent conversation with a woman beside me—recounting our tales from the trails over the past few days. We’d share a hearty chuckle when we both realized that I was, in her words, “that poor girl falling over in the river on day one” and that she was, in my words, “my saviour”.

The day one “me” she’d previously seen felt lightyears away, even though it had only been six days.

She said if I hadn’t have said anything, she wouldn’t have even recognized me.

I wondered if I’d recognize me, when I’d finally look in the mirror after all of this.


“You’re ONLY twenty-five years old?!”

I hadn’t considered my age before. In fact, prior to the race I had only pictured my race companions as twenty- or thirty- something millennials like me. Never would I have guessed that, along with one other racer, I would be the youngest one here. It was a stark reminder of the longevity of this sport—that you could choose to dial up or dial down your intensity to enable a lifetime of play. There was space for us all, our skillsets, our backgrounds, our ages, our goals. There could not have been a wider spectrum of athletes sitting around these tables—breaking bread, sharing stories of discomfort, and erupting in laughter together.

I looked at Marshall and knew that this was only the beginning.

Sitting on my white plastic chair at the dinner table: bugs galore, flapping their wings beside my pile of rice. Sweat soaked clothes. Dirt smudged across my skin. Scraped and bruised. Thighs chafed raw—I was excited for the road ahead. If this was where I happened to find myself at the age of twenty-five, I couldn’t even imagine where I would be, the people I would meet, and who I would become by 30 or 35 or 40.

Possibility shivered down my spine. I couldn’t shake the feeling that here I was, fully present, soaking in this rich, grand, full, life that was bursting at the seams with beautiful. And it was only the beginning of it all.

There’s this piece of writing by Matt Haig that oftentimes floats through my mind. It goes like this: “pain can inadvertently show us how much space we have inside. It can even expand that space. And enable us to experience the equivalent quantity of joy or hope or love or contentment at some future point in time”.  

Maybe this was it. The future point in time where my joy filled the space that my pain had created.

My world felt big again.

DAY SIX: Victory Lap | 23KM Distance, 555M Elevation

It was like we had all exhaled.

There was more chatter in the crowd today. Almost the full roster of racers was back on the course joined by some of the volunteers, ready for a victory lap. A final hurrah. I stood at the start line, the pink sky greeting my cheeks on this final day of the race. A pair of vibrant red macaws flew overhead—mates for life. Calm washed over me. There were still 23 more gloriously daring kilometers ahead.

Yet here I was: almost on the other side of it all.

There’s a certain kind of magic that presents itself when we notice the moments of “in-between” – moments where we find ourselves carefully nestled between who we have been and who we will be. The space between the exhale, and before the inhale. The lightness of the night sky, before the sun.

The last steps, between the start and the finish.

And here I was, acutely aware
Of this magical moment of in between.
Filled with anticipation. Deserving of change.

My Sister’s words danced in my head:

Endless possibilities
Stretched out before me.
Endless stories to tell,
Behind me.

Challenge, adventure, and an
Unimaginable amount of love.
Waiting for me,
Calling to me,
It beckons and tells me,
I belong.

When healing from the grief of a traumatic loss, it is common that you are encouraged to let go. In most cases, you do not have a choice: the world has flipped upside down and shattered. The edges of your pain stretch beyond the horizon, into what feels like oblivion. And then there you are, left with nothing but shards of what could have been, what you thought would be, but what no longer is. And so, we let go. Of careers. Of relationships. Of ideals. Of mindsets. Of home. Of ourselves. But as I opened the flood gates and let the pieces of me flow outward, it felt as if they were slipping through my fingertips. I felt a desperate need to hold on to something. Anything. I wanted to believe that the best parts of the “me” from before all of this, could still exist. That the woman I was previously becoming was not out of the question now. I could still be her: brave, audacious, courageous—even though all I knew now was fragile, despondent, and weak. And so, I decided I would hold on to just one thing: The Coastal Challenge.

Because if I could make it here, hundreds of days later, thousands of tears shed, a body trained and ready, a mind broken and rebuilt, it would mean that I survived. That all of me was not lost.

And then here I was, day six.
Almost on the other side of it all.

The goal I had made, before her death.
The one I held onto, despite her death.

6 days of putting one foot in front of the other.
365 days of putting one foot in front of the other

The culmination of a year of learning when to let go,
But most importantly, when to hold on.


I waded through a water section: an almost-knee deep slow-moving river, hugged by tall, dense jungle on either side. I was greeted by a blue morpho butterfly, it’s wingspan as large as my outstretched hand. It shimmered as it was touched by the sun—iridescent against the dark green jungle foliage. It didn’t seem to flutter, but rather, float. With calm, sweeping flaps of its wings it carried on upward, seemingly without a place to be. It’s sole purpose to just “be”. And then there I was, momentarily lost, simply witnessing its iridescent blue. I thought of my Sister. How the most beautiful part of her, too, was her ability to “be”.

I hustled onward. Between beaches, over bridges, through a waterfall, along winding staircases next to villas and resorts. The six days of the race had taken us from Playa Del Rey to Drake’s Bay – a serene getaway known for its white sand beaches and proximity to Corcovado National Park. Donned in bright, floral patterns and with puzzled looks in their eyes, tourists watched as we flew past them, salt, sweat, jungle-stench and all.

And then there it was, the finish line. The final finish line—about half a kilometer down the beach, waiting for me. My pace quickened. Before I knew it, a full-on sprint. Feet lurching forward on hard packed sand.

This entire moment was mine.


If you had asked me beforehand, I would have told you that I fully anticipated and intended to be in running hibernation for weeks upon weeks after completing the Coastal Challenge. But when I returned home, I was full body energized. I felt strong, full, light, and abundant.

My legs were begging me to get back out for a sunshine-filled stretch as soon as possible. So one day, I left work early, pulled on my gear, and headed out. As I floated along the Seawall, I couldn’t help but consider how serendipitous it was, that just like Vancouver’s almost-springtime skies, the storm clouds had finally cleared from mine.

I pulled out my phone and dialed my mom’s number. Through my tear-brimmed eyes, for the first time since my Sister died, the words fell freely from my lips: “Mom, I’m happy”

For the first time in 11 months, the weight of the world had lifted off my shoulders.
I could breathe, think, love, and feel, without total darkness.

This was the moment I’d been desperately fighting for,
The moment I’d deeply feared would never come,
The moment I’d hoped would be there for me, one day,
So long as I could find a way to just hold on.

Here it was.

Here I was.

Those six finish lines at the Coastal Challenge,
Were so much more than a wild adventure, a formidable race.
They were my reminder that good can come.
That good will come. That the light—one day—
will come pouring in.

We must simply have the courage
to sit with our darkness,
Until we find it.

  1. Stacey says:

    Maddie, I have been blessed to meet you!! Your strength, warm aura and unending courage, bless my life and so many others.. thank you for sharing your stories and journey through life..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


I'm Maddie—and I can't wait to share the power of outdoor spaces with you.



If you're looking to heal outdoors and out loud, this is the place for you. This space is all about sharing my outdoor reflections, equipping you with the know-how and courage to get out there yourself, and empowering you with the tools to write about your own wild adventures.


           I'm Maddie—and I show others the power of healing outdoors and out loud.

This space is all about sharing my outdoor adventure reflections and equipping you with the know-how and courage to get out there yourself—through resources like trip itineraries, outdoor gear guides, and beginner’s guides.


Hey, I'm Maddie—and I show others the power of healing outdoors and out loud.

Let's adventure, together!

All the adventure-inspiration you could need, right to your inbox! Think: beginner's guides, trip planning expertise, and wild adventures to salivate over, curated for your adventurous soul. Whether you're in the off-season or out bagging peaks, this periodic note from me-to-you will keep your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground!

A collection of raw, gritty, honest stories of my adventures through life, love, and loss.

Adventures, Unabridged.

All the adventure-inspiration you could need, right to your inbox!  Whether you're in the off-season or out bagging peaks, this periodic note from me-to-you will keep your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground!


Let's adventure, together!

All the adventure-inspiration you could need, right to your inbox! This periodic note from me-to-you will keep your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground!