This year I returned to the island of Ometepe in Nicaragua ready for another year of Fuego y Agua. This year would not include any press conferences and not Survival Run for me as a racer. Instead I had my eye on the ultras and had traveled there to cover the Survival Run as media.
After a very quick trip to Atlanta for the first USOCR summit I was home for less than 24 hours before heading back to the airport, headed to Nicaragua. Once arriving in Nicaragua and a quick night in Managua, I began the half day trip to the island of Ometepe, a landlocked island in the huge Lake Nicaragua. It’s similar to the great lakes as you cannot see one side to the other. I arrived with instructions to get from the ferry to Santo Domingo and then could find the office and my bed once I got there. Normally the massive planner this trip I let others do the planning and I instead just tagged along. Thanks to David Kalal for this organization and letting me be a tag along in transit. Once we got to he and his wife’s hotel, I pinged Race Director Josue Stephens as to where to go from there.
Luckily race HQ was basically across the street from where I had been dropped off, and walked over with my bags. A hostel had been converted into HQ for the week and upon arriving I was told a bed would be available tomorrow, the reason I now travel with a sleeping hammock, then later in the day found out I actually had a bed. Score! The rest of the day was spent in meetings prepping for Survival Run to start the next day (but unknown to racers). Tuesday morning was a blur of activity as I consumed several meals in the morning as prep, for once the race started I was off following it, charged all my devices and listened to the survival runners speculate what would happen at packet pickup.
As packet pickup started I know the race was on. The next 40 hours would include me darting around, finding wifi, and updating news as it came about racers. From the start of packet pickup to the finish of the race I would spend about 2 hours laying down in a bed resting my eyes. It’s hard to call it anything but that. The thing about covering a race is you forget things, like time awake, eating, and other essential body functions and instead consume yourself with the action. I ran around, darted from obstacle to obstacle and would get a snickers or snack in passing but no real meals. Truly was so consumed in the race I forgot to eat! After the race concluded I spent Thursday catching up on emails, finishing race reports, and eating tons of food to makeup for basically a day without eating. Friday it was time to prep for my own race.
As I prepped for my race on Friday I had a gut feeling a 100K was not going to be in the wheelhouse this trip. I was tired from the thrill and excitement of following the Survival Run and knew deep down I was fatigued from over a week of nonstop travel. But I prepped my drop bag, ate a large dinner and tried to get sleep prior to the race the next morning.
The alarm was an early one at 4am, it had been a fairly sleepless night as many pre-race nights often can be. I gathered my gear, got dressed and tried to consume some calories before heading down to the beach and the start line. We gathered and were greeted by fresh coffee and scones, I sipped down coffee in the hopes it would get everything moving before the race, but to no avail. As I lined up around many friends we all wished each other luck and then headed down the dark beach at 5am as the race began.
Quickly it was apparent to me it would be a 50K day and not a 100K day. My body was tired, no soreness but tired. As I ran the first couple kilometers down the beach I found myself towards the rear and settled into a sustainable pace. Then switching to the road for an addition few kilometers we reached the first aid station. I had filled all my hydration bladder and bottles in the morning and bypassed this aid station and started to make my way up the volcano Maderas. This marked the beginning of a 4500ft ascent up the volcano and the beginning of the fun part.
Climbing the volcano was fun, challenging, and most would border on it being terrible at times. I loved it. We climbed higher and higher up into a cloud forest, the temperatures dropped into a comfortable range, I passed people left and right up the volcano, which always feels good. The higher I climbed the more muddy the terrain got and technical. At times it was pretty much climbing up muddy mountain side just trying to find a spot to toe into so as to not slip backwards. Parts found us climbing under and over trees definitely not the well groomed trails most are us to. I reached the top of the crater where a small pond exists although you can’t see anything in the clouds up there, filled water and headed down the other side and through the famous jungle gym section.
The jungle gym has you climbing, ducking and dodging as you descend the volcano. It’s steep, it can be slick, and trees are a welcome helper. Also descending the volcano was probably the most fun part of the race. I felt my feet under me and cruised down off the mountain to the third aid station at Merida. I looked down at my watch and it seemed that whole time we had only gone about 20 kilometers or so. We had climbed and descended a 4500ft volcano in about 15K from sea level.
The rest of the course looks easy on a GPS reading but was anything but in reality for the remaining 30+K we would be on dirt/rock/dust roads pretty much devoid of all shade. The heat of the day was reaching it’s peak and the weather had to be in the mid to high 90’s. It was hard to maintain a pace as I was constantly watching each step on the road, while also avoiding the occasional horse drawn wagon, motorbike, bicycle, van, banana truck, and cow crossings. The hardest stretch of the course was the 12K from Merida to the 4th aid station. Most of this part of the race I was alone running along the dirt “road” as the sun baked down on me. My pale skin and freckled body is more comfortable in the snowy mountains of Utah than Central American heat. I trudged forward wanting at times to just cry as I felt heat rash come on. But like in so many races I told myself I was having a moment and then pressed on, tuned up the music in my ipod and made it to the next aid station.
It was here I met up with Flint (www.flintland.com) whom I had met at Hunter Gatherer and hadn’t yet had the chance to really catch up with since his arrival. We decided to band together for at least a while which turned out to be the rest of the race. The heat was getting to a lot of the racers and no one expected the road to take such a tool on all of us. Flint and I spent the rest of the race and many hours talking about everything and nothing. He works with those in the Copper Canyons and told me about his recent trip there, his friendship with Caballo Blanco, past races, future races, life and all the other things that you discuss when in a long race.
Highlights from the time together and things that can only happen in a race in Nicaragua, beautiful views when not looking at your feet. Getting hosed down by a young Nicaraguan boy between aid stations to cool off! He was laughing at the sight. Waving and smiling to all the islanders who live on the most remote part of the island. I said a lot of “holas” in my horrible spanish. Another racer Ian whom we leap frogged all race giving me half his coke he had bought at a pulperia (basically a store attached to someones house or small shack on the side of the road). Long stretches of the race came and went as Flint and I tried to see the beauty around us as we trudged forward in the blistering heat over rocky/sandy/dirt terrain.
We reached the final aid station and were welcomed by friends who told us we looked a lot better than much of the field who had come by. It was only 10K to go before the finish line and much of it was now on a cobblestone road a welcome change! We pushed along and as we made our last turn to run the final few kilometers down the beach to the finish we had done it. In the final stretch we booked it and tried to pick up those struggling to the finish, bringing a few runners along with us in a last surge for the finish. We crossed the finish line just over 10 hours after beginning the race and were happy to be finished.
Our respite was short as only a few minutes after taking a shower we were back to work. A few volunteers from an aid station wanted to leave and needed to be replaced so myself, Flint and Peter (who had spent the day on the volcano aid station) were in a truck with a box of beer and the promise of pizza on the way headed to man an aid station. It was less than 30 minutes since finishing my own race I found myself helping other racers and cheering on those who had continued onto the 100K (only 18 of 65 went past the 50K mark and only 14 of those would finish the 100K). Finally just before 1am I found my bed once again and my race day was over!
Overall, Fuego y Agua was once again an adventure. It was different from the 2013 adventure and just as rich and exciting. I may not have run the Survival Run this year but can say I had a good sense of the race. I loved being able to work with Josue and his team. Everyone did a great job putting on fantastic races. What is gained from Fuego y Agua events is more than what happens on the course, it’s a combination of everything, the people, the place, and the community of unique people all sharing the same passion. I was honored to meet so many new people and build even stronger bounds with those I already knew. It was great getting to meet again and get to know another Team Inov-8 member Nick Hollon. Seriously he is a truly amazing person. I will definitely be back in 2015 for another stab possibly at the 100K or at least covering all the events. Ometepe has a place in my heart and Fuego y Agua events never cease to let me down.
Random Photos from the trip: