The alarm goes off at 3:00am after a mostly sleepless night in my room. My bag was packed, I pulled on my race kit and it was off to the start line for the 3:30am checkin for the inaugural Fuego y Agua Survival Run on the island of Ometepe, Nicaragua. With a layer of sunscreen about an inch thick on my body I headed out the door and arrived at the starting line. It was not yet 3:30am and already the area was a buzz with Survival Runners, 100k’ers and 50k’ers all geared up and ready for a 4:00am start time.
I checked in then mingled around the start until all Survival Runners were called to one area. Here we were shown a sequence of colors in a diagram and instructed to memorize it. We would later have to pick this combination out in order to receive aid at the aid stations. While looking at the diagram we were instructed to stand in a line and get our live chicken, he would be our racing buddy, for at least a little while. Yes, we were given a live chicken, before the race even began. My Death Race brain went right into action, quickly I asked if the chicken had to arrive at it’s destination alive. (I was imagining we would be carrying it for 20 hours) I was informed yes it had to be alive. Luckily, we have five chickens at home and I have some experience catching them in the yard and also have learned how to calm them.
The variety of ways people held the chickens were classic, everything from a Buff around the chicken to like a football or just with two hands right out in front of them afraid of what they might expel. My chicken quickly fell asleep in my arms, thus earning the title “chicken whisperer” by other competitors. It was 4:00am with chickens in hand we took off surrounded by 100k and 50k runners. As we made our way down the main street, I quickly learned my pace at first would be slow. I would call is a fast hike, as we turned off the street onto the sandy dirt path/road the slow jog turned into a hike. Not wanting to disturb the chicken or lose it tripping on a rock or stump in the dark, I found my pace early which also put me in the back of the pack with four other racers.
After about four miles of navigating the course in the dark while holding the chicken, Shelley Koenig and Lani Love Cochran and I handed our chickens off, only to be handcuffed by the police with zip tie handcuffs in front of our bodies. Quickly we went from one challenge/obstacle to the next. The sun was rising as we attempted to run handcuffed down the road with about a 20lb pack on. I had no idea how difficult it is to run when you no longer have use of your hands! I successfully was able to determine the correct pattern at the first aid station and maneuvered myself around, still handcuffed, taking in water, electrolytes and some food. The three of us took off and caught up to a couple other groups of racers.
Shelley and Lani took off running wanting to get as far as possible before the blazing ninety plus degree heat took over for the day. I knew for me this race would be about pace. Shortly after resuming running I caught up with former Death Racers Johnny Waite and Laura Svette. There pace was exactly mine. I said goodbye to Shelley and Lani and commenced part of the race with Johnny and Laura. We chatted as we hiked/jogged and said hello to every Nica native we passed. It’s not everyday they see Gingos running down the road packed out in handcuffs. After about another three or four miles in handcuffs we were cut free and ran a few hundred yards before encountering our third obstacle.
As we ran down the road we encountered the next road block/obstacle. At this point we were instructed to bundle up 40lbs (50lbs for men) of firewood, weigh it on a fish scale then carry it for “a long ways”. The three of us gathered our bundles. I was extremely happy for the extra strap I packed last minute. My bundle weighed out at just over 41 pounds. I was handed my first piece of my four part medal “fail”. Laura, Johnny and I strategized together how to best carry this weight for “a long ways”. We attached the bundle to our backs, fairly unsuccessfully and took off down the course. The course started along the beach than quickly turned back down a loose dirt path. As we entered the path the howler monkeys spoke to us from above. Johnny stopped for a moment and talked back. The mood was good but the method for transporting the wood bundle was quickly failing. We stopped as a group, reassessed the situation, then concluded it would be more efficient to split the bundles and reattach the larger to our backs.
As we made new bundles a few racers passed. This did not deter us. From experience we all knew if we were able to find a better way to carry the load it would make the whole time much easier and faster in the long run. After more bundling, tying, and basically attaching the larger bundles to ourselves with rope we were off. At that point there was no getting the bundle on my back off. Over the next five miles I shifted the shoulder bundle from side to side, farmer carrying the other bundle on the opposite side. At one point Johnny stopped for a coke and Laura and I kept moving, passing racers once again. The mantra was, at least we don’t have to carry this forty hours (unlike the Death Race 2011). This was the best team I could have been with for that obstacle/challenge. As we arched the next aid station, successfully again remember the latest color pattern, took in nutrition and set off down the hill to the next challenge.
Up to this point in the race, my pace was leisurely and I was in it for the experience. The race had been relatively easy but knew later on some tight time cut-offs loomed. I walked down the hill to find our forth challenge, climbing 20-25 feet up a coconut tree and retrieving a wristband off the tree. A group of racers surrounded the area, many attempting over and over to get it. I saw Shelley and Lani, Shelley said she was out unable to get up the tree. Corrine Kohlen was just about to leave after over an hour and a half attempting the climb finally succeeding. All of a sudden it for real, and failure was a possibility. This was the first obstacle that not only was challenging physically but also mentally. I surveyed the options and tried one tree failing the first time. I was convinced I would not get it. I looked at another tree and saw only one wristband remained and decided to give that one a try. I started out climbing the tiny tree next to the one with the coveted wristband, then somehow made it onto the second. As I climbed I was terrified, this was not like anything I had ever done before. Below me to the left was a shallow lagoon, immediately below me was concrete and off to the right brush, trees and rocks. There was no margin for error on this one. Half way up the tree I didn’t think I would make it, I knew I really only had one option, up! This was not something you wanted to try continuously. As I got to a large branch I could rest on I paused, took some deep breaths then kept going. With my fingertips I pulled the last band off the tree, success!
I quickly scaled down the tree, went over to the small food stand rewarded myself with a cold coke (We were aloud to bring cash and stop in stores along the way if we wanted.) The greatest Coca Cola of my life. At this moment, I went from being there to wanting to really compete. I pulled my headphones out and turned on the Tron Soundtrack, said thank you to Johnny Waite and Laura Svette and took off running. It was time to race, and time to really get started.