Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fuego y Agua Ultramarathon

This past weekend runners from all over the world and Peace Corps Volunteers from Nicaragua traveled to the island of Ometepe for the Fuego y Agua Ultramarathon.  The event consisted of a 25km run up volcan La Concepcion at 1600 meters, 50km up volcan Maderes at 1300 meters, 100km up both volcanos and a survival obstacle course based run.

The 25 km trail was an unforgettable experience and it reminded me just how much I love the challenge of running.  It's an incredible feeling to push yourself and realize just what your body and mind is capable of accomplishing when put to the test.  Truly amazing.  I'm not going to lie, I was nervous going in to the race, under-trained and sporting a healing broken toe.  In the end it was the shuffle down a steep incline that made my IT Band flair up and ache the last 5 miles of the race, but nothing ice and tiger balm couldn't fix.

We started the run at 7 am, too late in my opinion as the sun was already blazin.  We took off through a dirt ravine lined with trash and cow dung heading toward La Concepcion Volcano.  We ran past fields of crops and dodged cattle as they blocked our path.  As we gradually climbed I took the first aid station, and last chance to refuel before the steep climb, way too loosely.  As my run gradually slowed to a straight up hike the lack of fluids really hit me.  Fortunately a friendly Costa Rican gal that I started the climb with offered me water as we continued together.  People started to drop like flies and I found myself asking several people if they were ok and wondering how fast my dehydration could debilitate me.  Fortunately after grabbing a few dead tree branches which led to face planting in dirt, I made it to the top where it felt like the wind might blow me off the mountain.  I had to sit down to slurp down my GU gel and pound water.  After contemplating how much further I had to go I talked the guy at the aid station in to letting me take off with a half gallon of water in my hand.  Thank god!  As I shuffled down to where I could actually start running again I ran in to others that were in need of water.

It was cool getting to know the runners around you after settling in to a pace.  We would pass and re-pass each other and eventually learned each others names.  Other runners would shout my name as they heard the sloshing of my water chug approaching.  The last 5 miles were the most painful, but stretched over the best trail I've ever ran.  I ran up and down rolling hills while looking out over Lake Nicaragua from high up the volcano.  Dodging rocks and tree roots made it all that much more fun.  Settling in to a runners high over that kind of terrain was a blast.  After finishing the 25 km with some juice left, I regretted not pushing myself a bit harder.  But that's why they made the 50 k right?

I heard stories from other runners who hit up the 50km and 100km and completely gained my respect. Shout out to friends/bad-asses Sam Shepard and Jake Pritchard for rocking the 50 km!  Apparently the survival run only had 2 finishers!  The winner was the famous local Nicaraguan runner Johnson who ran with chickens, tree trunks, shimmied up trees, swam great lengths and basically survived what a good number of men and women could not.  We had the pleasure of sitting by Johnson during the award ceremony, whom proved to be a very humble and well spoken individual.  It is amazing how he is setting an example in a culture where ultra-running is not the norm and over all good physical health is not high on the list of priorities.  The winners in all four categories walked away with hand made Nicaraguan animal masks from the artisan town of Masaya.  A monkey represented the Survival run winners and was by far the most interesting.  The masks got progressively more fierce from 3rd place to 1st place.  The day after the ultramarathon a race was held for the youth of Ometepe Island.  The finishers got a pair of running shoes and a t-shirt.  Over all the event was an awesome mesh of culture as well as a display of camaraderie.

The next day we celebrated and rewarded ourselves with beers on the island beaches looking back at the volcanos we had conquered.  As we sat around telling stories, a survival runner participant came up with a large horse feed sack and told us to pull out our prize.  We quickly named him Santa Clause as he sported a narly mustache that curled up at the corners as came around with his sack.  I pulled out a liter of Tona, perfection.  We continue to reward ourselves with beverages all day and in to the evening. That night there was a runner's party with human bowling, Flamenco dancing, whiskey, cigars and breaking it down to some talented DJing.  All in all it was an unforgettable weekend.

Some fun semi-correct facts from my Garmin Watch.  Obviously 25km=15.5 miles so the elevation change messed with my watch a bit.

Some sported mohawks

my number was 311 :)

Santa Clause is sportin the hat, glasses, and the stash

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