Una corrida en las selvas, calles y playas de Isla de Ometepe
Before going into this race, I knew I likely had to throw out all expectations and expect the unexpected. I believe this ultimately helped me. Back in the PNW winter, I simply continued to train as I would any race: long runs, hilly trail runs, cut-down tempos, etc. The humidity? This I knew could be the X-factor. Fortunately, I had four travel days in Nicaragua to get accustomed as part of a 12-day vacation with my roommate and long-time friend, Brian Rakestraw, an avid trail runner and climber himself. If the first four days were any indication, I knew this would be warm, scratch that…hot race with a late start time of 10am. Even by 8am, the sun is in full force and the humidity strong. The Fuego y Agua is hosted appropriately by Fuego y Agua Events but they’re also known for putting on tough endurance events that include a boosted challenge such as the Widowmaker 50k and the Caballo Blanco Ultra in the Copper Canyons as portrayed in Born to Run.
I showed up one hour early to race start with a 2-mile jog from my hotel. I took in the views of Lake Nicaragua, the beach where the race actually begins and the extravagant hubbub of the start line with a giant inflatable Toña beer bottle (Toña and Victoria beers are essentially the equivalent to a Coors Light). My race gear featured the Brooks PureGrit 3, the SRC-Brooks sky blue singlet and my bright Brooks green plaid race short. It was also my first race with a hydration pack – not wanting to take a chance on the heat. Also, if you ever consider competing in this race, keep in mind that the advertised “25k” is actually good for a 33k.
Race goes off, first 10 minutes or so on beach, onto rolling roads and into the jungle set alongside Volcán Maderas. This is where the real fun began: the constant search for the next “flecha” (arrow) or señal (signal/streamer). With so many trails going off any which direction, it became a game of who could spot the next. The front pack consisting of me, two Costa Ricans and two Nicaraguans got lost at least three times. The worst of it being hiking around lost for what felt like 10 minutes with me throwing in my Spanish phrases into the conversation of where to go next. We came upon a ranch home and fortunately a local boy pointed to a nearby rock which contained the chalk arrow. The next few miles had a fun mix of technical and fast running through palm trees, big rocks and fields overlooking the water.
Eventually we made it out of the jungle and into the 3rd aid station in La Palma, the most eastern part of Ometepe. The next 15k or so was going to be rolling hills on dirt and concrete road in direct sunlight. Similar to the previous two aid stations, the other runners barely acknowledged the liquids and food provided and three of them hastily continued running. I took a bit more time and then quickly caught all three just a few minutes later. The two Nicaraguans looked beat at this point and eventually faded pretty hard. This left me and an older, experienced-looking Costa Rican to battle for the remainder of the race. Anytime I made a move, he responded right back. This guy was a fighter. I made another move and carried this lead for another 3-4 miles. It was only getting hotter and a couple buses drove by causing an awful dust storm, attempting to shield my eyes. My legs were slowly suffering and it began to feel like the last 10k of a road marathon. Heading into the final aid station, I took a quick glance behind and realized I still hadn’t shaken him. He looked to be about 15 seconds back. With under 5k to go, the sun seemed to deplete all of my remaining energy in my legs and I was finally overtaken on the final hill. The last two miles finished alongside the beach. I could see the finish way out in the distance and what seemed like the longest finish to a race ever. I ran tough all the way to the end and finished 2nd overall in 2:50:45, and the winning time of 2:49:48 set by Feliciano Davila Rodriguez. It was an unforgettable experience and learned a lot about my fitness and myself. After a clutch massage, a Toña beer, and Aleve gels being handed to me, I was presented with a volcanic rock trophy, a nice souvenir to take home. Not as nice to lug that thing around for the rest of my vacation!
Coming back to the Northwest to race the Fragrance Lake Half, hosted by Candice Burt and Bellingham Trail Running Series, was certainly a breath of fresh, cold air compared to the Nicaraguan humidity. Several runners use this race as a course preview for the Chuckanut 50k. It also felt like a shock to my lung and leg systems as I would find out later. The race went out faster than I was hoping, a Canadian runner taking the initial two flat miles out in what looked to be 5:45 pace. Fortunately I felt strong enough to put on a gap on the first, long ascent up the Cleator Road climb. From there, it was all about hanging on. Ten challenging miles later (the half had 3,300 ft. of vert), on the final suicidal downhill to the finish, I did exactly that: hang on. The second place runner made up some ground and got to a single step behind me as we were both bombing the switchbacks. One more gradual uphill was my friend and used it to snag the win by 26 seconds.
Thanks again for the continued support by Seattle Running Club, Brooks Running, Honey Stinger and all of my friends and family. And much thanks to Brian, for coming along to Ometepe, and my work, PopCap, who have supported my running antics.