I’ve had my eye on this race for a while. Unfortunately it was canceled in 2011 so my adventure there had to be postponed until this year. Everything happens on the Island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua. The course nearly loops around the entire island and boasts two volcanic climbs; Maderas, or as I liked to call it, “The Beast”, is inactive, wet, cold, and MUDDY and Mt. Conception which is active, long, and generally run in the dark. The two volcanoes represent Fuego y Agua.
Island of Ometepe
Let me start by telling you about the most magical place on earth. Ometepe is a hidden oasis in Nicaragua, even if you’re not going to run, at least make some time for adventuring on this island. I’ve never felt so welcome in a foreign country. Before and after the race I managed to eat tons of good food, scooter around the island, attend a seriously old fashioned rodeo, kayak to Monkey Island, hike to waterfalls, and swim at the most amazing water hole ever; Ojo de Agua
The island is quite easy to get to; flying into Managua you can hop into a cab to take you to the ferry; the ferry is crammed to the brim with people, livestock, supplies, and food, but it will only run you about $2. Not bad. Once on the island you can walk to a whole slew of great hostels and hotels to find a place to sleep, eat, and drink. I stayed in a pretty tiny room for about $6 a night. Pretty much anywhere on the island you can find amazing cheap food. I’m vegan and I was still able to find plenty of arroz con vegetales mixto.
Some of you may remember my successful Leadville race with hardly any training, well this race I had even less training, and I was totally unprepared with food, hydration and lights. Yeah, I knew this was gonna be a fun one. Luckily, everyone’s favorite Texan, John Sharp, had me covered with an extra light. The race started at 4am, we had a couple hours of running in the dark. The early hours were pretty uneventful, scooting along soft trails through the backwoods of Nicaragua. Some time after sunrise I approached my favorite aid station. Yep, it’s the waterhole I mentioned earlier, Ojo de Agua; this is a perfect spot to stop and take a dip. From Ojo de Agua we were headed towards Madares. This is what everyone came here for.
Maderas is brutal. On my way up the steep mountain I learned that just the week before a hiker got lost on the mountain. I could see exactly how this could happen, and I wasn’t even at the crazy part yet. We were warned that the mountain would be muddy and that we should have an extra pair of shoes waiting in a drop bag on the other side. I was using the ATS laces, which at the time were still in prototype, so I didn’t know quite how they would perform, so instead of in my drop bag I just strapped a trusty pair of Leadvilles w/leather laces to my hip belt. This is one really awesome benifit of minimalism, I could carry an extra pair of footwear with me!
Maderas is pretty much always strapped with it’s very own cloud:
Once I got up into the cloud, things got a lot wetter, and since it’s ALWAYS wet, there is no “dirt”, only mud. At one point I reached for my camera because I was standing up to my knee, literally, in mud, but I forgot to bring it :( No photo of crazy mud. Not only am I supposed to get my leg out of this muck, but I’m supposed to be running. I kept slogging along, mud and vines and water, lots of water, not just on the ground but on everything — grab a branch for stability and a pint of water will dump down your arm. I don’t know if this sounds terrible, but it wasn’t, it was so much fun, I felt like a kid with no cares in the world. I was SO dirty and wet that it didn’t matter anymore, there was no reason to avoid any of it, the best thing to do was embrace it. Let the mud take over.
Once at the top, you drop down into the crater of the volcano where a foggy lake lives. Somehow they managed to get an aid station up here (???), which was a very surreal sight. Some happy volunteers greeted me, I saw a sleepy pooch lying by a makeshift tent placed next the the shore of the lake. This was literally ALL I could see, everything else was engulfed in the mist. I caught my breath here and moved on not knowing that the best part was just ahead of me. After crawling out of the crater, I was greeted with more mud except on this side things felt a little more like a fantasy Tarzan world. I was using my upper body just as much as my legs, swinging and flowing through the swampy jungle, climbing down muddy slopes, at one point I was crawling over a giant root system and suddenly looked down to see nothing below me, just empty space, a few hundred foot drop, the roots had protruded from a cliff side and I was “running” on them. Soon after this I remembered the extra sandals strapped to my back. I figured if I were ever gonna compare the performance of the ATS laces to traditional laces this should be the time.
I took a second to change from my ATS laces to the traditional and took off again. The difference was night and day, the leather straps weren’t strong enough to hold my foot in place, the layer of mud on the sandal meant that I had zero traction, the ATS laces had been doing all of the work. Within 5 minutes the extreme pressure from my foot sliding pulled the knot through the toe hole. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve run some crazy things in traditional laces and managed just fine, but this was beyond crazy, this was unreal, a Hollywood movie could never capture the raw jungle of this place. With the ATS laces securely back on my feet I made my way down the mountain.
The aid station at the bottom, Hacienda Merida, marked the 50k point. I was feeling pretty good, but the volcano had taken a good chunk of energy and time. The rest of the race didn’t go too well for me. I left the aid station not thinking of hydration at all, having just been cold and wetter than if I were swimming. The next 8 miles was along a dirt road that went through a couple small towns. Turns out that that day was one of the hottest of the year, and I was running totally exposed right in the middle of it. I quickly ran out of water and trotted feeling pretty miserable, I had become dehydrated and exhausted from the heat. But I had one thing to comfort me: I knew the next aid station was back at Ojo de Agua and I had a pretty good idea that is where my girlfriend would be. If I said that my plan wasn’t to grab a fresh coconut, take a dip, pull up a chair next to my lady friend, and call it a day, I’d be lying. And that is exactly what I did. This is my second DNF to date, but in my mind it was the absolute best 38 mile race the world has ever seen.
From what I hear the rest of the course is pretty amazing, unfortunately I never got to climb Conception, but you should check out the entry from a good dude (Joseph Ryan) that I met there. The race was fantastic, the volunteers and organizers did a fantastic job. The aid stations were stocked, the course was well marked, and they made sure the each and every runner was happy and safe, They were even quite helpful in organizing much of my travel. The event also hosts a kids 5k where 500 local kids get to run there little hearts out, and the race gives away a pair of shoes and a medal to every child who participates. The next race is happening February 16th, 2013, seriously sign up now. You can snag $50 off for signing up early. I would highly recommend checking this race out. Bring a friend and have a blast.