Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fuego y Agua 50k, 100k, Survival Race Report

Nicaragua -- February 14 - 20

Fuego y Agua 50k Ultra Marathon

Ometepe Island, 2 a.m., race morning.  It's so early, the ants that live in our hotel bathroom are still asleep.  I flip up the toilet lid to see one lone soldier walking the edge of the toilet bowl.

I have butter cookies crushed into the floor boards of the room, and this ant is walking the porcelain canyon-lip in search of who-knows-what.  

So far, I'm no more impressed with the intellect of Nicaraguan ants than I am the Nicaraguan agency that built the Ometepe airport landing strip directly through the island’s main road.  

A loud gust of wind nearly takes the tin roof off our hotel room.  The metal groans and I hear an eerie howling from the monkeys living in the tall jungle next to the "resort".  I suspect that the howling has been initiated by the monkey who tried to pee on us from the tree top yesterday -- that guy hates us.

A rare monkey sighting.  Mostly they're loud.
Man it's early.  And in just a short while, I’ll be out there in the darkness running 50k around a live volcano and then up and into an allegedly dormant volcano.  And all of this through a hot, muddy jungle filled with those monkeys and, allegedly, snakes.  

Whose idea was this?  

Start line.  3:45 a.m.  Moyolgapa.

The night is sticky warm, with a light breeze from the south.  The air smells like wild animals.

"Big David" Gluhareff, as I have come to call my new friend with the Herculean physique and the pleasant face, is standing next to me a few rows back from the start line.  He's smiling, but not in a happy way -- more like in a germ-a-phobe-holding-the-wrong-end-of-a-toilet-bowl-plunger, kind-of-way.  

Gently, Big David.
Held between his beefy arms, at full extension, is a panic-stricken chicken.  David looks a lot like a man trying to hand a baby back to its mother.

The chicken doesn't look pleased either. 

David does not like germs.  The idea of starting his event, the 70k survival race, by running 10k with a chicken has David a bit freaked out.  David came here prepared to wrestle bull sharks, but right now he’d pay a lot of money to get his hands on a a pair of latex gloves and a paper mask. 

Nearby, the rough and tough, tattooed John Taylor from Texas has named his chicken Pablo.  

Though tough, John is also smart.  He quickly renames his chicken Pablita.

On the other end of the competitor spectrum is another new friend, Paul Battaglia.  Paul is doing the 50k for his 50th birthday.  

From an endurance training standpoint, Paul is on the less-prepared end of the ruler.  He’s here to explore his limits -- relying on heart and determination to get through -- sort of like Christopher Columbus setting out from Spain in a kayak.  

Fortunately, he’s carrying a camera and a Go Pro, so if he dies in the jungle, we’re likely to recover some great footage.  

Seeing the 40 or-so tough as nails looking survival runners -- most covered with some combination of piercings, tattoos, mohawks and facial hair -- gently cradling confused looking chickens, lightens the mood for all of the competitors -- well at least the competitors who are not carrying chickens. 

But under their calm demeanors even the 50k and 100k runners are a little fearful.

We are all aware that today will be a challenge.  Running first in pitch blackness and then in tropical heat through jungles and over volcanos would be enough -- but we’ve all heard the unearthly sound of the howler monkeys and we’re wondering what else is out there.

I'm here for moral support and as a photographer.  Laura finished the El Cruce Columbia, a 100k 3-day stage race, the previous Sunday.  Her goal is merely to finish today's 50K race on extremely tired legs. 

4:00 a.m. -- Mile Zero

As we take off from the start line, leaving the fluorescent light of the start line for the blackness of the narrow cobbled streets, I try to keep the mood light by chatting with the other racers and cracking bad chicken jokes.  

As we weave through the crowd of runners, I say good morning to Andres, a triathlete I met the previous day.  

But Laura's all business and I have to end the pleasantries with Andres quickly.  After only a minute of chit-chat, Laura is almost out of sight.  My headlamp shines about 20 yards ahead of me and she’s well beyond that, so all I can see is her bobbing headlight and some reflective stripes on her hydration pack.

I step up the pace and keep her in sight.  

Even at this early hour, a few Nicaraguan locals are out in the streets, perhaps curious about the parade of headlamps bobbing up and down.

More probably, they’re wondering when they'll get their chickens back.  

I say "Ola!" and "Buenos Dias!" left and right. 

As we make the first left turn off the village street and onto a dusty trail -- some sort of dry river-gully, it seems -- Laura has moved into first place among all of the women.  She clearly feels fine, and I'm starting to wonder whether it's me who should be concerned.  Not only am I still tired from Team Every Man Jack's murderous triathlon camp last weekend, but the gap between the elite guys up ahead and us is enough that we are essentially running alone in the dark. 

And I don't have a clue where the turns are.  

Although we were told that the course would be well-marked, the moon is not particularly bright, the dust being stirred up from the river gully is thick, and I'm positive it will be impossible to see the painted arrows on the ground or on telephone poles.

Word on the street is that there were supposed to be glow sticks marking the way, but that they were stolen. 

Should be easy to find the thieves -- assuming they're hiding out in the dark.

Sometimes, when the trees thin, I can vaguely make out the triangular shape of the massive live Volcano that towers over Moyolgapa.  It obliterates the starlight in a massive triangular area straight ahead.

I know that I need to keep the volcano to our left as we head south.  But, as I say, it’s straight ahead.  

Two miles in and I’m already worried about being lost.  

Fortunately, a few guys and a couple girls join us at the front.  The combined power of the eight headlamps makes it clear that we are on a trail with no turns -- which is a relief.

As some of our group push on a little faster and some drop off, a guy named Tyler with a cool tattoo on his back, running in what looks like indigenous indian sandals, forms a three person pack with us and we settle into a steady running rhythm.    

Suddenly, our dry river bed dead-ends into a deep gully and we nearly plunge 8 feet straight down a cliff.

Only the momentary bobbing of a headlamp in the distance allows us to see that there is a parallel trail to our left and that we need to jump up an embankment to get back on course.

This is the easy part.  The rest of the race should be interesting.

5:00 a.m. -- Mile 6.  

The river bed dead-ends into a road and we turn left, following Tyler’s tatoo. Happy to no longer be coughing up dust, Laura kicks it up to a 7:30 pace without regard for whether we made the correct turn. 

Early morning commuter paces Laura.
A local on a bike cruises alongside Laura and watches her intently.  His dog falls into step, a few feet off Laura’s heels.   

After a hundred yards, I’m getting the distinct spidey-sense that the course should go right, not left.  I stop and head back to the intersection, search my brain for  some words in Espanol and ask a man on a horse:  "carrera aqui?" pointing in the direction of Laura's quickly disappearing headlamp.  

"Si, si,"  he replies, pointing in the direction that Tyler and Laura have gone.

At that moment, I realize that the man on the horse has no idea where the runners are supposed to be going -- he’s just telling me where they’ve gone.  

But I’m out of Spanish words and carrying a bottle in each hand.  Charades is out of the question. 

I have no choice but to chase after Laura and hope that we're not running up a volcano unnecessarily.  

At Laura's quick pace, it's now very difficult for me to make up her quarter mile lead.  It takes me over a mile to catch up, even running sub 7 minute miles.

Remarkably, as I catch up, I see that the guy on the bike and his dog are still right where I left them -- happily keeping pace with Laura, and taking advantage of her headlamp to see the road ahead.  

I'm getting the distinct impression that the guy and the dog are commuting to work. 

Moving together in a little pack, we gradually pick off a group of three male runners and confirm that we’re all on course.  One of the runners, Marco from Nicaragua, offers me some cold Gatorade that he got from a passing Land Cruiser.  Life is good.  Ultra runners are awesome.  

Unfortunately, this good feeling doesn't last long.  

6 a.m. -- Mile 13. 

We’ve turned off the paved road, heading south now, I think.  And south is good.  It means we're not running in the wrong direction.  

We're running down what appears to be a dirt alley, between ramshackle little houses.  I'm 10 meters back.  There are no headlamps visible ahead and none behind.  A very faint light is creeping into the sky, but so far, we haven't seen a single course marker -- and we arrive at yet another T intersection.  

As luck would have it, a couple is walking down the street.  Now confident in my Spanish, I ask:  "carrerra aqui, o aqui?" pointing in both directions.

The woman points left.  The husband doesn't look so certain.

Laura starts to run left, while I look for confirmation.  

I search for a chalk arrow, a blue flag, a mark on a pole... anything at all that points the way. 


Two minutes later, I'm about to leave the intersection when three headlamps pop out of the darkness.  It’s the guys we passed a few miles ago.   

The combined power of our headlamps allows us to spot a dark blue arrow on a dark brown pole pointing right.  

Laura is long gone in the wrong direction, however.  And she’s wearing headphones.

The three guys, head right.  I go left, racing after Laura.

It takes another hard effort to run her down and get her attention.  With Rhianna thumping in her headphones, it's hard to make myself heard. 

This detour costs Laura at least 3 spots -- which annoys me more than her.  I’m worried that perhaps some women have passed her.  But Laura could care less. 

It takes immense self control for me to shut up and let her enjoy the race for its own sake.  Not everything needs to be about competition, I say, not believing myself. 
First light.

The road dead ends into a short beach on the west side of the island, then turns east and up another dusty dry creek.  

This island is like the world's foremost home of dry creek beds. 

We run slightly uphill for a few miles before we see a runner up ahead. 

Forgetting that this day isn't about competition, I blurt out:  "Let's catch this guy."  I'm hopeless.

As we get closer it's apparent that the runner is a survival runner.  He is running with a 50 lb. stack of wood on his shoulders and is nearly running the same pace as Laura.  

I say, "Hi!  Nice work" as Laura passes.  The guy not only keeps up the pace, but as I ask him his name he smiles and says “my name is Olaf.  I am from New York!”  

His name is Olaf and he loves pain.  

7:00 a.m. -- Mile 17.  

We slowed a bit over the last hour.  With the sun rising, the temperature becomes a factor.  That, and we spent a few miles climbing over the hilly saddle of the island.

The pace, however, allows us to enjoy the amazing beauty of Ometepe Island and it's people.  

After running through a banana field, weaving in and out of banana trees like in a 3d movie, we end up on a dirt road and run through nearly medieval villages.  

Old ladies are out at sunrise sweeping the streets.  Children play.  Chickens, horses, cows and oxen wander freely.  

And we run in wonderment.

I can’t help but think that someone should tell the little old lady with the broom that 300 crazy runners are about to mess up her nice dirt street and she might want to delay the sweeping until after the runners pass through.

Unfortunately, I don’t know enough Spanish to explain all this.  

Instead, I smile, wave and say "Ola!" hoping that being friendly will make up for the disruption we are causing.  

I'm thrilled that no one is chasing... and the beach is nice too.
The village dead-ends into a beautiful long sand beach and we are directed to run in the sand instead of on the parallel road -- sadists.  But with the sun rising to our left and the Madera volcano shrouded in fog, just to the right of the sunrise, the beach run seems effortless.  

We pass some Americans with the race organization and a lady tells Laura that she’s in second place.

I can tell that this helps lift Laura’s mood -- which is important, because we are closing in on the difficult part of the course -- the volcano.  And for the first time, we can see that the volcano’s north flank is steep -- really, really steep.  A lot steeper than it looked when I reviewed the elevation profile on the website.  Worse, the whole thing seems to be covered in dense jungle.  The elevation profile didn't say anything about jungle.

This is going to get ugly.

A mile later, the earth begins to tilt uphill and the flat ground becomes bowling ball-shaped lava rocks. 

Laura dances through the boulder field a few hundred yards ahead, while I slow down to take pictures.  

When I start to run again, I realize that the left side of the trail has better footing.  I move onto that section, round a corner and nearly get bulldozed by a horse.  In fact, I nearly get trampled by a whole peloton of horses.  At the last instant, I jump to the right and squeeze myself against a fence to let the herd?/gaggle?/team? pass.  

After the last horse passes, I jump back on the trail to chase down Laura.  

Just then, an ox appears in front of me.  And it isn’t giving the right-of way -- swaying back and forth, he takes up the whole road.  I dodge right again.  

Next comes a dude riding a horse.  Then a dog.

"It's like trying to run upstream against the Rose Parade," I think to myself.  Just in case there’s a herd of elephants ahead, I peer cautiously up the trail before setting off to catch Laura again.  

I notice though that our pace to this point has been outstanding.  Laura is well ahead of her personal best time for a 50k, which is incredible given that I'm the only one interested in her placement.

Unfortunately, it looks like the good times are about to end.  Trees start to appear randomly in the path, the trail gets steeper and the volcano is starting to look like a green wall.  

8:00 a.m. -- Mile 21

Ok, so things are slowing down quite a bit now.  We dropped from about 10 minute miles over the first 17 miles, to about a 15 minute mile pace over the last 4 miles.

And now the trail -- if you can call it a trail -- is downright treacherous.  

It occurs to me that we’re really climbing up a channel cut by a stream that is now navigable only because it’s the “dry” season.  Another freaking dry creek bed!  Roots, wet areas, big boulders and high step ups appear every few yards.  I find Laura a walking stick to help her keep her footing.  

The stick looked more substantial in person.
Because the geniuses at the airline lost my luggage in Houston, my footwear is not ideal.  I’m wearing what I wore on the plane -- brand new Saucony A5s -- which are the type of shoes a Kenyan might wear to run a 10k.  In other words, Saucony never dreamed that some moron would try to climb a volcano in them.

And the technology one might find useful in a 10k on a dry road is a bit counter-productive at the moment.  The ventilation holes in the sole of my footwear are allowing mud, water and rocks to join my foot inside the shoe. 

Fortunately, a cement-type mixture of small stones and mud eventually block the ventilation holes, keeping the water out.  Unfortunately, this makes the shoes distinctly uncomfortable since I’m now running on pebbles stuck into the soles of my shoes. 

The jungle ate the tread off my shoes.

To make matters worse, the tiny little bit of tread that was initially glued to the bottoms of the A5’s is peeling off.  

So while Laura was making good time, I was going uphill like a man trying to run up a water slide at Wet 'n Wild.  

9:00 a.m. -- Mile 22

The Garmin GPS watch shows that we are setting a world record for not going fast -- traveling at a staggeringly slow 44:00 minute per mile pace over the last mile.  

Snails have ascended this mountain faster.  But then they're better adapted to the jungle and have better footwear.  

As slow are we’re going, Laura and I are breathing hard and are moving at maximum forward/upward velocity.  Nobody’s stopping for breathers in this group -- unless, you count the multiple times I have to stop after slamming my head into low-hanging branches.  

Fortunately, my cap, my sunglasses and my headlamp provide a small buffer against the impact and I’m not concussed -- at least not that I can tell. 

Unfortunately, each time I hit my head, all of my head-gear falls into the mud and I have to bend over to gather it up.  And when I straighten up, I nearly always hit my head on the same branch again.  So maybe I am concussed.   

We keep moving -- because the jungle continues to be full of frightening sounds and we don’t want the monkeys or the vipers to eat us.  

9:00 a.m. -- just shy of mile 23.

Could this be it?  The top of the Maderas Volcano?  

I've never been happier to see a muddy, algae infested pond in my life.  

“It’s so beautiful!” I exclaim loudly to anyone who’s listening.  But no one is, even though the caldera is full of people.    

Inside the crater of the Maderas volcano.
My Ironman buddy, Andres is here, standing knee high in the water.  A guy named Joe is sitting under a tree doing a rum shot from the aid station’s rum stock -- he needs the fortitude because he’s doing the 100k.

I want to rest in the shade.

Laura, however, is already on the move.  The aid station volunteers point the way, and off she goes.
Yep, that's the trail alright.

"Noo!" I think.  

And to make matters worse, the trail looks distinctly uninviting.  An impossibly steep, dusty trail up a cliff getting baked by the sun.

Seriously?  Shouldn't there be a ladder here?  Or maybe an elevator?  

10:00 a.m. -- Mile 24

Six hours into the race, we are now climbing on hands and knees through something that, but for the occasional blue flags marking the way, looks nothing like a trail.  It’s just a jungle gym of trees, cliffs, boulders and mud-slides.  

Stretching pays off.
But things could also be worse.  

At this very moment, Big David Gluhareff, is laying on the side of a road, exhausted and dehydrated, wanting to nap, but worried that monkeys might steal his gear if he closes his eyes.  He’s also worried that he might be trampled by one of the many horses or oxen that seem to wander down the roads freely.  

Valid concerns, all.

And John Taylor is, at about this same time, sliding down a bamboo pole, shredding his forearms and calves into raw meat.

Paul Battaglia is at least three hours behind us, just starting the hellish ascent up the Maderas volcano. During those three hours, temperatures have risen about 20 degrees to the low 90’s.  It'll be a miracle if Paul finishes.  

And now, just as we reach the rim of the crater and have a spectacular, if deadly, view standing on the razor's edge of this volcano's rim, we are joined on our journey by another happy traveler.

A view worthy of the effort it took to get here!
Joe, the guy who slammed the rum shot at the last aid station, pried himself from under his shade tree and caught up to us.  

Standing in front of that last aid station, the rum shot, sitting between the sodium tablets and the GU packets, seemed like a terrible fueling mistake.  But standing on this narrow cliff, 4,000 feet above sea-level, hearing the insane howling of the monkeys and dealing with the quicksand-like mud, I'm jealous of Joe's calmness.

As we enter the thickest jungle so far, I'm waiting for Joe to put a gap on Laura.  But Laura is skinny and flexible, so moving through this more difficult terrain is right up her alley.  She's right on his heels -- and sometimes, she’s right on his toes.
Let me explain.

Even with a shot of rum in his system, Joe has the good sense to realize that falling down a 10 foot ledge onto a muddy boulder might cause some damage, and more importantly might require him to find out if his health care plan covers Nicaraguan hospitals -- probably not an international call he wants to make.  So, in order to avoid that red-tape nightmare, Joe has adopted an unusual racing strategy.  Approaching a drop-off, he grabs a tree, spins 180 degrees and crabs down backwards on his hands and knees, looking back up at us.  

He does this over and over -- probably dozens of times.

I make fun of Joe, but in truth it’s not a bad strategy -- particularly since the last of the tread has peeled off my Saucony A5s and I’m just sliding around out here.  

Since Laura has adopted the more common sit-on-your-butt-and-slide-down-the-mountain-facing forwards strategy, Laura and Joe are able to converse face-to-face as we head down the mountain.  

At mile 25, our odd squad is joined by Aaron Shapiro, another young guy.  Aaron is moving a little faster than us.  We ask him whether he wants to pass.

“No way!  I’m so glad to see other people, I’m staying with you guys,” he says.

For the next half hour, our four-person platoon creeps slowly through the trees and down the muddy embankments.  I’m wondering if the trail is ever going to become runable again.

11:00 a.m. -- Mile 25

We’re still in the jungle, though the steep drop offs and trees are becoming more manageable.  But Laura has sprained her ankle repeatedly and has become tentative.  Joe and Aaron, being guys, are moving with a little more recklessness and leave us behind.  

Remarkably, Laura is still in 2nd place.  It seems that among the women in the 50k race, nobody knows how to move fast through this difficult terrain.  

As the Howler Monkeys begin making those blood-curdling sounds again, I can’t help but want to get out of the spooky jungle.  Four hours in here is plenty.  

It feels like we’re being hunted by invisible creatures in the tree-tops.
Rainforest.  Check.  Time to exit.

12:00 p.m. -- Mile 26

Holy cow -- we are running!  

I've given up all pretense of enjoying the day merely for the sake of the adventure.  I’m locked in on the idea that Laura might be able to hold on to 2nd place -- though I am mostly able to exercise self-control and keep my competitive thoughts to myself. 

I wasn’t so sure about her chances when she was cautiously making her way through the last mile of the less-dense jungle.  Heck, as slow as we were moving, a brisk stroll would have been fast enough to pass her.  The first place woman in the 100k race blew by so fast it left a vapor trail.  

Of course she was using ski poles to bound down the slope.  Pure genius.

But Laura built her lead on the run and now that we're running again, I feel like no one can catch her -- if only I can just convince her that it’s safe enough to open up her stride again. 

I open my big mouth and start giving a motivational speech.   

Bad idea.  

Laura has been in good spirits all day, but the fatigue from running 100k last week, combined with the stress of spending 4 hours climbing through a jungle with her annoying husband sets her off. 

She comes to a complete stop and glares at me. 

I knew the second I opened my stupid mouth that it was a bad idea.  I just couldn't help myself.

I cringe apologetically, exerting every last ounce of willpower to not look behind us to see if anyone is catching us while we're stopped.

Laura takes a deep breath and starts to run again.  But I swear I can sense that she's running ever so slightly slower, just to make me squirm.  She might even be hoping that someone catches her to punish me for my bad behavior.  

She's evil, I think.  No wonder I love her.  

A mile from the finish, we leave the uneven, rocky trail and make a left on an uneven rocky road.  The road is worse than the trail.  It doesn’t seem possible, but somehow the Nicaraguan transportation agency has managed to create a road that doesn’t offer a single level spot where a person might put their foot.

I sense that the same people who built the airport runway through the only road connecting the north side of the island to the south side also hired the engineers who designed this road.

Well at least we’re going mostly downhill, we’re close to the finish line, and I can see that there’s no one within a quarter mile behind us.

I’m going to podium!  

I mean, Laura’s going to podium!
Joe (c) with Aaron and Laura halfway through the 100k.

Finally, at 8:28 into the race, we are directed down to the beach where Laura joyfully runs into through the finishing chute to some loud cheers and a PA system blaring something about "Secondo Damas!!".  Then she is swiftly handed an empty beer bottle from the race sponsor, is photographed extensively and heads directly into the lake.  

I finish 5 seconds later to no applause whatsoever.  

Absurdly, a minute after I finish, Aaron and Joe, who had dropped us an hour ago, show up.  In keeping with their laid back natures, they stopped at a market alongside the road to pick up provisions just a mile from the finish line.    


As Joe kills off a mid-race beer to steel himself for the next 50 kilometers of running, Aaron tries to talk him out of doing the last half of the race.  He tries appealing to Joe’s rational mind using logic:  

“It’s too hot.  It’s too far.  You’ll have to climb the other volcano in the dark.”  

Joe answers by having a second beer.  

Then, fueled largely by alcohol and a disdain for logic, Joe sets off -- and he eventually finishes the race -- after about 18 hours of running.
Can we go home now?

While Joe is making his way back to Moyalgape on foot, Laura, Aaron and I are unsuccessfully trying to catch a ride back. 

After sitting on a rock at the side of the road, feeding an emaciated dog Power Bars and Ritz crackers for 2 hours, we assault a Nicaraguan couple and their kids who are climbing into an SUV, begging for a ride.  And thus begins our friendship with Oscar Amador, his wife Martina and their children, the most lovely family we’ve ever met.

Covered in dirt, sweat and various brands of sports drink, we pile into the buttery leather interior of their SUV.  Naked above the waist, I do them a favor by not putting my disgusting race shirt back on.    

For the next hour, we ride in air-conditioned luxury, eating the kids’ Doritos -- the children looking on hungrily from the third row of seats.  

John Taylor's tattoos
Life is good.  We could care less that we’re traveling 5 mph bouncing over a boulder-strewn dirt road mile after mile.    

Indeed, things could be a lot worse -- as they are for John Taylor and Brian, a fellow survival runner pal of John’s.  Just before scoring the ride with Oscar, we had observed sadly as John Taylor and Brian arrived at the 50k finish area only to be told that they were 5 miles south of where they needed to be.  

Unfortunately, “Big David”, John Taylor, Brian, Olaf and all but two of the survival runners were unable to finish the race.  Between dehydration and wrong turns, it became impossible for nearly all of the survival runners to make the climb over the Madera volcano in the dark, which is a good thing since one of the runners who attempted to finish had to be rescued from the jungle at 2 a.m. that night.  

But in the face of all the race-carnage, Paul Battaglia the 50 year old with a dream and little endurance training, finishes.  It takes him 14 hours -- two hours past the official cutoff, but who cares.  The man is a survivor and an inspiration.   

The day after the race, Laura, and a fellow elite runner, David James, who took 2nd to the great Nick Clark in the 100k, (both men breaking the course record) volunteered at the kids run start line, where 600 local children received shoes and ran a 5k.  

Laura was swarmed by the many girls who heard that she was “secondo Damas” and who wanted to run with her as she jogged among the pack of children during the race.
"Secondo Damas" with her fans.
That day, after taking pictures with the kids, tired and sore, but at least not bleeding and bandaged like our survival runner pals, we hung out in the beautiful old village hitting all the hotspots -- The Corner Cafe, the Pizza Parlor... the place where I paid $1.75 for a sweet haircut -- sharing stories of our incredible adventures.  

Later in the afternoon, Laura received her well-earned trophy for finishing second in the 50k.  In the U.S., the trophy would might have been a block of engraved plastic.  But here, the awards were meaningful -- hand made masks, created by a local artist.
Laura, her trophy.  Plus Ian, Yassine and Joe.

Of course all good things come to an end -- but not this story.  Not yet.

And so it was that at 7:30 on Monday morning, we packed up and were shuttled to the ferry dock for the hour long ride back to the mainland.  We were sad to be saying good bye to our new friends.

Not to worry, though.

This being Nicaragua, the Sunday evening ferry carrying Oscar, his family and his friends Fernando, Jose and Erick (the “Nicaraguan Rat-Pack” as I came to think of them), grounded itself while attempting to dock on the mainland.  

Then, in a seagoing version of a Three Stooges routine, after offloading the passengers, the grounded ferry crashed into the ferry attempting to pull it free.  At this point, instead of simply docking the damaged ferries at the dock where they crashed, the geniuses in charge of the ferries decided to tow the damaged ferry, still containing the guys’ cars, 10 miles back across the lake back to Ometepe Island.

The Rat Pack, Jose, Oscar, Erick and Fernando from l to r.
The guys gave chase to their cars (after sending the wives and kids home on alternate ground transportation), boarding the next boat back to the island.

And so it happened that nearly all of the competitors and our new Nicaraguan friends were reunited at the docks on Monday morning -- a brief (we thought) second opportunity to say our farewells, we thought.

That’s when the Nicaraguan Navy began canceling ferries in bunches -- and we observed men carrying a very large propeller into a shed and begin pounding on it with hammers.

Ian, Nick, Laura, Alex and lots of pizza.
Soon, Oscar, Fernando, Jose and Erick, more familiar with how things work in Nicaragua, gave up all hope of returning home and headed to the local pizza parlor for food and drinks  -- while some of the elite ultra-runners including Ian Sharman, Nick Clark, David James, Yassin Deboune and me, optimists to the end, spent the day on the docks eating pizza, sitting on the ground, staring at the ferries that were destined to not ferry anything anywhere that day.

And that’s how we were gifted one more day on Ometepe Island, hanging out with some of the best new friends you’d ever want to be trapped on an island with.     

Gotta love Nicaraguan efficiency -- somehow it just works.  

And I can’t wait to go back next year.  


  1. Really enjoyed your writeup, Steve!!!! Awesome work!

    Congratulations to Laura!!

    All Day!

  2. Steve - now that was worth missing a half hour of sleep for. One of the funnier race reports I've read in recent memory. See you guys soon!

    1. Thanks Nick. I appreciate you taking the time to read it and that it brought back some memories. Hope all is well in Colorado. Definitely see you soon.

  3. Thanks Ken. And congrats on HURT again. See you soon.

  4. Great running with you and Laura. Hope to see you guys again in Nicaragua. Marco

  5. Steven, great post!! Funny as hell! Its was awesome meeting laura and you in Ometepe. Im inspired by all the elites we met to now start doing some 50k ultras to be on my way to the next fuego y agua! See you guys next year... oh, i guess the ferry ordeal had its reasons! At the end we got to hang out with a great bunch.