Thursday, March 6, 2014

Fuego y Agua 25k race report

The first time I had heard about Fuego y Agua was over a year ago. I was at my favorite coffee shop, City on a Hill, in Leadville, CO, where I had seen a poster for Fuego y Agua  it had caught my attention because last year the date was on my birthday. I thought to myself how cool is that a trail race in Nicaragua on my birthday and the race stuck in the back of my head as something fun to look into, I knew I wouldn't go that year since I was already heading out to the Copper Canyons for Caballo Blanco Ultramarathon. It was then a couple months later at Caballo Blanco, that I heard more bits and pieces about the race. There had been several runners that first did Fuego y Agua in Nicaragua and then traveled up to Mexico to Caballo Blanco a couple weeks later. I remember talking to one individual who had describe it as one of the most challenging 50ks he had done, stating the climb up the volcano was challenging then battling the heat when running around the island was brutal. Ironically enough or maybe not, Josue the new race director of Caballo Blanco in 2013, turns out is also the race director of Fuego y Agua. 

So when I decided to take my trip to Costa Rica this year I planned it so the end of my trip would coincide with the race in Nicaragua. When I registered in December I didn't feel I would have enough training miles to comfortably and enjoyably complete the 50k so I opted for the more comfortable option of the new 25k, knowing I could always change my mind and switch races. Prior to my trip I was well trained for a 25k but well undertrained for a 50k, as my longest run in the last month was probably 14 miles. Even at packet pickup I considered switching to the 50k knowing I could complete it, it was just a question of how long and how much I wanted to suffer. I decided I was more interested in enjoying my last days of traveling and stayed with my 25k choice. 

Fuego y Agua's race in on Isla de Ometepe an island in Lake Nicaragua composed of 2 volcanos, Concepcion and Maderas. Concepcion is still active (hence fuego), and Maderas is dormant with a large lagoon formed in it's crater (y agua). Maderas rises to 1394 meters and hosts terrian of a true rainforest. 

The 25k course is an out and back that runs along the beach for 1.5 miles, then climbs up Maderas, and then decends into the crater and then turns around. I knew nothing of the course except a brief description on the website: 
         "The terrian includes dirt trail, sandy beach, paved road, technical single track trail and the           infamous  "jungle gym" section where racers will navigate a chaotic web of Ometepe                   trees, disappearing trail and deep mud." 

And this all intimidating elevation profile: 

I arrived on the island 2 days prior to the race, leading up the the race, I relaxed, enjoyed the laid back quiet atmosphere of the island, and visited with other runners from all over the world. The day before the race I ran the beach part of the course as a little warm-up for my legs, leaving all climbing for race day. 

Going into the race I had 2 strategies: 

#1 and most important have fun and enjoy the experience, and 
#2 go out fast and run until the climbing started (not a typical race strategy one would advise, but I knew from looking at the elevation profile that there could be a good chance that climbing up the Maderas could look more like a hike then a run. So I wanted to take advantage of the running part)

On race morning I got up and walked down the beach to watch the 50k and 100k runner take off at 5:00am, then made it back to my room to finish getting ready for my 6:00am start.

Little did I know what the adventure I was in for. I took off running and ran the 1st 2.5 mile hard until the climbing started. The next mile or so there were still some runnable sections that weren't too steep, then the real stuff, there were no switchbacks in this climb it was basically straight up and straight down. I couldn't even take nutrition without stopping to breath. Plus I needed my hands to help me climb. 

As we rose in elevation the terrian, went from dry to damp, to wet, to pure mud. We were deep in a canopy rainforest and you couldn't see much except the trees around you. One of the coolest things was hearing the howler monkeys, screeching in the background. My favorite thing about climbing is I always manage to pass people and I rarely get passed and this was no exception. I don't think one person caught me on the climb. As I passed one man from Germany he asked how much climbing I thought we had left to go. I looked at my Garmin and assured him we weren't even halfway yet. He mentioned that there weren't too many people in front of us maybe 20 or so and much more behind us. Really? I had no clue. I just kept trekking up, at times huge rain drops dripping down. The higher we got the slippier and deeper the mud got. I was in mud puddles halfway to my knees. All of sudden I got this wonderful burst of energy/runner's high/sheer enjoyment. I was having so much fun laughing and smiling the whole way. I felt like tarzan in his playground. At one point I basically slid out and found myself laying in a mudbath covered from head to toe. Once we ascended up the volcano then we decended down into the crater, climbing over and under trees, hanging onto branches as not to lose footing.

As I neared the turn around I realized there had been a dozen or so men that I passed coming back but no women yet. Then there was one woman, and it wasn't until the right before the turn around 2 more women came by. There was a group right in front of me, we had bottlenecked at some of the technical tree obstacles, in which 2 or 3 women were right in front of me. At the turn around the terrian cleared onto a lagoon in the middle of the crater, there was an aid station that I choose to fly right by. I wanted to get ahead of the group that I was bottlenecked behind and took off running with new found energy, I realized I had just put myself into the 4th female spot, I was estactic, was it possible I could catch at least one woman in front of me to pull off 3rd? Who knew what they were battling in front of me, so I was going to give it my all, to close the gap between us. And I held my own until about halfway down. And then I was passed by 2 women and then a 3rd, my descent was not as strong as their's and staying injury free and being safe was more important. 

By the time I got to the last 2 miles, the mud in my shoes had dried and created dried mudcakes in my shoes making my shoes to small and running painful. Once I hit the beach I beelined for the water and ran in the water to soften up the mud and try to rinse some mud out as I was running, I was determined not to stop until I was finished. 

In the end I finished 7th female overall of 35 women. And 26th of 90 total runners. My time: 5hrs and 11mins for a 25k, goes to show the difficulty of the terrian/course. There was only 8 minutes difference between my time and the 2nd place woman. In hindsight, had I known, that was time I could have easily made up in the 1st half of the run. As I had stopped several times and took my time taking in nutrition.

I crossed the finish line and gave one of the event organizers, Zac, a huge high five, "By far the hardest and most awesome race I've ever competed in, it was SOOOO much fun!" I told him and I meant it. I was already in for next year, 50k for 2015, hand down.

Words really cannot describe the experience I had during this race. It was a once in a lifetime adventure, an experience I will never forget. How cool is it to say I ran in a race in Nicaragua, in the rainforest, up a volcano, with monkeys screeching, trudging through calf deep mud, climbing over and under trees, and running with people from all over the world.

In days to follow my upper body was more sore, then my legs, a true full body workout trail run!!!

I'm really much dirtier then these pictures portray, 1 lake bath and 2 showers later I still had mud caked in my pores.

I love this picture, looks like I'm leading all the guys out to the volcano!

Photo: This photo by 50k Finisher Jack Jewell pretty much sums up #fya2014
Descending into the crater

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