Thursday, February 23, 2012


This past weekend I ran my third ultra marathon, a 100k race on the Island of Ometepe in Nicaragua. For more info on our adventures before and after the race checkout Tarah's post.

I definitely had my apprehensions concerning the race right until the launching of the bottle rocket to start the race. My training had been almost nonexistent since the Panama City International Marathon in December, I had been battling injury/pain in both of my knees and the back of my right leg, and the week before the race I could hardly walk. In hindsight, I should have changed to the 50k distance as soon as we got to the island, but I didn't, and at 4:00am on Saturday I was toeing the line of my biggest running challenge yet.
gearing up
waiting for the gun

My plan was to go out super conservatively and listen to my body. The sun didn't rise until about 6:00 so we had almost two hours of running by headlamp. The first section wasn't very technical, but since it was difficult to see, I managed to twist my ankle before we got to the first aid station. At the aid station (9.1k), I checked in (there were only a couple of runners behind me) and got my first of nine bracelets for the day. We had short sections of pavement before and after the aid station so I was able to run a little more smoothly in those sections. Shortly after leaving San José del Sur, the community where the aid station was located, the course moved back to trail and eventually beach and banana fields. Through this section, I chatted with some other back of the packers and found out that a bunch of runners had missed a turn and lost a fair amount of time, so for a bit we were actually towards the front of the pack. Pat, the runner that would eventually take second, caught back up to us just as we were entering the banana fields. There was a small wall and some large roots obstructing the trail, but Pat charged past us and by the time we (the back of the packers) managed to navigate the obstacles, Pat was out of sight.

the 32 photos of the inside of my hip pack
Shortly after running through the bananas, I reached the second aid station (22.57k) where I topped off my bottles of agua dulce, drank some water and PowerAde, and ate a little bit. The next section was rolling hills on pavement. I found a comfortable pace and cruised along pretty well, I passed a few people, but was still trying to conserve energy so I didn't run very hard and even power walked quite a bit. I hit the third aid station (31.52k) about 20 miles into the race right around my marathon PR so I was a little worried about how fast I was going. This aid station was located at the base of Volcán Maderas so a number of runners were changing shoes and/or grabbing trekking poles. I grabbed some energy sources from my drop bag and headed towards the climb. Despite not having gone up any real hills or mountains in over two years, save for Challenge Irazú and Chirripó, I found my groove and charged up the volcano passing a number of 50k and 100k runners. About half way to the crater, I took one of my nastiest falls running/hiking ever; as I stepped on a wet root, my foot slid sideways, like I was grinding a rail and I fell super fast and super hard. My upper lip smashed across another root and I was sure that I had lost my two front teeth. Luckily my teeth were still there and once I gathered my handhelds I was back to climbing. Shortly after my crash, I caught some more racers that were in pretty nasty shape and then made the final trek up and over the lip of the crater with Bookis, the man behind Luna Sandals. At this point of the race, running was pretty much impossible due to trail conditions. Pretty much the only solid things underfoot were roots and we were post-holing in mud that went almost to our knees. When we got to the aid station (41.13k) next to the lagoon, we chowed down on some potatoes with salt, topped off bottles and headed into the area dubbed "The Jungle Gym" - a section of trail where it is impossible to not use your hands as much as your feet to propel you forward. Shortly after the leaving the crater, my stomach started giving me fits so I bid Bookis farewell and sat for few minutes. After a few swigs of agua dulce my stomach settled and I was back on my way. With my pit stop and my cautious approach to the downhill a few of the runners that I had passed on the climb caught me on the descent, but I was still able to finish the first half of the race in pretty good standing.

I hit the aid station (50.68k) at Hacienda Merida in about 8 hours and 15 minutes. There I cleaned up my feet, changed into fresh socks, ate and drank some more calories, and dipped my kerchief in the lake. I felt pretty good leaving the station, I was tired, but the wheels were still on the track and I had gotten in and out a chair no problem. Although the next section was probably the least technical, it was still one of the most difficult. I left Merida around 12:30pm and the sun was absolutely brutal. I decided to bribe myself by allowing myself to walk when there was shade and run when there was no cover. Unfortunately I ended up walking in the sun and the shade. Eventually I made myself run more and more, but I was pretty sure I was going to drop at the next aid station. After a while, I could see Stephane, a Frenchman that I had chatted with earlier, coming up behind me. Seeing him got me moving a little quicker, but I really got going once he caught me and we were able to encourage each other to run the flats and downhills and march up the uphills. Stephane told me I couldn't quit and shortly before the next aid station (63.24k) I got my legs back and left Stephane as I was able to run the uphills too.

At Ojo de Agua, a resorty swimming hole where the aid station was located, I saw a number of runners who had decided to trade their running shorts for swim trunks, their gels for real food, and their PowerAde for Toña. Not exactly encouraging. When I sat down and started to get fueled up, a local started telling me how I didn't need to keep running, how I was going to get so sunburned, how I looked bad, that I didn't need to suffer anyone, on and on and on. Eventually I shouted  ¡Yo entiendo todo, no más por favor! and thankfully he shut up and left me alone. By then Stephane and a couple of other runners had arrived at the aid station, got their needs met and headed on down the road. After climbing and descending the hill to bathrooms I too was on my way. Even though I heard the volunteers say multiple times "left at the road" and I could see Volcán Concepción off to the left, I managed to turn right. A little ways down the road, someone asked if I was going the wrong direction, I asked a local which direction to Altagracia the site of the next aid station and turned around. I couldn't believe that I had made such a stupid mistake.

covered in maderas mud
Once I got going in the right direction, the section between Ojo and Altagracia was pretty straight forward. I moved along pretty well, alternating between running and walking and could see  Stephane, Christian and Martin in front of me, though I couldn't quite reel them in before the aid station (71.26k) at Altagracia. At the aid station, I met a Peace Corps Volunteer who serves on the island and was working the aid station. I fueled up and set off to try and catch the three guys in front of me and get to the aid station that Tarah was captaining.

En route to La Flor, I caught Christian and Martin so we chatted off and on and I also had some conversations with a couple of Nicas. My first Spanish conversation was with a third grade boy as he pushed his bike up a hill. We talked about his family and the race, he asked me if the two guys in front of me were my friends and how many other runners there were, then he asked me about using camionetas, but I was so tired that word didn't register so I had said that some of the other runners had used camionetas but I hadn't. That statement ended up being semi-true, though not how I had intended. After we had bid each other adio I realized that camionetas meant trucks, not trekking poles (bastones) so the statement that I hadn't used them was correct and since the runners that dropped had used them to get back to the start/finish line my statement that some of the runners had used them was also correct. A little while latter, a gentleman on a bike rode up beside me and we started talking about the race and faith. I explained to him the race course and how I had already climbed Maderas and how, Si Dios quería I was still going to climb Volcán Concepción. We agreed that nada es imposible si tiene fe en Dios, then I sped up to catch Christian and told him how after running for over 12 hours speaking in Spanish was exhausting. Eventually Christian pulled away from me and I came into La Flor aid station (80.96k) by myself (actually Tarah met me about 100 meters out and we ran in together).

T and I at La Flor
At La Flor I was ready to throw in the towel. I had already traversed more than 50 miles, the sun had set, and I was facing a 1200 meter climb (and descent). Tarah was awesome. She told me to sit for a minute, eat some food (pizza), drink some water and think about it for a bit. She called Josue, the race director, to confirm that there was still plenty of fuel at the top; he said that the aid station was still well stocked and that I had time if I wanted to give it a go. I ditched my headphones (my ipod shuffle died between Altagracia and La Flor), one of my bottles, my cap, my glasses, and my waist pack. I  stuck Tarah's headlamp and extra batteries in my key pocket, put my headlamp on, grabbed my bottle of PowerAde, a pack of Gu Chomps and a handheld light, and headed up the volcano. I'm sure that Concepción is gorgeous and probably not even that tough of a hike, but in the dark and with 50 Fuego y Agua miles on my legs, I hated almost every minute spent on it. On the way up, my headlight shined on a snake in the middle of the trail, it resembled a terciopelo/fer-de-lance but I'm not sure if they are on the island, luckily it moved on and so did I, but for a while after that every curvy stick looked like a snake. I eventually met Martin, Christian and Stephane (all individually) as they were making their ways down. I jokingly asked Christian if I was going to die on the volcano, he assured me I wasn't, but told me it was super exposed and windy at the aid station. I continued to crawl (literally) to the aid station (87.88k) and got there a little before 9:00pm. I ate a candy bar and downed some fluids and started the slow painful descent.

I met Mary, the only female runner still on the course, when I was 35 minutes from the top. I struggled down, staying upright and easing down the drops by grabbing trees along the trail. At one point during the descent, I heard rustling in the bushes next to the trail and then felt something brush against my leg, I tried to shine my lights on it, but I couldn't spot it. Eventually the trail forked and I knew that I was getting closer. Just as I was getting to the end of the trail, a pickup full of volunteers on its way to collect the volunteers from Concepción passed me and yelled encouraging words. A couple of minutes later, I came to a four way intersection where someone had removed the course markings. I headed in the right direction, but didn't see any markings ans heard some super vicious dogs so I turned back. Back at the intersection I decided to head straight for a bit, but didn't see any markings, and the road was turning into trail, plus I could hear the dogs from earlier trying to head me off. Once again I headed back to the intersection, I found the pickup and got directions. I headed in the direction of the dogs once again, but at least this time I was confident that I was going in the right direction. The pickup passed me once again and asked if I was okay I said yes, but I was worried about the dogs a little way up. They drove on ahead, and I had to yell ¡Pare! ¡Espere! as loud as I could multiple time to get them to stop and keep the dogs at bay while I motored by. Shortly after the dogs, I could "feel" lights on my back. Mary had crushed the downhill and was now right behind me. I was moving at a pretty good clip (given the circumstances), but she eventually caught up to me. We talked for a while (she too had gotten lost at the intersection). It felt like we were going at 5k pace. It felt both great and horrible. Eventually she broke me and I couldn't keep up anymore. I kept "running" for a while longer but with the poor light and road conditions I tweaked my ankle again and had to slow way down. As I approached town, the dogs got thicker and I ran the final stretch with a rock in my hand. Just before I entered town, I faced my final obstacle. I was confronted with a trench about four feet deep and three feet across, the community was installing a culvert under the road. Under normal circumstances, such an obstacle would have hardly made me break my stride, but at that point it looked like I was staring at the Grand Canyon. I surveyed my options, I knew that I couldn't get over the chasm, I thought I could get down into the trench (it wouldn't have been pretty), but I didn't think that I could climb back out, then I saw that I could walk around it if I went off road. I skirted around the hole, climbed the little hill back up to the road and was off once again. Shortly thereafter I was met by Tarah and we ran towards the finish line and then I sprinted the final few hundred meters by myself to the finish line, where I was met with thunderous applause and cheers from race staff, volunteers and fellow runners.

At the finish line I was presented with my metal and a liter of Flor de Caña rum. I was the last runner to cross the line, but I was received with as much enthusiasm as if I had won, and in a sense I had because I Did Not Did Not Finish.

all the bracelets from the aid stations
me and my mud
me with the best aid station captain ever
Bonus Tracks:

1) My gear: Homemade handhelds made from disposable water bottles and old bike tubes and a $3 fanny pack from a local store. (instructions for handhelds)
2) My fuel: Agua dulce (pure sugar cane "juice")
3) Time spent running: Jan. 1 - Feb. 17: 11hours 55minutes
4) Time spent running Feb. 18 -19: 20hours 21minutes
5) 100k starters: 19 (17men, 2 women)
6) 100k finishers: 10 (9men, 1 woman)
7) Winning time: 13:08 (Way to go Ben)
8) My time: 20:21
9) Feel good moments: Being complimented on both my running and power walking form by two different runners


pat M said...

Way to push through!

Chamisa said...

I am super impressed! What a race. Can't wait to hang out with the two of you at your site! I haven't forgotten about my veggie dinner and banana tour!