They call the race Fuego y Agua -- Fire and Water -- but it would be more accurate to call it "Help I Am Running in the Midday Heat and I Am Meltiiiiiing... and There's Some Water Over There That Doesn't Really Have Anything to Do With the Race." We got started at 10 am, right when the shadows are getting short, because shade is for losers. The temperature was in the mid-80s when we started but hovered in the mid-90s for most of the race. The first leg of the run was a mile and half along the beach, as seen in the photo above. If you look closely you can't see me because I started out way in the back where there's nowhere to go but forward. I actually ended up finishing 45th out of 142 runners, which is solidly mediocre. That's actually my Native American name: Solidly Mediocre.
Here is a picture of me and my running team. We didn't have a name, but if we did I would have pulled for "Purple Rain." You can see from the photo that I have a fashion sense that rivals Prince's. My beard is better than his though.
After that beach running section of the course, we did about 3.5 miles on pavement before angling onto narrow, rocky, rooty, labyrinthine trails heading up Volcan Maderas. I didn't pass very many people over the first 5 miles, with the exception of Do-Gooder German Girl, who I talked to before the race and who volunteers in an orphanage on Ometepe Island. As I passed her, I was like, "Your altruism makes you weak," and then I kind of laughed to myself, because that was a pretty funny thing to say. I mean, truly. Do-Gooder German Girl ended up beating me.
On our way up the volcano, we criss-crossed subsistence farmers' fields and wedged through their barbed wire fences and passed their shacks. It made for this weird dynamic where these runners in $100+ shoes and colorful, expensive, sweat-wicking apparel ran past residents who own nothing more than one set of old clothes, homemade sandals, a pot, and two or three chickens. Below is a representative picture of what the trail looked like going up the mountain.
I'd say one of the main challenges of the race was keeping track of the correct route. The trail was marked with white arrows drawn in chalk on rocks and white ribbons tied into trees, but the chalk easily got scuffed off as runners passed, and the ribbons seemed to come off the trees easily. And there were dozens of trails all over the side of the volcano, which the local farmers use to get from place to place. It was a challenge staying on the right one.
I fell in with three Mexicans during this stretch: Yelling Alpha Girl, Subservient Paolo, and Subservient Pablo. We had a good rhythm. Subservient Paolo would go first and pick a route when the trail forked, which would inevitably be wrong. Yelling Alpha Girl would then berate her hapless friend, then command Subservient Pablo to take the lead, until he made a wrong turn, which led to more yelling. I just followed along, quite enjoying not understanding all the Spanish swear words.
Eventually the climbing stopped and the trail sloped downward. It was glorious. The tip of the volcano rose very close behind me, and the trees opened up into a spectacular blue vista of the broad Lake Nicaragua below. I veritably skipped the next couple of miles past flowers and grass and leafy trees. I caught Kansas City Here I Come, an American guy from Kansas City who had the day's best outfit -- a faded yellow shirt with a cheap doctor's phone number on it, two-size-too-small cargo shorts, and an old baseball cap.
I sort of lost my juice at this point. I was down to my last 10 ounces of water, it was super hot, the shade was gone, and I was hiking on a dumb volcano, not even halfway through the race. I caught up to a lady who was laboring a bit. "Doing okay?" I asked. "I'm struggling a bit," she said, "how far to the next aid station?" I glanced at my GPS watch. "Maybe two miles." She plopped down in the shade and dug a banana out of her pack. "I'll be good after a bit of a rest. What's your name?" she asked. "Joey," I answered. "Solo," she said.
I was kind of confused, because that's a weird thing to say at that point in a dialogue. "Uh, no," I replied after a flummoxed pause. "I'm here with friends." She laughed. "No, Solo is my name. My running nickname." I was like, wait, why do you get a running nickname, I'm totally passing your butt, I should have a running nickname too, but mine would be super awesome, like Hammer Toe, or Darling Nikki. I found out later that Solo had actually done the Survival Run (a kind ridiculous two-day run/obstacle course type thing) the day before, and now was tacking a cool 20 mile race on the end of it, and also she ended up finishing way ahead of me, so I guess she deserves her running nickname. I still kind of think I should get one too though. Or at least a free roll of dental floss.
I was about 11 miles into the race when I rolled an ankle. I felt pretty dumb, but at least I was within eyeshot of an aid station. I kind of parked it in the shade and just hung out and watched the head volunteer of the aid station be overly protective of the peanut butter sandwiches. There was this other volunteer who kept accidentally slopping water on the sandwiches as he passed bottles to arriving runners, and the lady kept yelling, "UGH! How many times to have to tell you to KEEP THE SANDWICHES DRY!!!!" She was pretty serious about sandwiches. I get it. Sandwiches don't just grow on trees.
The final nine or ten miles were merciless and endless and shadeless. We followed a gently undulating dirt road through the countryside, passing the occasional dwelling. Nobody was running. The heat was suffocating. There was a girl maybe a tenth of a mile in front of me, and I could see one more girl a tenth of a mile in front of her. Maybe there was someone a tenth of a mile behind me; I didn't want to waste the energy to turn around and look. We all just sort of responded to whatever the person ahead of us in line did. If the girl in front of me broke into a trot, I'd run too, until she stopped, then I'd stop. We kept criss-crossing the road, drawn to whatever paltry shade we could find on whichever side of the road it happened to appear. There was a kid with a hose at one point watering his dirt (?) as I passed. I was like, Hey how's about hosing me off, so he did. It was pretty nice. Kind of one of those warm fuzzing intercultural things -- you know, like you can't communicate very well but the person from a foreign culture sprays you with a hose and you're like, the world is so awesome, bro.
The worst part of the race was the last 1.5 miles, which was back along the beach we started on. As soon as you hit the beach, you can see the finish, 1.5 miles in the distance. And you're like, Oh man I'm super close to the end. So you start limping and dry heaving to get there, but it doesn't get any closer. And ten minutes later you're thinking, the rotation of the earth is making it so I'm running but I'm not actually changing location relative to the finish line, and that's not okay, bro. But eventually I did get close to the finish line, and I totally passed a guy in the last quarter mile. He was carrying a Mexican flag, because he's from Mexico, and as I passed him I was like, "NAFTA sucks!!" Just kidding, I don't know what NAFTA is.
I ended up finishing the 20 mile course in about 5 hours. It's a lousy pace, but the race was a killer, easily tougher than the trail marathon I ran last October. Fortunately, I lost the key to my rental scooter so I had something fun to do after running 20 miles in 95 degree heat and getting dehydrated. So after I got back to the scooter shop to tell the guy I'd lost the scooter key and attached legal documents to his scooter, I told the guy, I said, I never mean to cause you any sorrow, I never meant to cause you any pain -- it's such a shame our friendship had to end, purple rain, purple rain. And he was like, My English isn't good enough to understand Prince lyrics, and also you owe me $150 for the key and legal documents you lost. And I told him, I said, This is what it sounds like when doves cry. And then I cried a little. And then I paid him $150. The end.
BTW -- photo credit goes to my Purple Rain teammates Heather and Delena.