Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Born to Run 50km Race Report Guest Author: Jade Belzberg


The Burning Man of Ultra's

By Guest Author Jade Belzberg 

Four months ago, while I was living in Colorado and interning with a running magazine, Nick traveled down to Urique, Mexico to run the Ultra Caballo Blanco with the Tarahumara and other Mas Locos. I admitted my jealousy of his trip when he returned and I think he read that as a sign that I needed to experience something similar. And so he signed us up (thank you, Luis!) for my first ultramarathon, the Born to Run 50K in Los Olvios, California. I was excited, sure, but also nervous; I had only run half marathons, courses that were too hilly and too hot and too much for someone who had only just learned about the ultra scene a year and a half before. But I would be out in Carbondale, Colorado for three months on an internship and had spare time: why not begin to train?
And so began the training: long runs along the Rio Grande Trail in Carbondale and speed workouts around the track. When Nick came to help me pack up during the last week of my internship, he had me finding my Max. Heart Rate and doing AT Threshold Workouts that left me wondering if others were training like this, too. Would it be enough? Would I conk out after mile 21, at which point I would be in unknown territory? Was I ready for a 50K?
After celebrating Nick’s birthday and my last day of the internship, we packed up my apartment and headed down, through southwestern Colorado, the very northwestern tip of New Mexico and toward Arizona, where we set our eyes on the Grand Canyon.

The majestic Grand Canyon at sunrise.
Nick had run the Grand Canyon twice before, but I hadn’t even seen the Grand Canyon, let alone run the golden gorge. After arriving in Flagstaff and finding ourselves the cheapest motel we could, (throughout the course of the trip we learned the secrets of finding the best places: look for the busiest and noisiest corners in the city,) we laid everything we would need for the following morning’s run on the cigarette-burned bed: our packs, windbreakers, food and water. Nights in Flagstaff had been cold, and so I was more concerned about freezing during our 2:30 wake up and our 4a.m. start.
A cold start.
Turns out,  running keeps you relatively warm and the grandeur of seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time as daylight crept upwards through the gorge kept my mind on more important things, like how blessed I was to be running here.
Running down and down and down.
We finished the 42 miles–with the last six miles being hell for me and hell for Nick who had to deal with me– an hour before sunset.
“Well,” Nick said as he took a bite of pizza, “you’ll definitely have something in your back pocket.” We had stopped at the closest restaurant we could find in the Grand Canyon Village before driving back to Flagstaff for the night. My feet had never hurt this much in my life, but beyond the fatigue I felt excited. And Nick was right. If I could run–or, most of the time, hobble–through the Grand Canyon, then I could wrap myself around running my first 50K.
The finish! Rejoice.
On Friday morning, Nick and I made the 4-hour drive, (which turned into 8 hours after several stops for Chipotle, ice cold sparking water and, of course, fossils!) to Los Olivos, where we arrived at the ranch just before five p.m. After a quick packet pick-up, we pulled into the large clearing where tens of RVs, motorhomes, trailers and vehicles spewed a variety of camping gear and running clothes. The majority of people had gathered underneath a banner of flags brought by campers–I was glad there were other Canadians representing our rugged land. Before we had a chance to settle in, the infamous Beer Mile event started and a rowdy bunch of good-natured runners slammed down their first beers and started running.
Race packet pick-up on Friday afternoon.
The rest of the night was spent meeting Nick's friends, setting up our camp with the Mas Locos and dancing to Metalachi, an eccentric, obnoxious and very catchy band that combined Classic Rock, Mariachi and lots of Fireball Whiskey into one lively performance. Who needs pre-race fuel (tortilla chips) and lots of rest (dancing to Metalachi until late at night and falling asleep to the happy laughs of tipsy campers)I fell asleep quickly, exhausted and anxious to begin the race.
Luis Escobar's voice, loud through the microphone and reverberating throughout the tired campground, woke everyone up at 4:30 a.m. the next morning. We'd have enough time to throw together our packs, get in line for the port-a-potties and make our way to the start.
Getting ready.
Some runners looked focused, as though they knew exactly what they were doing and how fast they were going to go out, while other runners looked half-asleep, unsure of what they had signed themselves up for. Nick can probably verify that I looked somewhere in between, but 6 a.m. rolled around, (after we all raised our hands and agreed that no matter what happened out there, it'd be our "own damn fault!") and the 2014 Born to Run Ultramarathons began.
The first loop of the 50K went by fast; the soft light of dawn shadowed the slopes and the fog hung low, enveloping the oaks. We had started off near the front, but as mile one turned to two and two turned to three, runners began to pass me. I wasn't worried, though, as I figured that most runners were in the 10-Mile, not the 50K. This was a whole different race! Or so I thought...
For the most part Nick and I ran alone. On uphill sections I slowly jogged past runners who were walking, but then I’d be passed on the downhills, (finding a balance between these two will be addressed this summer!) It was during one of these downhills that another female runner caught me–and stayed. As with other runners, I would pull away from her as we slogged up a gradual hill, but she’d be quickly back on my heels as the road leveled out or dipped down. Whether or not the push of running aggravates and intensifies certain feelings, I was bothered. Her feet shuffled each time she moved and I couldn't stop myself from deeming her "The Plodder" in my frustration.
“What are you doing?” I said as The Plodder began to catch up to me on a downhill section. Nick explained that he was “brushing down my hackles." He would explain that he could feel the tension between the woman and myself. Even though I hadn’t realized it, I had felt real competition.
As we pulled into the last aid station of the loop, The Plodder dodged into the port-a-potty as we continued, (although she would ultimately pass me and finish ahead!). She had looked strong, and though I knew I wouldn’t be ahead of her for much longer, I felt more relaxed now that I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me or behind me. Rather than the pressure of racing, I only had the pressure I could choose to put on myself–time, distance, whatever I was competing against.
You probably can't tell, but I guarantee I wasn't so pleasant here...
The second loop of the Born to Run 50K course, much like the first, wound through the Los Olivos ranch, studded with oak and olive trees.  Luis Escobar, the RD, had made it clear that we were to follow the pink ribbons on the first loop, yellow on the second, and pink again on the last, meaning we’d be repeating ten miles of the course. I had started off slow when the race began at 6 a.m. and though I now picked up some speed, the longer flat sessions on the first loop felt endless. Still, Nick was by my side and had promised to run the full thing with me, so I let go (as Nick, coincidentally, began humming Frozen’s “Let It Go” song) of my doubts and focused on how lucky I was to have a pack mule (he carried my water and food!) and my best friend running with me the entire time. This loop, though the longest, was also the most enjoyable; the hilly section that revealed a beautiful vista of the entire ranch, the friendly smiles of other runners–50-Milers and 100Ks running their race on the adjoining loop–and the knowledge that I could worry about catching other runners, (and making sure they couldn't catch me,) still a loop away.
This hilly section was especially fun!
And then we came through the campground for the second time, the second loop finished. 21 miles in and now was the time to keep that pace in check. I passed a few runners and a few more passed me. The pressure of having runners behind me kept me moving forward, despite my sore feet and even sorer butt. I was more than ready to be coming through the campground for the last time.
The out-and-back half-mile. I just had to run around the flag and return back to camp. Mile 30.5.
And soon enough, we were! I’ve been in larger races (Vancouver Sun Run) where the entire 10K course is run with hundreds of people at your side and the finish line is often so backed up that race officials have to keep urging people to move forward. The Born to Run, however, was barely 600 people, and much, much less than that at the finish line considering almost everyone was running the course. As Nick and I came running into the dusty camp, some in camping chairs and some with beers in hand and some working tirelessly at the aid station yelled out support. Despite my initial dislike of having other runners (outside of Nick) around, it really was great to have that last push at the end. With whatever was left, I mustered my speed and sprinted my way to the finish, in 4:39:59.
As a quick summary, here’s what I loved:
-The entire Born to Run experience. It was awesome to come out of my shell a little and join everyone in dancing to Metalachi and the other bands. Also, I’m so happy to have finally met so many of the friends Nick talks about! Hello Josue, Flint, Margaret, Maria and others!
-I was spoiled having Nick beside me the entire time, be it for support, food and water. He obviously knows what he’s doing and having someone tell me to eat, even when I protested, was probably a big contributer for feeling strong throughout the race.
-Having completed Rim to Rim to Rim three weeks prior. Just knowing that my body was capable of going that far and that long was a real confidence booster.
-The course. What a beautiful part of the world!
-The touching moment when Luis and other runners gave their glowsticks to the Tarahumara and Viva Chihuahua was sung.
-The competition, although I can’t decide if I love it or hate it more…
-Blue corn tortilla chips, my choice of fuel before and after the race.
Thank you to everyone who helped organize and contribute to such an amazing event. I can’t think of a better introduction to the ultra world and look forward to another!

Can you find Jade?

Cowboy Gangsters

Morning fog w/ scenic cow on race morning

O the hills are alive with yellow grass!

Jade lookin old school

Nick just looking like a fool

Luis Escobar RD w/ Nick's Ram Drinking Horn

Saturday, May 24, 2014

David Goggins

I know I've been 'lax' to say the least about writing my race reports recently (I currently owe you readers 1) Rabbit Peak 2) Zane Grey 3) Whoo's in El Moro 50km & 4) Born to Run 50km) so in lue of is a short write up and a few jokes in admiration of one of my favorite endurance athletes: 

David Goggins

David is and has been for a long time someone who I definitely admire in the world of endurance sports. I'm not going to list a resume or anything, you can easily google that, but I will share with you one my many TRUE stories which validate just why David Goggins is indeed such a BAD-ASS and someone who I look up to. 

My short David Goggins Story, Furnace Creek 2009: 

I'd never ridden a bike beyond 10 miles, I had no clue what the hell I was doing out there. David and Charlie Engle (idols of mine) were in the race and I had some illusions of keeping up with them in the start of the race. Fast-forward to around the 260 mile aid station, I'm dead and wiped out, but only halfway through the race. As I come into the aid station a chalk board is set out with all the riders numbers, names and times they passed through. I quickly see Charlie's name and notice he's towards the top! I take a second look and can't seem to find David's name anywhere. There was no way on earth that I was ahead of him, I figured it was some sort of error and continued on my way. 

The early October day was heating up as I made my way towards the longest climb up the race a 22 mile pass on the way to a middle of nowhere Mojave desert town. I was about five miles into the climb when for some reason or another I glanced over my shoulder and spotted a small dot off in the far distance with a vehicle right near it. "Great! Ug..." I sighed to myself, "another person slowly catching me." I resigned to myself and figured I would be seeing them towards the top of the climb. About another five minutes passed when I decided to nervously check over my shoulder again to see if the rider had made any progress and to my surprise it was David Goggins! He appeared out of nowhere and fast! I stared at him in awe for a moment...He was wearing his classic torn up tank top, what looked like running shorts and yes, yes those were frikkin' crocs on his feet...But beneath his tank top were what looked like "bandages?" I questioned myself. 

"Hey David" I managed to sputter out.
"O Hey Nick" he said in a focused manner. 
"Where have you been?"
"O I've been in the hospital the last six hours. My heart stopped working, they did some surgery on it and the doctor told me I should stop doing these endurance events, told me I'd better not race for at least a year or two if ever again. I told him 'alright but I gotta go finish this race' Damn hospital visit slowed my time down." 
"o" was about all I could mutter, staring at his brown plastic croc's and bare feet cranking on his pedals much faster than my Shimano clip-ins. Then within seconds, he passed me and quickly disappeared into the distance. He would go on to finish the 508 mile bike race over four hours ahead of me, despite six hours of open heart surgery. 

And if that wasn't inspiring enough, here is a list of David Goggins Facts: 

  1. David Goggins has already been to Mars. That's why there are no signs of life. 
  2. Death once had a near-David Goggins experience
  3. David Goggins is the reason why Waldo is hiding
  4. When the boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks his closet for David Goggins
  5. David Goggins will never have a heart attack, his heart isn't nearly foolish enough to attack him. 
  6. David Goggins made a Happy Meal cry
  7. David Goggins can drown a fish
  8. They tried to put David Goggins on Mt. Rushmore but the stone wasn't hard enough
  9. When David Goggins does a push-up, his body is not pushing up, he's pushing the earth down. 
  10. David Goggins once counted to infinity. Twice. 


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Tire sandals, Jeans and Corn Drink

Tire sandals, Jeans and Corn Drink


My Tale of the 2014 Ultra Caballo Blanco 

Before leaving Nicaragua three weeks ago, I was chatting over dinner with race director Josue Stephens about my plans for rest of the year.
“I’m headed off to Copper Canyon for the UMCB in about another week and half, ” he said.
I couldn’t help but think that his wife was going to murder him for being gone from the house so long.
“You should look into coming out there, man> I think you’d have a great time.”
“Maybe,” I said politely, not wanting to give an outright no to the invitation and thinking of my own girlfriend and how she’d murder me as well if I took off for another ‘business’ trip as I started labelling these races in our daily conversation. “It’s for my running career,” I said again and again.
Long story short, I land in Chihuahua City Thursday night, two days before the race. I convinced myself that I felt ‘fine’ and ‘well-enough’ to not be competitive and just have a good time at the race. I met up with Paco Raptor and the UltraMex crew in Chihuahua City for the long ride down into Urique. I knew from looking at maps of Mexico that Chihuahua was big, but I still didn’t believe Paco when he repeatedly told me that it was a nine-hour drive.
“Ain’t gonna take no nueve horas to get there…” I kept thinking to myself, but oh, oh how wrong I was. Siete horas later, my legs were awkwardly cramped between backpacks, leftover electrolit drinks, apples and almond butter. I was attempting to eat my way into ‘good shape’ with the few days I had left before the race.
Suddenly the large ten-person passenger van was headed off road! Paco’s Mexican driving skills were unworldly and at times horrifying. We fishtailed around corners, passing trucks and slower vans. As I grasped the OMG handle, I glanced at the train tracks in the distance and wondered if that would have been a safer choice.
We got to Bahuichivo, a town about 54kms from Urique. We were close! As we started down the road, Paco mumbled something about the next section taking two hours. I thought to myself, “What on earth could be so bad that this next section of road is going to take two hours?” The Ultra-Mex crew and I then joked about this long drive being the first stage of the Ultra.
An hour went by and I felt like I was back in college cruising through the old forest roads near Flagstaff, Arizona. Then we turned a corner and the forest dropped. I got my first glance into Mexico’s Grand Canyon: its gargantuan size dwarfed our tiny passenger van. I looked down towards the bottom and made out what I thought might be a river or small village.
“¿Eso es Urique?” I asked Paco.
“Sí andále eso es,” he replied.
“Shiiiitttt…” Then I remember glancing at a Facebook photo Josue had posted weeks before the race, the caption reading “The road down to Urique may be a competitor for world’s most dangerous road.
Suddenly I understood why.

3000+ft cliff hugging the small dirt road down to Urique
A single lane road outstretched over some cliffs in the canyon below. I saw dust kick up from a vehicle traveling on it, but assured myself that was surely some sort of crazy mining road. Then the passenger van continued and continued… “O dear god,” I thought. My hand grasped tightly onto the OMG handle as my eyes peered about five feet off to my left where the road abruptly ended and gave way to a 3,000ft drop. I unclipped my seat belt thinking that if we flipped, I’d make an attempt at jumping out of the van.
Paco’s risky Mexican driving continued as we caught up to a few vehicles on the way down. Although he was cautious enough not to fishtail around the corners, I was sure by the smell of clutch and the brakes that he must have been trying to set some sort of descent record to the town.
When we finally got to level ground, I jumped out of the vehicle nearly kissing the stable earth. And then I watched as the hubcaps of the rent-a-van fell straight off the tire from the heat of the brake pads. I was alive! And dammit, the 50 miler couldn’t be more mentally taxing than that descent!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

FUEGO Y AGUA: Part III the 100km Foot-race

FUEGO Y AGUA: PART III The 100km Foot-race
I was sitting down on a plastic chair staring out onto the eastern shore of Ometepe across the gigantic Lake Nicaragua. It was 4:55am, and just five minutes before the start of the 100km race. 48hrs ago, I was running across this same finish line.  Needless to say, I wanted to be off my legs for as long as humanly possible.

The pre-race energy wafted heavily through the air as the race director announced that there was less than a minute to go. Lazily, I moved my feet off the tree stump they were resting on and I began a slow and sore limp over to the start line of the race.
Myself chatting with a few of the other runners, seconds before the start
In comparison with the start of the survival run, the start of the 100km seemed extremely fast. I settled into what felt like a comfortable pace as a mix of 100km and 50km athletes whizzed by me.

"My goal here isn't to compete with them in the first half, no one ever "wins" a race in the first few km's but you can sure as hell lose one." I told myself. I thought of the survival run as I approached the foothills of the very first Volcano Climb, "maintain perfect nutrition, perfect hydration and perfect electrolyte intake." I said to myself while shoving down two salts.

A group of about five of us started running over the basalt strewn riverbed leading deeper into the lower slopes of Volcan Maderas. My eyes were peeled to the ground as I looked for a good size stick to put my five one gallon water bottle jugs onto...Then I suddenly realized, this wasn't the survival run and I wasn't carrying 50lbs of awkward water weight on my back! Suddenly, the Volcano didn't seem so bad! I smiled and redoubled my pace, catching a few of the 50km runners. 

As I made my way up the mountain, I put my iPod in my back pocket and tuned into a cacophony of howler monkeys and angry magpie jays yelling at me from branches overhead. The sun was just starting to come out as I slipped in and out of the deep jungle, mid-way up Volcan Maderas, nervously close to too many runners. I found myself skipping over dozens of endless lines of leaf cutter ants working away at devouring a tree, they were occupying the most convenient sections of the trail, but I couldn't step on them for risk of ruining my good 'ant karma' I had promised my girlfriend I would maintain. 
Leaf Cutter Ant Trail
I kept my heart rate calm as the trail continued to steepen and become increasingly muddier. I knew from previous ascents that when the trail got nasty muddy, I was nearing the top. I recklessly drove my shoes through the deep mud puddles, creating great splashes which cooled and refreshed my body as I went along. I could hear voices of other runners up ahead somewhere, but distance and proximity are such fickle things in the deep jungle. 

I sang to myself and happily chewed down some almond butter balls covered in coconut oil as I crested over the last bit of the volcano and began descending down into the crater lake. I cautioned another runner about a dangerous fell tree we had to navigate over during the survival run and the both of us cautiously made our way around it.
Runners navigating the 'terrible' fell tree on the way to Maderas crater
I ran immediately over to the cool edges of the volcanic lake and dunked my head in. I was starting to overheat from the early morning humidity and knew (in the long term) I don't deal with humidity well. I ran over to the aid station, grabbed some water and refueled with my Carbo Pro and asked Peter one of the race staff, how far up everyone was. He mumbled something about a group of five of six people somewhere up ahead of me as I disappeared back into the jungle. As I said no one wins the race in the first few kilometers, so I wasn't too phased, plus the leftover lactic acid from the survival run was keeping me nice and slow. 

The next section of the race is called the "jungle gym" and for good reason. It follows the knife blade ridge line of Volcan Maderas and peeks in and out of expansive views of both the craters interior and the island of Ometepe. The trail itself, is hardly that. It's a horrible mess of tree roots, vines, basalt and deep mud.
The 'jungle gym' trail 
To call this a "trail" is a stretch in the first place. To call it "runnable" is just plain stupid. It's a slow scramble where I employed more of my upper body than my lower. 

I knew this "jungle gym" in and out from the survival run.  Despite this familiarity, I still managed to sink up to my mid-thigh in the nutrition rich jungle mud. As I pulled myself out of the mud pit by grabbing onto a nearby vine, I could hear voices of runners up ahead of me. 

To my surprise they were running back towards me.
"Nick!" Matt, a USA runner from San Fransisco who was in the 100km said to me,
"Do you know where to go?? I think we got turned around..." I felt awful for them, I wasn't moving as quick but told them I'd lead them through. I was surprised when they put me in front and I managed to keep pace. I asked the guy behind me what position he was in and even more surprised when he responded
"First in the 50k?" I asked
"Yup, first in the 50k, no one is ahead of us..." 
That feeling of 'whoops...I must be going way too fast' came over me as I lead both the races down and through the final stretches of the jungle gym. 

The two of us Eddie (as I learned his name was) leapfrogged each other down the mountain. Flying around branches and jumping over tree roots. Descending the volcano was everything I loved about mountain running, the technicality, the views, the speed. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. Not to mention, it helped not having 50lbs of water on my back weighing me down. 

It was difficult but I maintained good 'ant karma' the entire way down. I could hear Matt's voice and the voice of another runner close behind me. Then the competitive demons came over me. I knew Matt was doing the 100km race, I knew he wasn't going to just 'shake off', so I needed to do something. I needed to crush his soul. And I did this by giddy, annoying positivism. I jumped up into the air and kicked my heels for a photograph.

Crushing souls with a smile : )
I hoped that the move would make him think "damn! and he just did the survival run? This guy's crazy..." I have no idea if it worked, but as the three of us came off of the volcano together and pulled into the first aid station, I could hear that he was breathing heavier than me. 

I filled up my camel back and took off quickly on the heels of the first place 50km runner. I didn't want to be this far out front, but I was just listening to my body, listening to my heart rate and I kept asking myself "is this sustainable?" And the answer my body gave me was yes.

The 50km guy disappeared around the corners after a short while, apparently running on dirt roads was this guys thing. I fell into what felt like a comfortable pace, expecting Matt at any second to come and overtake me. I kept pushing on and on and to my surprise another 50km from Costa Rica popped up at my side instead. The two of us chatted with heavy breathe about Costa Rica and the humidity of the run so far. We never passed each other but maintained one of those ideal temporary running relationships where you find yourself running side by side, one person barely passing the other but never increasing in speed. Consequently, the two of us decimated the last 10km in just under 42mins...Not something that I was expecting to do this early in the race and especially after the Survival Run. But hey I felt great! But doesn't everyone at this point in the race?

I took great care to fill up my camel bak and hydrate properly before launching into the next lonely exposed 13km's around the south of the island. It was only around 8:00am but I knew from having stayed on the island for the last two weeks, that this place heats up quickly! The Costa Rican and I hung out together for another 5km's or so before he started to drop back. I kept my mind busy by saying "hi" and "good morning" to all the locals I passed as they stared back at me from their yards or horses with some of the oddest looks I've received yet while i've been here on Ometepe. 

About three quarters of the way through the section, I was coming through a small village and passing through a low rivene, when I noticed on my left a group of about five six year old Nicaraguan girls just barely peeking out over a small fence, their eyes fixed on me. One of them popped up "hola!" 
"hola" I said back
the next little girl popped up "hola!"
"hola!" I said again 
and they continued in sequence until I made sure to greet everyone of them. Aside from a small piglet that had crossed the road during the survival run, it was probably the cutest thing to happen to me since being here on the island. 

As I kept moving along, the section became increasingly hotter. More exposed roads and the occasional truck or SUV that drove by kicked up tons of dust and car exhaust, choking my running pace. I was in the latter half of the section, when I broke down into a walk for the first time, passing a lady on my left who was watering down the garden in the front of her house. The heat was getting to me. 
“Señora! senora! Por favor me ponga agua?” 
She smiled and gave me a weird look, but then sprayed me down the hose she was spraying her garden with. 
Phew! What a relief!!
I picked up my pace again and kept moving along at a reasonable pace, at every moment when I felt my heart rate jump I asked myself again, “Nick is this sustainable?” “is this something you can keep going?” Yes, yes. 

I ran into the next aid station, the Costa Rican was nowhere in sight and the aid station volunteers informed me that Eddie, the guy who was leading the 50km race was only seven minutes ahead of me. I had no reason to catch him. He was in a different race entirely, it just so happened we were sharing the same course. I took a few minutes at the aid station to ensure I had enough to drink, enough water and enough salts in my body to avoid any cramping or anything. I knew that if I was going to hold off Matt, hold off the entire field of 100km runners this early in the race, I could not afford a single error in my nutrition or hydration. 

I then ran the last section before the 50km/ half-way marker relatively quickly. I got into my groove and it helped that I had explored this entire side of the island the week before the race. Really having familiarized myself with the terrain, the stores and the people, I waved to several store owners I had come to know and they cheered me on as I went by. When I hit the beach and could clearly see what would eventually be the finishing line for the race, it was both depressing and enlightening. Great to be coming to a big aid station, but depressing in some ways to know that I was only half-way. Although, sickly, I was kind of looking forward to doing Volcan Concepcion again. Cheers rang out as I raged in just barely skimming in under six hours, 5:58, about fifteen minutes off from the first place guy from the 50km race. I grabbed a few extra salt pills from my drop bag, loaded up on food and water and then took off. I knew if I sat down it would have been an extra five or even ten minutes. People were asking how things were going, but this was a race and I could tell them all about it, after things were done.
Running through the 50km mark, 5hrs 58mins
I had a feeling still that Matt or someone was coming after me. That I wasn’t as safe or as far as ahead as I thought I was. I kept moving increasing my pace and hiking quickly up and over a few hills as the heat of the day kept climbing. I kept track of time with my GPS but I only displayed the time field, not the distance because I knew this race was going to be adding mileage slowly. The next few kilometers paralleled the final stages of the survival run as I made my way towards Altagracia and the Volcan Concepcion trailhead. 

I hit the aid station right before the road turn off and was starting to feel a bit over-heated. I made sure to take enough time to fill my pack entirely with water and even decided to take an additional water bottle with me up the mountain, knowing that I was about to enter some of the hottest and most exposed portion of the course. 

Dusty, rocky, dirt roads with scattered cattle and horses made up the first mile as I approached the base of Volcan Concepcion. I promised myself right off the bat that I was not going to look up a single time during the ascent. Knowing that I was in for a long haul, and looking up at a 5,000ft climb would only be a demotivating factor. The joy and ease of the first mile evaporated into the heat of the day as I climbed up into what I called section “one” of the climb, exposed, hot, technical, 50% grade field. Each step was unstable, I’d often take one step forward and two slips back. Frustrated and hot, I could feel my heart rate increase and knew that I just had to keep moving forward, the section couldn't and I knew didn't go on forever. I could mentally overcome it.  I would take a break at the beginning of the jungle or what I called section “two”. When I arrived there, I was on the border of heat exhaustion, but I had dealt with this before during my training run on the mountain and knew that a simple exercise of sitting and breathing to ten could not only lower my heart rate but virtually eliminate most symptoms of heat exhaustion. I carried on through the jungle arriving at the half-way checkpoint up the mountain and thought for a moment that someone was catching me. A quick glance behind me verified that the heat was just getting to me. No one was near me, I told myself over and over again that if someone decided to come after on Concepcion that they would give themselves heat exhaustion trying to catch me on the mountain. I told myself as I approached the big manocatta leaves of section “three”  
Heading to the base of Volcan Concepcion 
Moments later, the volunteers responsible for setting up the course markers on top of Concepcion were headed down and informed me that I was only a few hundred meters from the top at this point. A great relief! As I focused on the ground during entire ascent and not even bothered to look around or up at the mountain at this point yet.  

I started to crown out of the manocatta leaves and could smell sulfur in the air and the warmth of the active volcano in my hands as I pulled myself up over the vesicular basalt. Nostalgia took over me as my eyes fixed on the lip of the crater “this is going to be the last time I get to summit this Volcano this year.” Sad, I thought to myself and I tagged the rim of the crater, looking into its sulfurous center. It was time to get down. 

I started moving as quick as you move over the sketchy, loose, chunky basalt rock. The thinness of the trail, the manocatta leaves covered half of the trail, making the visibility poor. Strong 50 mile per hour winds blew in my face and my vision fixated on the slippery mud covered breccia beneath me. I needed to get down and off this volcano, but there was absolutely no safe way to move down this mountain. Each step had to be precise, each movement had to be sure, just like I said to myself at Tor Des Geants back in September of last year, THERE COULD BE NO ERRORS HERE. 

I flew around each corner, expecting to see Matt in second place popping up around and eager to chase me down the mountain. I knew from descending Maderas that he was a talented technical trail runner. To my surprise, I  was less than a quarter mile from the halfway point on my way down when second place appeared, a Costa Rican. He looked up with a heat exhausted, tired face and stated in a shocked tone,
“Are….are you first place?” He said looking at me with a face that said absolute exhaustion.
“Yup” I flew around him and redoubled my efforts to descend the volcano safely, but quickly.
Warning third place about the horrors of what lied ahead for him on Concepcion. 
I reached the half-way point and was looking forward to sitting down for maybe a few minutes and enjoying a sandwich before finishing off the descent. I knew I had at least an hour lead on second place, so I had some time to spend eating a sandwich I figured. Third place was sitting on the ‘good’ rock seat when I got to the checkpoint, he too looked absolutely blasted and tired. I told him to be careful about his pace and how to avoid heat exhaustion, I grabbed a sandwich and the volunteer looked at me and said
“you’re taking that to go right??”
“…ya to go…”
Smiling my way down the wicked volcanic terrain
The rest of the descent was a careful and precarious dance with sandwich in one hand, a water bottle in the other and myself carefully but surely descending and climbing over slippery, loose volcanic rock. When the trail finally started to calm back down and I had passed fourth and fifth place who were just starting their ascents up the mountain, I celebrated by picking up the pace, attempting to further the distance between me and second place. After all, downhill was where you made time on people. Not uphill. 

The next section was 15km on road, a painful and different contrast to the 10km of extremely technical volcanic running I had just experienced. I started off at a decent pace, knowing that the faster I moved the faster the road section would be done. A local newspaper drove beside me in a car for about a mile or two and was asking me a bunch of questions about whether or not I thought I would be leading the race by this much. To be honest, I hadn’t. I was going purely by feel and I felt great still. Keeping my nutrition, hydration and salt a top priority was paying off big time.
Hauling down the road coming off the last Volcano
The heat was dissipating as I neared closer and closer to the next checkpoint, the occasional car exhaust from the local buses was frustratingly choking but was so infrequent that it didn’t bother me too much. I arrived at Charco Verde, the second to last station in the race, in a rush. I wasn’t sure how close second was to me, but I was getting nervous, getting anxious and wanted to get done with this race. I took a few sips of the gatorade type stuff they had at the station, looked at my pack and ensured I had enough food to get myself back and was off again for the last section. 

On the climb up Mirador del Diablo, the final small climb before the last 8km stretch back to the beaches and finish at Santo Domingo, I spotted a weird creature wandering around in the middle of the trail.  It looked like a rat.  Then I remembered studying abroad in Belize and the image of the creature as a grilled entree on my plate, it was a Gibnut! The royal rat! How cool to actually see one alive! “Run away little guy before someone eats you!” I said to it as it scurried away into the bushes. 

Oracca’s (the magpie jays) cawed and screeched at me as I topped out of Mirador del Diablo stealing my last glances at the now distant Volcan Concepcion. Only one more obstacle stood between me and the finish line now, and I wasn’t referring to the last 8km’s. There was a house on the other side of the hill, where a vicious pit-bull/ Schnauzer mix was poorly gated. I had ran into it and was nearly attacked by it during the survival run, had the owner not pelted it with a rock, I would have surely been bit. Luckily, as I approached the house I could see a man outside watering his garden, 
“Senor senor, por favor me cuida contra su pero!”
“Ya…ya” he said waving his hand and kind of blowing me off, I could hear the beast violently barking in the background but luckily it stayed behind the fence. 

The descent down to the beach at Tesoro del Pirata reminded me a lot of Barkley, swinging in between the loose dirt and grabbing onto trees to keep myself from falling further, then the tight squeeze under the barbed wire fence and chickens running across the dirt road quickly reminded me that I was in Nicaragua. 

I was close to the end now. I could feel it. I had no idea how close second place was behind me and I didn’t want to figure it out. I threw on my iPod and started raging off down the well marked trail paralleling the beach. When I arrived at Santa Teresa the very last checkpoint before taking off to the finish line, I was in a rush and anxious to get back. Stupidly, I had my iPod in one ear and heard the volunteer say something about “beach…markers” as I hurriedly grabbed a sports drink and ran in that general direction, I was only 8km from the finish and anxious to be done!! 

One more shake of a stick and a deep growl to dodge an angry Nicaraguan dog and I was following along the beach, keeping my eyes out for any course markings at this point. It was the very last 8km of the race, I still had about an hour before sunset and could be well under 13hrs if I played my cards right here. About a mile down, I started to doubt my location. I hadn't seen any course markers in a long time. He said follow the beach though. And then suddenly up ahead and a bit inland on the other side of the a small dry creek I saw two spray painted markers, one orange one blue. They looked slightly different from the ones that I had been following all day, but I wasn't phased by it. Maybe this was just how they marked this portion of the course, after all orange and blue were the colors of Fuego y Agua, I justified in my mind as I made the turn left and into following the arrows. 

Absolutely no markers though. And no footprints, just cow poop and hoof prints. The doubt grew and the anxiety was getting worse as I watched the sun continue to lower. Another sign! Blue and orange marker again, it had been a good mile and half at this point since the last marker, why the hell had they marked this portion so poorly I thought to myself??

I continued raging on, if I was lost, I needed to haul-ass.  Whatever mistake I’d made at this point, I had to live with.  Whatever I was running was likely more than 100km. I couldn't let second place get there before me.

I moved faster and faster as my heart sank to an absolute low with what I saw next. It was the markers I followed but they had tree vines growing up and over them. This confirmed what I thought was true, somehow I ended up on the previous years course markings. I had no idea where second was, the sun was setting and I needed to get back! Frantically, I asked a local passing by on a bike what the fastest, most direct route was back to Santo Domingo (the finish line of the race.)  Hesitatingly, he said it was far.
"Ten kilometers or more."
 Ridiculous, this section was supposed to be 10km's total. And EASY

The last thing I wanted at the end of a race like this was to be hopelessly lost. I asked local, after local, after local. Each of them replied to me with a different distance 
According to the Nicaraguans, the closer I got, the further I was.  At one point I was told it's 4km's away and I make it 2km's down the trail only to ask another person who replies that it's 10km's again. It was a sick Nicaraguan labyrinth. 

My frustration reached an all time high. The previous years course markers lead me out of the village and into a random banana tree field, the trail, the markers, everything disappeared.  

“WHERE THE HELL IS THE ROAD!?!?!?!” I yell out in English, punching at random banana tree leaves. 

I chose a quick heading based off of Volcan Maderas and raged through the banana field. The terrain was covered in vines and thorns, but I needed to reach something I recognized. 

By the grace of god, I popped out somehow in Ojo de Agua, a nearby natural spring I had visited while staying in Santo Domingo. Suddenly, I knew where I was and tore off down the road, screaming and frustrated. I threw on my iPod and started clocking near 6min/miles on my way back towards the finish line. I was well over 13hrs now and the sun was nearly setting.  I missed my own time cut-off but up ahead, I saw no lights, no cheering, which meant it wasn't likely that second place beat me back. 

I ran into the finish line appearing from the wrong direction, waving my flashlight like a crazy man, “el primer! el primer!” I could hear in the distance.  I picked up my pace, tried to forget my frustrations and realized I had just won the Fuego y Agua 100km.
Frustrated, tired but finished!
The Fuego y Agua races are unparalleled in difficulty and uniqueness. Josue and his crew have created an event that flawlessly integrates the local community with a great international event. The 100km race specifically, was extremely challenging. And I remember mentioning to the 50km runners as we ran down Maderas together “it’s not going to be the person who is best at the road here, or the person who is best at technical terrain.  The person who wins here will be some weird hybrid runner.” My final time was 13hrs and 25mins for a 100km run. That time alone, to me, quantifies the difficulty and intensity of it all. So thank you to Fuego y Agua events for putting together such an incredible event! 

The completion of the 100km race in 13hrs and 25mins in addition to my official time for the Survival Run 20hrs and 30mins, makes the overall record time for the Devil's Double 33hrs and 55mins.


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***Please keep checking back for updates on my book that is coming out later on this year, and I will be posting video's shortly from my pre-race training adventures in Nicaragua and Mexico***