Muddy Mountain Mist

2010 Mountain Mist 50K

I wonder if my race reports are going to suck in 2010?

This year marks my 4th year running ultramarathons – in fact, Mountain Mist is my first three-peat race – and the fourth year since I made the choice to give up the fat ass way of life and start lacing up the kicks to try to shed some pounds.

After almost 40 ultras now, how can I possibly have anything else interesting to say about this sport?

I dunno, but if you keep reading, I ‘spose I’ll keep trying to share the stoke.

What are friends for?

Monte Sano Lodge at Mountain Mist
photo: Pre-race with all my peeps.

The 2010 Mountain Mist was going to be special for me:

  • I was introducing a triathlete friend to the crazy world of ultrarunning.
  • I was running the race using a new, and disruptive nutrition approach.
  • I had some pretty lofty “personal best” goals, wanting to shave at least 20 minutes off of my 2009 Mountain Mist finish time of 6:19.

Naturally, with the third goal constantly on my mind leading into the race, I was a little bummed to get emails from the RD stating the course conditions would be very muddy, and thus slower, than some previous years.


Just gotta work harder and smarter, I guess.

Pre-race matters

Races are becoming reunions for me, with the runners like family members.

GUTS group photo at the 2010 Mountain Mist
photo: GUTS group photo

I put a lot of stock in my mental and emotional state as it relates to athletic performance, so it was very special for me to show up at packet pick-up and catch up with many of the other Southeastern ultrarunners – many of whom have been my personal heroes since I started running trail ultras – Jim Musselman, Rob & Kathy Youngren, Dink & Suzanne, as well as the many of other runners I see more regularly at races and in training.

One highlight was sharing my pre-race meal with a whole group of GUTS friends including: ‘Kena, “cold water dude”, “three-kids-tony”, “four-kids-kim” and “J-dog the Hammer pimp.”

Lots of pre-race laughing and cutting-up which erased the jitters and sent me to bed feeling like one happy dude.

It’s a reggae race morning

reggae love

I knew I was in for a good race day when we stumbled upon some reggae music on our way up the mountain to the Monte Sano lodge. I mean, “who’d a thunk it?” – certainly not me since everything else on the radio was “kill your dog”-country …but at the last minute, digging down into those stations where you usually find NPR all the other boring stuff, there it was – Spongy Reggae!

Sorry to go on and on about the reggae, but if you know me, you know how much I dig the I-life, so it was a good sign that I might just have a good race day after all …mud be damned.



The race started with another one of those heart-stopping musket shots just like Landsford Canal. It was so loud, it literally shook your guts around.

The beginning of Mountain Mist starts with about 1/2 mile of road to thin the herd and create less of a log jam at the entrance to the trail.

Since I had time goals, I tried to hang somewhere around the front of the mid-pack with two goals in mind:

  • hit the trails before the massive crowd.
  • stay as far ahead as possible to avoid too much churned-up mud.

This went well, but by the time I hit the first aid station, I felt my heart rate slamming, my quads pumping and a strong need to settle into a more comfortable pace.

Did Dink sell out to Muddy Buddy?

Seriously. That was a lot of mud.

Whenever you hear “lotsa mud”, you usually think “cool, that’s what mountain trail ultras are all about!”

But, then you start running in it, and yeah, it’s cool at first — but miles and miles and miles of mud can really test an ultraunner’s resolve.

The path to mud acceptance is kinda humorous, and for many people, goes like this:

  1. First, runners try to avoid mud acceptance by running around it, usually making custom paths around the various mud pits in an attempt to either preserve the shoes, or prevent all the slipping and sliding around.
  2. Then, comes selective mud acceptance. This is when runners pick smaller muddy sections to run through, perhaps only avoiding the ones that are completely full of brown water.
  3. Eventually though, usually after about 15-20 miles, mud acceptance is reached. Runners just plow through the mud like a five year old on the kindergarten playground, realizing that “nope, it ain’t gonna get any better out here.”

As I slogged through the powerlines section, just before the K2 climb, I was still running in mud avoidance mode, which in retrospect was most likely less energy efficient than just charging through it.

Training matters too

western states logo and barkley 100

Since my acceptance into the Barkley and Western States this year, all I care about is nasty training – all hills, all the time – and I’ve really been focused on putting in the mountain climbing work.

With this being said, by the time I hit K2 I found it much easier than any of the other previous years. It felt short to me. All the climbs felt short to me this year – but, before I sound too cocky, I did walk most of each of K2, waterline and rest shelter.

It’s just that I could power-hike them much faster than before with more torque and stamina, and better yet, wasn’t wasted at the top, allowing me to set into a decent paced run at each individual summit.

Lesson: Hill training works.

Humbling deer

I really enjoy the sections between K2 and the infamous waterline climb. These sections are moderately rolling, with some hella’ rocky terrain, and it seems these are the sections that can expose your true level of training and your ability to navigate some insane footing.

If you haven’t been training on rocky trails, these miles can chew you up.

As I trotted along through an area of wide open forest, about a mile or so from aid station #3, I was taking a personal inventory.

“Ok, how’s this going…?”

“Legs still strong?” -check.

“Heart rate mellow?” -check.

“On pace for a sub-6?” – who freakin’ knows… but I hoped so.

I felt great (due in part by Vespa, I’m convinced) and I started to speed up a little; and just as I started feeling like I was moving really well, I heard all kinds of crazy-loud c r a s h i n g.


Three crazed deer were ripping through the forest, towards my direction. I mean RIPPING. Nothing got in the way as they tore through small trees and bushes, sprinting up the rocky hills like every step was memorized. Heads-down, antlers pointed, they flew across the trail so fast it was almost surreal.

…and just when I thought it was over, 2 more smaller ones came out of nowhere behind them, doing their best to imitate the style, grace and power of the first two.


Dude behind me let’s out a scream as he obviously was stoked by the encounter too.

And all of sudden, I didn’t feel so graceful anymore.

It reminded me of the many times I’ve said to myself, “this trail isn’t so tough,” – only to end up, ten seconds later, with my face in the dirt and blood exiting from some sort of wound somewhere on my body.

Nature has a way humbling us quickly and succinctly.

Good ol’ waterline

Every year people dread this climb.

It’s sort of a love/hate thing because the Mist wouldn’t be “the Mist” without it; but, I gotta be honest ’cause “hey, it’s my report”, and state that I did not find this climb nearly as difficult as I have in the past.

Again, must be all that hill training.

It’s tough, and it’s steep, but it’s very short and after my 6-mile-climbing “beat-down” in Central America, waterline just wasn’t gonna shake me this year.

Mud boggin’

Laughing was pretty much all I could do after waterline.

Once I left that aid station, it was nothing but light brown, deep, slippery, cambered mud.


The entire approach to McKay’s Hollow was just a slip-n-slide fest and I couldn’t help but wonder what those in the back were going to have to endure after the front and middle packs came through and shredded up the already-nasty terrain.

But, I LOVE the McKay’s section and there’s a lot of technical descent here, so I took advantage implementing my best Andrew Hackett imitation on the drops and running as hard as I could muster on the muddy flats.

…and man, was it ever muddy. Like, ankle-deep muddy.

Chasing the clock causes stress

I’m all for time goals.

I don’t live and die by it, but obviously it’s a great way to gauge improvement. I mean, if you constantly improve, you’ll eventually get up there with the big dogs, right?

I can only hope.

But, honestly, I suffered a lot of stress in McKay’s which took a little bit away from the experience. By the time I bottomed out in the hollow, I only had about 40 minutes to run that rolling ridge that crosses the creek a couple o’ times, get through the flat muddy approach to Rest Shelter, complete that long climb, and then sprint the last 1.8 flat & fast stretch to the finish line.

I feel super lame saying this, but I gotta tell the true story — I cried like a big baby.

I was running through that mud to rest shelter, and crying like a spoiled  jackass because I really wanted to get there, and I just didn’t think I had enough time to get all that work done – so I just kept pushing, harder and harder and harder.

It was hurting, my lungs were maxing out, I was mostly alone so had no way to gauge pace, and all I could think was getting to that DAMN rest shelter sign that starts the final climb.

“Uh-oh, there’s someone, I better wipe my eyes…”

I’m such a wimp.

There was some dude obviously still in “mud avoidance” mode, so I passed him without as much as a glance, running through the giant swaths of deep mud every bit the same as I was running on dry land; and although it hurt like Hell, I was running with some fierce determination.

“I want that sub-6 dammit”

I did the whole cheesy talking to yourself thing. Typical “I think I can”-stuff I probably learned from some progressive teacher back in private school, …and I just kept pushing on.

A “5” is a beautiful thing

I was so happy to get to the rest shelter climb, you’d think I had just finished.

I bellowed out a “yes!”, and shuffled up as long as I could before I was forced to power-hike. And power-hike I did! I was swinging my arms like Sally, and taking strides like John Dove.

I kept chanting the whole time.

…and staring at my watch.

At the top of the climb, I blew right on by the aid station, yelling out my number and screaming, “thanks for being here”, “we couldn’t do it without y’all” …etc etc etc.

I was on a mission.

I can’t wait to see the splits, because I’m pretty sure I pulled 7-minute-ish miles on that last 1.8 mile stretch.

At least it felt like it.

And when I could hear that crowd yelling for other runners ahead of me, I knew I was going to make it sub-6.

Rounding the corner, I could see the clock in the distance. It had just flipped to 5:54:10

And I crossed at 5:54:18

There’s something about the Mist

I don’t know what it is. Maybe a combination of a lot things:

  • the people
  • the varied terrain and beauty of the course
  • the challenge
  • the camaraderie
  • the volunteers
  • …I know it isn’t the HEED (that crap sucks)

My third Mountain Mist was everything I’d hoped and more.

Would I still say that if I had missed my goal? I dunno, maybe not – but I did hit my goal and not only am I proud to have done that, but I’m most proud of turning my life around, finding a sport I truly love, and getting to share it with some of the coolest people on the planet.

Boo Ya!

Fuego Y Agua 100K | Running Volcanoes

First off, I must warn you.

This “race report” will be long.

In fact, it’s much more than a race report – it’s my attempt at bringing you along to Nicaragua.

I want to put you in the taxi to Rivas, and to take you along for the ferry ride from San Jorge to the Isle de Ometepe.

I want you by my side as I share my personal experiences with the Nicaraguan people, and I want you in my head and in my heart while I explain many of the the interactions that went on during those eight days in Central America.

And “oh yea”, I want to tell you about the greatest race in the world. Fuego Y Agua was the most challenging ultrarunning experience I have endured thus far in my running career, and I want to carry you down those hot and humid dusty roads, the cloud-covered, damp and rugged trails of the volcanoes, and throughout the many itty-bitty Nica villages I experienced as I fought my way across 64 miles of pure pleasure and pain.

Once again, my life has been forever changed by a race experience – Hopefully, I’ll do a good job of explaining why.

Josuem Paula and Christian at Fuego Y Agua awards ceremony

Tuesday, Day 1: Pigs on a plane

So, the trip did not start out as pleasant as I’d hoped.

After believing the seat next to me was empty, here stumbles a 300lb sweating gorilla, asking me, “is this 16B?”


There was no way, I was sitting next to this dude. He stunk to high-heaven, and his flesh was oozing over the hand rests, right into my lap. I handled it for about three minutes before finally getting up and begging the stewardess to move me. I even offered to pay an upgrade to business class, but there was no way I was sitting next to King Kong for four hours.

I’m not trying to be mean, but really? People like that should be forced to purchase two side-by-side seats.

To make matters worse, the weather was horrible and the plane was trying to take off before all the flights at the airport were temporarily grounded. I didn’t exactly love the sound of that, but I did want to get going, so I just blasphemously prayed to whomever would listen, closed my eyes on the take-off, and endured a shake-a-thon up into the storming clouds.

Finally, we burst through the clouds at about 10,000 feet, and the remainder of the flight was a smooth cruise all the way to Managua, Nicaragua.

Crisis averted – and I even got to watch a movie.

Ok, now what?

Interesting thing traveling alone in a foreign country without a plan – I made it through the passport check, stumbled my way through customs, and fought through the big crowd outside the airport – but then found myself just standing there…

“Ummm, ok, what now?”

I had no plan, I couldn’t speak the language, and I had no idea where to go – but I did know I had scheduled a room at the Best Western – but where was it? I could hear my wife in the back of my head yelling at me for being irresponsible and not planning and just running around half-cocked in a unknown country.

Taxi drivers were ascending upon me in droves, tugging on my bags, and trying desperately to get my business.

But luckily, across the street from the airport, I saw it –  The “Best Western” sign.


I walked over, stumbled through some broken Spanish, and ended up with a humble, but nice and cozy room.

Josue Stephens, the race director, arranged for a taxi to pick me up at 8:00 a.m. the next morning, so I dumped my stuff in the ‘casita’ and rambled around some Managua nightlife for awhile with the hotel bell-hop whom I befriended rather quickly upon arrival – (thanks, Christopher).

Day 2: Making my way to Ometepe

The taxi arrived an hour early, so I rushed outta bed, gathered my crap and met Jose. Jose would driving me almost two hours to the small port community of San Jorge, just outside Rivas.

In San Jorge, I will take a one-hour ferry ride to the Isle de Ometepe where I can meet up with some of the other racers.

The taxi ride with Jose was awesome. He spoke very little English, and of course my Spanish was even worse, but we somehow made it work and shared a lot of laughs as we rolled along through tiny, little Nicaraguan towns.

He threw in some music and started singing along to old 70’s disco music and Elvis tunes, and I found this very funny. If you watch the video, notice the music in the background. We were singing, yellin’ and cuttin’ up all the way to the port.

And of course, classic to Central America, we passed carts being pulled by horses, lots of ox-driven “vehicles”, and a comical pickup truck filled with at least 25 Nicas – maybe more – and along with the people, there were some chickens, pigs, and goats along for the ride.

The ferry at San Jorge

After paying Jose (and floating a pretty big tip since he “didn’t have any change”), I was sorta left to fend for myself – but luckily, another local guy who spoke good English, helped me to get some food at San Jorge and told me which ferry I needed and when.


But that’s not as easy as it sounds.

Imagine you have no idea where you are. You are walking to the end of dock as locals are pouring off a big, old ferry with everything from bags of produce, to live animals (most likely headed to slaughter) along with the occasional stinky, dirty hippy from Europe.

(Funny, that by the end of the week, I’d be that same stinky, dirty hippy)

There was no order to the ferry process. People just pile on with whatever they are taking to the island. I had no idea if I was to pay first or not, and if so, who?

So, I just got on, climbed to the top deck of the boat, and waited to start the next leg of the journey.

Making my peace with Concepcion

The ferry ride was a trip.

As we approached the Island, I felt like I was in the movie King Kong. Volcan Concepcion, the active one of the two volcanoes on the Island, dominated the skyline. It’s was really cool and ominous and intimidating all at once.

The water was very rough and choppy and I saw some Canadian tourists hurling over the side of the boat onto the deck below.  I found it best to stand as that made me less nauseous and allowed me to get some great views of the oncoming Island and “Volcan Concepcion”.

“I’m coming for ya, big boy” I said out loud. “It’s you and me, kid”

The American Cafe: Restaurante Y Casitas

Once we arrived at the Isle de Ometepe, I again found myself wondering what to do next. I knew I had made arrangements for a “casita” (a small room) at American Cafe, but where was it? …did I need a Taxi? Everyone sure was trying to get me into one…

But I just started walking.

And sure enough, my luck kicked in and not more than 100 yards from port was, …you guessed it, the American Cafe.

Fuego Y Agua runners chillin' at American Cafe


Meet Simone and Bob

As a walked into the American Cafe, I was immediately surprised by how open and clean it seemed to be. There were a couple of lazy dogs lying about and a shy little tabby kitty on the ledge in the corner.

I was looking around, taking in my surroundings, when I heard, “well, who are you?”

“Hi, I’m Christian Griffith and I’m running the Fuego Y Agua 100K race.”

“Ahhh… Christian, Christian…” she said as she seemed to be organizing things in her head. “Atlanta, right?”

“yes, ma’am, Gaw’ga in the house!”

She introduced herself as Simone, and I immediately felt comfortable with her. She was wearing an apron, and I could tell she had been busy cooking. She just ooozed “mom” and although this was not the kind of person I expected, I really liked her.

She led me to my casita, explained to me that I’d have to turn in my key whenever I left because if it got lost, she’d have to go all the way to town (Managua) and have another one made and it was expensive and she never goes to town and… well, you get the point.

There was no air conditioning, but she provided a ceiling fan in the room + a small, free-standing fan which ended making things bearable in the end. …sort of. {wink}

I set my stuff down, tested out the humble “facilities” and headed back to the main area to get to know Simone a little better.

As a sat on the floor petting the dogs, Simone introduced me to Bob, her husband, and told me their whole story of how they ended up in Nicaragua.

They were a late bloomer couple that met in New York after previous marriages, and hopped around the Carribean for awhile before settling in Nicaragua where they had heard it was beautiful and inexpensive.

That was five years ago, and they never left.

They were cute. Bob sat in the dining area most of the day and smoked Marlboros and chatted with guests, while Simone was constantly busy in the kitchen preparing meals and cleaning and keeping up with who owed what. She made the best food on the Island and I ate a majority of my meals with them – as did many of the other runners.

Off to meet Josue and Paula

Josue Stephens and Paula Ring, RDs

I was excited to meet the race directors, Josue Stephens and his fiance Paula Ring. I had much correspondence with them both as I helped a little with some Internet marketing and passed around some race flyers to help them get the word out pre-race.

And, as usual, I had no idea where I was, nor where I was going, nor what to look for – but I did know what Josue kinda looked like.

So, I just started running …in flip-flops. I figured if another runner saw an American dude running, they might stop me and introduce themselves.

Sure enough, after 15 minutes or so I saw a short, stocky dude that resembled Josue and chased him down.

It was him, and we took a moment to greet and shake hands, and he told me to head up to race headquarters where people were sort of milling around, and meet some of the other runners and race staff.

So, I did.

Meeting a future supa’star

Abigail Stephens - ultrarunning phenom and super cool chica

Remember this name – Abigail Stephens – because she is going to burn up the ultramarathon scene in the years to come.

Abi was the first person I met, along with Justin and Danielle, a young couple from illinois that came to run the 25K. Seemed like a long way to come to run a 25K, but as I was to learn throughout the week, this event wasn’t just about racing – it was about a whole, whole lot more than that.

Josue appeared again with Brad Quinn, another 100K runner, and I met Brad, his family, and Josue’s fiance, Paula. We talked for awhile about the course, time predictions and the difficulty of the volcanoes.

They asked me if I wanted to participate in trash pickup day where we would walk the town together, picking up garbage, doing our part to give back to the Island that was providing us a spectacular race venue.

Easy decision.


We all planned to meet early the next morning (6:00 a.m.), and after spending some more time talking with Abi, the future superstar, I headed back out to comb the Island via some more solo flip-flop running.

Day 3: Gettin’ trashy with the locals

Ok, silly title but that’s pretty much what we did.

Trash day on the Island

I met Josue at the restaurant and for awhile it was just us. We chatted a little about races and ultrarunning in general and I shared some of my surfing experiences in Costa Rica and Hawaii as it seems Josue is a fan of the water as well.

After awhile others showed up – much of whom were somehow related to Josue. We had his sisters Abigail (supa’star), Charity and Gabi, plus Gabi’s family including her boyfriend Dave and her two sons Andrew and Brendon. …phew… and then there was Josue’s brother Jonathon, a cool 17 year-old dude who I really liked a lot. In fact, I liked every single member of his family – they were all hella’ cool and fun to be around.

25kers Danielle and Justin showed up for the morning’s activity, along with 50K runner Jason Simmons, and before long, we occupied every table available in the little cafe.

After woofing down a plate of gallo pinto con heuvos, and giving my toast to the kids, we met up with a philanthropic medical group that was to provide us with the garbage bags and participate in the clean up along with us.

This is when I met Stephanie and Tabatha, two American doctors that were on the Island helping with the medical needs of the Ometepe people. Stephanie was also entered in the 25K race – her first at that distance.

Holy moly, thats a lot of trash

Charity Stephens helps out on trash pickup day

We started down the main street of Moyogalpa (race headquarters) and started filling bags with trash.

This was a humbling experience for me as I found myself grossed-out completely more than once, but man, this Island was so pretty, so gorgeous and so damn abundant, and I felt really good doing my part to help keep it that way.

The locals would ride by and yell, “bueno!”, and seemed to really appreciate what we were out here doing.

After a couple of VERY HOT, tropical sun-filled hours, we had filled a medium sized cargo truck full of trash bags; but what really made it worthwhile was the little local boy who, after a subtle urging from his parents, brought us a watermelon, with a big ol’ smile, as a token of friendship and thanks for a job well done.

That might have been some of the best watermelon I’ve ever had and we all shared in a slab of it. (except Paula – sorry, Paula.)

A job well done and great feeling of accomplishment.

Isle de Ometepe trash pickup

Room’a zoom zoom

Those motorcycles sure looked like fun. Ragged, haggered 125cc Chinese dirt bikes were the preferred method of travel for most of the locals.

You know what comes next…

I had to have one.

At $25 for 24 hours, it was a no-brainer, so I jumped on one towards the later afternoon and headed a couple kilometers south to a neat little spot called Punta Jesus Maria, a cool little point that is a popular swimming spot with the Island locals.

As an experienced motorcyclist, let’s just say I had a BLAST riding in that soft sand on the road to the point {hehe} …(don’t worry Robinson, I was careful, …sorta)

As the sun began to set on day 3, I parked the motorcycle in front of American Cafe, crawled, all sun burnt and battered, into my casita and cranked up the fan to max speed and slept for hours and hours.


“What the Hell?!?!”

All night long this went on.

It seems the locals have this little strange fascination with homemade firecrackers and cherry bombs. They shoot them off for holiday reasons, religious reasons, or simply for the pure joy of “blowing shit up.”

It’s weird, but harmless – and goes on all day and night for seemingly no reason at all.

…kinda like the spontaneous parades that seem to happen in the middle of the night, but that’s another story.

Day 4: Shaking off the pre-race jitters

I started day four waking early, skarfing a huge breakfast at the American Cafe, and cranking up the motorcycle for the long haul to the other side of the Island.

Today, I was headed to Ojo de Agua, a natural, cold-water mineral spring that locals believe is a sort of fountain of youth.

I don’t know about all that, but it was gorgeous spot, with incredible water, and I hung out there all morning just swimming, chilling and relaxing in the many hammocks strung about the tropical trees and huts.

With the race starting at 4:00 a.m. the next day, I spent a few lazy hours resting up and reflecting upon my upcoming adventure.

Introducing Gordon, kindred spirit and instant friend

Christian and Gordon

As I returned from Ojo de Agua, I stopped by race headquarters to meet more runners and see who was arriving to pick-up their race packets.

Just then, I heard, “Christian, meet Gordon, your new roommate!”

I looked up to find a 6’2 Irishman with a goofy grin and over-excited mannerisms, not too much unlike myself.

We hit it off immediately! …which is a good thing since Gordon was given the other bed in my casita at the American Cafe.

Gordon was hella’ cool, y’all. We both work in technology, both like attention, both like to cut-up, act up and generally display all kinds of personal foolishness. If I had to take it deep for minute, I’d like to think that because we are both “thinkers”, we both recognized that personality trait in one another and it made it easy to relate – whether having deep conversations about technology, psychology and communication, or simply joking on anyone within 100 yards of us.

I liked Gordon a lot. Cutting up with him reminded me of being in high school and pestering the teachers and other students. We had a lot of fun just being goofy.

I apologize in retrospect if we annoyed anyone else.

Pre-race meeting and meal

As we walked to the pre-race briefing and dinner, we heard a little excitement as people were pointing at Volcan Concepcion.

It appears it was spitting some ash.

Concepcion erupts some ash

“Oh, great!”, I thought. “It’s going to erupt as I’m climbing it, tomorrow.”

(but it didn’t – obviously.)

The pre-race briefing and meal was pretty damn cool. This is where I got to meet many more of the runners from all three events – 25K, 50K and 100K races.

Below is a snippet from the race briefing where Josue explains a segment of the course to us in English – and then again, in Spanish for the Spanish-speaking runners. Notice how well he speaks the language. I’m jealous.

Another unique element of the pre-race meal was a special cultural dance by a couple of young local girls. The song, appropriately titled, “Ometepe”, would become stuck in my head for the remainder of the trip. (listen below – you’ll love it!)

Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy – Ometepe .mp3
Found at bee mp3 search engine

Rather download it? Here ya go – Download Ometepe by Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy.

Hell, it’s still stuck in my head.

Young Nicaraguan girl dancing

And after a little meal of pollo (y pescado), ensalade, and arroz y patatas, I set the iPhone alarm for 3:00 a.m., retreated to my bed, and did my very best to try to get some sleep.

Little did I know I was five hours away from the craziest running adventure of my life.

Day 5: Fuego Y Agua Race Day!

4:00 a.m. start for the Fuego Y Agua 100K

Naturally, and like most races, I awoke way before the actual alarm went off.

My approach to ultras is pretty minimalist, so there really wasn’t a lot to prepare. A pair of shorts, a 2008 Stump Jump 50K shirt, a headlamp, some Scaps, two hand-held water bottles, a Nathan water pack and my New Balance MT100 trail shoes.

Done. I’m ready to go.

“30 seconds!”

It’s always strange hearing that, “30 seconds.”

It always makes my mind race like crazy…

“Do I have everything?”

“Is my head lamp on?”

“Did I remember Scaps?”

“Do I have to go to the bathroom?”

“How far is this thing again?”, and “when am I planning on finishing this race?”

This race had me especially stressed out as I pretty much knew that although I was starting in the dark, I most likely would be running throughout the morning, afternoon and evening, and finishing yet again – …in the dark.

Sometimes, that can be as daunting and as overwhelming as 100-mile races where you know your going to spend at least an entire 24 hours running through all kinds of crazy sh*t.

And the start goes BOOM!

Everyone wished each other good luck, shook hands and lined up for the start – and true to Nicaragua style, the start was decorated with some local, 4:00 a.m. fireworks.

We were off into the night.

…well, all of us except Abigail Stephens, who missed the official start and had to dart out of the bathroom in a mad dash to grab a spot in the front of the pack.

…and just as I settled into a nice little pace, one of those spent fireworks dropped out of the sky and missed my head by inches.


Moyogalpa to Urbaite: Dodging the soft sand

We started the race on 1/4 mile of road, before ducking into a rolling section of wide, sandy horse trail. This was a tough way to start the race as the sand, coupled with the black of night, made for a challenging obstacle right off the bat.

We found ourselves shifting from side to side in an attempt to find harder sand for better footing. A gradual climb, turned into this crazy, tunnel-like stretch with 8-10 foot dirt walls on both sides of us, with soft sand and rocky dirt as footing, and thick tropical trees blocking out any possible view of the sky and stars above. A “Nicaraguan island alley”, if ya will…

Not knowing where I was, nor where I was going made this just a wee little bit creepy, so I watched the runners ahead of me like a hawk to ensure I didn’t miss any turns.

Josh, a cool dude I met first at the pre-race dinner, rolled up on me just as I bite the dust hard – smashed water bottles, knees in the dirt, mouthful of sand – lovely.

He helped me up and we ran together through this seemingly long section …mostly silent.

Happy to see the road?

As one who always digs the trails over the road, I have to admit that dumping out onto the road felt good at this point. I’d guess we had run only about four miles or so on that sand, but it was tough and it was eating me up quickly. Once we hit the road, we had a little bit of familiarity and an easy running surface that required no thought nor crafty navigational techniques.

Here’s where Josh told me all about being in Iraq, and how there was great business opportunity there and he was going back to start a business, and well… it was just cool. I liked the dude. For one, he was running in a kilt, which I found cool and mildly entertaining. He also had a sort of ballsy approach to things that was inspirational and refreshing.

Josh, if you’re out there, ping me up brutha’ …and that goes for your crew from the surf camp, too.

The road section was easy. Even the long hills felt really easy compared to that sand and I started to speed up more and more. As a chatty pair, Josh and I started picking off different little groups of runners – not on purpose – but just feeling good.

We ran through various little Island towns, greeting the locals walking or riding by on horseback; and before long we had chalked up 17.4K, hitting the first aid station, Urbaite, in a little under two hours.

Aid Station 1 at Fuego Y Agua

At each aid station, runners must get a uniquely colored wrist band to prove they hit that particular checkpoint – no wrist band, no credit for that segment – so, I was careful to secure my first band, yellow, and refill those water bottles for another 14K-ish run to El Porvenir.

Urbaite to El Porvenir: Making the way to Volcan Maderas

I ran this section completely alone; and enjoyed every step.

I flew out of the first aid station, unintentionally leaving Josh, but feeling great and wanting to push the pace a little since we were cruising paved roads.

After logging a few more kilometers on the road, we turned down a very, very rocky dirt road in which I was actually a little familiar. This is the same road in which I rode my rented motorcycle the day before on my way to Ojo de Agua.

This road was flat-out scraggly and damn tough to run on, but I found myself sorta dancing around the rocks, side-to-side with a sort of rhythm that became kinda fun.

Terrain heading to maderas, the first volcano and 4500 foot climb

I was just’a singin’ the local “Ometepe” song, stuck in my head from the pre-race dinner, and dancin’ across the deep dirt pits and jagged rocks, and MAN, I WAS HAVING A BLAST!

This was pretty much the running surface for the entire 14K; but the scenery got really cool. I passed ranchers moving large herds of HUGE cattle, had a couple of dogs follow along with me, and all the while, had a straight-shot view of Volcan Maderas.

I ran through banana plantations, small livestock farms, and tiny communities of lazy-looking locals napping in porch hammocks and on old picnic tables. (napping already at 7:00 a.m.?)

During a significant portion of this section, we were running along the water. Even though Lake Nicaragua is considered a lake, it looks and feels like the ocean, complete with rough choppy surf, and a nice breeze. I remember taking a moment to reflect how lucky I was…

“Man, this is incredible!”, I thought. “Here I am. Alone. Running along the water in Nicaragua, with banana trees and quaint little casitas to my right, and wavy ol’ Lake Nicaragua to my left. There’s a gnarly volcano straight up ahead, monkeys raising Hell in the trees, crazy-looking blue-birds, smiling locals…”

“This just rocks! – I am so lucky right now!”

And before I knew it, there was the sign for the Volcano.

Sign for the Maderas Volcano

Took a sharp left just past a small local shack, and headed up into the thick, dense jungle to the second aid station, El Porvenir, where Gabi Stephens (one of the RD’s super cool sisters and owner of some of these photos) was waiting with a fully stocked aid station and my first taste of Pinole*.

*Pinhole is made of ground, roasted corn and carries with it a heaping helping of nutrients and a decent level of carbohydrates. It’s popular amongst cultures where food is necessary for survival during long periods of minimalist traveling – like running a long ways {wink}

El Porvenir to Volcan Maderas: The most difficult ultra challenge ever

It’s important to fuel up at El Porvenir, and even take some food with you, because you are in for a very challenging, and very long section of the race.

This is hands-down, the most difficult section of any ultra I have experienced yet, and if anyone has done this before, AND done something MORE difficult, please share, because I’ll be signing up for that, too.

This stretch is 100% climbing, for 10K (6+ miles), at grades that many times are beyond comprehension, for 4,500 feet.

I simply had no frame of reference for this level of difficulty.

No joke.

No exaggeration.

Roots on Volcan Maderas

For Southeastern runners, one comparison I can make is imagine that steep section at waterline at Mountain Mist.

You know how, after you tip-toe across the mini waterfall, you have to climb hand over hand up an embankment, and then climb steeply out to that gravel road? …well, imagine, if you can, that grade and that terrain (but even harder) and instead of going on for the .3 of a mile that it does, imagine it going on for six miles!

Or Blue Hell. For those of you that know about Blue Hell at Mount Cheaha. This grade is far steeper than that, and again, goes for six times as long as Blue Hell’s one measly mile.

Brutal kids, …a flat-out crazy, gnarly brutal beast of a climb that will truly test your abilities.

4500 feet.

But …BUT …BUT…

As brutal as it is, it is an incredibly beautiful and serene experience. The sh*t you experience during that climb will leave you slack-jaw time and time again.

The  incredible, expansive panoramic views of the isthmus, the far off view of Volcan Concepcion (your #2 major race challenge), the forever lake views …and all that framed around your head in deep, dark thick jungle.


View from halfway up Volcan Maderas

Throughout the climb, the monkeys are making all kinds of racket, the wind is beginning to howl as you ascend higher and deeper into the cloud forest, and all of sudden everything is wet.

And, we aren’t just climbing up a section of groomed trail, mind you. To borrow from Guns ‘N Roses, “You’re in the jungle. baby!” – we’re talking lush, thick tropical trees with big ol’ thick roots, old stumps, and lots of rocks – and the higher you go, the gnarlier it gets.

Mud puddles turn into full-on, shoe-sucking, knee-deep mud “caverns”.

(no sound – I screwed sumin’ up somehow)

Steep climb turns into hands-and-knees crawling, through thin mazes of head-high walled-in dirt.

And looking up a couple of miles into the climb, desperate for some signal that I was getting close to the top, I saw a Nicaraguan 100K runner, resting on a rock.

His name was Julio Alvarado Obando, and when we looked at each other, I knew we were both thinking the same thing – there was no need for translation at this point and time.

Pain and suffering is universal.

When I passed, he continued to climb behind me, and between my broken Spanish and his “at least, better” English, we were able to communicate in jagged, one-word sentences.

Soon, he was trying to tell me he was injured and it seemed he wanted me to stop and rest just because he was stopping to rest, but I wasn’t hearin’ it, man.

For one, that’s just not something I’m used to and plus, I had my own struggles, and mentally I was really taking a beating myself.

Six miles straight up is a very long way, y’all and I was near my breaking point fo’ sho’…

…but just as I almost allowed my negative side to show to this guy, I stepped in a knee deep mud hole that sucked off my right shoe and left it two feet deep in the slop.


And I immediately started cussing and digging for my shoe.

After about a minute, I found it, pulled it up out of the mud, cussed like crazy because you have no idea how much fun it is to put on a shoe that is 100% completely caked in wet mud, onto feet that are now also, 100% caked in mud, and tried to collect myself.

But then I looked up, and guess who was standing there waiting for me?

Yup, Julio.

I felt like an asshole.

The Nicaraguan people were really genuine people with huge hearts and that particular moment was special to me.

I chilled with him the rest of the climb to the top.

After cresting the volcano, we had to negotiate a very foreshadowy, steep and wild descent into the crater of the dormant volcano. This descent required the use of ropes and was hella’ scary, but super fun. I yelled and hooted and hollered, mostly in eager anticipation of the aid station, but also because this was really raw, wild stuff and I think I was half-batty and crazy by now.

I jumped off this big ol’ rock, into a sloppy section of trail, and there was the aid station, right next to the lake in the middle of the Volcano’s crater, and three freezing cold aid station volunteers huddled under a tarp writing down times and handing out wrist bands.

Aid Station in the Maderas crater

“We made it, dude!”, I yelled out to Julio.

But, sadly, Julio was not there.

Volcan Maderas to Hacienda Merida: Oh, it ain’t over yet…

It took me three hours to make that 6-mile climb up the volcano, so I wasted no time.

I thanked the aid station dudes, got my third wrist band, and made my way back to the trail, now headed to the “jungle gym”.

What’s the jungle gym? Check it, out…

The jungle gym sections

Climbing back out of the crater, the trail gets really crazy. Runners first enter a thin trail section that is very tight, almost visibly non-existent, and heavily dense with low-hanging canopy trees, thick roots and sharp branches; and after getting through that gnarliness, we found ourselves in one of the most unique situations I can ever remember, so I’m going to do my best to explain it…

It was a huge, flat, sorta lava-like rock surface with small, scraggly tropical flora growing on it. The trail was very thin, very steep, and many times required us to crawl, sorta-crab-like …almost like rock climbers. The air was very thick with fog as I was deep into the clouds and couldn’t really see anything at all.

To add to the craziness, it was steep, and so “open” at this point, that if I slipped, there would be nothing to grab hold of or break my fall, and there’s no telling how far into the crater I’d end up. One of the runners later told me that he almost started crying through this section out of pure disbelief.

I believe it.

But, thankfully, that uncomfortable stretch is short and I again found myself back in “the jungle gym”.

Jungle gym

(notice the blue ribbon designating the way to go – thank God!)

It’s called the “jungle gym” because the trail contains hundreds and thousands of thick roots and mini-climbs and descents that all require the use of your upper body. To all those people who think CrossFit is useless for running, come run Fuego Y Agua and perhaps you’ll modify your opinion.

Put it this way, I’m glad I’m a strong boy because I needed it and it helped me a lot. Lots of pull-up type movements using trees and overhead roots to catapult me up and over drop-offs and wash-outs. Hand-over-hand crawling over and around sketchy drop-offs and blow-downs.

I’m telling you, man – this is some wild, wild stuff. I can’t imagine that anyone truly has frame of reference for it, but maybe I’m just naive and still inexperienced.

And once I had crawled out of the crater… yup, you guessed it …I had to now descend the volcano, 4,500 feet back down to sea level.

Here’s my suggestion for anyone running next year: Leave the water bottles at home. You don’t need them. A decent-sized Nathan bladder pack, or something similar, is enough for in between aid stations, and you really need your hands for the volcano sections – up and down.


I had to slid my water bottles up my wrists as I swung like a monkey from tree to tree during that obstacle-filled descent. Many times, when it got hairy, and my momentum caused me to grab a tree for safety, my water bottles would fly out of the holders and drop 50 feet below me and land nipple-down in the deep mud.

That’s not happy stuff.

Muddy mouthfuls of water are not refreshing.

But I made my way down that volcanic mountain pretty briskly, and surprisingly, still feeling pretty good. I think I was so happy to have made it down, and happy to be running again, that I didn’t yet allow myself to feel wiped out.

After all, once I get to Hacienda Merida, that’s only 50K in the bank – and of course, only halfway through the race.

Once I hit the cattle pastures, I began hearing a concert of  screaming howler monkeys and moo-ing steers and chirping birds. It was noon now, and the sun was out in full tropical Nicaraguan force, baking my brain and slowing my run to a dusty shuffle through the rocky pastures.

The heat was coming on strong and I went from feeling pretty good at the base of the mountain, to barely shuffling by the time I saw a sign for Hacienda Merida, and entered the gates to the aid station.

50K done in a whopping 8:40

I’m so hot I can barely breath. I know I have a drop bag here, but I don’t see it and can’t find the energy to ask for it. The entire scene at this aid station was weird as there really was no one running it, very limited refueling options, and all kinds of people hanging around not associated with the race and just staring at me like I was some kind of crazy man that just ran out of the jungle and was standing around confused.

Actually, I guess that’s what I was.

Something tells me Josue will be changing this aid station next year {wink, wink} as if I had to find one thing wrong with this race, it was that aid station. It really might as well have not even been there. Worse, the dude that was kinda-sorta running it gave me some sketchy directions that ended up causing me to re-think my route, back-track unnecessarily, and gobble up heat-filled bonus miles and lots of lost time.

But hey, that’s if I had to find something wrong. In the grand scheme of things, it hardly really mattered to me in the end.

Hacienda Merida to Altagracia: Screaming at turkeys

If the first 50K was all about that chilly, wet windy volcano, the next challenge was surely the heat.

Leaving Hacienda Merida, I decided I was gonna lie in the lake for awhile to cool off. Shirt, shoes, pack, everything stayed on and I just laid there, in the lake, and soaked; but I didn’t stay long because the water was pretty warm and I knew I had better get moving.

The last thing the sketchy aid station dude said to me was, “Remember, stay along the water. Don’t go on the road.”

Well that jacked me all up, because about a mile or so after leaving that station, I noticed I was both on a road, and NOT along the water. I mean, I could see the water, but I wasn’t along it.

I started second-guessing where I was.

Then, I noticed that I wasn’t seeing any more blue ribbons.

Oh man, here comes the flurry of cuss words, again.

I turned around and ran almost all the way back to the aid station before I realized there simply was no other way for me to go. The blue ribbons took me around the bend I originally followed, and there was simply no other way to go.

This was the first of my three, significant “getting lost” episodes, and it was by far the worst because of the heat. It was between 1 and 2 p.m.  with overhead, tropical sun baking me, dude.


Zero shade to hide under on either side of the dirt road, so I shuffle.

…and shuffle.

…and shuffle.

Head down, pouring sweat and still worried I’m lost, but at a point where I just don’t care.

A couple of young kids ran by my side, chatting away in Spanish, and this picked up my spirits immediately.

“blah blah blah”, they’d ramble and yell in Spanish.

“no comprende”, I say back.

But I guess they didn’t much care, because they just keep on ramblin’.

I’d just smile and keep running. Eventually so did they; and just about the time the kids tire out, more dogs join in the trot, so for a short while it’s me, two local boys and three mangy mutts, all sweatin’ it out in the tropical afternoon sun.

But, probably the most helpful incident along this long 17K stretch of thermal beat down was seeing Patrick Gaines, from Colorado, who was running the 100K but dropped at the 50K aid station, and was now cruising by in what sure looked like a comfortable, air conditioned mini-bus.

Boy was I glad to see him!

“You’re doing great Christian, keep it up!”

“Am I going the right way?”

“yup, good luck!”

and with that, he was gone.

A fleeting visit, but at least I knew I was going the right way.

Now, keep in mind, this was a very long stretch of sandy, rocky dirt road that ate me for lunch, so things were getting a little weird in my head.

For one, I kept seeing the other volcano, Volcan Concepcion, but never felt like I was getting any closer. Two, I was barely running, and many times would be whittled to a fast power-hike trying to keep myself together.

I found myself yelling at these giant birds with red heads. To me, they looked like vultures, so I started screaming, “Not now you @#$#ers!”

“Get out of here, I’m not giving up that easy!”

“Maybe you know something that I don’t, but I a’int dead yet!”

I found out later they were just turkeys.


Wow. I was really falling apart mentally. Looking back at it, I can’t believe how hot I was.

I thought I was hallucinating when a I heard a HUGE fiesta going on up ahead. Loud music, people dancing, vehicles everywhere, and lots of dust gettin’ kicked up making it look like a monster cock fight in the distance.

I have no idea what all that was, but I somehow stumbled right into a town festival of some sort and it was really kinda cool.

Drunk dudes were dancing and drinking while kids were running all over the place chasing each other. The women all chatted off to the side preparing food and primping their daughters, for who-knows-what, in beautiful colored clothes. It was such a strange thing to stumble upon, and I’m sure I was just as odd to them as I rolled through all caked with old, dried mud, sweaty and grimy, with the look of hot death on my face.

And just then, I see this Nico dude, hosing off this wild-colored school bus, and I ran up to him and just stretched out my arms and legs as if to say, “hit me with all ya got!”

He did.

And he hosed me down good.

I even spun around 360 and he kept the hose on me the whole time.


But time to keep moving.

As I continued to roll along, making my way to Altagracia, I stopped along the way at one of the many little haciendas that sold snacks and supplies and stuff – and scored me a huge Coke.

That coke was like crack, y’all. (see the vid)

But as good as it was, the sugar puffed me up in a matter of seconds and I threw most of it up.

…and as a couple of local kids passed by, I offered it to them and you’d think I was offering them a pony and a trip to see Santa Claus.

I could hear them fighting madly over it as they disappeared behind me.

More banana plantations, more dusty dirt roads, a bit of familiar territory and before long I found myself back on the main road that circles the Island, and then a few more little towns after that, and I’m sitting in a chair at aid station 5 with 68K in the bank, happily eating peanut butter and bread, and…

…realizing that I most likely will be doing the last volcano in the dark.

Bring it on!

Altagracia to La Flor: Dropping like flies

Remember my race buddy Josh from way back before the first aid station? Well, rumor had it he had been found sitting at a roadside bar, half-drunk, half-crazed and seemingly done with the race. Gordon, my new Irish buddy, was still back behind me somewhere, but other than that, there weren’t many runners left still running.

Peeps were dropping.

…but there were four people up ahead of me.

The two front runners were long finished, and speedy Abigail Stephens was about an hour from finishing as the 1st female, so all I could do was put the feet in motion and continue to grind out the final miles to that last volcano.

It was tough to think about – so I didn’t really.

As if it really could get any more remote than a volcanic Island in Nicaragua, this stretch was incredibly remote. Nothing but the occasional – and I mean occasional – little shack, tons of banana plantations, a handful of howler monkeys, …and that’s it.

Oh, except for Jose, the drunk cowboy, who rode up next to me on a horse telling me all about how this was HIS land, he owns it, and “he’s a farmer”; but what really made it weird was his young son running behind me with a machete, and grinning ear-to-ear. My brain was way too mangled for all this and I really didn’t wanna deal with it – but the dude was nice enough, and his kid was just being a typical Nico kid with a machete, and in the end I was happy for the experience.

But I was also glad when Robinson, a local guy and race staff member, rolled by in pickup truck.

“Aid station up ahead!”

…which was a bold-face lie. I’ll get that kid next year.

It’s now starting to get dark, and I must have been fumbling with my headlamp when I passed it, but somehow, I missed the turn that would take me to the town of La Flor, and the final aid station before Volcan Concepcion.

This sucked.

I just ran right by it, …and  ran …and ran …and “oh sh*t! — there’s no where else to go…”

I ran to the water’s edge and the trail just stopped in front of some rancher’s fence where he was sitting talking to another local on a horse. They spoke zero English, and since my Spanish sucks, it was a total waste of time trying to figure out what to do. They had no idea about any race, nor where I should be going, nor did they really seem to care – to them, I was just some crazy looking Gringo who was waaaay lost in the dark.


I managed to get them to understand when I said, “La Flor?”, and pointed to the ground.

They laughed and said, “No no no, La Flor”, and they pointed back the way I came.

Now this is when I almost lost it, kids.

But I kept it together. I had to, man – I was lost in a foreign country, in the dark, and I needed to be strong and keep my sh*t together. (sorry about all the cussing, but I’m telling my story as I feel it.)

I started running back the way I came, and as luck would have it, Robinson was driving to La Flor with Emily, a Peace Corps volunteer, and they saw my headlamp and started yelling at me.

“Thank God!”

They got on the walkie-talkie and reported my location and that I would be headed to La Flor.

Kids, I almost dropped right then and there. I almost got in that truck and let the mental torture of getting lost get the best of me. I was so torn down, and my body was a wreck and I still had those lingering effects from the heat, and it really was all I could do to continue the race at that point.


…but that’s not the end of my “getting lost”

Lastly, as I stumbled into the town of La Flor, I was really a mess mentally. I made the turn, over the bridge, as directed by the blue chalk arrow, but I somehow became confused after that. All I had to do was keep running up the hill, but for some reason I was trying to take unnecessary turns.

For the life of me, I think I was delirious.

A few of the locals had been drinking and were heckling me a little – not in a dangerous way – but more in an inquisitive kind of way, but once they saw I couldn’t speak the language and that I was lost, they started messing with me and pointing me in the wrong direction, and well, …it was a little crazy and chaotic.

It’s so weird – It was a little scary, but also a severe rush, all at the same time.

It was a challenge to keep myself together and not get intimidated and just deal with the situation as intelligently as my brain would allow.

It didn’t help that every time I tried to communicate I blinded them with my headlamp, but I kept at it, trying to find a way to communicate with someone who had some empathy, and trying to figure out how to find the aid station.

Enter, Daniel – my Nicaraguan savior.

He jumped out of local bar, and he could speak OK English, and he said, “you looking for the other runner people?”

“si, por favor”

“I take you”

And with that we walked up a hill about 1/4 mile and there was Jonathon Stephens, the RDs brother, and one of the Peace Corps girls. A beautiful sight for very sore eyes …and sore legs …and sore body.

La Flor to Volcan Concepcion: Quite possibly the toughest decision of my life

That might sound pretty strong, but it most likely was the most difficult decision I have ever made in my life.

(no pics for this section because it’s now dark – black-ass dark)

You just can’t imagine. Or, maybe you can, but after all I had been through, I couldn’t believe that in order to continue, and finish this race, I’d have to climb 1000 meters (3,500 feet) of very difficult terrain, similar to Volcan Maderas but just not as long – two hour climb instead of three.

I was fresh, though, for Maderas.

But here I was close to death before Concepcion.

It didn’t help that I learned that the other runners behind me were calling it quits. I was going to be the only guy left in the race. Left to climb that damn volcano, in the dark, all by myself.

And then of course, I gotta come back down and crank out that final 10K to the finish.

Tough head games, man. Tough head games.

Once again though, I fought through it. I have had an unbelievable 2009 in ultrarunning and I wasn’t about to cap it off with a DNF, so I thanked Jonathon and struggled out of the chair and made my way towards the base of Concepcion.

But I forgot my wrist band!


I ran back yelling the whole way that I had forgotten my wrist band, in fear that they might not be there when I ran back, but luckily they were still there.

“How much torture can I inflict upon myself, anyway?”

Believe it or not, there’s not much to say about the climb up Concepcion other than:

  • It was dark – Black, night jungle dark, but the stars looked cool.
  • It was hard – Like Maderas, it was straight-up, hand-over-hand steep, excruciatingly slow, and still requiring a lot, if not more, upper body work than Volcan Maderas.
  • It was cold – The wind really kicked up on that volcano and coupled with the dark and my sweat-soaked duds, I started to get really cold.

But, even in the dark, I found it truly beautiful, serene and very pleasant – even as I suffered.

For the first time since stumbling upon Julio, that local runner I found halfway up Maderas, I finally saw another Fuego Y Agua participant. It was Brad Quinn, who ended up finishing in the 4th slot, a couple of hours ahead of me.

He was making his way down the volcano as I was grinding up.

“Dude, am I glad to see you, how are you?”

He bent over, hands on his knees, and said, “I’m just trying to survive.”

“I feel that”, I said, all happy to have made contact with someone else in the race finally.

“Hey”, I asked, thinking I was closer than I was to the top, “Am I almost to the top?”

His face sunk a little and being as nice as he could be, he said, “Christian, I wish I could tell you that you were, but you’re probably not even halfway”


I should’a never asked.

And after that episode of seeing Brad, I was a broken-spirited man. I took period breaks in the climb where I’d lie down on the trail, turn off the headlamp, stare at the stars and try to once again collect myself.

It was such a rush of mixed emotions hitting me. ‘Confusion’ as to why I put myself through all this – but at the same time feeling so ‘alive’ because I was.

Each time I plopped down, I got back up with renewed energy and excitement, only to point my headlamp further up the climb and see more steep trail, more ragged roots and more tough terrain to negotiate, and I’d wallow once again.

When I arrived at the top of the climb, I couldn’t believe it. Even though I had to go back down, and then run a rolling 10K back to the finish, the toughest stuff was behind me.


…but before I get too big for my britches, I really want to make note of the two dudes that waited for me up there. It was FREEZING up on that volcano, and they had been there a long time throughout the day, and for them to wait for me like that so that I could get my last wrist band, and some water and gels, was extra special. Thanks dudes. It means a lot.

Volcan Concepcion to Moyogalpa: A greeting fit for a DFL

As I popped out of the jungle at the base of Volcan Concepcion, I knew I was home free. I ran as pleasantly as I could down the dirt road headed towards the finish line at Moyogalpa. Since it was getting close to 11:00 p.m., I was expecting a very uneventful finish.

I imagined myself running under the banner all alone, with little fanfare, and knocking on the door of race headquarters to wake Josue and Paula to let them know I made it back and that I had finally finished.

But, when I made that turn onto the straight-away that lead to the finish, I could see them all there. Josue, Paula, speedy Abi (3rd finisher), Gabi, Gordon, Jonathon, Danielle, Justin, Robinson, Sydney, and man I sure hope I didn’t forget anyone else because that crowd being there meant the absolute world to me and turned an expected mellow finish, into a tape-breaking, post-race-beer-chuggin’ fiesta.

Christian (that's me) finishes the 2009 Fuego Y Agua 100K

Ok, not really a fiesta, since I just collapsed in a chair and answered everyone’s questions, but TO ME it was a “party”.

I love you guys – every single one of you – that extra special touch made my race complete.

Want to run the 2010 Fuego Y Agua next year?

Me too. In fact, I’m already registered for the 2010 Fuego Y Agua.

Next year though, I get to come at the race from a completely different perspective since I will have some sort of frame of reference and course knowledge. Here is my advice for runners joining in the fun:

  1. Spend as many days as possible in Nicaragua pre-race – not only is it a beautiful country, with super nice people, but it’s also smart to heat acclimate a bit.
  2. Which leads to, BE PREPARED for HEAT and “tropical” sun.
  3. Participate in the other race-related events like trash pickup day and the Kid’s race – both are great ways to experience the people and integrate into the fabric of the Island.
  4. Bring shoes to donate to the local kids (I screwed up here – but not next time)
  5. Leave the hand-helds at home – you need your hands a lot in this race, and you’ll thank me a thousand times over if you take this advice – utilize a bladder backpack for the most hydration security and convenience.
  6. The volcanoes are hard. Harder than hard. Be mentally prepared for very long, difficult climbs.
  7. You most likely will get lost – or second guess yourself – at least once. Don’t worry, the race is run well and you will be safe, but still come mentally strong and emotionally flexible.
  8. Don’t try to keep up with, nor anywhere near, Abigail Stephens. She will beat you.
  9. While not “mandatory”, a modest amount of upper body strength training will serve you well and improve your performance on the volcanoes.
  10. Be prepared for the experience of a lifetime. Savor it. Absorb it. Live it.

Day 6: No rest for the weary – Kids Race!

After I “chillaxed” for a few minutes at the finish with all my new Fuego friends, we all separated to get some sleep for the upcoming Kid’s race the following morning.

In bed by 12:30 a.m., up by 5:45 for race day preparations.

Josue (RD) and Paula had arranged for shoe donation and, I think, every single kid that showed up to the race got some running shoes.

There were almost 400 kids!

The kids race was AWESOME. It felt so good to give back and absorb the race experience form a Nicaraguan child’s perspective.

Jonathon Stephens and I manned the final aid station for the Kid’s race.

Kids race aid station

One interesting observation was that at first, none of the kids drank any water. We didn’t understand this …until we realized they had no idea to even expect it. We started yelling, “agua, aqui!”, and then they started to catch on.

Then, when the kids would take water, they would almost NEVER toss the cups. Instead, they would hand them back to us politely before continuing on. I found this very interesting …and very cool!

Some kids wore shoes, some barefoot, …some just socks. Some were serious, some were just smiling and poking their friends, some were running with older family members and some were even being coached along the way by friends or family on motorcycles.


The whole experience really felt good and I applaud Josue for making sure this event coincided with the Ultramarathon experience.

Crowning the winners at the awards dinner and ceremony

Later that afternoon, all the ultramarathon participants, their families and local volunteers gathered for a Nicaraguan feast of beef, chicken, potato-salad, cole slaw and plantains …and some of the best fresh fruit juice I have ever tasted – cantaloupe juice.


Josue and Paula stood at the front and gave away beautiful, locally-made award statues to the first place winners of each race.

Javier and Abi - Winners of the 2009 Fuego Y Agua 100K ultramarathon

And I even got a trophy!

Turtle award for Christian

Since there were no relay participants, they turned the relay trophy into an award for the runner who spent the most amount of time on the course and still finished. (read: DFL)

That was me. And, I’m PROUD, …I think.

Fuego Y Agua trophy for Christian (DFL)

I guess since half the 100K field ended up dropping, I feel pretty good for being one of only five to complete the course in its entirety.

Watch out for my buddy Gordon next year, though – he’s already strategizing for 2K10.

After some crazy pinata bashing, merengue dancing and cervecas, the whole event started catching up to me quickly – in fact, after finishing the 100K, coupled with sleeping very little, helping with the kids race, and partying at the post race fiesta, the fatigue began to steam roll me.

I sat my beer down and walked back to my Casita to lie down.

Later that night, I had a nice dinner with 50K finisher, Jason Simmons. He had this favorite little joint that he just raved about, so I figured I had to check it out.

He was a good judge of culinary excellence – especially when it came to plantains.

I had an excellent dinner, with great conversation and a couple of local hounds at my feet, and it was a nice way to cap off a perfect day of Island life in Nicaragua.

That night I stayed up talking away with Gordon into the wee hours like we were at summer camp.

Gordon’s a cool dude – and a chatty-cathy like me (Hell, just look how long this report is…)

Day 7: Half day of chill / Half day o’ travel

I don’t think I was the only one experiencing delayed onset fatigue. Speedy beans Abigail Stephens was also crushed …even into the next morning.

But we all had the perfect plan – A full day at Ojo de Agua – with, once again, all of us hanging out together as a group.

One day at lunch, Josue mentioned how stoked he was that all the race participants, for the most part, were all hanging out together. He was right – It made it feel special and even more so since that’s always how he’s envisioned this event to be.

That’s just killer. I felt good and I was especially happy for my new friend.

Both Abi and I found individual hammocks, at different times in the day, and used them to catch up on some much-needed sleep. Shoots, she even slept on a rock wall for awhile – Hardcore chick that Abigail Stephens.

Crashed in a hammock at Ojo de Agua

Before long, a group of us found ourselves making our way to ferry, as Josue, Paula, Gordon, Jason and I would be flying back to the states in the morning.

We all said goodbye to the locals with whom we befriended over our individual periods on the Island, as well as the lucky few who were staying for a few more days.

I’m not scared to say it – I almost cried.

You know how you have those experiences that just mean so much to you? Every minute is something new and exciting and stimulating …and then – eeeerd! – the brakes get put on and everything rushes to you at once. Emotions, thoughts, experiences, what-ifs… and I knew goodbye meant, well…, “goodbye”; and I wasn’t quite ready to break from my relationship-building with all these great people. Punk ass fools like me don’t deserve to hang out with such a special group so I felt really lucky …yet at the same time, very sad to leave everyone.

All we talked about during the one-hour ferry ride back to mainland was the race and ways we could help Josue promote it better and get people down to experience all that is FUEGO Y AGUA.

I really hope some of my favorite ultrarunners trust my judgment enough to check this race out in 2010.

::: I’m already registered for next year :::

Ferry ride back to managua with Josue, Paula, Gordon and Jason

Day 8:  Bye bye Nicaragua

And, ladies and gentlemen, this is the end of my story.

I sat on the plane back to the United States wondering how in the Hell I was going to go back to my normal life of computers, mortgage payments, big bills and typical American overkill-ism. Just like my previous years of surfing trips to Costa Rica, I was ready to cash in, like so many other ex-pats, and sell my soul to the tropics.

But, I have a lovely family who needs me, a career that depends on me, and a life that may not be sunny tropics, smooth surf, and plentiful plantains, but is still damn good and makes me feel wanted and needed.

Someday, though, kids…


Someday, you’ll all wonder whatever happened to that loud-mouth, verbose, egotistical ultrarunning phreak who wrote and wrote and wrote – and ran and ran and ran – and now, somehow seems to have dropped off the planet.

I’ll still be here …well, not here but “there” – and “there” won’t be here.


Here’s hoping we’re all slothing through the mud together, in 2010, as we make our way up Volcan Maderas on the Isle de Ometepe.


Thanks for reading my story.