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Running Through Fire - Page 2

A runner traverses the rocky paths past farms and through villages through the middle of Isla de Ometepe at sunrise. Photo by Guillermo Brenes Bolanos.

Fuego y Agua started in 2008 when race director Josue Stephens—who recently took the helm of Micah True’s Copper Canyon, Mexico, race, now named the Ultra Caballo Blanco—conceived an ultra on the island he had been visiting since 2003. Twenty-seven runners competed in the first race, and only 15 finished. This year, over 300 racers set off from the start line, thanks in part to Stephens’ enormous efforts to promote the events and recruit elite athletes. Among those elites were Clark of Fort Collins, Colorado; Diboun of Portland, Oregon; and James of Tempe, Arizona. With the exception of James, who was fresh off a win at Costa Rica’s Coastal Challenge stage race, the contenders were far from acclimated to Ometepe’s heat and humidity.

“I did no heat preparation, and barely looked at the course map,” Clark says. “The trip really wasn’t about the race, but more about the overall experience.”

The profile of the race was also boosted by this year’s addition of the Survival Run.

“The Survival Run is the dream obstacle race I have always wanted to run,” says Stephens, who has placed high in several Spartan Races, including a 10th-place finish in Vermont’s inaugural Spartan Ultra Beast in 2012. “Coming from an ultrarunning background, I am always testing my body to push further. Creating an ultra-distance obstacle event was the ideal next step.”

The race is named for the two volcanoes which, jutting together out of Lake Nicaragua, form Isla de Ometepe, a lush and quiet backpacker’s paradise dotted with small towns and beaches. The island provides a stark contrast from the dusty, car horn-polluted bustle of Managua. On the west side sits Concepción, a picturesque mountain (“If you a drew a volcano, it would look like that,” Diboun said at the pre-race dinner and meeting Friday night) that looms tall over race headquarters in the village of Moyogalpa. It is still active—Fuego (Spanish for “fire”). On the east side is its dormant sister, Maderas, whose caldera has been quelled by tropical growth and a large lake in the crater—Agua.

Those in the 25K would start in town and climb Concepción before turning around to finish in the same spot. 50K runners would climb Maderas and finish at its base; 100Kers would climb both and finish back in Moyogalpa.

“I designed the 100K course to climb the Fuego and Agua volcanoes in one run,” says Stephens. “The locals on the island did not believe anyone could do it. To them the island is an entire universe, and the thought of traversing the whole thing on foot in one day is unbelievable.

“Seeing the island on foot through the 100K course allows the runner to not only see both volcanoes, but to see the villages and everyday life of the island residents,” he continues. “There is a certain cultural experience and integration involved in running it.”


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