Running Through Fire - Page 4
Chickens were swapped for large logs. Photo by Guillermo Brenes Bolanos.
At least we had only ourselves, our water and our shoes to carry up the volcano. The same could not be said for the survival runners, who had dropped their chickens and were now required to tote a bamboo pole to the top.
“All we knew was we would encounter obstacles along the course,” said Margaret Schlacter, a Survival Run participant and the founder of the website dirtinyourskirt.com. “After toting the live chicken, we scaled a coconut tree suspended 20 feet in the air over a concrete slab to retrieve a bracket, dug a three-foot-deep hole in the sand, dragged a large log down a beach, carried a sack full of empty bottles to be recycled, and scaled a heavy bamboo pole 15 to 20 feet up into a tree, along with many other obstacles in the technical jungle terrain.”
“And I thought ultrarunning was crazy,” piped up Diboun.
Schlacter noted that every obstacle was related to everyday life on the island. “A few hours after I had carried a 40-pound bundle of firewood over five miles, I saw a man in tattered pants and shoes held together by threads. He was toting a bundle much larger than mine, going about his daily chores.”
The Fuego y Agua Survival Run is a more extreme development in the recent evolution of obstacle-course racing. First popularized by shorter, more mass-appeal events like Warrior Dash, the races began to grow in length and shrink in finishing percentage. Longer events like the Tough Mudder and Spartan Race pit athleticism and motor skills against endurance; the days-long Spartan “Death Race” includes mental games and arbitrary challenges in a race of attrition.
Before the Fuego y Agua Survival Run, Stephens had said he expected only a handful of the 39 starters to finish.
Upon our arrival in Managua, Diboun and I were oblivious that Junyong Pak, whom we had met at the gate, had earned the World’s Toughest Mudder title two years running, and that across the aisle on our airplane sat Olof Dallner, a Death Race winner. Their rivalry, we learned, is one of the most competitive in obstacle racing. A film crew was on the island to document the showdown.
The plot was thickened by the fact that Ometepe local Johnson Cruz Barrios was one of the pre-race favorites but had never competed against Pak or Dallner. It would be Barrios’ intimate knowledge of the island vs. the undeniable skill and big-event resume of the foreigners.
“It’s like Jurek vs. the Tarahumara in Born to Run,” Diboun observed.
The work of the survival runners was not limited to the race. At packet pickup Friday morning, Stephens pointed at a boat a few hundred yards off shore and explained that racers would need to swim to collect their race numbers. Not a single racer blinked before stripping to their skivvies and diving into the bull-shark-infested lake.
It seemed quirky, if uneventful, until cries for help started coming from the water. One of the swimmers was cramping and panicking; three spectators, Diboun included, dove in to save him. And just as the alarm died down, it was rekindled when shore-dwellers noticed a large ferry headed straight toward the swimmers. Alerted, the boat’s captain quickly diverted the ship toward a different dock.
“Well, that was interesting,” Stephens said as he walked back from the pier.