Running Through Fire - Page 5
Near the top of 1400-meter Maderas, a technical, muddy up-and-down slog slowed me mostly to a walk, before we dropped into the dormant volcano’s caldera. Suddenly a coconut crashed down right next to me—I had narrowly avoided the most unique DNF in history.
It was in this section that I caught up to Meissner. “This blows,” I said.
Soon Costa Rican Diego Mendez scooted by, deftly hopping from rock to rock. “You should train in Costa Rica,” he said. “It’s just like this!”
A long mile later, we hit the lake inside the crater, and chugged from a gallon jug of water at a cup-less aid station before starting back up the lush crater wall. At the peak I remembered to look around and was greeted with a fantastic view of beaches, lakes, lush greenery and Concepción in the distance. The jungle met the water as far as the eye could see.
I tripped immediately.
The early stages of the descent, known fittingly as the “Jungle Gym,” seemed more suited for obstacle racers; tightly packed trees and rocks slowed runners to a tedious crawling, climbing and sliding routine. At one point, faced with a particularly gnarly mess of tightly packed trees and rock outcroppings, I snatched an overhead vine to swing, Tarzan-style, around the obstacle. Hands clenched on the vine, I applied weight to my coiled right leg for liftoff but slipped and flew off the trail, projecting several GU packets out of my race vest.
Eventually, the incline mellowed and I could run again. With a couple of miles to go, scorching in the heat in the middle of the island’s southeast farm fields, two cows, apparently sensing my distress, opted to run ahead of me—veritable bovine pacers—rather than skirt to the side.
For us 50K runners, the finish line was a welcome lakeside beach. The 100K runners had to turn their backs on the water and head back onto the simmering roads. I cooled off in the water and caught a rickety white minibus back to Moyogalpa with Jamil Coury and speedy Brit Ian Sharman, who had accepted an invitation to the race but was heeding an injury and didn’t run.
On the way, I learned that Jamil had been passed late by Mendez and came in second in the 50K by a mere minute. Whatever exuberance we held at seeing our finishing times was tempered by the fact that the first four 100Kers—Clark, James, Diboun and Jamil’s brother Nick—had run the first half of the 100K significantly faster.
After Diboun dropped in the scorching midday heat, Clark passed James, whose hard-hitting early strategy finally did him in. “When you race in the tropics you have to take advantage of the window before the sun is overhead [so] I pushed the pace,” James said. “[But Clark] left me out to slow cook in the sun.”
Less than an hour after word came through Stephens’ radio that Clark had tagged Concepción, the bearded Brit ambled down the same street on which we’d set out that morning.
“Where’s the finish line?” he shouted, thinking he was still one town away.
“Right there!” Jamil pointed at race headquarters to the right.
Clark crossed the line in 10:34:59—a half hour under the old course record—and promptly inhaled two beers and a slice of pizza.