Wow. Time really does fly. A year has passed and I was once again back on Isla De Ometepe. I could not wait for my venture into the Devils Double.
I have to say, the worst part about any race is the waiting. What makes this race all the more agonizing is the fact that you wake up the day of the event and just sit around all day in anticipation for the race to start at 4 pm.
The night before was a blast though; all the survival runners met up at a little hotel called el encanto to eat, drink, catch up and talk about what wrath we might incur from the sadistic Josue Stephens.
Fast forward to check in. We met on the beach behind El Paraiso Hotel in santo Domingo and were handed a bag with a shirt, a buff, a couple stickers and a rag with some crayons that we had to keep with us.
It was finally time and team Los Payasos was ready to take on the Survival Run!
One thing that had changed in the rules for the Survival Run this year was the aspect of teams of two being able to compete rather than having to go at it alone. So the awesome Nele Schulze and I joined forces to become Los Payasos (The Clowns). And one other thing you had to do was having something that matched of a certain color with your teammate. Nele and my color of choice was pink, and we had a polka dot scarf. Los Payasos indeed.
Along with something that matches, survival runners needed:
- Your Adventure Travel INSURANCE Policy
- Long Sleeve shirt or Jacket
- Plenty of Food and Water!
- Water Purifier
- Two glowsticks or flashing bike lights
- TWO headlamps (or flashlights) with Extra Batteries
- Survival Blanket
- First Aid Survival Kit
- Sharp Machete
- TWO Large Grain Sacks
- Local Currency
- Calf and/or Arm sleeves
- Sunscreen and Bug Spray
As for myself, I had my GR1 Goruck backpack, my fuego buff, a tshirt, my Hylete shorts, compression shorts under, my SLS compression socks, my INOV8 Race Ultra 290s (full review coming soon), an extra pair of socks, aspirin, salt tabs, gu gels, gu chews, honey, honey stinger waffles, an apple pie, big 100 bars, and all my diabetes supplies on top of all the required gear above.
Any who, after a quick run through of the rules and reciting of the Fuego motto: “If I get lost, hurt or die, it’s my own damn fault!” We were finally off!
We started off with a nice little run on the beach. It was required that we stuck to the shore and not even a quarter mile into the run we were already climbing over loose rocks. You had to already be careful at this point because the rocks were slippery from the waves crashing onto them. Nele had already got these gnarly scratches on her leg from the trees that hung over these rocks and we weren’t even ten minutes into the race!
After traversing through these rocks, it was about another mile or so on sand till we reached our first checkpoint and obstacle. “Bird Shit Island” as is dubbed by Survival Runners, is legit, a little island that is completely covered in bird shit and smells to high heaven. One person (with self made floaties) would have to swim out to Bird Shit Island and retrieve something. What was that something you may ask? It was an egg. A little brown egg that had our numbers written on them and were from then on our bibs that we would have to carry along with us for the rest of the race.
As soon as we got to this point, Nele and I had previously decided that she would be the one doing the swim. Now this is one of the obstacles where only one teammate had to complete. One of the teammates would swim out and retrieve two eggs for each of the teammates instead of one egg. So as she was undressing, I made a make shift floatie with two empty 2 liter bottles of coke and a bicycle inner tube. I cut the tube and just had one long inner tube and wrapped and tied the bottles at both ends for Neles flotation device. And she was off.
While Nele was out I was just walking around talking to other survival runners as we were able to have a little break. Before Nele had come back, Ben of Team Beard was telling Chris Accord that one of the eggs had broken in his pocket and that they would have to find a replacement before getting to the next obstacle.
You read that right. As the eggs are our bibs, if we break or lose them along the way of the course, we would have to find a replacement or else we would not be able to continue on. In my head, I was like “I know Nele has this!” … I was wrong. Upon Neles return she had told me that as she was wrapping her egg in her buff to secure it for the swim back, the egg went straight from her hands into the water. David, who was on the island supplying the eggs had said that was the only time he had seen that during that day. When Nele asked for another egg, he told her we would have to use other means to procure one.
So I told Nele not to worry about it, we had to think of something quick. So since we were next to a hotel I ran to the kitchen of said hotel and in my best Spanish mustered up “ Hola! Yo correando un ultra marithon! Yo necesito un huevo por favor!” They laughed and ended up giving me an egg! We were back on track!
Next we had about a half mile to a mile trek into the plantain fields. The sun had already set and it was dark. We had to search through the plantain fields and look for our paper bibs. Once we found our paper bibs, we had to acquire the plantain stock that was on the top of the tree our bib was attached to and take it to the volunteers at the beginning of the obstacle. Once you got to the volunteers, they would weigh in your plantain stock and you would have to carry it all the way back to the start line. That means running back to where you did the swim and running back through the shoreline of sand and rocks to make it back to a weigh in at the start line.
The thing about this obstacle was it was just dumb luck on how quick you finished. It was dark, and you were running around a plantain field looking for bibs attached to trees at random. What was funny was the fact that after being out there for over an hour, Nele, found my bib and I found hers. What was even worse was the fact that her stock weighed 32 pounds and mine weighed 19. So of course I took her stock, but what was stupid was the fact that after the weigh in we thought of the bright idea to take some of the plantains off so it would have weighed less. Having the burden of a 30 pound plantain stock on your back on top of the 30 lbs in gear you were already carrying was terrible. But we did it and we made it back to the start. Oh, and what made the whole thing even worse was the fact that they didn’t even weigh the damn stocks!
Once you got back, you got your next instructions to again, stick to the shore until you made it to the dry docks. But before you left, that crayon and rag that was provided at packet pick up was used to mark a petroglyph that was etched into a rock. A nice little addition that was also added to the Survival Run this year. The winner would be based on the completion of the obstacles and whether or not you had the I, did, not, fail statuettes and all the petroglyphs (there were nine total).
Anyways, we started our shore trek. It wasn’t so bad in the beginning. It was about two miles or so on sand and then the most miserable rock traverse ever. It was just up and down rocks for about three hours. And then wading through rocky water. And then up and over more rocks. And when you thought you had a break because there was dry land, that would last for about 5 minutes and then you were back in the water. We kept thinking that we were lost and that we should maybe turn back, but we pressed on and our persistence paid off! We finally made it to the dry docks. There was one problem though, during the traverse of the rocks, I slipped, busted my ass and somehow broke my egg that was wrapped up in my buff on my head. When I leaned over after getting back up on my feet, I just felt all the yolk sliding down my face. In my head I was like “that isn’t sweat…” I was so pissed!
So we finally made it to the next obstacle, The Concrete Tank. It was a large cylindrical concrete tank that was filled with water about 14’ high and what you would have to do is climb in, dive to the bottom and retrieve a rock. Attached to these rocks was a sling for the sling shot that we would later be making and using as part of another obstacle.
The volunteers were really pissing Nele and I off at this point. When they asked to see our eggs we explained to them what happened and they would not let us continue on. We were getting close to the time cut off and had to hurry. We had about a half hour before we would have been disqualified. We had no idea what to do. We tried telling them that Nele would do the obstacle as I went to get a new egg. Only problem was the fact that one of the rules was teammates had to be within eyesight of each other throughout the whole race. So the volunteers told us about a mile away there were several shops that probably had eggs. So we booked it. Found a place that was open, and with my awesome Spanish procured another egg. We got two just in case. So we ran back and since it was my fault in the first place, I stripped down and got in the tank. I’m not gonna lie, I got nervous I wouldn’t make it to the bottom. It was cold and I was wearing nothing but my compression shorts. I held on to the top of the tank, took three deep breaths in and out, shut my eyes and started my dive. For some reason I opened my eyes towards the bottom and it just went completely black! I shut my eyes, felt the floor, and frantically searched for a rock to grab on to! I was running out of air and used the floor as a spring board and shot myself back up gasping for air. Nele saw me, grabbed for me and was telling me that it was alright that I didn’t get it… BUT I DID! Got it on my first try and what was even better was the fact that we found one with the sling attached. Oh yeah, forgot to mention, some of the rocks on the bottom were just that, rocks that didn’t have any slings on them. But we got one with a sling!!!
Then we were off again. What was funny was that the route we took was the same route to our next destination. At this obstacle, after showing our eggs again, we would have to fill a bucket to its brim with sand. The after doing so, we would pour the contents of the bucket into a burlap sack and carry this sack about 400m uphill to dump the sand into another bucket to make sure we carried the full weight up the hill. And there were 5 total trips you would have to make before completing the obstacle. Another thing that made the team aspect great was the fact that you had 5 trips between the two of you. Nele was a BOSS at this obstacle. She never stopped. On the first trip I thought I would have been able to carry two bags at once (Ultra Beast anyone?) but that didn’t happen. I carried two bags about half way, dropped one and continued on with one bag. Then the next two trips Nele and I each carried a bag so we can finish quickly because the time cutoff was catching up quick. So once we finished our last trip to the top, we were handed another petroglyph and got another sketch in. When we were at the top of the hill we had a chance to speak with Josue. He had told us that there was a water spout in the vicinity and the next part of the race was climbing up Maderas and that we should definitely head up the volcano with water in our 2 liter coke bottles. The problem was we were short on time, we would have had to went back to our gear, grabbed the bottles, climb back uphill and then fill our water. We didn’t want to waste time though. So we said that we would find water on the way to Maderas and fill up there. We were wrong.
We bumped into Paul Sellers, a fellow Survival Runner and he joined us on our trek up Maderas. There were no shops or anything around and we had already started our ascent. Thank goodness that the route we taken had some houses on the side of the trail and there just so happened to be one with its lights on. It was an older lady and what seemed like her son and his son just hanging out on the porch at midnight. We ran to them and desperately asked, “por favor, correando un ultra marithon.” Pointed up Maderas and asked “Agua por favor?” They were so nice! They filled 6 or our 2 liter water bottles with out any hesitation and even offered us ice water. We gave them 50 cordobas and we were on our way.
That was another reminder of the hospitality the people of this island have. I remember how generous and courteous they were last year when we were running around the back end of the island offering us water and ice to cool off. We were complete strangers and they went out of their way to help us. It’s something that keeps bringing me back to the island year after year.
This is the point where it started getting bad. I tried keeping up with Paul and Nele during the ascent, but I just kept falling back. I wasn’t feeling well at all at this point. I don’t know if I hadn’t eaten enough or if my sugars were falling low, but I was hurting. I blacked out really quick once or twice. But had to keep pushing. I promised Nele that we would finish. We were going to make it and finish this race. I wasn’t doing this for me alone, I had a teammate that was counting on me to finish. So we trudged on little by little making our way to the top. It was about 4 am and the crater of Maderas was SO close. We kept circling the crater for what seemed like forever. Then the worst thing imaginable happened, we saw the sweepers. So we booked it and tried to move faster in the hopes that we could beat them to the crater, but those dudes were so quick! They caught up like nothing. But we told them that we were going to continue on to the crater, and they nodded okay. So we continued on!
As we were ascending, in a rush Gabi (Josues sister) Amie Livewire Booth & her partner came sprinting by us. They told us to turn around and just head down, we missed the cutoff. Nele and I looked at each other and said forget that! And we kept on climbing. Then we bumped into several other Survival Runners Christian Griffith, Ekaterina Soloveria and Mitchel Wood and they told us to just turn around. They had gotten into the crater and were turned away. There was no point in continuing on, we DNFed. I was heart broken. I thought for sure we would have made it, but we didn’t. What I was told was that once inside the crater, you would have had to swim across the lake and get to a bunch of trees. And once there, you would climb those trees and receive your first idol. The one that simply said “fail.”
So after that four hour climb up the volcano, and a DNF, we turned around and started our descent. What made it alright was the fact that we were in great company cracking jokes all the way down. What made it terrible was the fact that Josue is some master of being sadistic and found a route that was slick, muddy and rocky all the way to the bottom. You usually had an idea of where you were while on Maderas. The bottom third of the volcano was hard packed dirt. The second third was wet soil and finally it was just straight up mud at the top. No, no. Not here. It was straight mud all the way through. I was so pissed and my toes were so banged up when I reached the bottom. I just wanted to get back to the hotel and take a nice hot shower.
But oh! What’s this! As we were close to reaching the bottom of the volcano, we were approached by some volunteers and told that our race was not done yet. Excuse me? Apparently there were such things as soft cutoffs and hard cutoffs. A soft cutoff, which we were explained to, is what basically happened to us. We didn’t make it to the obstacle in time, so we wouldn’t be able to do it, but we were still in the race. A hard cutoff meant that your race was done.
I’m sorry, to me that’s some straight up bull! A cutoff is a cutoff. And you know what, if you want to do soft cutoffs and hard cutoffs, that’s fine. Just explain the difference before we begin the race so we’re not caught off guard half way into it. If I had known about that I would not have taken my sweet ass time descending the volcano. I would have made an effort to have gotten down there faster so I could continue on in the race and have a chance to finish.
And when you tell an athlete, that’s it, you’re done, you DNFed. My head was out it. I mentally checked out. And once you mentally check out, that’s it. There’s really no continuing on. At least that’s how it was for me. I was done. But we had to at least continue on to the next checkpoint which was Bens farm. Once there, we saw a slew of obstacles you would have had to complete. One such obstacle was rolling a boulder, yes, a boulder, 200m uphill. And after that, you would have had to have cut down a bamboo stock to the regulated size and carry it for about what was a half mile loop from what I was told.
When we saw what we had to do, Nele just looked at me and was like “Haidar?” I was like fuhhhhhhhh. I couldn’t leave my teammate high and dry. I unstrapped my backpack and was ready to roll a boulder uphill for my partner as the last obstacle we would perform together since I was checking out. Ben had told her that she wouldn’t have had the time to complete the obstacle and continue on in the race. So she had to skip the boulder and bamboo stock and just head over to the next obstacle before she missed a “hard cutoff.” She missed out on some petroglyphs at this point, but was able to continue on in the race.
After I bid her adieu I laid in the back of a pick up truck waiting for them to take me back to my hotel. We headed back, I met up with some other Survival Runners who were also done and we just talked about everything. I ate two meals, took a shower and knocked out for like four hours.
I was waiting for Nele to come back before I did anything else that night. And she finally made it in! With a chicken around her neck! I had to ask what happened!
Apparently after the bamboo carry, there were such things you had to do as climb a tree with the bamboo. Traverse more rocks (Nele and Christian were there for about 4 hours). Dive into the water and find red and/or blue painted rocks. Use the sling shot to knock down targets. Capture a chicken. Race the rest of the way back with a chicken. Ride a bicycle. And some other things as well. There are a bunch of other blogs you can read that probably have a better layout of the things we had to endure during this event.
All I have to say is that after this event, and taking it in with these other maniacs, I wouldn’t have wanted to be any other place in the world. Amazing group of people, amazing event and I will definitely be back on Isla De Ometepe to take on that event next year and Los Payasos will finish strong together!
Oh and just in case you were wondering. The Devils Double would have entailed me finishing the Survival Run and then taking on the 100k a couple days later. That obviously didn’t happen.
And just a heads up, your boy took second in the beer mile!!! I still think someone should have checked Collins beers. I felt like he didn’t drink them all! That’s right! I’m calling you out Collin! I’ll be back for that title next year!
And to Nele, I couldn’t have asked for a better teammate. You were amazing out there and you definitely kept my spirits up when I just wanted to stop. THANK YOU!
And to the mountain crew or the Los Ramos Heroes as we refer to ourselves. lmao! I love you guys.
I’ll just give you guys the quick recap of what went down.
Since I no longer felt like competing in the Fuego Y Agua Ultra since I was just way too exhausted, I decided I would be a volunteer and help the runners and cheer them on as they were taking on that hellish course.
I was located at the Los Ramos aid Station. The lovely Amie Booth had joined me a little while later on and our friends Jamie Boyle & Mitchell Wood were located on both ascensions of Volcan Concepcion.
Anyways, fast forward to 2 am in the morning…
The 50k portion of the race had been done for a while (it ended around 6-7 pm), but some athletes got lost on the course and needed help being found. The sweepers who were supposed to guide them to safety ditched them half way down the volcano. Then to make matters worse, the guys who we sent to rescue the runners had their flashlights run out of battery while they went to rescue them.
It was just one thing on top of another that ended up being really funny in the end.
Everyone made it back safe and I still made my flight the next day.
Of course, you can’t really expect anything else when you’re on Ometepe Island and I will definitely be back again next year.