The Fuego y Agua 100k was going to be one step further.
I've ran in some varied environments; freezing cold temperatures in the mountains, mud and bogs, athletics tracks, hard packed stony trails, the aggressive heat and altitude of Mont Blanc (which I didn't fare well in) but none like I was about to encounter.
Fuego y Agua translates to Fire and Water. The fire of the active Concepcion volcano and the water of the dormant Maderas volcano, with it's amazing crater lake at the top and the muddy, boggy cloud-forest which covers its slopes. The course can be summarised as a 30k ish undulating trail, then a 1500 metre climb and descent, another 30k on trails then a 1000 metre climb and 10k or so to the finish. Add to this the temperatures and humidity of a tropical climate, some snakes and frogs armed with lethal venom, no such thing as an OS map and a volcano which has erupted with quite some regularity every 50 years, last time 1957.....!
I couldn't wait to get going.
I'd been in Nicaragua for about 3 weeks by race day, travelled around a bit seeing the sights and also recce-ing the two volcanoes. I hadn't ran for more than about an hour at a time since it was so hot but I had made sure I put in some good hard sessions to try to help me adapt to the heat, this was going to be the most important thing. The mileage wasn't a priority since it was only 7 weeks before this race that I had clocked 127 miles at the 24 hour so I couldn't really put in any distance in that short space of time.
The other thing to prepare was my race gear. I decided to go minimalist and run with a bumbag, 2 x 500ml bottles, a couple of packs of biscuits, a few gels and a bag of boiled sweets. I also had 3 drop bags at aid stations with drinks, gels, food and importantly a more cushioned pair of trail shoes for after Maderas when my feet would be sore from wearing my fell shoes. There are also lots of places to buy drinks and food along the trail sections so I made sure I had money too.
After Altagracia the route followed trails which deteriorated more and more until it looked more like a river bed I was running on. It was at this point that I needed to go to the toilet... and quick! I looked around and there was a big banana plantation on my right so I negotiated the barbed wire and got on with, er, business... it's not every race you stop for a dump under a banana tree! I also managed to drop my watch somewhere at this point because it had been clipped to my bag strap and fallen off when I removed it, I wasn't going without it because it had all my splits on it and I'm sad that way, so I hunted about everywhere wasting a good bit of time in the process before I found it.
It wasn't long before I'd passed through the next aid station and was on my way up Concepcion. I still felt strong as I passed locals on horses moving some cattle along the trail and soon I was into the full climb through a real jungle-like environment I even saw a White Faced monkey only a few feet away in the trees, I heard something hit the ground near me and wasn't sure if it was throwing things at me or just knocking bits of the tree off as it moved, I wasn't hanging about to check! I emerged out of the trees at the 1000 metre point, which was as far up as was deemed safe to go on an active volcano, to see the lone aid station guy who, to my relief had water and gels. Since I had no Spanish and he no English he drew a very good map of the route back in the dirt and with that we shook hands and I started the run back down. This is where the route doubles back on itself and I passed Amy, Arturo and Pete on their way up (no Nica!?). It was starting to feel like I was heading for home now, so with a gel in my bag and full bottles I confidently gave it all I had as I hit the flat sandy trails heading for Moyogalpa and the finish. At one point I thought I'd made a mistake emptying all but a couple of mouthfuls of water as the trail just went on and on but eventually I arrived in the town and sprinted as hard as I could to the finish.
It was a strange feeling sitting at the finish line after 11 hours 40 minutes, elated to have come first but sad to be at the end of my adventure.
Josue, the race organiser greeted me with a hug, and I thanked him for the race.
This event has got to be one of the most exciting and unique races I've ever had the pleasure of taking part in, and the work it must have taken to organise I can't begin to imagine. Josue really stuck his neck out putting this event on and it's people like him who keep this sport very much alive so I just want to take this opportunity to say thanks to him and all the volunteers who made this happen. Well done to you all.