Fuego y Agua in Fair Nicaragua

 In February, five Second Winders competed in a series of endurance events, called Fuego y Agua, on the volcanic island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua. Here, I’ll highlight a few things that made my 50K race special.

One of the great things about Second Wind is how those who move away always reappear. Every new race becomes a chance to renew an old friendship. Second Winders Rob and Melissa Raguet-Schoefield moved to St. Louis several years ago after Melissa completed her Ph.D. at Illinois. Melissa’s fieldwork on howler monkeys led her and Rob to the Nicaraguan island of Ometepe, where these monkeys are found. During their two years there, Rob ran the 2012 Fuego y Agua as his first 50K. Eager to return, he put an online shout-out to the Buffalo, a group of Second Wind trail runners. Heeding the call were Don Frichtl, Jen Burton, me, and Brian Kuhn, another former Second Winder who now lives in Austin. We couldn’t resist running up a tropical volcano during February. Jen, in particular, was destined to do this race. Just weeks before sign-up, she had received a gift basket filled with food, including a mystery box mix of Gallo Pinto, a pilaf of beans and rice. We were to learn that it was Nicaragua’s national dish, to be had morning, noon, and night with every Nica-style meal.

In its fourth year, 2013’s Fuego y Agua featured 25K, 50K, and 100K distances, and for the first time a 70K survival run. At the heart of the races are the two volcanoes that dominate Ometepe. Volcan Concepcion is a live one, hence Fuego (fire). Volcan Maderas is dormant, and a small lake sits in its caldera, hence Agua (water). The 25K took place on Concepcion, the larger of the two, and the 50K went up and down Maderas. The 100K and survival runners had to do some of both.

Fuego y Agua attracts amateur and elite athletes worldwide, and as word gets out, the race is becoming more popular. Race director Josue Stevens is also the director of the Copper Canyon race that was featured in Chris McDougal’s book Born to Run and was recently renamed after its founder, Caballo Blanco. Eric Orton, the coach that helped McDougal run again, was running the 50K.

The camaraderie at Fuego y Agua was at least as memorable as the race itself. More than 220 runners swamped the small town of Moyogalpa, race headquarters. By the end, most of us recognized each other from sharing sidewalks, tables in restaurants, seats on the ferry boat, and tough times on the trail. Fuego y Agua was the first to unite both the ultrarunning and obstacle racing communities. Each thought the other was nuts. I am here to tell you that it’s a slam-dunk. The obstacle racers take the crazy cake.