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Friday, February 28, 2014

Turning Lemons into Pollos in Miami

Please forgive me, after just completing Nikki Sixx's book This is Gonna Hurt, I'm on a bit of a photo kick.  Then again, it might not be all that bad for you to be temporarily relieved from my ramblings :)

On the way back from Nicaragua, a massive snow storm along the entire east coast led to cancelled flights out of our connecting city of Miami all the way up through Boston.  After exhausting all of our options, we sucked it up and joined hundreds of other travelers and spent Wednesday Night on the hard, unforgiving floor of MIA.

Our rescheduled flight was to leave Friday Morning and we miraculously landed a hotel room for Thursday Night with a check in at 8:00AM!  That's what I call early check in!  Needless to say, our luck was picking up.

Having all day to spend in the city, we got a quick nap and headed to a lunch spot Amy had been raving about: Pollo Tropical.  The food was great, and the place was like an unrefined Chipotle with a Cuban flair.

Next up, we navigated on foot to a Brewery and a Geocache through the arts district, an area home to amazing graffiti work blanketing almost every vertical surface in sight.

It was my first time visiting Miami and I believe we made the most of an unfortunate situation.  I can't wait to come back and spend more time enjoying the city, as well as the nearby National Parks!  Adios!

View from the hotel room

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Stroll and a Swim: Ojo de Agua, Ometepe, Nicaragua

On the day following the Fuego y Agua 50K Race, we donned our sandals and swimming gear and headed over to Ojo de Agua, which was only a few kilometers walk along the main, but hardly buzzing road.

Unfortunately, right after the final photo in this series was taken, yours truly decided to knock over the stool holding my camera phone and send it into the depths of the "The Ojo".  The next 36 hours consisted of drying it out and then photos appeared to capture, but mysteriously failed to save on my SD card.  My camera was having a moment not unlike the movie "The Hangover" where they couldn't remember anything about the previous night.  This was probably a good thing for me, considering our next stop was San Juan del Sur and we were being hosted by our new friend "Military Mike"; a guy who knows how to party.

Tiled-paved road walk, abundantly green

Roadside scene

Looking east

During the dry season, one of the few flowing streams on the island

Big trees!

Welcome to the swimming hole

Ojo de Agua (AKA Tourist Community Swimming Pool)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A February Morning in Granada, Nicaragua

Can't all mornings be like this?

Cool in the shade, great food, and even better company.  To be honest, we actually spent about 24 hours in Granada, but I didn't happen to take any decent photos until the next morning after our arrival!

A pretty standard Nicaraguan breakfast...Good ole gallopinto.

My sister chilling on the shaded roof-top deck of our hotel

Great view of the church from the deck as well


Granada is covered with colorful street scenes like this

...And this...
Rickety dock in Lake Nicaragua, headed out to Las Isletas

One of three Howler Monkeys on a small island no bigger than your living room

Traditional Nica lunch!  Vigoron

Some more beautiful architecture

Next stop, Ometepe!

Monday, February 24, 2014

2014 Fuego y Agua 50K Nicaragua Race Report: The Unexpected

"Expect the Unexpected"
This phrase is frankly, bullshit.  I prefer something more along the lines of "Be Flexible" or "Adapt or Die".  To me, these provide a clearer directive.  In an 50K ultramarathon consisting of a volcano and sweltering 90° F heat, one thing you most certainly need is clear direction...and maybe some water.

As many runners do, in the late months of the year I began scheduling races for the following calendar year with the intention of including a couple "destination races".  This is a term I use for a vacation centered around a race (geographically, for the most part).  Throwing several ideas of locations out to my non-running sister, we were surprised to find a trip to Nicaragua was actually the cheapest overall option out of 3 (which included 2 domestic races).  Of course...I made a spreadsheet to get to this number ;p

ExpenseType Amount Notes
Nicaragua Flight $        375 PP, American, Philly to Managua, 1 stop
Lodging $        700 Estimate, could be much less, depending on where we go.  Staying on the island is cheap ( < 50 US /night), Cities are more comparable to US hotel prices.
Ground Transport $          75 ?? Approx.  Seems pretty cheap
Activities $        200 ?? PP
Food $        200 ?? PP
Total: 1550
Florida Flight $        235 PP, Dulles or Philly, United, 1 stop
Car $        317
Gas $        100 Conservative Estimate
Lodging $        700 Estimate, could be much less, or much more, depending on comfort level.
Food $        350 PP
Activities $        200 ?? PP
Total: 1902
Texas Flight $        350 PP, United, BWI, 1 stop
Car $        272
Gas $        125 Conservative Estimate
Lodging $        700 Estimate, could be much less, or much more, depending on comfort level.
Food $        350 PP
Activities $        200 ?? PP
Total: 1997

To my surprise, the trip actually only ended up costing me $1,498.44!  But enough about that, I deal with enough numbers at my day job...on to Isla de Ometepe!
The mighty dual-volcano island of Ometepe
After the peaceful 1 hour ferry ride from San Jorge to Moyogalpa, we got a cab down to the packet pickup location a few miles south at Charco Verde, in San Jose Del Sur.  To our unexpected surprise, packet pick up had ended an hour before our arrival, but no worries, I'd be able to pick everything up the following morning prior to the 5AM start on the beach.

If I would describe the next surprise as less than a miracle, it'd be a lie.  It turned out that not only was our hotel (Villa Paraiso) the hub for the race activities on Saturday, our cabin (#1) was no more than 100 feet from the start/finish line!  If it weren't for the busloads of other participants arriving at 3AM on Saturday morning, I could have easily slept in until 4 or so and still had time to packet pickup, breakfast, and gear prep!  I felt blessed.

Rocking my treasured "The Blerch" shirt, I joined about 200 other waiting participants in the humid pre-dawn stickiness for a couple minutes, then we were off!  Along the beach, headed south towards Volcan Maderas.

Just before the start

Roughly two miles in at the base of the volcano, we hit the first aid station where I stopped briefly and gulped down something that I can't even recollect...hopefully it was water.

Great view from about half way up Maderas, looking north over the isthmus to Concepcion.
Still dark, the 4000' climb began, with most of us power hiking up the rocky, dirt road which soon turned to forested trail and progressively wetter, steeper, and muddier.  No one mentioned it out loud, but I think we could all sense that the "fun" was just beginning.

"FUN" is spelled M-U-D
After cresting the volcano’s rim and with a firm belief that it couldn’t get any muddier or slicker, we descended into “The Jungle Gym”



It was basically like trying to make your way through a parking garage packed full of SUVs which had been smothered in olive oil and mantequilla.  This was the first point when I noticed I may have been the only participant with handheld bottles in lieu of a backpack.  Free hands are necessary for this run, period.


Emerging from the forest, we were met by a surreal, foggy lagoon and a surprisingly well-stocked aid station, given its location and proximity to roads.  We enjoyed a nice, cool break from climbing and sliding, and mentally prepared for the muddy descent back to the heat of the day along the island’s coast.
Foggy Lagoon

After a brief climb back up to the rim, the possibly more treacherous and muddier descent followed, slowing the pack down to a laughable 40:00 min/mile pace at one point!  Due to the sluggish progress and “interactiveness” of the course, everybody had the chance to voice their opinions of the changing conditions, and maybe exchange some friendly jeers after witnessing slips and “less than graceful” landings.

What came next was certainly the hardest, most draining part of the run: Nicaraguan heat with little to no breeze.  The final 18 miles of the course followed a perimeter road, circling Maderas counter-clockwise from around 9 o’clock to 12.  While there were aid stations roughly every 10K (thank god!), 6.2 miles was much to far to keep the spirits up, pounding endlessly along a primitive dirt road in Central America.

The sun was beating down so bad at one point, that I had to cover my head and neck with something other than my baseball cap so I picked up the next thing I saw along the (often) garbage strewn road: a nasty old wife-beater that could have easily served as a nut rag in its former life.  Clearly, I wasn’t thinking clearly…I had hit my first wall and was now in survival mode.

In fact, around the time of these two videos, I had resigned to the fact that once I made it to the next aid station, I would sit, wait for a ride back to the hotel and accept my DNF.

As fate would have it, about 200 yards before the next aid station was the most glorious, rushing, clear creek that I’ve ever seen.  I didn’t care where the water came from, I was going for a swim.  It was, quite possibly, the greatest 5 minutes of my life.  It felt like bathing in a raging sea of unicorn tears.  Nothing short of awesome and it gave me the renewed mental strength to decide to push on and finish this hot, dirty mess of a race.

As a side note: I DO know what cansado means, but in that mental state, you’d be lucky if I could tell you my middle name.

During the final 3 miles, we were back on paved road and in civilization.  With barely 2 miles to go, I hit wall number two and simply needed to sit on a shaded rock roadside.  During this much needed 5-minute break a few friends from earlier named Flint and Margaret egged me on to join them for the last stretch and I noted that I’ll see them soon.  Whether that was after the finish line or before was up for debate.  I still needed another couple of minutes to regain some sort of will to push on.

To my surprise, I caught up to the pair just as we entered the final 2 or 3K of beach running to the finish line.  It was a joyous time filled with high-spirits while Flint desperately tried to get other runners to join us for a big group finish.

At 3:18pm, over 10 HOURS after the start, my raggedy, wife-beater toting ass crossed the finish line.

Next up were 4 things, in this order:
  1. Medal
  2. Piss in the lake
  3. Chair
  4. Toña
Me, rocking the Blerch shirt, Flint and Margaret closing in behind



So much about this race was unexpected:  From the kindness from strangers and fellow racers to the ruggedness of the volcano to my reaction to the heat, I can honestly say that while this wasn’t like any other ultra I’ve run.  The lowest low points made the higher highs seem that much better.  I consider myself blessed to be able to participate in events like this and meet so many great people.  Even after all that craziness, I’m considering coming back next year.  Thank you to everyone involved in making my race experience possible.

Gear List:
  • Hoka One One Stinson Trail
  • Smartwool socks
  • Ultimate Direction Handheld bottles
  • Brooks night life jacket (not used)
  • Adidas cap
  • 2 spibelts
  • GoLite shorts
  • Blerch shirt
  • Garmin Fenix watch
  • GU Roctane Gels
  • Power Bar energy chews  (roughly every 30 minutes between gels and chews)
  • Clif bars (when hungry)
  • Cookies, watermelon, pringles, saltines @ aid stations
  • Salt pills, roughly 2 per hour after mile 12

As always, here’s the Strava activity (but unfortunately since my watch crapped out, I borrowed someone’s with a similar time from Garmin Connect)