I had been hearing about this race and Nicaragua for some time from my racing friends. So his past year when Josue Stephens the race director asked me to come shoot the race and the Ultras he puts on in the same location I jumped on the opportunity. I wasn't sure how far it was to get there or what to expect (except a hard race, one of the hardest). So I packed all of my gear. Yes a lot for international travel and hopped on a plane from Arkansas. Landed in Houston and had 40 min to make a connection at the opposite end of the airport. This is when I realized I had a lot of gear and was glad I was an ultra runner. But I made my connection and off to Managua, Nicaragua. After landing in Nica and making it through customs with all that gear Josue had a cab waiting for me. Cool. Wait one thing I only speak enough Spanish to order beer, steak, eggs, white toast, water and ask where the bathroom is! The cab driver spoke less English than that. A match made in heaven. Two and a half hours of silence. Then we made it to Rivas where I was put on a ferry headed to Isla de Ometepe.
Ometepe is a volcanic island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. There are two ways on to the island ferry and very small plane. I took the hour and a half ferry ride. It is one of the coolest views you will get on a ferry the island and its two volcanoes. You get to watch them grow in size as you get closer to the island. Once on the island I was picked up by one of the race staff along with a few others and we made the 30 min trip to Santa Domingo and the race headquarters. Finally. I put up my gear, grabbed some food and hit the sack.
The next morning we went out to recon the course, review tasks and I scouted good locations for shooting the event. Josue informed me that a dirt bike would be the best way around the island. I am seeing why people like this island so much. It is beautiful. But full of obstacles if you are on a dirt bike and not ridden one before. Like farm animals, lots of farm animals and they run the island. So that is one thing to keep in mind race day and night. Animals everywhere.
The race starts at 4pm with check in and gear check. You may only use what you were told to bring and that is it. The race staff takes away any contraband and make it so everyone has the same gear at the start and to finish you must have all the same gear you started with.
After gear check Josue leads all the Survival Runners in the race rules/oath - "If I get lost, hurt or die it is my own damn fault!" Then these racers are off to who knows what. They are only given the directions to the next checkpoint and challenge.
The first a swim to "bird shit" island to retrieve a raw egg which they must keep with them unbroken the entire race. The swim is in the choppy lake as the sun is setting. The volcanoes always in the background somewhere.
From here the racers headed to a plantain plantation to find there bib number randomly tied to a tree. Once they found their bib they had to harvest the bunch of plantains from that tree.
After this they were given directions to take their plantains back to the start finish line for their next instructions.
From the start finish line they were sent up the beach to a farm and a large tank filled with water. They had to climb the tank and dive in to retrieve a rock with an elastic wrapped around it to be used at a later time in the race if they made it that far. By this challenge the true leaders of the race had separated themselves from the main pack. While others already started dropping.
From the tank dive the racers were sent up towards the volcano to another challenge which they had to fill a sack with sand and carry it up a hill on a small trail then fill a bucket with it 5 times.
This was a brutal challenge and the last time we would see many of the runners.
From here they were sent up the dormant volcano Maderas to swim across its crater lake in total darkness.
Then complete another challenge and head back down the volcano to Finca Bonafide a farm that would be the end of a large portion more of the runners. Here they had to move a large rock any way possible up a steep hill.
After this challenge they had to cut down a large piece of bamboo with a hacksaw blade and use the bamboo to climb a tree.
Once they had completed this they were given instructions to the next challenge some 10k away which they had to carry their bamboo to.
After the leaders headed out to the challenge many other runners made their way off of the volcano into Bonafide looking rough and worn out.
At the next challenge the leaders had to climb two trees with or with out their bamboo to retrieve some twine and to get a petroglyph rubbing.
They would have to use this twine along with their bamboo to make a raft for the next challenge.
Once done here the runners were given directions to the next challenge which required many remaining racers to swim some 3 plus hours in the rough lake or risk climbing over rough boulders to get to the next challenge.
Once at this challenge the runners had to dive for a colored rock on the bottom of the lake and bring it back to shore.
After completing this they were given directions to the next challenge in the Town of Balgue. Where they had to build a sling shot with the elastic from the dive tank and shoot down bottles on a post.
Then they were told to get a bike and ride it two blocks to a home where they would have to catch a live chicken and take it to the next check point some 25k away.
The chicken had to arrive alive and unharmed at the check point as well.
Then from there the runners had to climb the active volcano Conceptcion to the crater and back then back down to their bikes and ride to the plantain plantation one last time to climb a coconut tree. This challenge was impossible for the final three runners. None of them made it up the tree.
But for the leader of the race Paco Raptor who had a hard time climbing the trees all day. When he realized he may lose the race he had lead easily all night and day and night. He was visibly upset.
But in the end three men made it to the finish line none of them completed all the challenges. They all became good friends during the race and all fought hard to finish.
from left: Chris Shanks (2nd Place in 27:24:00), Paco Raptor (1st Place in 27:01:00) and Mark Wheeler (3rd Place in 29:14:00)
After them a few other runners came in to the finish line on their own accord. But none of them were official finishers of the race because they had not made the volcano cut off to be able to complete that section.
It was a great time and I highly recommend lots of training if you think you may want to try it.