After a full day hopping on and off busses, crossing country borders, and passing through customs and ticketing offices, Johnson Cruz with Olympic athlete Cristian Jose Villa Vicencio and myself finally arrived at our hotel in Alajuela, Costa Rica. Dropping our bags off in our room, Johnson and Cristian wasted no time and quickly changed into their running shorts and shoes and left for the local park to share and fine tune various running techniques. Johnson, eager to soak up all of Cristian's running wisdom asked questions about technique that only a true running veteran like Cristian would know. For myself, a non-runner, I was genuinely surprised at the level of technique and detail that these athletes were discussing and their sincere interest in the science of their sport.
The following morning we caught up with a lovely couple in San Jose who gave us a ride through the lush green forests of Costa Rica to Sarapiqui, the location of the Q50. At the race briefing the night before the race, the race director presented information about the race, showing a Google map that marked the trail, and, among a rowdy crowd, thanked all the sponsors and participants. After a semi-filling spaghetti dinner, all the runners, friends, and families made their way back to their rooms for some rest before the big race.
Waking up for an early 3:45am taxi ride, the three of us were the first to arrive and Johnson wasted no time in helping the directors set up the start/finish line. Just before sunrise, all the runners and their families gathered at the starting line and, before I knew it, the countdown had started and the runners were off. A few hours later another wave of runners would arrive for the 15km and repeat the same process as the long distance runners many, to my surprise, with twice as many water bottles and gear. I stayed at the finish line and chatted about our exciting Ultramarathon Fuego y Agua to anyone that would listen and waited for several hours for the runners to return.
Johnson managed to cross the finish line in third place with a time of 3:47, just 15 minutes after the first place finisher. Feeling "fine con energia," Johnson stretched out his muscles and chatted with the first two finishers about the race. For not training a full month prior due to a knee injury and fear of agitating it further, a third place finish just 15 minutes after the winner was a remarkable feat for Johnson. Johnson shared with certainty that with proper training and preparation, he will be able to beat his time by more than 20 minutes for the Q50 next year. As the other runners crossed the finish line, starved, tired, and thirsty, Johnson - with his ever so kindred spirit - was quick to help fill water bottles, cut bananas, oranges, and watermelon, and help rehydrate the athletes. When asked why he doesn't take a seat and relax after completing almost four full and intense hours of running, he replied with a huge smile, "I just love to help!" This was followed quickly by his contagious laugh that seems to follow the majority of his sentences and really make him someone you want to surround yourself with.
Cristian arrived shortly after, crossing the finish line in the opposite direction due to a miscommunication along the trail and had hurt himself running, thus finishing with strained muscles in his legs and a tumultuous stomach ache. Still early, we would have to rest for a little, clean up, pack our bags, and begin our travels back, this time using public transport, to Alajuela. Not once in the 7 hour process of hopping on and off busses, walking across towns and cities, waiting in lines, and low on water and food did the two 40km worn athletes complain about their discomfort (not even as Cristian's upset stomach continued until the early morning of the following night).
Our trip home to Ometepe, Nicaragua the next day was just as long, but this time with wet weather. It was a wonderful experience being surrounded by such positive and powerful athletes for the weekend, and having the opportunity to learn so much about races and running. I find myself looking forward to the next weekend that I am privelidged enough to accompany Johnson and Cristian to another marathon race.