It’s a feeling that you can’t fully understand until you’ve been there and encountered it for yourself. At least, that’s how Josue Stephens describes it.
Stephens says he fell in love with OmetepeIsland in Lake Nicaragua when he first docked on the volcanic island’s shore.
“When you leave the mainland of Nicaragua and you head to the island, even though it’s just a one hour ferry ride, it’s like a different world there,” Stephens says.
Now, the most audacious of extreme adventurers have their chance to thoroughly explore Ometepe during the Fuego y Agua 100k and 50k, the island’s first-ever ultra marathon racing event.
Stephens is the founder and organizer of the race that will bring an estimated 60 professional runners zigzagging through Ometepe’s sandy beaches, traditional villages and dusty, dirt roads. On Dec. 13, well before the sun comes up, runners will attempt to conquer the challenging slopes of both the Concepción and Maderas volcanoes.
“If it’s raining it’s very possible they’ll be in mud and water up to their knees,” Stephens says. “And when they get down to the crater, the lagoon, they’ll have to back climb out of the crater. It’s a very steep lava flow trail that they’ll be climbing out of.”
Runners will battle temperatures that range from 65 to 95 degrees, bugs, roots, and steep, single-track ascents and descents, including “a narrow trail almost straight up the [Maderas] volcano for about 10 kilometers” through a dense, tropical jungle.
“When they get on the single track in the jungle, they’ll be hearing howler monkeys,” Stephens says.
The marathon isn’t only meant to challenge extreme athletes though. Stephens also hopes to promote various eco-tourism projects on the island.
Local businesses will provide all site-specific resources for the race, including aid stations, safety guides, food, medical care, and lodging. The race will contribute to the island’s two volcanic national parks and help raise awareness about illegal poaching within the parks.
“Plus, we’re helping to raise awareness about how to maintain the trails, to keep people from cutting too many trails, and to prevent erosion,” Stephens says.
Stephens has also organized a trash pickup day that will occur two days before the race in an effort to demonstrate the importance of proper waste management to the island’s various municipalities. “We’re getting the schools and the police stations involved.
“We’re going to get garbage trucks out there and everybody is just going to go out with a trash bag. Enough runners are getting there early and they’re going to be a part of it to help inspire the local people to help out and do it. Hopefully, it will kind of give them a sense of responsibility and cleanliness so maybe they think about it next time.”
Stephens is also trying to develop a legacy of sorts with the ultra marathon event.
In conjunction with Fuego y Agua, local children from throughout the island will have the chance to compete in their own race, the Calzado para Ometepe 5k and 10k.
Stephens says the idea is for the race to encourage local schools to organize their own cross-country teams. Traverse Trail Running, an organization Stephens co-created, is leading a fundraiser to help equip cross-country teams on Ometepe with running shoes.
“We’re doing a running shoe drive,” Stephens says. “We have cross-country teams from high schools and colleges from the United States donating perfectly good, used running shoes.”
The Fuego y Agua 100k and 50k races themselves appear daunting enough, no doubt, but Stephens says pulling off such an involved event like this in a developing country comes with its own obstacles.
“I can’t lie and tell you that it’s not challenging,” Stephens says. “But, at the same time, it’s a lot more fun, I think, than if I were doing it in the United States.”
Stephens, who grew up in Latin America, adds that he has had his heart set on giving back to a culture that has given him so much.
“I’ve always wanted to work down in Nicaragua and even in the rest of Central America with fair trade and with the local people,” Stephens says. “My parents were missionaries and, although I don’t necessarily ascribe to the same beliefs or motives, I have always wanted to go down and work with the people of that culture. It’s a part of me because I grew up with it.”
First- and second-place finishers in both the men and women categories of the 100k and 50k races will receive a handcrafted trophy from one of the island’s local artisans, Ignacio Martinez.
“The trophies are going to be a traditional Nahuatl running in his loin cloth and he’s going to be holding the island in his hands,” Stephens says.
The Nahuatl were the indigenous inhabitants of the island, and the island’s volcanic slopes and shores are steeped in the histories and stories of their existence. For more information on the Fuego y Agua 100k and 50k, log onto www.fuegoyagua100.com or e-mail email@example.com.
Josue Stephens is an avid ultra-runner and traveling enthusiast who spent the first 10 years of his life as the son of missionaries working in Mexico and Central America. His goal is to develop a sustainable “ultra-marathon” on OmetepeIsland to help the local economy and create a unique and challenging event. Laura McNamara is an independent new media journalist and professional blogger.