Saturday, February 23, 2013

Nicaragua 2013 (Part 4)

(Continued from Parts 1, 2, and 3)

Saturday 16 February

I had really high hopes for Rob in Fuego y Agua this year.  Maybe even higher hopes than he had for himself.  I knew how good of shape he was in, and I knew that he had the potential to set the course on fire as long as he didn't burn up during the ascent.  

He sent me a message on Friday afternoon from Moyogalpa, letting me know that he'd arrived safely.  I replied with the one thing I meant to tell him before he left but had forgotten:  Descend like Kilian.

On Saturday morning, Reina came over around 4:45 to take care of Will while I ran to El Porvenir.  Just like last year, I would meet Rob at the 30 km mark and see him on his way as he began to ascend the volcano.

I'd explained everything to Will in great detail the night before.  Mama has to run in the morning.  Mama has to go run and see Daddy.  You are going to stay here and play with Reina!  You are going to have so much fun!  Will had seemed intrigued.  "Reina?" he'd asked, and I'd nodded.  "I can play with Reina?" I assured him again how much fun he would have, and I hoped that I was right. 

Now that the moment had arrived, though, my stomach felt like I was stuck on the ferry during the windy season.  Last year it had been so much easier.  Will was adventurous and not afraid of anything.  This year he was shy and reserved.  The whole time we'd been in Nicaragua, all he'd wanted was for me to hold him.  My arms and back ached.  He was suddenly afraid of everything-- dogs, flies, ants, dirt.  How scared would he be when he woke up to find I had left him alone with a strange Nicaraguan woman?  This was sure to land him in therapy someday.

Reina was reassuring.  She told me not to worry.  She had 3 children of her own afterall-- she knew what she was doing.  I just hoped that Will would remember the Spanish words we had taught him and that he didn't cry the whole time.  I resolved to run home as quickly as possible just as soon as I had seen Rob.  I could be back by 8.  Will would barely notice that I'd been gone.

But first, there was the small matter of getting over to El Porvenir (around 7.5km away) in the dark. Last year the darkness hadn't been so much of a problem for me because I hadn't left until 5:30, near the time when the sun rose.  This year, Rob and I both expected him to arrive in El Porvenir much earlier, which meant I had to run in the dark so I could get there in time.  I had brought a flimsy flashlight with me, but once I was out there, it wasn't so great at illuminating the road.  The best I could do was take it slowly and enjoy the millions of stars overhead.  After about 45 minutes, it started to get light enough that I could see the hazards on the road (such as rocks and cows) and avoid them.

Even at my slow pace, the kilometers ticked by quickly, and before I knew it, I had reached El Porvenir.  It was almost daylight-- just before 6am.  A couple of Costa Rican spectators were already there-- they'd driven over in a 4x4 from Moyogalpa that morning-- and we chatted a bit in Spanish.  It was still quite a while before the front runners arrived.  Longer than what I'd expected.  While I was waiting, a motorcycle whizzed by, and a guy who was riding on the back of it called out, "Hola, Melissa!"

I jumped up and down and waved.  "Simeón!!"  I cried.  It was the only time I would end up seeing him during this trip to Nicaragua.


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The guys who got to Porvenir first (probably around 6:30am) were in a pack of 3, and they seemed intense.  "Where do we turn?" one of them asked.  "Right here!" I pointed to the path up the volcano.  


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The next several runners who arrived were equally as intense and all of them asked me where they were supposed to turn or how long ago the guy in front of them had come past.  Rob told me later that they probably thought I was a race volunteer and I should have been giving them instructions instead of just clapping and cheering like some kind of lunatic.  

Soon, I saw Rob in the distance.  He was the 12th person to arrive at El Porvenir.

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His expression was severe.  

"Do you want me to go up to the aid station with you?" I called out, wondering if he was going too fast for me to keep up.

"Sure," he replied, but his tone sounded grim.  

I ran up the road beside him.  He had already gone 30km, but my legs were fresh and I could easily keep his pace.

Last year he'd been cheerful, almost giddy at this point.  Now, he did not seem happy at all.  "The course wasn't marked," he told me.  He had gone out with the 100K elites, and they all got lost twice during the first leg of the race.  They'd gone probably 5km out of their way in total.  The second time they got lost, a local man riding a horse had eventually helped them backtrack to the unmarked path they were supposed to turn on in order to head up to Ojo de Agua.  The elite runners took off at that point, ratcheting up the pace so much that Rob could no longer keep up with them.  

Physically, he was fine, but mentally, I had never seen him so down during a race.  "Getting lost really fucked with my head," he said.  Once he'd finally gotten back on course and the 100K elites dropped him, he was running with people who were going a full minute per mile slower than his pace.  He had lost so much time.  It was hard to recover from that.

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"Everything is going to be fine," I told Rob.  "You're doing great."  I said every encouraging word I could think of.  As he got his camelback out of his drop bag and filled it with water, I described a scenario to him in which he would charge up the volcano into the elfin cloud forests, into the cool mists.  He would be lighter than air.  He would float up through the technical jungle gym section at the top by the caldera, and then he would descend down the other side-- at a pace so fast that it would make Kilian seem sluggish.

I didn't know if I was helping or if he wanted me to shut up.  

He asked me if I could take his head lamp for him, and so I did-- winding the sweaty band around my wrist and not wanting to upset him by suggesting that he leave it in his drop bag instead.  Then he looked around a bit forlornly and asked me if I'd brought a towel.  I shook my head.  He said he wanted to wipe the sweat off his face.  Not knowing what else to do, I offered the only thing I had at my disposal-- my shirt.  I didn't think he'd really take me up on the offer, but he did.  This.  This is true love, people.

Mechanically, he ate some fruit, and I asked him if he wanted me to start up the volcano with him.  He said no and cast a dismal glance towards the slopes of Maderas.  With one last bark of encouragement from me, he headed up the mountain.  I watched him go until I couldn't see him anymore, and then I traced my way back down to the road.

I didn't feel good about this, but I knew Rob well enough to know that he would make it.  It just wouldn't be pretty.  In fact, it might be the ugliest thing he'd ever done.

The 7 or 8 km run back to Mérida was a breeze, even with the hills.  The weather was a lot cooler than it had been last year, and the sky was covered in clouds.  I hoped these things would work to Rob's advantage and help him from overheating during the last 20K of the race.  Maybe he really would get a second wind and charge up that volcano-- dominating it like I knew he wanted to.

As soon as I entered the path to the Hacienda, I saw Reina standing there with Will in her arms.  He wasn't crying, he just looked solemn.  When he saw me, he reached for me and wrapped his arms around my neck with a grip like a vice.  

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I asked Reina how he had been and she said he was good.  He got up at 7:30, went to the bathroom and brushed his teeth, then she helped him get dressed and he ate a banana for breakfast.  After that, he just wanted her to hold him.  He didn't want to play with the other kids.  

He buried his face in my neck and I kissed him about a million times.  I asked him if he was okay, and he said, "Mama, I was scared."

There it is, officially.  I am the worst mother in the history of the world.

I asked Reina to come back to our room with us, and I gave her the gift I had brought her (a bracelet) and some money for babysitting.  "No, no, no, no, no,"  she said emphatically and insisted that she had done this out of her heart, because she loves us so.  Eventually I persuaded Reina to take a few dollars for her trouble, to accept this as my gratitude for her taking care of Will while I ran out to see Rob.  She and I both cried a little bit and hugged each other.  I could still hear the way her voice faltered some 6 years ago when we left the island and she repeated over and over again, "No te vayas, Meli."

Will made a full recovery from his perceived abandonment and became positively goofy.  He insisted on helping me get ready-- he brought me soap so that I could shower, and when I was done, he brought me a towel and said, "I dry you, Mama," as he blotted my feet.

Even though I had just run some 15km and hadn't eaten anything yet, I still wasn't very hungry.  Will and I went up to the kitchen, and I ordered a coffee.  Finally, I ate a Clif Bar and one of Clara's bananas; Will had some pretzels dipped in peanut butter.

The finish line of the 50K race was not at Hacienda Mérida this year.  It was at Monkeys Island Hotel, slightly less than 1km down the road towards San Ramon.  My biggest dilemma at this point was deciding what time to head over there.  I really had no idea when Rob was going to finish, but I reasoned that it would be somewhere in between 10:00am and noon.

Will and I began the trek shortly before 10.  It was along the same rocky, hilly stretch of road that I used to take to the forest every day.  I'd walked it literally hundreds of times.  But was a lot harder when I was carrying a 33 pound child and a backpack full of his stuff.  Plus, the cloud cover that had shrouded the island during the early hours of the morning had burned away-- now, there was nothing to block the intensity of the equatorial sun.  This didn't bode well for Rob; the last several kilometers of the course were out in the open heat, along the same road we were walking.

When we got to Monkeys Island Hotel, we found out that the winner had already finished. Just under 6 hours.  I think it was a Costa Rican guy, one of the runners I had seen arrive at El Porvenir before Rob.

The finish line was at the beach-- all the way down a long hill after you entered the Monkeys Island property.  Once Will saw the water (and the other kids playing in it it), there was no way to keep him out of the lake.  Unfortunately, I hadn't known that the finish line was at the beach (I'd thought it was up at the road), and I had not brought his swimming trunks.  I continued with my mother-of-the-year decision making ability and let him swim in his underpants.  

It was ungodly hot and there was no shade at all in the finish line area.  I coated us both with sunscreen.  The beach wasn't made of sand but instead of pebbles that hurt your feet and was too hot to walk on.  With Will in the water, I had to keep an eye on him, and therefore my back was to the finish line.  I was afraid I would miss Rob when he came in.

Runners continued to trickle across the finish line.  Some were done for the day, some grabbed cold cervezas and headed back out to finish the 100K.  Finally I heard the race volunteers call out Rob's race number and name as they saw him appear at the top of the hill.  I couldn't get Will out of the water in time to meet Rob at the finish line (and take a picture), but at least I saw him come in.

He was 9th place overall.  It was about 11:20, meaning he'd finished around 40 minutes faster than last year.  He looked wiped out, and he didn't say much.  I knew I'd get the story eventually from him, but for now, Rob's Fuego y Agua 2013 was done.

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Stay tuned for Part 5.


Anonymous said...

after reading all your blogs about your NIC adventures, all I can say is WOW!!!!!!! the pictures were amazing...... the RACE description was SPELL BINDING. Seeing you with your special NIC FRIENDS was awesome!!! Will is NOT scarred for life, so don't lose any sleep about that!! on the PLUS side he probably won't remember it and on the DOWN side, , he probably won't remember it!!!! BUT you and Rob have special memories of every one of these adventures, and that is what makes your life together very special to you! So happy you arrived back stateside safe and sound...... another CHAPTER in the lives of the Ragfields!!! luv and hugs to all of you, mama !! A huge CONGRATS to ROB on HIS OUTSTANDING FINISH in a DIFFICULT race!!!

Alena said...


I am really not into running, but it is still very interesting to read about your adventures in Nicaragua. Keep them coming!

And congratulations to Rob for making it!

Melissa said...

Thanks so much, Mom and Alena :)

Rachel said...

Not a bad mother at all. My 3 year old cried every Friday night when my mom comes to spend the night, so I can do a long "run" (I am soooooo slow I am almost embarrassed to tell you I run) on Saturday mornings. Then he cries when he wakes up and I am gone.

Every Saturday, more or less, since July.

Someday they will know we do this so we are healthier for them.

Thank you, by the way, for the advice last fall about the Monumental :)

Melissa said...

Aww, Rachel I am so sorry your little boy cries when you leave for your runs. I bet he has fun playing with his grandma though!! Any more races planned for the future?