There are fewer than ten people in this world who have accomplished the Fuego y Agua Devil’s Double Challenge, the completion of two races, a 100 kilometer (62.1 miles) ultra-run and an 85 kilometer (52.8 miles) survival race up and down the sides of two volcanoes with only thirty hours of rest between the events. This February in Nicaragua, Red Rush Athlete Mark Wheeler became one of those people. To race in the Fuego y Agua Survival Run, you can’t just show up. You have to apply or be invited. Some of the top obstacle course racers and ultrarunners in the world were invited to try this thing. Out of forty-three battle-tested athletes Mark finished third. Only three crossed the finish line. At fifty, Mark is the oldest person in history to do so. He used Red Rush the entire time.
“I brought Red Rush on the survival run. The day before the race, I was priming with it. I took one fifteen minutes before the race. I just feel like I get an even sort of energy output from it, but the thing I really notice is that I don’t have cramping issues like I used to. In the 100k, I did the same thing. I took one right before the start, and from there, I’d take them at the aid station about every four hours. I used it regularly because I feel it makes a difference.”
He runs 65-70 miles a week in addition to regular fitness training at Snake River CrossFit, but he says there is no way to prepare for something like the Fuego y Agua. “It’s just a mental thing. I’m just not going to quit. It’s a place that you go in your head months and months ahead of time. If you make that decision on the spot, you’re likely to have less fortitude.”
The Fuego y Agua Survival Run differs from an obstacle course because it demands that the runners adapt to the environment, culture and location. All of the challenges are based on activities that the islanders do like harvesting and carrying bamboo. At one point during the race, Mark hauled a gunny sack filled with five gallons of sand and gravel up the side of a mountain. The contents of the sack were emptied out and were used to make concrete for a sustainable farm.
Based on a Polynesian rite of passage, the first challenge the Survival Run racers were tasked with was the retrieval of an egg from a small, unnamed island. Before a racer could attempt any of the latter challenges, they had to present the unbroken egg to the judges. If their egg broke, they had to find another one. Mark only broke his egg once while buying supplies from a boy manning a food stand. The boy sold Mark a new egg— in accordance with the rules all racers carried 500 cordobas and could barter with locals for food, water and eggs—and Mark was able to continue the race.
Other challenges included building a raft, harvesting plantains, carrying or rolling boulders away from arable soil, assembling a slingshot, diving for slingshot components and a blistering jaunt up the barren and steep slope of an active volcano. During the cold, nighttime swim across the caldera in the mouth of a dormant volcano, Mark became so chilly that he began to shiver uncontrollably, and he feared that he might be hypothermic. One racer saw Mark’s poor condition and quit right then and there. Undaunted, Mark wrapped himself in a blanket and allowed the tropical air to warm him up. He completed his quest, an unbroken egg in his pocket.