Running The Americas

By Jamie Ramsay

A stride by stride account of a 17,000km solo and unsupported running adventure over two continents and through fourteen different countries

Today was a big day for me on two fronts. Firstly, there was sheer distance of running from Somotillo to Chinandega, a near 70km stretch of road through varying different landscapes but all equally as hot. And secondly, I was going to be meeting a chap called Nacho, who can best be described as my Spanish counterpart. Nacho had left Spain with the sole intention of walking around the world. Today our pathes were going to cross and I was hell bent on making sure we met somewhere where we could have a proper conversation. 

The temperature was set to soar to the high thirties so I made sure I was up as early as possible to capitalize on the cool morning air. After an unexciting breakfast of a peanut butter sandwich and cereal with warm powdered milk I set off south. Today’s run had the benefit of a very prominent target, Volcan Casita, which soared 1400m next to the town. The road meandered through the Nicaraguan country side, including the stunning Reserve de Natural Apacunca.

This was my first day running in Nicaragua and I was amazed at how much the scenery changed and how dramatically. The rolling hills changed to a plane with leafless trees stretching as far as the eye could see. There was very little in the way of people, with some huts appearing along the roadside. While I was in this barren landscape I surrendered to my music and soon found myself singing Enrique Iglesias’ “Hero” at the top of my voice only to be surprised by a small van pulling up alongside me and a young, good looking French couple smiling out of the window. I tried to assure them that I did have other music while they asked the normal questions.

Due to the lack of people, water became an issue and whenever I could I would fill up my bottles. Unlike in other countries, water here seemed to be more commonly sold in small 250ml plastic pouches than plastic bottles. Each time I passed a small stall with buckets full of these pouches I would replenish my supplies, painstakingly trying not to lose precious water as I decanted them into my water bottles. 

I continued my journey towards the volcano on the horizon, which was growing with every kilometre. The road climbed over a small hill and descended into the nature reserve and the scenery changed once again. The land was greener and with trees shading small farming settlements and horses that seemed to be roaming freely. Each little settlement looked like a mini ranch and farmers sheltered from the oppressive sun as I jogged passed. 

I was joined by a local chap on a bike for a small section of the run but he was not interested in what I was doing or who I was. He unashamedly wanted to listen to my music and tailed me on his rickety bike at a safe listening distance but not close enough to engage in conversation.

As the sun hung directly above me I pulled over at a small village with a shop of sorts. I was well aware that my water intake had been below what I required so tried to take on as much liquid as possible including water, Coca-Cola and a bright pink Gatorade. A lady selling fruit looked over at me with a look of pity and approached me with a bag of cool watermelon which I devoured.  With over 25km still to go and having had all I could drink, I hit the road again. 

It was after about 53 kilometres that the problem struck. I had drunk quite a lot of water but by no means enough for the amount I had perspired. I felt the urge to pee and stopped at an appropriately large tree. When running, checking the colour and volume of your urine is a very good indicator of how hydrated you are and on this occasion, I got a bit of a shock as it was bright red in colour. As I had recently drunk a pink Gatorade I put it down to a side effect from the colourings and carried on. Not two kilometres later I was hunting for another tree and this time a second symptom manifested – an excruciating burning feeling. This is when I realised that my redness of my urine was in fact blood and that there was something wrong. At this point I was about fifteen kilometres away from Chinandega and I realised I had no option but to carry on. I pushed myself to run as much as possible to shorten the time before I arrived but was hampered by a burning desire to pee every five minutes. As I drew closer to the town it became harder and harder to find appropriate places to find shelter and trees were replaced with cars.

Finding a place to sleep at the end of normal days running can be a hassle but having run nearly 70km in extreme heat and suffering from extreme dehydration the process became even more frustrating. Scouring the streets for an appropriate place was causing me a lot of stress and all I wanted to do was lie down and shut down. I finally found a small hotel in the centre of town that was only marginally over my budget and tried to check-in as quickly as possible. Only when I had negotiated to be allowed to bring my stroller in and changed my room to one with a working shower was I able to seek out as many forms of liquid as possible. Lying on my bed surrounded by bottles of water, Coca-Cola and beer I finally managed to close my eyes and surrender to the exhaustion that was affecting my whole body and mind.

After a couple of hours of rest, I set upon meeting up with Nacho. I had heard about Nacho through some correspondence with Brooks, who I had most recently seen in Mexico. They had crossed pathes and Brooks took it upon himself to make sure we met. Two weary travellers making plans over limited WiFi proved a little difficult but with perseverance, something we both had plenty of, we managed to find a small burger stand in the middle of the local market.

Meeting Nacho was a surreal experience. We had never met before or corresponded in any depth but as we shared stories there was a real sense of comradery and mutual respect. We had encountered the same obstacles and challenges both logistically but in our lives preceding and during our journeys. Our motivations were similar and in all respects, it was like looking in a mirror. It was nice to share a few minutes with someone who actually understood all the challenges I was facing on a day to day basis. By knowing someone else was enduring the same was hugely motivational and lifted my spirits and even helped me forget my ailments.  We shared tips and local knowledge of the routes that lay ahead and parted company.

I have very few regrets from my time in the Americas but my decision on this day remains one. Nacho had told me that he was taking the next day off in Chinandega and asked if I was doing the same. I had run 70km and was suffering for severe dehydration, was well ahead of schedule and was under no pressure to keep going but I made the strange decision to press on. To ensure the momentum of the adventure continues takes a lot of dedication and sometimes it is all too easy to be too blinkered. I shook hands with Nacho and set off towards my hotel with the intention of completing another 40km the next day. 

The next morning, I fell into my normal routine before hitting the road. Subconsciously I knew I was not in a physical state to continue my run but the persistent voice in my head told me to keep going. I struggled to find any motivation as I left the city and ventured east towards Leon. I had barely left the confines of the City when I was hit by the urge to run to the side of the road. Once again, my urine was bright red and the accompany pain every present. At this point I should have turned around and returned to the town and found a doctor. Foolishly, I struggled on. After about 7 km of very intermittent running I spotted a sign for a pharmacy pointing down a rough track.

I was greeted by a very friendly lady who introduced me to the doctor. Using my limited Spanish, I explained what my symptoms were and assured him that this was not the cause of a STI. He picked up a small jar, one that looked like it may have served as a jam jar in a former life, and beckoned me to follow him into his garden. When we arrived at a bush he presented me with the jam jar and instructed me to produce a urine sample, which due to my recent frequency was not an issue.

My doctor disappeared into his small surgery and 20 minutes later reappeared with a print out of my results. He confirmed that the cause of my discomfort was due to extreme dehydration and that had resulted in a urinary tract infection (UTI) and cystitis, something I had only heard ladies complain of. He produced two sheets of pills and gave me my instructions.  I enquired about running and he advised I take the rest of the day off and then could proceed in the morning.

Camping did not seem appealing so I sought out a bed for the night and luckily stumbled upon a small hotel that had very comfortable rooms and a nice restaurant. The rest of the day was spent cleaning equipment, sorting logistics and nursing myself back to full health. As I lay in bed that night I reviewed the last couple of days and ensured I took stock of the relevant learnings, but I also congratulated myself. This had been my first proper health scare and I had managed to dig deep and not let it conquer my motivation. Every time you overcome a hurdle like this you feel mentally stronger and more prepared to tackle challenges ahead.

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