POSTING BY ISAIAH FRIESEN:
This past weekend, July 11-12, Luke Kaufman and I ran a vaunted and long-awaited race of 30 kilometers from Managua to Masaya. This event also includes races of 5k, 10k, 15k, and 42k, with the vast majority of runners participating in the 5k. Those who run less than the 30k take buses to the finish in Masaya for the festivities at the end, featuring folkloric dances and songs from the era of the Revolution blaring from loudspeakers. This race commemorates and follows the route of “El Repliegue,” translated as “the retreat” or “the withdrawal.” El Repliegue was a strategic removal of over 6,000 Sandinista guerrilla forces and civilians from eastern Managua to unite with FSLN troops in Masaya, running its course from the night of June 27 through midday on June 29, 1979. Everyone made the journey on foot. The mission was to move the entire contingent to Masaya with as much stealth as possible, but of course stealth is difficult to achieve with so many people. Over 100 died and around 100 more were injured in combat with the National Guard along the way. However, the vast majority did reach Masaya, and from there the FSLN went on to achieve victory over Somoza’s National Guard just 20 days later.
Luke and I had anticipated running this race ever since we signed up to go on SST in Nicaragua. We both run on the Goshen College cross country team, so we had heard about the Repliegue from two of our teammates, Jordan Smeltzer and Alejandro Rodriguez, who ran this same 30k when they were on SST in 2013. We had heard it was really hilly and hot, and neither Luke nor I had ever run more than about 14 miles. Fortunately, we had a lot of support from María Schirch, our GC Spanish professor and in-country SST coordinator. María signed us up and her family provided us with transportation to Managua as well as hydration mid-race. She and her son Josh also ran in the 30k.
Saturday we went to Managua with the Schirchs to get situated for the next day’s run. María, Luke, Josh and I spent the night with around 30 other runners (3 or 4 of whom Luke and I know from other races by this time) in a dormitory on the grounds of la Federación Nacional de Atletismo. The Federación provided supper and breakfast and beds for us. We slept between 10 PM and 4 AM, and by 5:30 AM Sunday morning we were on a bus provided by the Federación to take us to the race start, where we more or less cooled our heels until finally starting at 7:30. More and more people kept arriving to sign up for the 5k, which further delayed the start of a race that officially was to begin at 6:30.
Luke and I took it fairly easy, which meant we could have a little fun and not ever feel like we were dying. We had planned to keep a relatively relaxed pace for at least the first half of the race, then maybe pick up the pace the second half if we felt awesome. It took us 2 hours and 12 minutes, although we talked enough and sang enough that it didn’t seem that long to me. We both burnt through our sunscreen by the finish, but during the run the sun didn’t bother us too much and there was a wonderful breeze. We also benefitted tremendously from having our support crew of María’s husband Doug, Luke’s host mom Olimpia, and María’s good friend Chilo–they provided us Gatorade and checked in with us about every 3 miles. By the last few miles I had a little more energy left than Luke, but we had agreed we wanted to finish together, which we did, in 5th and 6th place overall. María also finished with pride, in spite of the fact that her SST duties had left her unable to train until about a week before the race.
Luke and I have now run two 5k races, a half marathon and now a 30k during our time in Nicaragua, all part of our training toward the coming cross country season. Besides enjoying running together, it’s been fun for us to get to know other runners from around Nicaragua and always to talk to a wide variety of people after the race. There are usually a few people after each race who ask to take pictures with us. I’ve never asked anyone why, but I always get kind of a kick out of it. In the case of the Repliegue, this included a few young women from the National Police Academy who wanted their photo with “los gringos.” Usually at least one of us gets interviewed by the TV and/or the newspaper, and then we hear about it from our Nicaraguan host families and co-workers the next day. ¡Gracias a Dios que hablamos bastante español!
Here’s a link to the route we ran:
photos are courtesy of Doug Schirch