Written by Steve Hayes - https://stevedavidhayes.wordpress.com
So after about a year of knowing about the race being in my calendar and a couple of months of haphazard training, Pete and I left Jersey to commence our trip to Brazil for the 11th Jungle Marathon. A 260km multi stage running race through the Brazilian Amazon Jungle. Pete had left the booking of flights with me and I’m rather tight so went for the cheapest option. Jersey – London – Lisbon – Fortaleza – Sao Luis – Belem – Santarem. I sold this to Pete by saying that we would see more of the Jungle with lots of short flights within Brazil. I didn’t mention that that also means more potential issues with the plane with all the take offs and landings. He was happy with the plan so the adventure commenced. All flights went without hitch and we only had a small stop over of about 6 hours in Fortaleza. We stayed at a really dodgy B&B in the city that I’d found online whilst in Lisbon. A nightmare to get to and no English spoken so trying to get a taxi and wake up call for 3am proved taxing and worrying but it happened and we made it all the way to Santarem without any issue. We met up with a couple of other runners at Santarem airport which is tiny and were promptly ushered to a waiting taxi that would take Joel from Catalan, Simon from England, Pete and I to Alter de Chao. All good except as Pete was returning the luggage trolley, we drove off! After quickly realising that we were a man down we stopped to let him catch up. Onwards to the little town of Alter de Chao where we started our holiday with a few beers and then dropped our bags off at Joel’s accommodation so we could carry on drinking, eating and sunbathing for the day before getting on the overnight boat to the race start.
A similar boat to the one that would take us to the race start. A noisy journey
Getting on the boat was nerve wracking and a challenge in itself due to the unstable plank we had to climb to get onboard. The usual race nerves kicking in and eyeing each other up to see how fit everyone was, what kit they all had etc etc. On the boat we put our hammocks up and settled in for a good nights sleep except we were directly above the engine and it was quite warm and very noisy.
In the morning we woke up and were moored on a sand spit in the middle of the Tapajos river. We were to stay there for a few hours for a look around and swim in the river hoping to catch a glimpse of the rare pink dolphins. We didn’t see any but the scenery and the walk were incredible. We then went back on board to continue our trip up the river before disembarking at a charming little village that would become our home for a couple of days before the race start. We were greeted by all of the village school children and teachers singing us a “welcome song”. We listened, applauded and continued on with our gear to a camping area just behind the village houses. Pete and I helped each other put our hammocks up before realising that the tree we were tied to was dead and wouldn’t last long so we moved to a much better spot with living trees. Unfortunately only a few metres from the “Long drop”!! We had a briefing on day one and were issued with our race numbers. We were allowed to purchase food here but didn’t and went for one of our Expedition meals instead.
Day two was much of the same. Chilling out on the beach, a short run around the village, lots of relaxing in the river (until one competitor was stung by a Sting ray and was in excruciating pain) and a spot of lunch cooked by the locals. We had a briefing from the medical team and a bit of survival training from the Bombeiros (army). They told us about the wildlife to look out for, the food we could survive on, where to get water from, how to make a camp and how to make fire. I think most of this was to add drama and give us something to take our minds off the race. It was all very entertaining and we got to hold a Boa Constrictor. Not a pet one but one the Bombeiros had found in the jungle a couple of days previously. Just in case you’re curious, the German chap with the big hole in his foot from the Sting ray went on to win every stage of the race. I think he should be tested for EPO!
Me and a not so friendly Boa Constrictor
The night before the race we had a good meal and took our big bags back down to the boat. We were now without luxuries like ipod’s, spare meals, extra clothes and my book. All we had left was what we would carry with us and wear for the next seven days. Rather unsettling but it put us firmly in race mode. One more sleep to go and the race would begin.
Day 1 – 23km
Described as a short, sharp, shock to the system. A stage that gives you a taste of everything the Jungle can throw at you, including water crossings, elevation, swamps, jungle trails and passing through indigenous villages
I Ran with Pete to start with and until about the last check point before the finish. I seemed to have acclimatised a bit quicker and wasn’t finding the going all that tough (from memory). At times I was feeling a bit quicker so the gap did widen and I finished ahead of Pete.
The day started with a very steep hill that Pete and I had reccie’d the day before when out exploring so we knew we wanted to start off quite quick from the beach so as not to be at the front of a queue heading up the hill. It was tough going but we made it and started running through the Jungle and being overtaken by a few runners. The fun started immediately with twisted ankles galore. It was only 5km to the first checkpoint which took about an hour but I twisted my ankle many times during that period. I was so keen to be absorbed into the Jungle and was looking around at everything and each time I heard a rustling noise of an animal to my side I would look to see what it was without slowing. Unfortunately the ground was so uneven and filled with tripping hazards that every time I looked away I would go over on an ankle. The first water stop was next to a beautiful creek so I immediately filled my water up and decided to bathe in the seemingly cold (32 degrees) water for the mandatory 15 minute break – fully clothed.
Some wildlife seen by Pete
On leaving this lovely, clean water we headed straight into a thick swamp. We were told this housed several Anacondas but I was too busy trying to avoid the mud to pay any attention. I upset a couple of camera crews searching for the glory shots by using tree stumps to avoid the waist deep bogs. I was still nice and clean when I exited this section. We had more jungle running but only for a few KM before hitting the next water stop and mandatory break. The fifteen minutes flew by but it was a good opportunity to adjust any kit, tighten straps and take on some nutrition. Pete and I left here together for a bit of road running and some steep ascents and descents in the Jungle before I looked back and asked Pete why his front water bottle holders were opened. I saw the fear on his face as he realised he had left them at the last checkpoint and may have to back track to get them. Fortunately he didn’t take much talking to to get him to carry on and ask the medics at the half way point to radio back and have them picked up and returned to him at the finish. One important point being that Pete had enough water to safely get to the next check point but the other being that the race rules stated we must have 2.5litres of water on leaving each check point. Fortunately Pete had plenty of spares in his pack and a large plastic bladder so the rest of the day would not be an issue health wise or rules wise. He would get the bottles back at the end of the day.
At the halfway point in the village of Takuara we took time out to dunk our heads in a big bowl of water, fill out bottles/bladders, stretch, eat, chat about the day so far and play with a local Macaque which was great. Pete spoke to he medics and sorted his issue with his water bottles.
We left the half way point with about 10km of Jungle running, many more ankle twists and a bit of road running in the heat of the day. The hottest part seemed to be between 11:00 and 13:00 which coincided with our un shaded, sandy road running. I had twisted my right ankle over 30 times today and was well aware that just one bad twist/sprain could put me out of the race. I twist my ankles a lot and am used to it but it was becoming very frustrating and a bit of a concern. I needed to adjust my focus from my surroundings and the beautiful flora and fauna and start to concentrate solely on me and where I was putting my feet. This certainly took away a lot of the fun but it was going to be the only way I would make it through the race in one piece. Running through the Jungle was taking huge amounts of concentration and I had to slow down to be cautious. It was a welcome relief at times to leave the Jungle behind and join the roads although the extreme heat and weight of the packs made running a difficult task. Power walking became my main mode of transport and got me through to the finish. I had started listening to American Pie on my ipod (without headphones) as I approached a village and sensed the end. It’s one of my late fathers favourite songs and I was getting a bit emotional when two young kids of around 6 joined me for a run. Now I knew I must be close. They ran with me for about a kilometre and crossed the finish line with me. It was an awesome moment and great to have some company. The medics and race organisers all cheered and Shirley the race director handed me a small cup of cold juice which went down easily.
Today was a good day and took 5 hours and 32 minutes including 4 compulsory 15 minute stops. I think I was around 14th place.
Check point 1
Hammock up, protein shake consumed and off to the river for a long wash and a bit of stretching. This was quite a short day so I had time for a lot of socialising, emails, even a massage on a broken massage table. My hammock was next to the eating area so I was able to chat with other competitors without leaving the comforts of my bed.
When Pete had come in and got himself sorted we went in search of his water bottles and had a walk around the village. One of the other British competitors – Will, was about to get a “hotshot”. The first of the race. This is where a needle is put in the blister (on his foot) and the blister drained. You then inject a strong antiseptic in between the blister and the raw flesh underneath. This is supposed to be incredibly painful but seals the blister against the raw flesh and thus speeds up recovery. I decided to film Will getting the shot to get some good Gopro footage and we waited for the Japanese camera crew to arrive to catch the action but we were immensely disappointed as Will didn’t react at all. The medics commented on how tough he’d been but without having one myself I was unable to comment. Disappointing!!
Will getting his “Hot shot”. Tough cookie
After the briefing and once I was happy that all my kit was ready to go for the next day, I retired to my hammock at around 19:30 for a good nights sleep
Day 2 – 24km
Described as “You start the stage with a deep river crossing so make sure the contents of your pack are waterproof. Then you enter the Jungle and have a mainly flat course. But be careful, there are plenty of plants that sting and leaves that tear and a huge amount of snakes”.
The 200 metre river swim from the start line wasn’t as daunting as I had thought, especially considering that 12 hours earlier I had been washing myself and my clothes in the same spot and was told to watch out for the Caiman that had been lurking at the back of the boat I was next to.
I had thought through the river crossing carefully and rather than risk swimming or pulling myself along the “assistance rope” with a 14kg rucksack on my back I decided to remove my pack, put it in a bin liner and tie it around my waist with about 2 metres of paracord. I was then able to put on my goggles and swim front crawl across the river whilst admiring the aquatic marine life and hopefully being a bit quicker. Everything went well and I felt great. Swimming was fun and as an English Channel swimmer, not too arduous. I was disappointed though to get to the other side and find half of the field were in front of me. This plan needed a rethink!
My technique looks OK in a photo but I wouldn’t recommend it. Use the rope like everybody else
I ran with Pete to start with again but think I left him at some point. I can’t remember when exactly. It was a fairly straightforward day with bits of jungle and bits of flat, sandy road. Following yesterdays ankle twists I had learned to concentrate when in the Jungle and relax a bit when on the roads. This was working well. I was focused on foot placement and moving a bit slower under the canopy, keeping a close eye on tripping hazards and then could relax a bit more when exiting the jungle. My plan was always (and usually is); run the flats and downs and walk the ups. This plan now changed to walk the ups to conserve energy, scramble the downs as they’re too steep to walk or run, power walk in the Jungle to reduce ankle twists and run the roads. The road running wasn’t easy to accomplish as they were usually quite deep sand and quite exposed so the heat was draining. So now I’m power walking almost everything and starting to feel the effects in my hip flexors.
I don’t remember too much about the day but know I spent a lot of it on my own and eventually teamed up with Alma (ladies winner) and Simon, the chap I had spent the day with before we boarded the boat to get us to the start line. We jogged and walked along the road that would bring us to the finish. I was happy again with my day. I had managed my hydration, salt consumption, food consumption and myself very well and crossed the finish line with the other two in 4 hours and 40 minutes – even quicker than yesterday.
Check point 2
Once again I had a small plastic cup of fresh juice thrust into my hand which was heaven. This had been my motivation for the past hour. The camp was nice and spacious and on the outskirts of a small village but across the road from the local cemetery. I followed my usual routine which consisted of:
- Dig out hammock and lay in situ on floor.
- Get protein/creatine shake ready with water from the locals
- Return to hammock site and put hammock up
- Drink shake
- Dig out dinner for tonight and breakfast for tomorrow
- Head to river for swim/stretch/wash
- Remove and clean all clothes ready to dry for next day
- Stay in river for up to 2 hours stretching and socialising
- Put on recovery clothes (pair of shorts)
- Have cigarette
- Prepare for the following day – fill water bladder and bottle. Move day 3 race food from main part of rucksack to front pack
- Cook and eat dinner
- Send a couple of emails
- Read a couple of emails
- Listen to briefing
- Put on recovery tights
- Record video diary
- Diazepam and bed
The river at checkpoint 2
Pete and I had a good look around the village before bed to check out the river crossing for the next day. Pete had already said that if I wanted to run my own race then I should and if I get across the river quicker than him then don’t wait for him. We listened to the briefing about the following day and cleared up a few queries with the race director about timings. There were a few errors. I spent a lot of time in the river swimming today and enjoying the sunset. There were some nice birds to be seen and it was nice to have time to socialise with medics and racers. You still had one eye open for Caiman, piranha and sting rays though
Pre race camp I think
Day 3 – 38km
Described as “This is the toughest and longest stage so far. You start with another deep water crossing before enduring some killer climbs and descents. You will cross the village of Braganca, the second of the indigenous communities in the flona and then Marituba which is the third. You are entering an area of the Flona which has the highest population of Jaguars. Be vigilant. Be ready for stream crossings, relentless hills and a night to remember in our deep Jungle campsite, where armed guides will try to keep the Jaguar away. In this stage you will find the highest hills in the race”
A long river swim today and I was stubborn so kept to the same game plan as the previous day. Something made me not want to run with a pack full of water. I wasn’t sure how well all of my waterproof bags would work and how well the main pack would drain so back on with the bin liner, paracord waist band and goggles. The swim went well and I found clear water without getting bashed around too much from other people’s feet. I came out of the water towards the front of the field but had the hassle of untying everything, taking my pack out of the bin liner, getting my pack on my back etc before I could get going. Still, I was quite happy so far. I kept looking back as I prepared my pack to see where Pete was but couldn’t see him anywhere. I thought he may have been in front. Anyway, as we’d discussed it previously I decided to start alone and set a good pace to begin with along open fields and along sandy roads. A lot of people were heading out very fast so I tried to refrain from pushing myself too much and reminded myself that today could potentially be twice as long as the previous two and the distance between checkpoints become longer and longer, except the first one. I only had to run 4km before reaching CP1 and finding several people that were usually behind me each day – William included. I had discussed with Pete that we thought the 15 minute mandatory stops in the first two days were a good idea and that we would probably carry on with them but once in race mode, all common sense went out of the window so I filled my water bottle up (I hadn’t drank anything from the bladder) and was about to run off before remembering that walking poles would be a good idea given the amount of hills I was about to face. I asked one of the medics to remove my knife from the outside pocket on the back of my pack so I could make a couple of walking poles when I had chance. It wasn’t long before I came to a large tree lying across the path so I set about chopping two similar sized, straight enough branches from it and sharpening one end of each. These would become my companions, my “Wilsons” for the next couple of days.
Day 3 river crossing
Onto the mission in hand which turned into an extremely hilly day out. Most of today took place under the Jungle canopy where humidity is at it’s highest but there was very little runnable terrain. It seemed that if we weren’t going up, we were going down and the hills were extremely steep. It’s very rare that I need to stop for a breather when walking up a hill but these were not normal hills. They were so steep going up that you were almost falling backwards. I was often yo-yoing with other people on the hills and spoke to lots of other competitors but conversations were short as we tried to conserve energy. The walking poles were proving to be vital. The advantage of going up these steep hills was that you were moving a lot slower and could see a lot more wildlife (spiders, webs, birds, butterflies, ants etc).
Everyone was struggling today as it was that much longer than the previous two and as everything was taking place under the canopy, concentration levels needed to be that much higher and the Jungle becomes quite samey after a while. The descents were interesting and good fun but they weren’t an opportunity to make up time or increase your average pace. The opposite if anything. They were so steep that again, you needed all of your concentration and focus not to get into trouble and injure yourself. Don’t forget that we have been advised not to touch any trees due to the animals that could be on them and the thorns. This goes out of the window when you’re sliding down a near vertical hill covered in loose soil and dead leaves with plenty of tripping hazards. If you don’t grab trees and vines you will quickly end up sliding down the hill, out of control and end up in a bit of a mess. Towards the latter part of the day everyone was slowing down and I was bumping in to a few familiar faces, usually on the hills but at the last check point, about 7km from the end I saw a few people in quite a bad way. Today had really taken it out of us and everyone was struggling. No matter how much nutrition I put inside me it didn’t seem to make any difference. My energy levels were very low and even walking at a slow pace on the flat was a huge effort. I didn’t stay long at the checkpoint but had a few minutes sat down and ate a couple of energy bars. I left there on a mission determined to get to the finish and enjoy a swim. Swimming in the river was a wonderful thought that had occupied my mind for most of the day. I was desperate to get to the finish line.
Today took 8 hours and 1 minute
Check point 3
First thoughts about this camp = hugely disappointing. Yes it was in the Jungle with lots of wildlife and armed guards to protect us from the Jaguar but when you’re running all day in 40 degree heat and each day previously you have been basking in a river form most of the afternoon, the one thing you look forward to is a swim. I was absolutely gutted. I asked how far it was to the nearest river and was told 3km (which I later found out was closer to 10km) and I would need to find five other people who wanted to go too as armed guards would need to come with us. Considering that would take a couple of hours each way I decided to stop moaning and spent the afternoon playing with my knife and making some great looking walking poles which would become invaluable on the hills. The camp was great and I settled into my usual routine of emails, food, stretching, massage, waiting for Pete etc.
I slept well again despite the noise from the Howler monkeys and the commotion when the bombeiro’s found a Cobra, a scorpion and a Tarantula
Day 4 – 42km
Described as “This must be the toughest Marathon on the planet. 42km of torture. Enjoy! You will have deep jungle climbs and descents, a 1km river descent followed by 1km in the swamps then Fluval beach, jungle trails and village tracks. It’s got it all. See you at the finish on one of the most beautiful beaches in the Flona, in the village of Jaguarai”.
The start was annoying as we’d been told it was 3km to the nearest river but three hours later we still hadn’t seen it. I loved having a refreshing dip in the creeks and rivers.
This was a really tough day with some brutal climbs and extreme descents. Very tough underfoot and relying on grabbing tree’s and vines to slow the descent – something that was completely against all recommendations but it was either that or skid down on your bum. I spent most of my time in the company of several people. At one point we all started to get stung by something, wasps probably but it was done in typical ambush fashion. The guy at the front and the guy at the back were the first to get stung and then they got to work on the people stuck in the middle, me included. We all screamed “RUN” in unison and so we did just that for about 5 minutes at top speed and then checked to ensure no one was allergic to stings. They had managed to get inside our clothes and down the backs of our packs. Very painful but it made us move fast and took our minds off the pain in our feet.
After a couple more checkpoints, our group became rather spread out and I spent some time with an aussie lady called Rebecca and a Belgian lad named Gavin. There was a bit of sandy road running and I was surprised to be overtaken by a monstrous Brazillian competitior who had pulled out of day 1 or 2 with a badly sprained ankle that turned all shades of black. He had withdrawn from the main event but had grown tired of waiting around for us in the camp and decided to give the marathon a bash. He was doing very well on a heavily strapped ankle and disappeared over the horizon after a few minutes. I’ve seen pictures of him recently on Facebook and he appears to still have his leg in a plaster cast!! We carried on plodding and chatting and trying to stay under the shade of the canopy to the edges of the road. I was counting the miles until we would reach the 1km river descent that had been mentioned at the briefing. I had assumed wrongly and had a picture in mind of a very large river flowing quite quickly. When we came across a bridge over a small overgrown stream with a marshal next to it I was surprised to be told that this was the river descent. It was very narrow and overgrown but quite deep looking. I couldn’t wait so whilst standing on the bridge I adopted my river crossing technique that I regretted of pack in bin liner and tied with paracord to waist. I was overtaken by a few people and the couple I was with had disappeared around a bend in the creek so I was alone entering a very exciting and quite scary part of the race. I was looking forward to the swim so leapt off the metre high bridge into the cool, clear water to start my swim. It was quite deep and very overgrown and “Jungly”. There was a bit of current sweeping me downstream in the deeper areas and on the bend but there were areas where I had to wade through the shallows. I loved every minute but this area was not without dangers and they usually came in the form of fallen down trees and branches lying unseen under the water ready to bash your shins. There were hundreds and after 10 minutes or so my legs were scratched and bleeding in many places. Sometimes you could step over the logs or swim under them but because of the buoyancy of the pack sometimes I had to climb out of the water and over a log only jump off the other side and land on a very solid and spiky branch. I loved the environment and couldn’t stop filming and despite the legs taking a bit of a beating, it was worth it. I caught up with a couple of people I had been running with earlier as we exited the river and entered the “1km swamp” which was not so nice but still good fun. It was thigh deep at times if you didn’t tread carefully but on the whole, not as muddy as I had anticipated and not as long either. I wasn’t looking around at wildlife as I was concentrating on not losing my shoes in the swamp but a competitor just ahead of me got some good footage of a 3 metre Anaconda right next to where we had been wading. On exiting the swamp we had a fair few beaches to run across but it seemed like we were going around in circles with a strange route and not making much progress. We passed many schools during the race, most of them tiny but today, shortly after the swamp we passed a rather large one and the kids had really gone to town on the support they were providing. We could hear a commotion long before we saw the school and had our spirits lifted as we ran passed an army of school children banging drums, shouting, cheering and dishing out high 5’s.
Pete and Sarah during the 1km river descent
With all the fun stuff out of the way my focus turned to making good time and getting to the finish asap so I would have more time to rest ready for the big day tomorrow.
The last 13km was mainly on sandy roads so the average pace improved but it was now the hottest part of the day and going was tough. Thankfully as we ran along a road between villages we passed over a small creek. Being fully aware of the benefits of cooling off, we all decided to go for a quick five minute dip. Many didn’t but I’m so glad I did. It was probably my happiest moment of the day and probably would have knocked 20 minutes off my finishing time. We eventually made it to Jaguarai village and assumed we were close to the finish so started emptying water over our heads to cool off. I had spent most of the second half of the day with Rebecca and Gavin, struggling to keep up with Rebecca’s relentless pace. It seemed we weren’t quite as close as we had hoped and still had a few km to go along deep sandy roads to make it to the finish. This was a huge relief. Walking past a small bar (shed) advertising Cerveza took all of my willpower. At this stage a local came past on his motorbike but got stuck in the sand so I volunteered to help him by pushing him out. From a distance it could have looked like I was just holding on and being dragged through the sand. Stupidly I used up a lot of energy and didn’t even get a thanks. The next time this happened I just left him there.
The creek that Rebecca, Gavin and I went for a dip in. Well worth it!
Arriving at the checkpoint was great as it was a tough day out but I was still only half way through the race. I was holding up well though with healthy feet – It’s very unusual for my feet to be healthy during a race.
Today took 7 hours and 30 minutes
Check point 4
As promised, this checkpoint was on a sunning beach and I spent most of my afternoon in the water stretching, giving myself a good “sand scrub” and cooling down. I cleaned my clothes, sent some emails and massaged my own legs as the queue for the masseuse was too long. I got all of my stuff out of my bag ready for the big day and put my dinner and the next days breakfast in a pile in the sand underneath my hammock. Unfortunately a couple of hours later I realised they had gone missing and there were some groups of suspicious looking locals hanging around. Thankfully, Sarah, a lovely competitor who had been forced to withdraw from the race and Richard a Kiwi who had too much food offered me their meals. Thanks both. I couldn’t have finished the race without your help.
Indulging in a bit of “self massage”
Day 5/6 – 108km – The long stage
Described as “The long one will have an early start (04:30). 108.22km of Jungle, village trails, river crossings, swamps and some fluvial beaches. This stage will either make or break you. If you don’t arrive at CP5 by the cut off at 15:30 you will be caught in our dark zone and have to stay at CP5 until daylight of the next day. The pain is worth it. The finish line is on a spectacular beach at Ponta De Pedras.
This day started early and fast with the front runners having every intention of hitting CP5 before 15:30. If you didn’t hit check point 5 at approximately 60km before 15:30 you would have to stay there until the following morning before resuming the run. Great in theory but the race clock didn’t stop and I must have been feeling a bit competitive. The reason for the enforced overnight stop was that the next three hours of Jungle was densely populated with Jaguar and the organisers didn’t want us in this part during the night. I was stuck somewhere in no mans land, with the front runners moving quite quickly but with a realistic feeling that I would not be able to sustain that speed and would not make the check point before the cut off. I really wanted to but didn’t think it would happen. I continued with a small group though and made good progress along several beaches but got caught in a swamp and no markers to follow. We were approached by a local on a motorbike who was putting glow sticks on trees to mark the route. Better late than never I suppose. For the next hour or so, a small group of us were neck and neck with the motorbike rider as he tried to put the markers out and manoeuvre his bike around swamps and beaches. We couldn’t go faster than him as we didn’t know which way to go. I have no idea how the five people in front of us managed.
There was a lot of sandy road running through this stage and a lot of high concentration jungle running. We passed several villages and interacted with kids on their way to school. The day became very hot and there was a distinct shortage of water crossings and drinking water. After about 35km a few of us were starting to suffer badly with heat exhaustion and although at a T junction the markers pointed to the right, instinct and a few jovial noises forced us to the left. After a couple of hundred metres we were faced with two of the front runners and a crystal clear, cold looking creek. I proceeded to ditch my pack and jump off the bridge into it. It was heaven and I could have stayed in there for a long time. Unfortunately the race continued and after about five minutes we topped up our water and continued on a 5km loop that would eventually bring us back to the same creek. The 5km was tough but at least we knew what lay in store for us. The thought of that cold 32 degree water encouraged us along the long, sandy and somewhat monotonous roads in 45 degree heat.
After the creek we only had about 9.5km of sandy road running to get to the cut off check point and about 2.5 hours to do it in. We were probably covering a kilometre in about 10-15 minutes so it should be in the bag. We made it to the next checkpoint about 20 minutes ahead of the check point, completely elated but in a bad way. My legs were like jelly and I was seeing double and triple of everything. I could barely get my water bottle in the direction of my mouth. I was writhing around on a giant plastic sheet lapping up any water that had run off mine and other peoples heads. I just couldn’t get enough. God knows what my body temperature was at but I was not in a good way. I was told we had to be out of the checkpoint if we wanted to continue. This was disappointing as on the race brief (detailed above) it only stated that we had to be there by 15:30, not gone by 15:30. Never mind, I filled up my water and continued on as a group of 4. Erik from Belgium, Rebecca, Simon and me. It may have been five so sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone. We all left that check point in a bad way as we had thrown everything at just making the cut off. It took several hours of steady staggering, consuming lots of food and water and lots of salt tablets before I would feel normal again. This was the dangerous bit. Being in the Jungle as night descended. At about 18:00 I started to feel normal and either my speed increased or the other three slowed down but I ended up exiting the Jungle on my own and then spent the next hour or so on my own running along roads to get to the next CP, slowing only to dig my head torch out when I really needed it. I had held off and let my eyes adjust to the darkness for long enough and now I needed light to keep an eye on the trail markings. Even after the next CP there were still another 50 odd Kilometres to go and it was already dark. I had no intention of stopping and after a quick swim in the river at the checkpoint I filled my water and carried on with Mark (a lovely English competitor who was doing very well) and Simon (also doing really well). This was an interesting check point as I caught up with quite a few people that, like me, had flogged themselves to reach the cut off and then struggled to make it to this check point so a few people were seeing medics etc. I had blisters and knew that my feet were in a bad way but didn’t want to take my shoes off for fear of not getting them back on.
So started the long trudge from one check point to another with Simon and Mark. Details of this part of the race are foggy due to tiredness and it being dark and a few weeks ago but I’ve done my best to recap the interesting bits. We weren’t running much but power walking. We passed Alter de Chao, the starting point of our boat trip up the river to base camp and it all looked very different at night and took a bit of navigating around the coastline. We passed the familiar area of beach where Simon and I had fallen asleep a week previous on our first day in Brazil and got sun burnt. Once we had passed this almost familiar village we were on our own in a very quiet part of the race. The route hugged the coastline with Jungle on our right and river on our left but we often had to enter the river so our feet were constantly wet and sandy. Going was quite tough and there were often obstacles to climb over and lots of wildlife as it was now night time. Spider eyes were prominent everywhere and glow yellow on the trees and bull frogs were everywhere and the size of small footballs. Going was tough but it was all progress and we were going in the right direction although it was quite disorientating as there seemed to be head lights in the distance to our right and to our left but we continued following our little blue strips of tape.
There were a number of river crossings on this stage which we hadn’t been warned about and as it was very dark, these were quite unnerving. We were a long way from the previous checkpoint with no idea where the next one was and the three of us were entering very wide and deep stretches of the river with no assistance, marshals or safety boats in sight. All we had in the way of reassurance was a long rope leading into the darkness with glow sticks tied to it. We entered cautiously and started pulling our heavy, rucksack laden bodies along the rope and through the inky river until we could see trees on the opposite bank. A bizarre and surreal experience that I would not liked to have done on my own. Several more of these followed with one of them being walkable, with the water coming up to chest height. As our head torches shone into the water we could see lots of little fish but not much else. In the shallows near the mangroves and shrubs it all felt very “Croccy” and I’m surprised we didn’t see any Caiman. I wasn’t looking too hard and was quite happy to be a bit ignorant.
After a while we were joined by a few more runners so were now a group of six(ish) who continued plodding along the waters edge and following the strips of blue tape tied to the trees quite happily until the strips disappeared at the waters edge by a steep bank. Always when I was in the lead!! We all stopped and searched the area for more blue tape but didn’t find any. We back tracked a bit but nothing. Some people decided to sit down and relax and others tried searching everywhere. There was a lot of blue tape in the area but it didn’t lead anywhere. After about half an hour, Alma, the leading female and I entered the dark water to swim around the headland, guessing that the route may join up again around the corner. We swam for a few minutes until we could clamber out onto the bank and then we climbed up a small but vertical bank with me giving Alma a “Bunk up”. Once we were up on dry land we walked together in all directions looking for a trail or a footpath. After about ten minutes we found nothing and I was a bit concerned that we may get lost so we found our way back to the river and started the swim back to re-join the group who still had no luck finding a way forward. One of the racers was using his head torch and his whistle to try and get attention from someone and eventually a small motor boat turned up with a marshal on it who told us to get on board. I was reluctant as I didn’t want to get disqualified and he was offering to assist us. I just wanted him to point us in the right direction but he didn’t speak much English and kept insisting that we get on the boat. We all agreed that we should but we were reluctant. We got on the very shaky and unstable boat and started a small journey. It wasn’t long before the skipper had managed to crash the boat into a tree and the whole boat shook and made some crunching noises. After a few more minutes we were taken ashore to find Dan, one of the medics who had been stranded on this beach waiting for us for about a day and half with no English speaking company, no radio contact and no idea what was going on. It became apparent that there was supposed to be a rope from one side of the river to where Dan was but someone had forgotten to put it out. They had been keeping an eye out on the opposite side of the bank and had picked the racers in front of us up fairly promptly but had failed to see us for some time. Dan offered to give us any medical treatment as I think he was quite desperate for the company. He even offered to look at Gavin crotch chaffing. Reluctantly and to Dan’s disappointment we filled out bottles up and headed off fairly quickly to try and make up any lost time. Once again, he was alone and stranded on his small stretch of beach.
From memory we had another river crossing and more trudging along beaches and we had a long stretch of straight jungle path. I remember us all power marching along it in double file at a good pace. We weren’t out of breath but we were pushing it and no one was speaking. Everyone was tired and we were desperate to reach the next check point which we did. It was on a fairly deep and wide river and across on the other bank was a fair amount of civilisation. No people, just street lights. On this bank we saw the two large support boats that we had started our journey on and then stumbled across Shirley the event organiser and several marshals and medics sleeping in the sand. We spoke to them for a while, refilled water bottles, received some race instructions from Shirley and then cracked on after a short break. We were told to follow the beach all the way to the next check point with the river on our left. We did this for an hour or so and tried to calculate the distance to the finish. We were joined by a dolphin to our left although we couldn’t see it. Every so often we would hear it’s blow hole expelling air and it seemed to be guiding the way. It was a starry night and there were a few shipping lights in the distance. We continued to follow the blue tape and walk along the edge of the water where the sand was firmer. After a while, once again, with me navigating we realised that there was no blue tape and we were on a sand spit with water to our left and to our right. We carried on walking and it curved around to the right, creating a sort of swampy pond on our right and the rather rough river on our left. We then hit a headland that was strewn with car sized boulders littering the waters edge and a cliff face above them marking the end of the headland. Still no blue tape but we had the organiser’s instructions and thought we should venture around the coastline. Opinions throughout our group differed somewhat and people reacted in different ways. Some wanted to back track, others wanted to sit down and sulk. I went around the headland first for some distance and returned to tell Mark and Simon that I had seen some footprints. I wanted a second opinion and so Simon, Mark and I clambered over many of these boulders for what seemed like a lifetime, going in and out of the choppy and dark river, constantly looking for the illusive blue tape. It was treacherous and we really didn’t think that it could be this way but we had to rule it out so carried on clambering until we came across a small sandy bay with footprints from runners!! This was perfect, just what we needed but unfortunately they disappeared and we couldn’t find them again. Absolutely Gutted!! After walking around in circle on the little beach for a while we decided to retreat and see what the others were up to. Most had been searching around for blue tape to no avail. We joined up after another mammoth rock climbing section (four times now I had climbed over these boulders ducking in and out of the river avoiding huge frogs and rats) and back tracked to the last blue tape. It was strange as there was tape along the waters edge on trees and poles of wood but also some higher up the beach along the tree line. We followed both and entered a small area of forest but couldn’t find any paths leading over the headland. We found signs of civilisation, a small hut and some chairs but no people and a couple of dogs came running out barking. They calmed down quickly and became our companions. Alma decided to go back to the last check point which I wouldn’t do so we scouted around a bit more and gave up. We were very tired so five of us (Simon, Mark, me and two of team Belgium, Gavin and Tom) lay on the sand with our two pet dogs using our packs as pillows and got a bit of shut eye for about half an hour until Simon warned us that the weather was changing. He’d seen the starring sky disappearing beneath thick cloud and we felt a few spots of rain as the wind picked up. We decided to get closer to the tree line and put up our hammocks as it was nearly 5am. We thought it best to get a proper sleep under shelter for an hour and see if the lay of the land was different when the sun came up. From 5am the howler monkeys woke up and made a hell of a noise so we didn’t really get any sleep. We woke at 6am and put our hammocks away and went for a wander with our dogs in the hope that something would become glaringly obvious. It didn’t so we had a walk along the beach until we saw a small boat that approached us. It was a marshal and the Belgian film crew that were getting footage of some of the Belgian runners. Two of which were in our group. We explained our predicament but no one seemed to be able to offer assistance. I walked out to the boat to waist depth to use the on board radio to speak to Shirley but became aware of a large shape at the back of the boat. More likely to be a Dolphin or Manatee than a Caiman so I wasn’t too worried but tried radioing Shirley to inform her that there were no markings. I was getting rather annoyed at this point. I returned to the beach and saw that some marshals were approaching us from the headland that we had walked around during the night. We walked to meet them and irately complained about the lack of markings. We were then escorted around the headland going in exactly the same route that the three of us had been a few hours earlier in the dark. It was a lot easier in the day light. When we reached the small sandy bay, we continued around yet another headland filled with boulders and then another and possibly another one before it opened up onto a nice long sandy white beach that looked like it hadn’t been visited for months. We continued walking along these pristine beaches for an hour or so chatting/moaning amongst ourselves at the lack of tape and wondering how the five runners in front of us had found their way without any markings. Perhaps they had removed them! The mind starts doing silly things when you’re tired and you start trying to blame others or looking for excuses. The beaches were stunning though and you couldn’t stay mad for long. The wildlife was starting to wake up and we stopped when we saw a family of Coati’s venturing down to the river for a morning drink. I filmed what I could with the GoPro but the footage isn’t great. We saw a few other bits of wildlife and some wonderful birds and got excited as we knew we were making good progress and were nearly at the finish line meaning the back of the race was broken and we could have a nice 24 hour long rest. We crossed the finish line together with big hugs and smiles. Three very happy runners.
Today took 24 hours and 40 minutes
The type of terrain we had to clamber over at night with no markings after 2o odd hours of continuous exercise
Check point 5
Again, as promised, this check point was at a fantastic beach with lovely swimming. It was a big deal to get this far as it was only about 08:30 in the morning and I would be here for 24 hours and only had one short stage to go. I could relax, which I did.
I did the usual routine but at a more leisurely pace. I had a great hammock spot, close to other competitors but with an amazing view of the river and sunset later on. I spent lots of time in the water and sending emails, saw a few monkeys in the trees above my hammock and an Iguana. I had to see the medics about my feet as they were now extremely painful. They took pictures as they said they were the worst they had seen so far. I didn’t think they were that bad really. They’ve been worse. I had blisters on the outside of each heel that needed draining but as it was the last day and I was doing this for the experience and the memories I requested the notorious “Hot shot”. When asked if I was sure as I didn’t really need one I said yes and braced myself for a lot of pain. All I can do is say that William who had the hot shot at the end of day 1 is one tough cookie. To say that it was incredibly painful would be an understatement. I had large blisters under the balls of both feet which were covered in hard skin and so couldn’t be drained. These just had to be padded and taped up but I couldn’t go back in the water until the following day and had to keep them sand free which isn’t so easy when you’re living on a beach. My feet were still hurting a lot but I knew some pain killers in the morning and adrenaline would get me through. I had a nice lazy afternoon reading emails, taking lots of pictures and chilling out, cheering in the other competitors and waiting for Pete who didn’t turn up before I turned in for the night.
My swollen and blistered feet. I look happy though
Me enjoying a cigarette and half a bottle of Cachaca I found on the beach
Day 7 – 24.5km
Pete and I at the start of the last day. Happy boys
Today was joyous and filled with excitement. With only a short run to go and all along beaches there was nothing to stop us. It would be painful due to my feet but I just wanted to get it done as quickly as possible. Everyone was happy on the start line and wishing each other luck with lots of hand shakes before the final group countdown from ten and then we were off, traipsing across beautiful white beaches. The front runners took off at an alarming rate and I was quite happy positioning myself in around tenth place. I knew this was my standing roughly in the whole event and didn’t want to go slow and come 11th or 12th. I was desperate for a top ten finish. The route was nice, passing lovely beaches that started to get a little busier as we got closer to Santarem. We had a rough river crossing a few KM into the day so were wet from the start but that was welcomed. The half way water point came quite quickly and was well under halfway so I filled up my water and carried on without too much of a rest. I had settled into a rhythm with Alma, the leading lady and a very impressive 22 year old from Latvia. We ran pretty much the whole stage together, chatting to make time go quicker as we overtook and yoyo’d a couple of other competitors. We had a good time and spoke a lot about home and what we were looking forward to at the finish. Beer was usually quite high on my list of priorities. We stopped to take pictures and film a weird looking caterpillar occasionally but became aware about 5km from the end that it was getting very hot and we were low on water. I ran out first so we shared the remainder of hers and then got some from another competitor who seemed quite happy to shed some weight. I couldn’t believe how much we had drunk. We were very conscious of how little we had, about 100 millilitres shared between the two of us for about an hour and we knew that heat stroke could well terminate our race so close to the end. We entered the river a couple of times to cool off to fend off the heat but we need drinking water and decided to start drinking the river water at the next river crossing which we knew was about 3km from the end. As we swam across the river we took on a few cautious mouthfuls and I filled my water bottle to keep us going. Some tropical stomach bug wouldn’t end my race and I could deal with it later. The last 3km went on forever as we were flanked by a Japanese camera man who told us we had 500 metres left. After about a kilometre we rounded the bend to see another long beach and no finish line. We asked him again to be told 400 metres!!! This was not encouraging at all. I’m guessing they measure distances differently in Japan. After a while we rounded a corner and could see the finish line outside a bar and set amongst a lot of people on the beach. Alma asked if we could run to the finish so we started a fairly adventurous sprint but the finish line was still a way off and the sand very soft. I was knackered and in shock when she turned to me and said “can we go faster”. No was my speedy response. We crossed the line together to lots of cheers and some nice sorbet. Beer would have to wait for a few minutes. My lovely clay medal was placed around my neck and a horrible picture taken for Facebook. I then headed for the bar and chilled out afternoon and evening drinking beer, eating plenty of food and sharing tales of the race with other competitors.
Today took 3 hours and 24 minutes
The entire race took me 53 hours and 47 minutes. I finished in 10th place
I was over the moon to finish and in such a good position but disappointed that it was over and that I would be spending the night in a hotel rather than on the beach. Pete finished not long after me so we had a few beers and headed to the hotel in a coach for more beers before heading off to a lovely restaurant for a meal and even more beer. We then returned to the hotel for a pool party before getting to bed in the early hours for a couple of hours sleep before our 3am flight. We slept in but managed to get the plane on time thankfully and started our long journey home.
The whole experience was fantastic and is highly recommended. I loved almost every minute. It was well organised on the whole with good information provided before the race and good briefings throughout. The organisation did seem to disappear a bit towards the end with an absence of trail markers and English speaking helpers at the check points but the Medics did a wonderful job and one of the local helpers named Junior was an absolute star. Not just because he distributed the emails!
What went right for me?
Everything really. I acclimatised well, my kit performed perfectly and my food was just the right quantity. More to do with guess work than intelligence.
From bottom to top, I wore Inov-8 mudclaw shoes which performed very well. Injinji liner socks and drymax socks over the top. The liners are toe socks and I wear them so that my silicone toe guards on my little toes are held in place. I wore my trusty Compressport calf guards which barely left me but now need to be replaced as they’re ripped to shreds, my Montane Trail shorts (tight cycling short type things) and an old OMM running T shirt that I’ve had for a couple of years. Unlike most racers I didn’t have any chaffing at all. I lubed up thoroughly each day. I had a small buff around my wrist which was a godsend as I would soak this in water at streams or empty my bladder onto it if we were near a checkpoint and put it around my head to cool off. I had one change of socks which I put on for the last day but I made sure I washed all of my clothes out thoroughly everyday (except in the Jungle camp). I carried a pair of Julbo sunglasses but didn’t use them until the last day so probably wouldn’t recommend any. I carried an Inov-8 32 litre pack with a 2 litre front pack for food and essential kit. The pack is now ripped to shreds but it is well used and I would replace with the same. I carried a 2 litre Source bladder on my back and had a 500ml water bottle on my front for electrolytes and quick filling from water drops. I’ve just returned the bladder as it was leaking a few days ago when I went for a short run, my first since this event finished almost a month ago. The penny has just dropped whilst I’ve been typing this that the bladder was probably leaking during the last day of the event, hence why I ran out so quickly!! D’oh! I used Expedition Meals as always for breakfast and dinner and survived on a carefully balanced mixture of energy gels, powdered energy drinks, Jerky, energy bars and nuts.
For the evenings I slept in a Hennessy hammock which was fantastic. A wonderful way to sleep and something I plan to use more in the future. Around camp I would just wear a pair of shorts and my flip flops. At night I would put on a compression top and my 2XU compression leggings to reduce any swelling and aid circulation/recovery.
What would I do differently?
I would probably take Chicken tikka Expedition meals for breakfast as I wasn’t a fan of Porridge and strawberries after the first day. I would probably take my walking poles as they don’t weigh much and would be much comfier than the wooden ones I made and would give me less blisters on my hands. I wouldn’t take my pack off for water crossings. There’s no need, the water drains fairly quickly. I would have put new insoles in my shoes. I usually wear Formthotics from my Physio for my flat feet but these ones were quite old and had worn very thin on the balls of the feet so no wonder I had blisters there and still have tenderness.
Would I do the race again?
No. I’m not in the habit of repeating races as there are so many out there and life is too short.
Would I do another Jungle race?
View from the Plane