Running with Jaguars
Well maybe not literally, but I’m sure participants of the 2009 Jungle Marathon felt their presence more than once. Those 126 runners signed up for an ultra marathon in one of the most extreme environments: the Amazon Rain Forest. Among the contenders, Ryan Sandes, from South Africa, with his recent victories in the Sahara race or the Gobi March; Salvador Calvo, from Spain, winner of this year’s Cruce de los Andes and Racing the Planet Vietnam and Namibia; The North Face representation, with Nikki Kimball, Tracy Garneau and Mike Wolfe; or many strong local runners. All of them would have to face one of the toughest courses in the race history, with very strong rain the weeks before.
The first step was to get to the start line. Runners had to travel to Alter do Chão, in the Pará region in Brazil, and then take a boat river up to Itapuama, the base camp. For many of them, this means a trip of more than 40 hours. Two days before the race start, kit and medical checks and last minute packing. The day before, a training day in the jungle, learning what they will be facing for the following 7 days.
And then, on October 11th, racers went off for an ultra adventure of 200Km (some of them the shorter 100Km option) into the rainforest, not before attending to a briefing from the military about the potential dangers in the jungle: snakes, jaguars, spiders, piranhas and poisonous plants. The first stage was 15km consisting of swamp crossings and lots of very steep inclines and declines. Local Raimundo Fredson takes it in 2h50′, so just imagine how tough those 15K might have been. The first contact with the race takes its toll on some of the athletes too: one not able to finish due to physical problems, another one didn’t make it before the cut off time (10.30hrs!)and the third had to be evacuated to the nearest hospital (more than 2h away) due to too much salt intake. From now on, failing to manage their fluids correctly would cost the competitors a one hour penalty.
The second stage saw Fredson winning again only a couple of minutes over Sandes, second and 10′ over Calvo, third. Kimball and Garneau were leading strong the women’s race. Despite the organization warnings to take it easy, records were broken in this second day.
For the first time in the history of the race an international pack of runners were leading the race. This would continue for the third and fourth day. During that time, competitors were met along the course by equally beautiful and unique visitors: forty cheering children from the surrounding communities of Pini, hundreds of iridescent butterflies and, for some of the participants, even the military who escorted them to the finish line after a sighting of a jaguar. What never left the racers through the entire event would be the intense heat and humidity, which would make re-hydrating a critical point to ensure they would get the the end of each stage. For a few of them, crossing the finish line of the fourth stage would mean to have accomplished their goal: finishing the 100Km of the short course. For the majority of them, that would be the moment to get some rest and medical assistance, as the rest day would only precede an extremely difficult overnight fifth stage.
With only 68 remaining competitors (for the full, the 89km through a mixture of terrain (half of it thick rainforest territory) would prove decisive. The key element on that day was to leave checkpoint 4 before 4:30pm. No one was allowed to be out in the jungle during the dark hours. 11 competitors had to spend the night on CP4 while three of them had to call it quits. In the meantime, the leading group was fast, still with Sandes in the top place, followed by Fredson, Calvo and Mike Wolfe. With only one ‘easy’ day to go, Sandes was the virtual winner of the ‘09 Jungle Marathon.
The final stage would take runners along some of the most beautiful beaches in the region, with 4 creek crossings, before they reach Alter do Chao. Ryan Sandes would be the first to cross the finish line in 26 hours and 33 minutes, taking the course record for the fastest time since the race began. Second place went to Salvador Redondo from Spain and Mike Wolff from USA took 3rd place. Joint first place in the female division went to Nikki Kimball, USA and Tracey Garneau, Canada, and third place to Lowri Morgan of Wales .
61 competitors would eventually finish the race. They had been carrying their backpacks, foods and provisions for 200km, sleeping in their own hammocks at campsites along the shores of the river for 6 days, getting close to exhaustion in extreme conditions, having spent £1600 for all this. Many would say this is pure madness. A few we say: I’d love to be there!
Tons of pics here and videos here.
Ryan Sandes daily post through the entire race.
More information (in Spanish, partial source for this article) at ser13gio.blogspot.com.
Photo credits: Christiane Kappes