LOWRI MORGANMy marathon trek through the Amazon jungle
The Jungle Marathon is an extreme 138 mile footrace that takes place in the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil, in the protected Tapajos National Forest.
I’m always keen for a new adventure and in 2009 I took on the challenge, which saw me complete the six stage 222 kilometre race in a week. With swamp and river crossings, temperatures averaging over 40 degrees Celsius / 100 degrees Fahrenheit with 99 per cent humidity, and dangerous wildlife, there’s no question that the race is dangerous.
Apart from the dangers of the jungle itself, where runners are exposed to snakes, wild animals and poisonous plants, there is a hot, humid environment. This means that heat exhaustion and dehydration are real dangers.
To illustrate just how tough the Jungle Marathon is, it has a 40 per cent drop-out rate.
And in previous years many world class athletes competing in the race have had to be taken to the nearest hospital. That’s a journey of eight hours away by boat, whilst they fought for their lives as the heat and humidity took effect on their exhausted bodies. No wonder the race has been voted as “The World’s Toughest Endurance Race” by CNN.
The race started with 150 competitors from all around the world and I was up against the best: elite athletes, special forces personnel and world champions. And then there was me – a TV presenter and a complete novice! I was told that if I was willing to work hard, persevere, and make sacrifices then the plodders like me do eventually get there. When I can’t sprint, I plod, but I never give up. And I believe that attitude has helped me through life and through some of the toughest races in the world.
Stage one started brightly and it was a very short day of only 15.43 kilometres, which was much needed as we hadn’t been able to come out to the jungle earlier to allow ourselves to acclimatise.
Luckily I had arrived a week before the start and had really pushed myself to acclimatise to the extreme conditions. However, many of the other competitors had not been as lucky due to their own circumstances and they faced a big shock at the start.
At the start of the race I was aware that I was surrounded by some very seasoned ultra-distance runners. And shall we say that as I was not one of them, I thought the start of the race would be my only opportunity to be in the lead, so I sprinted from the start line and remained first for all of about 200 metres!
I knew my limits so slowed down and sat into a rhythm of just listening to my body, which I kept going for the majority of the race. I ran when I felt cool enough and walked when I could feel my core body temperature rising. After some jungle, one small body of water crossing a bit of swamp and some cheeky little ascents and equally cheeky descents, we ended up at the village of Pini.
Stage two, 23.04km brought much of the same whilst stage three saw us swimming, running, walking and clawing our way across rivers, through dense jungle and over some of the steepest ascents and descents that we had come across up until this stage. All whilst constantly looking out for anything that could be lurking in the water, and jaguars, who like to spend time in the trees and look down on their prey.
Stage four (from Pini to Tauri) was described as an easy day before the long stage in our route book. But it proved to feel a lot longer than it actually was.
This stage was very similar in distance to stage three (just under 40 kilometres), but it definitely did not feel like the supposed easy day we had been told it would be. But I finished the day in fifth place, which was a welcome result.
We were around the 100 km point and only half way through the race. By now many people decided to call it a day due to wear and tear on the body, trashed feet, and what I think was just the realisation that we still had not completed half the race.
Stage five was a long stage (89.4 kilometres) split into two sections. During this stage my niggling ankles and lost toe-nails started to become extremely uncomfortable due to the repeated inversion and aversion of my feet on the unstable ground. However, I felt great for the first 30kms. I joined the North Face elite runners and we were all enjoying. That was until another obstacle on the ground tripped me up and I had to stop to re-arrange myself. The crew offered to stay for me but I told them to keep going and I’d catch them up at the next check point.
I didn’t. For the next few hours, I was on my own in the deepest darkest part of the jungle. I tried to remain positive but I could feel all that positivity seeping out.
And to make matters worse, I stepped on a hornets nest, which resulted in quite a lot of nasty stings. I desperately wanted to give up but after around six hours of literally taking one step at a time, I had a second lease of life and found extra gears.
The end of this stage seemed almost surreal as I knew that I only had one easy, so to speak, stage to do. By the end of the final stage I could feel a deep fatigue setting in and I was happy to count down each kilometre as I approached the finish. It felt like the whole village was waiting as I ran along the beach into the plaza and there were throngs of people in the plaza. I loved it!
I had completed a tremendously difficult race, seen a part of the world that fascinated me, and achieved my goal of finishing the race.
Of the 130 people who started the race, only 55 finished and two ended up in comas fighting for their lives. I was so happy not only finish, but to place in the top ten, as the second fastest amateur athlete and third fastest female.
Running in the jungle is tough. Every day offers character-building challenges and a chance to see a remote part of the planet.
If you’re not scared of snakes, ants, spiders, jaguars, or caiman, and if you do enjoy sleeping out in a hammock, then I would highly recommend racing in the jungle.
It’s like no other place I’ve ever run before or since.