Stage Two – Amazonia
They’re all tough days out in the jungle and today was no exception.
The runners looked strong this morning and laughter and chatter could be heard on the start line over the incongruous soundtrack of Creadence Clearwater Revival’s cover of ‘Heard it Through the Grapevine’ piping out of one of the support vehicles.
From this relatively relaxed backdrop a race exploded as the Peruvian runners, usually so dominant on their home territory, found themselves challenged by our international field. The likes of Vivien Laporte, Vicente Garcia and Mark Denby set out this morning at race winning speed, Laporte eventually getting ahead of the pack and claiming first position for Stage 2.
The Jungle Ultra isn’t just a race for first position though. There are races within races, teams who push each other onwards, old friends who look to settle friendly rivalries and, of course, the race against the terrain.
The weather was fairly cool this morning as the field descended down another stretch of twisting mountain road but on reaching a small rural village they were turned left into the jungle proper. What followed was a 12km stretch of mud, heat and humidity; a testing environment for any athlete. It’s easy to use adjectives like ‘sweltering’ and ‘boiling’ to describe humidity like this but it is something else to experience it. The body sweats uncontrollably leaving you soaked to the skin, shedding liquid and causing clothes, bags and shoes to chafe and rub. All the while you are carrying yourself and your pack through mud that can reach the knees broken by patches of rotting vegetation poked through with gnarled tree roots and jagged rocks. It is a constant challenge to stay stable and maintain momentum in this environment, muscles in the hips begin to ache and knees and ankles take damage. The debris that makes it’s way through shoes and into socks meanwhile rubs away at feet that can stay wet for hours on end. It is little wonder that the medics’ makeshift clinic has been so well attended today.
Throughout this experience though our runners have persevered. It is never quiet in the jungle, there is a constant buzz of insects and movement of the leaves in the canopy; a relentless white noise. You are always warned as runners approach though as this low wall of noise is broken by laughter. It is typical of this field that on encountering runners pushing over the toughest terrain they will stop to tell you about the beautiful, incandescent butterflies and hummingbirds that thrive in the area.
On emerging from this stretch of thick jungle the runners found themselves at a final checkpoint before setting out across open ground in the midday sun. Released from the stifling jungle they find themselves exposed to the sun for the final 10km stretch to tonight’s home for the night. It’s worth mentioning at this point that these check points are set up and manned by a local team and by our stalwart medical team from Exile Medics who trudge the very same trail before the runners set off in the morning.
There were, understandably some very tired runners crossing the line this afternoon and they’ll be hoping for a good night’s sleep tonight ahead of another test beginning at 7am tomorrow. There’s still a long way to go and, just like in the jungle, everything can change at any time. Some runners are starting to get stronger as others get worn down. All of the little races within this massive journey are still wide open.