‘The Worlds toughest self sufficient multistage ultramarathon?’
The above is subjective but it’s certainly my opinion. The Beyond The Ultimate Jungle Marathon has it all.
I have never raced in conditions quite like it. Hot, humid, cold, wet. Massive aggressive ascents followed by treacherous, muddy descents. All this combined makes for one hell of a tough challenge.
The race is a 230km, 5 stage multi day event based in Peru’s Amazon Jungle. You’re required to carry all equipment other than water which would be supplied at checkpoints and at the start and the end of each day. So the backpack I carried contained a hammock, sleeping bag, food for 5 days including, breakfast, dinner and all race nutrition.
We were required to carry night time clothing/ warm/ dry kit due to temperatures dropping at night to near freezing particularly during the first two stages based at altitude and also the high possibility of rain, as it is a rainforest after all. Finally, an extensive medical kit to help us maintain our bodies throughout this gruelling task. Everything else is a luxury but my pack weight starting this challenge would be roughly 12kg including the mandatory 2.5 litres of water needed to be carried.
Arriving at Cloud Forest in Manu National Park the air was noticeably thin at 3,000m above sea level and colder than I’d bargained for, but what a breathtaking setting and view. This was where the adventure would start descending through five ecosystems and the most diverse wildlife on the planet.
Once we had set up our hammocks we went to registration and had a thorough kit check ensuring all mandatory kit was adhered to. Kris King, the Race Director, then gave his brief along with the medical team on what to expect. This included things like climate and the need for proper hydration, certain creatures that were likely to be encountered and so on.
Starting at altitude the air was noticeably thin. The temperature was quite cool as it was early morning. The plan was to attack straight away knowing a large part of the first day was rocky trails. After a short time we passed off the road into the first taste of jungle, an undulating single track, exposed routes and then a tricky, twisting descent to the riverbed floor crossing the very rocky terrain and a small river to arrive at checkpoint one.
After here it was a steep climb using a rope to pull myself up for the first 20 meters or so. After the rope finished it was still a steep climb of roughly 800ft to get back to the road and it continued on this winding road with a steady downhill to the end of stage 1. Just under 3 hours and 21 miles, that was a lung buster! I managed to put 50 minutes on my nearest competitor so was really happy with how this stage went.
The start of this stage was a downhill rocky track taking away all of the altitude and making it easier to breathe again. However, don’t let this fool you, stage 1 being mainly downhill and then today for a decent period of time carrying a lot of weight destroys the quadriceps muscles, I could feel the delayed onset muscle soreness from the start of this stage.
After checkpoint we turned off the road and into the jungle. Instantly the pace plummeted and I began slipping, sliding and falling like Bambi on ice. The heavy rain had caused the muddy sharp climbs and descents to become a real nightmare to negotiate, but wow it was fun, welcome to the Jungle!
Towards the end of the stage it opened back out onto exposed hard rocky tracks that had a gradual incline to the finish of stage 2. I got caught in the hottest part of the day as I made my way through the unrelenting heat beating down and no shade in sight. Crossing the line at the end of stage 2 was a massive relief and for me the hardest stage of the whole trip. Just look at my face below! Thankfully everyone else found it equally as hard and I’d pulled another 40 mins or so on 2nd place.
That evening the heavens opened and it rained constantly all night; the varying weather conditions were truly amazing. Thankfully the rain relented by the start of the next stage.
This was a brilliant stage. Orders were reversed so everyone who was at the back of the race started first as we needed to cross a river on a zip line. Once over the other side competitors were set off a minute apart with who they crossed on the zip line with.
By the time the zip line was passed back and forward myself and 2nd place who went across together were starting about an hour and a half behind the initial competitors. It was good fun to have to try and hunt everyone down through thick jungle.
By now I was getting used to typical jungle terrain. Lots of steep climbs and downslopes. Clattering bamboo trees on the descents trying to stop the slips and falls. I ran through most of the forest with Sergey who was 2nd overall forming a great friendship and sharing laughs as we pushed the pace but also then undoubtedly hurt ourselves taking some heavy falls. Unfortunately are shorts came off worse during this stage and I’m still picking splinters out of my backside.
The final river crossing in the jungle was a test in itself. The waters had rapidly risen after the deluge of rain and the rapids were fast making crossing it extremely difficult. A rope was attached to the other side and whilst crossing both mine and Sergey’s legs were literally swept away from under us by the current catching our feet stepping off some raised rocks. Getting to the other side was a relief.
We managed to come out of the jungle having caught everyone apart from one other runner. After the checkpoint I decided to push on with some undulating hard packed road catching and passing the last remaining runner ahead and managed to build another gap of about 21 minutes on Sergey who finished second overall and on the stage.
Crossing the finish line at Stage 3 I was greeted by the local children hanging a necklace they had made around my neck. The village was beautiful, so remote and deep in the jungle. Every one of the villagers appeared so happy without any worries, it was such a contrast to society at home and a very humbling experience.
That night my biggest fear was realised. Having just eaten my night time meal, sat in a wooden hut for cover from the elements, where we could get hot water I went to fill up my water bottle and as I turned around two large spiders dropped from the ceiling above like Special Forces on a mission within a few meters of myself. I was informed they were biters, before the locals got rid of them thankfully.
This made me go to my hammock earlier than expected only to find I hadn’t hung it properly and as I got in it, I ended up on the floor. Not what I wanted after that experience and in the dark! I managed to get it all tightened up eventually then gladly got in it and didn’t leave it until I needed to get up in the morning, even going to toilet out of a hammock is an art form!
The shortest of all the stages but one of the hardest due to being under the canopy of the jungle for the whole stage. River crossings, continuous sharp inclines and declines, with limited sight due to the canopy you just didn’t know when any of the climbs would end. The heat and humidity were stifling. A truly beautiful but brutal stage, stunning waterfalls, incredible flora and fauna and at one point a black sandy beach.
This stage had it all. At the end of the stage, you’re also treated with the longest climb of the race. Although dubbed the hardest stage I actually enjoyed this the most as I felt I’d controlled the race so far building a comfortable lead which allowed me to run with my nearest competitor for the whole stage and it was great sharing the miles in a very hostile environment and conserving energy for the longest stage, the final stage of the race.
The highlight of this stage was having to step over a large Cobra positioned right across my path.
This was the longest stage of the race, the final day, what an ending to a race, 70 plus km’s of track, jungle and river beds to run through. The riverbed concerned spanned nearly 15km, ankle turning, rock kicking hell, outrageous! Who races through this… Kris King, Beyond the Ultimate Race Director had dreamt up one hell of an event here unmatched for everything this environment brings together in a race.
Seeing his sadistic smiling face daily after every stage said it all. Definitely a race not for the faint hearted but also certainly a race for anyone’s bucket list who thrives on true adventure in places not usually accessible. This race is a race which would test any level of runner because there are no guarantees of finishing due to its extreme nature.
When you take this all into account and the organisation it takes to make this happen it’s truly a remarkable event. The team who bring it all together, the locals who are chopping paths through the jungle for 6 months prior to the event living in the jungle for weeks on end. The medics who did an amazing job patching people up whether it was lacerations from falls, bites, stings, blistering feet with signs of trench foot, heat exhaustion, diarrhoea, and vomiting.
The hours worked by them manning checkpoints, helping sweep at the back with the locals, then returning to camp late and then helping all the runners after this meant very long days. The media team who got amazing footage of the event and relayed it back home. Finally Kris, who brings all this together and made it happen. His passion for his events is second to none and why the whole Beyond the Ultimate Race series is truly special. What an amazing experience. I was very happy and relieved to come away with the victory against some really tough competitors.
Some of my competitors are now friends for life after sharing this experience.
Header image credit: Wild Aperture