This year has been manic. What with producing a movie, running around the planet and training something had to give. What gave was a flu virus that wiped me out whilst in America filming for the forthcoming documentary “Living with Parkinson’s”. Seriously, I had no energy and went from 100 miles an hour down to 5 miles an hour in a blink of an eye. This was eight weeks before I undertook the Beyond the Ultimate Jungle Ultra too. Knowing I wasn’t 100% ready I flew to Peru courtesy of the Peruvian Tourist Board, to whom I owe a debt of thanks and appreciation.
I would go into more detail, but I’m saving that for my book. However, I will say that Peru and the Peruvian people are incredible. The hospitality, support and warmth of the people involved not only around the race but also those whom you pass on the street was and is fantastic. Added to this, the terrain and climate, I could live there. It’s a country which I’d like to go back to visit again.
The Beyond the Ultimate tagline is “Nothing Tougher”. The Jungle Ultra does everything you would expect with that tagline and possibly more. So I arrived at the cloud forest base camp at over 10,500ft and with shortness of breath and views to die for (metaphorically speaking). After arranging my pack, going through the medical inspection, and the pre-race briefing, it was heads down for the night. To be honest, I didn’t sleep much that night. Thoughts of the Jungle and the wild things that live there ran through my head as well as the music and conversation of the locals, who didn’t seem to need to sleep. I was hesitant but excited. I knew I wasn’t race fit but I was confident that I could complete the course and add the vital metres towards my 10 million metres target.
The local mayor from the nearby village was to start the 38 km first stage the morning. At 7 AM all the competitors stood as they were presented with necklaces and bracelets to bring good luck. The local band however wanted to make sure that we were fully awake and the noise they created made certain that the we were at the peak of alertness. The race started and we headed uphill before turning left and heading down into the jungle. My pack, even with my experience, was over heavy. This something I need to address before the Mountain Ultra in Colorado next month. This, plus the altitude made the going exceptionally tough and, added to this, the inclusion of an extra climb certainly took a lot of wind out of my sails. Irrespective I pushed on. The technical descent down to the river marked a change in pace and by now I felt comfortable. This was about to change. At some point along the route I slipped on the full weight of my pack and the angle of my body meant that my right shoulder took the impact and strain. This was the shoulder which are separated back in 2005 after trying to kill myself (unintentionally) whilst competing in the Hairy Legs duathlon. As a consequence, I supported the shoulder with my core and my lower lumbar which went into spasm some 15 km from the end of the course. Thanks to Richard for sticking with me at that point and keeping my spirits up as I was in considerable pain. Distractions were plenty and I welcomed them at every opportunity to take my mind off the pain. Highlights include breathtaking waterfalls, Woolly Monkeys, Cock of the Rock (that’s a bird), all kinds of birds and insects to name a few. Richard and myself crossed the line in last place and I was immediately helped by the medical crew and interviewed by the film crew from Channel 5. Thanks goes to Lou for the amazing massage that freed my back and kept me moving. I even had a good night’s sleep in my new hammock, which was interesting to assemble.
I had decided whilst in pain, that I was going to take the first three days easy. With, at the time, seven races to complete this year (now nine), I was determined not to put the race schedule at risk. Consequently, I was going to power walk the course until my backpack had reached a state where I felt that my back could allow me to run. Stage two was 34 km long and involved an initial road run for almost 20 km. Peruvian roads in the National Park are tough to run on duty the amount of stones which completely destroy your feet. That pain dissipated on entering the final village before the Jungle to be met by local children shouting out words of encouragement and smiling. This made me think my baby boy and more determined to finish this race in one piece. I turned into the jungle and began a muddy trek. At some point I caught up with Anne-Marie and Hugh who were run/walking. It was around this time that we heard noises ahead of us in the undergrowth and we slowed our pace. Suddenly you could see what was making the noise. It wasn’t just one it was as many as 50 peccaries (wild pig) and they were less than 10 metres away from the three of us. We crept quietly away and ran down the trail which was covered in fresh pungent green peccary poo.
Stage three has to be the muddiest experience I have ever had in a race. The logging section totalling 30 km was an exercise in trying to guess where the firm ground was. I really enjoyed it and even though there was a delay in setting off this was only due to the organisation clearing the Paca bamboo, which comes with vicious thorns, from the trail which had fallen down due to the large amount of rain the night before. Highlights of the day included falling into a river while traversing it and getting smashed against rocks, rivers, rapids, unbelievable amounts of mud, breathtaking scenery and when out of the jungle in the open, sunshine! Whilst passing the last checkpoint myself, Hugh, and Richard were asked to take Sean back. Sean was suffering from dehydration and was vomiting and retching on a pretty regular basis for the final 14 km. The pace dropped to make sure that he would be able to keep up and as such, we all arrived back in to base camp quite late. It was at this point I was told I was being short coursed. I was surprised and disappointed. Very disappointed.
The next day, I was in the mood to make things happen. My pack felt better on my shoulders. I had something to prove. So I hit the ground running for stage 4 and was in 12th position upon reaching the first checkpoint. I wanted to carry on but, having been short coursed, I was taken by boat, very expertly I may add – I wholly recommend a speedboat trip up a tributary of the Amazon River, to checkpoint three. A swift crossing of the river via a basket assisted by the brute force of one of the team pulling me across led to the King of the Hill stage. This Hill is a bastard. There’s no other word for it. It just keeps going up and up and up. With 100% humidity it was a beast of a climb. My feet were killing me. In fact my legs were killing me. Actually, most of me was hurting. It was great! Just when you thought you got to the top there was yet more to come and finally this was followed by interesting and challenging downhill sections. Upon reaching camp I was met by the team and had the opportunity of pouring cold water over my head. It was then I heard that a competitor got into trouble between checkpoint two and checkpoint three in the jungle. With difficult terrain and a limited amount of daylight the organisers managed to get everybody back to base and with the expert medical attention given by Exile Medics, the individual concerned will be back to run the Mountain Ultra next month.
With all the excitement, the next day was something that I was looking forward to. It’s the long one. A 92 km section, which led to a rescue operation and an adventure in itself. I loved it. Maybe not all the time but certainly more often than not. Crossing 20 km of river and rapids by foot was distinctly tricky but the terrain, villages and people added to the whole experience which I was enjoying. Passing checkpoint four and heading up and out towards the river it was getting dark. I was accompanied by Jamie and Peter who were doing exceptionally well for their first ultramarathon, and we arrived at the river crossing in the dark. There we met Anne-Marie who we initially thought was a checkpoint. She had been sat on a rock for a while because try as she might there were no flags to show the route as the locals had taken them for souvenirs. With large cat in the area and the need to make sure that we could be seen, a fire was lit and we stood over it with a tarpaulin shelter the flames from the rain. Within a short space of time we were rescued and made friends with a billion bugs in the back of the huge truck into which we climbed. I think all four of us were exceptionally relieved and also surprised at the generosity of a local villager who opened his home to us to warm ourselves while we waited for some 4×4’s to arrive and take us back to camp. I slept like a log irrespective of how many insect bites I had. The next morning we were driven out to where we had been rescued so that we could finish the course. However, rain in the mountains had made the water levels rise and it posed a risk significant enough for Beyond the Ultimate to take the decision to end the race rather than risk safety. The right decision.
So how would I class this race? If you’re looking for risk, danger, adventure, a real challenge, and an experience of a lifetime then this is the race for you. However, I would caveat this by saying that this is probably not a race for someone who is looking to complete the jungle as their first ultramarathon. It’s tough. It’s exactly as Beyond the Ultimate say, “Nothing Tougher”.
For more info on the Beyond the Ultimate races please go to www.beyondtheultimate.co.uk
RED BULL RACING – Eyewear (HARE-007-68-14-120)
OMM -32l backpack, water bottles, waterproof kamlika
ORCA – Cycling tops and shorts
BUFF – 10MillionMetre and other assorted Buffs plus socks and top
SAUCONY: Peregrin 2 trail shoes