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end of the road?

Posted on 30 November 2010

Sometimes a picture says it all, and in this case I think the picture from stage 2 of the 2010 Jungle Marathon says it all. I collapsed and was carried out of the jungle by the local firemen who supported the race.

But whilst one part of my jungle adventure grind to a halt, another one began. Looking back at the race it is always easy to be wise and talk about what I did wrong etc, however I know that I gave it my all and when the doctor advised me that I should not go on, then I took their advice and followed it. Reflecting on it now, month or so after it all happened, I know that I am very happy for my experience. Before I went away a friend had borrowed me a few CDs from a motivational speaker, Miles Hilton-Barber. Miles is an adventurer and a motivational speaker and when I found myself out of the race, I remembered Miles’ words: “you cannot control the circumstances, but you can always control your response”.

With this in mind I set out on my second adventure in the jungle, but before I go into that, here is what I experienced on the Jungle Marathon 2010:

The trip to get to the start of the race was an endurance event on its own! Three flights took us about 30 hours to complete and after a bus ride in the middle of the night we boarded the boat at 2am or so. The boat would take us on the final 10 hour journey to the starting line. We all scrambled for a place to put up our hammock and I was fast asleep. 3 hours or so later I woke up to a fantastic view. The Tapajo river, a tribunal river to the Amazon, was huge! It was more like going along a coast line with white sandy beaches and the green jungle stretching beyond the beaches as far as the eye could see.

Arriving at the camp kicked off a series of activity, hanging up your hammock, sorting out the kit, kit-check and medical check. It was at the medical check I all of a sudden was feeling very weak. My head started to spin and I had to go outside to try to sit down in the shade. I was on the brink of fainting, and I hadn’t even started the race yet, this didnt look good!

36 hours after arriving with the boat we stood at the start line at about 6.30am. The sun was going up and the group was filled with anticipation. I was going to take it easy for the first 200 meters and cross the litte river crossing bare feet. This way I would save my feet from a few hours of being soaked. This meant that I was at the back of the group, but that was fine for me. As we entered the jungle it really hit home what this was all about. The gradient on the hills was punishing.

On several hills I had to stop two or three times to catch my breath, and this was whilst walking up! How could it be so hard, I couldnt understand it. Most of the first day I spent alone, but most of the time there would be someone a few meters behind or in front. The few river crossings were like little gems to find. Using the water to cool down was the only way to bring down your body temperature, since the body’s normal way of dealing of cooling down by sweating didnt work in such a humid environment.

Finally the climbs seemed to end and the last kilometers I could actually start to jog and I was feeling great. All in all the 15 km took just short of six hours to complete! It is difficult to comprehend or even remember how hard it was. Everyone had told me that this was one hell of a hilly race, but no matter how much people had warned me, I was not prepared for what the jungle had in store for us!

Finally at the finish line I quickly got into camp routine of putting up my hammock, washing, eating, drinking and a sports massage. At about 6pm I was starting to feel a bit dizzy and I laid down for a 30 minute snooze. I woke up with a bad headache and then I realised… I had drunk about 4 liters of water since I came in to camp, but had not put in any electrolyte, hence my headache.

I quickly took two dioralyte and a nuun tablet and went to bed. The next morning I was feeling better and after another dioralyte and nuun tablet we were once again on the starting line. This would be the swamp day was the promise from the race leader, and Shirley had surely not lied to us. I sat off in an ok pace but very quickly I had to pull back. The headache was back and I was starting to feel dizzy again. I could hardly get up the hills and as people passed me I was starting to feel worse and worse. Soon I was struggling to put a foot in front of the next and looking at my watch I kept wishing for the first checkpoint. I started to feel very faint and after another 30 minutes of hardly moving forward I was almost at the point where I would fall over. I was so so tired, my head was hanging and I was feeling very sick. Henrik and Pernille, two Danish friend came up to me and helped me to push up a last hill to the first checkpoint of the day. Here I was told by the doctor to lie down as I entered the checkpoint. I was told I was in no shape to go on, and I should wait there for at least 45 minutes. In the end I was there for almost one hour before I saw Brett leaving the camp as the last participants. I decided to try to join him and push on through the jungle.

We were both in a bad state and although we were mostly too tired to talk it was good to have someone there with me. Brett is a legend of a guy who has done the Atacama crossing in a Rhine suit! Talk about determination… We tackled the hill and slowly slowly we made progress. I was starting to feel better, but Brett was stuggling to walk up the hills. In the end we decided that I should go to the next checkpoint to get help. As I approached the second checkpoint I met the medics and local firemen who were heading out to look for us, I told them where I had left Brett and walked the last meters to the Checkpoint. Anna and Maz, two of the doctors where there to greet me, and so was Martin, a Danish photographer (click here for some of Martin’s shot of the jungle). I sat down and had a bite, but in general I was feeling ok.

As I headed out I could feel the heat of the sun coming down and I was fairly quickly starting to feel the same symptoms again. It was a long stage before I staggered into checkpoint three where Ben and Louise (doctor and medic) were waiting. They were not too happy about my state and I went into the river next to the checkpoint to cool down. I was feeling very lightheaded and dizzy. I drank 1 liter and waited for about 30 minutes or so. Ben was still concerned about my state and we decided that I was going to take a bag of IV-fluid in hope of improving my situation. I dont think anyone has ever had a more beautiful setting for their IV drip!

After another discussion with Ben I was told that this was probably the end of my race. I had promise myself that if a Doctor advised me to pull out I would not jeopardise my long-term health by taking a risk. After some arguing with Ben (well I couldnt just give up without a discussion, could I?), I pulled out.

We had a 2km walk to get out to the boat and after about 5 minute I told Ben I was not feeling to good. A minute later I was feeling sick and started to throw up and almost fell to the ground. I was fighting to stay awake and it was then the good firemen of the Jungle came to the rescue and I was carried out with another bag of IV fluid in my arm…

It was of course a massive disappointment to have pulled out of the race, especially since after the second stage, people seemed to have done the acclimatisation and although stages were tough and hard, few people dropped out because of over-heating or dehydration after this point.

But as one adventure in the jungle ended for me, another started and I cannot agree with Miles more that we cannot always control the situation we are in, but we can always control our response to the situation. As I walked into camp on day 2, after having had further IV-fluid on the medical boat I was determined to stay positive and to try to help the people that were still in the race as much as I could. As for the Jungle Marathon, that will have to wait for another time, but hopefully I can come back a wiser participant and that time complete the race!

One Response to “end of the road?”

  1. Bob Morris says:

    It’s not the winning that counts, but the taking part. You got further than most of us could ever imagine. Congratulations for giving it your best shot.