Today was day 3 and I can’t believe that I am already over half-way through the race. This morning was my first big “wobble” where I was really starting to struggle mentally with the physical demands of the race. The morning start was a river crossing which consisted of a metal “bucket” into which 4 of us sat and then we were zip lined across to the other side and pulled in away from the water. This was quite entertaining, and we were all in high spirits. We were then set off in groups of 8 for the day of racing. Initially this was a very pleasant run along gently undulating paths through the rainforest that reminded me of training runs along sections of the north downs in the UK. The route then reached a stunning waterfall at a river crossing. My spirits were still high at this point, but things started to change. The sides of the valleys became steeper and rocky, with the path becoming narrower which made things increasingly scary. Whilst any fall would be caught by the foliage, it was not something I wanted to test. There were lots of fallen trees along this section and clambering over them took its toll. At one point I reached a large fallen tree swarming with ants and little blue beetles. I had no idea whether any of them were going to bite me but after some consideration decided the only way to get over the tree was to sit on it, swing my legs over and then slide off. This worked but left me covered in ants and bugs!
Heading for the first checkpoint of the day required lowering myself down hanging ropes and then finally I hit the river and the support staff. When I arrived, I was totally shocked to see lying asleep on the floor under a tarpaulin one of the other competitors who on day one and two had been in joint first place. He had not been able to maintain the effort and had collapsed on the path. He was then helped to the check point by a group of other runners. In total two runners failed to get further than this check point today.
After a quick stop I headed back up away from the river and then for some reason I started to question whether I was going the right way. The markers were very clear and very regular, but I started the endless debate in my head as to whether I was following them in the correct direction. I couldn’t remember if the route down to the checkpoint had been the same route out. One of the support staff had said to head up and to the right, but then I reached a turn-off to the right, but I couldn’t see any markers heading off in that direction. I took the decision to go straight on and follow the markers but then agonised for the next hour on whether I had made the correct decision. What if I was following the route into the checkpoint in reverse? What if I was running all the way back to the waterfall and would then have to run around and re-run the scary section again? How far back had the hanging ropes been? I kept looking for familiar trees, bushes, anything that might be a reminder. I started to study the footprints in the ground to work out if they were all going the same was as me. And finally, I decided that yes, I was following the footprints, I would have reached the ropes by now, so I must be going forwards along the route, not backwards. Relief.
The jungle went on and on and on and on and this is where I began to question why I had thought running a 5-day race in the jungle had ever been a good idea. I couldn’t imagine being able to finish today let alone another two more days. This was all becoming a nightmare that I wanted to end. I was tired and losing the mental strength to keep going, but I had no choice – I was on my own in the middle of endless rainforest and the only thing I could do was keep going.
And finally, I reached another checkpoint. If I had been told that I had another section of rainforest just like the last I might have crumbled, but luck was on my side. The rest of the day was to be along track and rocky roads so off I went. The route had less trees so was hotter in the sun, but there were regular streams to run through and refresh my feet. Another checkpoint and finally I was on the last stretch to the finish for the day. The road started to undulate and then climb up, up, up and then I could see the finish down below, so I started to speed up and run hard. And finally, the day was over, I had not had to dnf, and had even managed a respectable pace at the end.
Tonight, we have been staying in the grounds of a gated Amazonian village and have been allowed to use their big communal lodge for eating and resting as well as their flushing toilets and showers. I stood under the cold water of the shower in full racing kit in the hope that I could reduce some of the smell, albeit without any soap or shower gel. I am not sure whether it worked, and now I will have very wet clothing to put back on in the morning as nothing dries in the humid air.
Fed and watered and slightly cleaner my enthusiasm for the race has returned and I know that I will finish. I may not be very fast, but I am over half-way. I know that lots of people back home have been following me on the tracker website. Lots of friends and family have listened to me talk of nothing but the Jungle Ultra for at least 5 years and I cannot let anyone down.