ALTER DO CHAO, PARA, BRAZIL – My lifelong dream had been to travel through the Amazon, a jungle alive with flora that holds the key to so many scientific discoveries and fauna and terrain to astonish any adventure seeker. Having experienced several adventures throughout the world, I sought to compete in an extreme challenge that would be my Amazon adventure. The Jungle Marathon, advertised as a 200 km extreme, ultra-marathon, unsupported foot race deep in the Amazon Jungle of Brazil, fit the bill.
In this race, every participant needed to carry all his equipment for the 7-day duration, including food and gear. The nights would be spent sleeping in hammocks in the jungle or along the Tapajos River (in photo). Additionally, the difficulty lies not so much with the 200 km distance, as with the intensity of the treacherous terrain and slopes spawned by the harsh jungle conditions.
Upon arriving at the departure point, in the small beachfront town of Alter do Chao (in the State of Para), I met other competitors from all over the world who had come for this extreme ultra-marathon. All told, there were 45 of us. Some adventurers told stories of surviving gun battles with poachers while photographing wild mountain gorillas, or embarking upon a canoe trip down a river in the Congo in the midst of a civil war. Nearly all of them had previously run other ultra-marathons elsewhere, including at the South Pole, the Sahara Desert, Mongolia, the North Pole, the jungle of Borneo, and more. They had come to the Amazon to challenge the event known by all extreme ultra-marathoners as the toughest race on the planet (in 2006, with no American competitors, only 59 percent completed the race).
Not until arriving in Brazil had I dreamed that in a single leap I would go from the tame 8-mile “Turkey Trot” Thanksgiving road race I’d run on the flat terrain of Dallas, Texas to the hardest race in the world. Perhaps I should have trained better by first entering other ultra-marathons in tough terrains abroad – or at least in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Or I could have competed in simple marathons at home, or even a half-marathon or two. But none of these races peaked my interest. I bore easily and don’t like to run unless there is something interesting to catch my attention. So the thought of running through the largest and most diverse jungle in the world appealed to me, unaware of the immense struggle that would lay ahead for me, should I enter it.