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The Starting Line

judah2.jpg As the race started, I found the terrain to be extremely treacherous. The day began with a creek crossing that drenched us all up to our chests. Then came the ground that was so covered with exposed roots that one could easily trip and fall, or what’s worse, sprain or break an ankle or leg, or tear a knee ligament (ACL). There was another ever-present danger as well – impaling oneself on the many protruding spikes, roots, thorns, and other unknown dangerous jungle objects.

judah3.jpg Therefore I took great caution, since falling with my heavy backpack could very likely injure me. Another danger was the deep, leaf-covered holes in the ground. If I caught my foot in one while running, I could easily break or at least sprain my leg or ankle.

To increase the physical demands, we spent the entire day hiking up and down extremely steep and slippery hills. The ascents and descents were so near-vertical that I had to grab onto trees and roots to pull myself up; otherwise, I would have slipped down the hill. We have no such hills near my home in Texas. Nor did running in the Dallas parks include finding large obstructions along with small hidden traps.

In the jungle, I had to climb over and under fallen trees and logs, and sometimes over and under at the same time! This constant negotiation of hazards was so tiring that I had to sit and rest wherever I was, even on the jungle ground covered with insects and perhaps venomous snakes.

When the support crew sweep team caught up with me, Dos Reis from the Brazilian Military Jungle Special Forces used his machete to cut a walking stick for me. Little did I know then how invaluable this stick would become. With my stick, I continued the course and finished the day before dark – to a cheering crowd on the beach campsite, adjacent to the jungle.

They cheered because I had been in the jungle the longest of all competitors. They cheered because it was my first ultra-marathon. They cheered because even though I was green, I finished the stage, a stage in which two other racers had already pulled out of the competition.

By the end of Stage 2, nine others would also fail to continue because of weather, humidity, heat, exhaustion, dehydration, or injuries.

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