I am writing this as I am flying home from the seven day Jungle Marathon Amazon stage race. Since 2002, I have helped at races like Death Valley’s Badwater, BC Canada’s Raid the North Extreme, Chile’s Racing the Planet Atacama, California high Sierra’s Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race, Costa Rica’s Coastal Challenge, and the Primal Quest and Gold Rush Adventure Races – and each is unique and difficult in their own way. The Jungle Marathon topped most of them in difficulty.
We had a medical team of 15 doctors and paramedics for the 78 runners. The team manned checkpoints along each day’s stage. Each medic team had a full medical kit, which included provisions for foot care. Depending on the stages, the medic team went out the afternoon before to get to the checkpoint to set up their hammocks and eat before jungle darkness came. For example, Todd and I hiked three miles through the jungle to get to the first checkpoint of stage one. We were accompanied by Rod and Lee to set up the ropes over a water crossing, four locals to clear the camp and manage the fire and water, and an interpreter. Our job was to make sure the runners were in good shape, and provide any medical care if needed.
This checkpoint came only three miles into the first of seven stages. But it set the stage for the whole race. The runners had come through three tough miles of jungle trail with rocks, roots, loose vines to trip feet, low hanging branches – all on terrain that was rarely flat. Toss in the stifling humidity and heat, and you get the picture.
Now comes the heart of the race – water. Our little camp was about 30 feet long and 20 feet wide, on the bank of a stream, carved out of your typical jungle fauna. Once they reached us, the runners had a mandatory 15 wait before continuing. When their time came, they jumped into the chest high stream and used the rope to pull themselves to the other side. Of course, there were no dry trails on the other side. The route was through a swamp. Three miles and 100 feet into the race their feet would be wet most of the time.
But as if water was not enough, there was sand. The trails through were on sandy jungle soil and on sandy beaches.
Combine water and sand and you have a mixture of two elements that are problematic to runner’s feet. We saw it every day. I have written about maceration many times, and generally tell people to avoid getting their feet whenever possible to avoid this painful condition. But in the Jungle Marathon Amazon, water is present everyday – along with sand. Even without the water crossings, the humidity would keep your feet wet. By the time we hiked the three miles to our camp with our overnight packs, my pants and shirt were soaked. And nothing dries overnight.
Without a doubt, I think the Jungle Marathon Amazon has been the toughest event when it comes to the participants’ feet.
The sand gets everywhere. And it sticks. While I did not see the skin abraded from the sand inside socks and shoes, especially at the heels, it’s damaging effects were more visible in the runners’ shoes, socks and insoles. One runner had holes in the toes and heels of one of his socks after day one. Another runner had holes through both heels of his insoles.
You might be asking yourself why people do this race. Good question. It has a great reputation in a very beautiful setting. The jungle is fantastic. This section of the Amazon River has white sand beaches. The race offers three events, the seven days race, a four-day race, and a marathon day. Runners carry all their gear including clothes, hammock, mandatory gear kit, and food for seven days.
Helping at this race was a fantastic opportunity, which I will never forget. Over the next few months, I will be writing about what I observed and learned. My posts will talk about shoes, socks, insoles, skin treatment, “hot shots”, tapes and taping, blister patching, and several products. As you might expect, a common thread through these post will be water and sand.
Even though you may never do the Jungle Marathon Amazon, there is a lot that can be learned from what these runners experienced. I hope you will stay tuned.