It's difficult to write about an adventure of this magnitude, while really being able to properly convey how incredible it is. While I had a terrible race myself, it still stands as one of the most amazing things I've ever been a part of. I'll do my best to help you understand why that is.
First, there's some backstory. The Brazil 135+ was originally known as the Brazil 135. The "+" was added when the race course was extended by 40 miles due to some "political complications". What's another 40 miles when you've already done 135?
Gaining entry into this race is a bit of a challenge in itself. Runners are granted entry through an invitation that comes after you have been recommended for a spot in the race by a member of the selection committee and then approved by the Race Director. Once all of that is completed, the logistics begin to take center stage.
First off, travel to Brazil requires a visa. This means you have to fill out forms (mostly in Portuguese), submit all of this with a substantial sum of money and hope there are no problems.
Then you have to start working on all the things are required for actually running this race. Being a point to point race, this means multiple hotels have to be arranged and booked. A rental car needs to be acquired, and hopefully, it'll be a car that can navigate the rugged 175 mile course. And most importantly, International runners are strongly encouraged to hire a driver, an interpreter and at least one pacer. And after having been there myself, I don't know what I would do without these people.
It's a lot of crap to manage from several thousand miles away.
Chris was central to helping me get into the race in the first place, and then jumped in managed all of the details surrounding logistics. This would be Chris's 4th time running the race and he had the connections to get things done in South America.
Everything eventually fell into place and we headed to Brazil!
Leaving the Comfort of the Wasatch
When we arrived in Sao Paulo, we met up with one of our hired crew members, Sergio Cordeiro. Sergio is kind of a big deal in Brazil because he's been a professional triathlete and has done a lot of amazing things over the years. It's kind of like having Usain Bolt on your crew if you're running a race in Jamaica. The dude was shaking hands and signing autographs the entire time we were together.
I was happy to have Serie with us when we picked up our rental car because he's the only one of us that can speak Potuguese. Unfortunatley, he doesn't really speak English, si it was still a huge hassle. We eventually got it all sorted out.
Rental Car Debacle
Our first night in Brazil was spent in Americana, a two hour drive from Sao Paulo. We were hosted by Paulo Calil and his family. Paulo had crewed for Chris in the past and was scheduled to be our driver and interpreter for the entire trip. He and his family treated us like royalty upon our arrival and we wanted for nothing. It was truly great.
Waiting for us at Paulo's house was our 3rd and final crew member, Geraldo Silva. He's a 2:26 marathoner and would be pacing us, along with Sergie. Geraldo has a big personality and an abundance of energy. He seemed like a great choice for the job. After some food and sleep, we all loaded up and headed to Sao Joao da Boa Vista, which is where the race starts.
After checking in to our hotel and getting settled, we spent the remaining day relaxing and discussing the race.
Chris and I had decided to run together for the entire race. This is a very risky move because it means we're committing to each others success or failure. We discussed it a lot on agreed to accept it for whatever it might bring.
Out time in Sao Joao da Boa Vista was spent preparing for the race. We had to by food and supplies for the crew and runners, attend packet pickup, sit through a race briefing and try to fuel and rest as much as possible.
More Essential Supplies
Side Note: See the dog wandering through the bar in the picture above? Dogs are a constant theme in Brazil. They're everywhere! Fortunately, they all seem to be very sweet animals.
Chris and I at Packet Pickup
The Entire Team! Sergio, Chris, Geraldo, Jo, me and Edwardo (Paulo's son)
While we were making race preparations in Sao Joao Boa da Vista, we got word that Paulo wouldn't be able to join us due to a family emergency. This would leave us without an english speaking Brazilian on our team, so he had his son, Edwardo, stay with us. He's a great found man and he speaks english very well. Things were working out.
Race Director, Mario Lacerda. He's Insane. Just sayin...
Me and Roman Working on Race Strategy
Finally, everything was purchased, the car was ready, the team was briefed and we were ready to get this thing underway. We all gathered for a final meal before the race and relaxed.
The Last Supper
By the way...I know this is a long blog post and we haven't even started running the race yet. So let me take this opportunity to thank you for hanging in there. We're getting to the good stuff.
The race begins at 8:00 PM, which has positive and negative aspects. It's nice to not be rushed in the morning and start when the weather is coolest, but it also adds a lot of hours when we're awake and not getting rest. I think this ultimately caused a lot of problems for runners as the race wore on.
Chris, Geraldo and Me Right Before the Start
After the typical pre-race stuff, we off into the night for the beginning of a very long journey.
It was still very hot and humid at the start of the race and I was sweating profusely within the first mile as we ran through town, heading for the mountains. I felt like we were running an even, easy pace, but I also noticed we were WAY up in the front of the pack.
The first big hill was relentless and we ran the entire thing. When we got to the top, I said to Chris, "I'm not sure that was smart". Without hesitation, he said "It wasn't". We decided to walk the hills after that.
Let's talk about hills....
I've run a lot of mountain races in the United States but I have never seen a race that was this relentless. There's very little flat ground on the entire course and if you don't manage your race properly, it will crush you. When you factor in the extreme heat and humidity, this race is definitely harder than anything I've ever seen.
Bit of Elevation Change
And...here's where it all goes wrong for me:
From the beginning, I knew I wasn't going to be running at me peak because I had just come off my win at the Across the Years 48 Hour race 12 days earlier. I had run 202 miles and nobody can fully recover from that in such a short period of time. I wasn't kidding myself about this.
My legs felt sluggish and never loosened up, but I wasn't terribly worried about it. I told Chris that I wasn't running well and I just felt fatigued, but we expected this and dealt with it. Leg speed isn't what we need for this race anyway. We need the ability to keep moving at a slow and steady pace for a very long time. I felt like I could do that. Far a while...
I was sweating so badly that I was draining my entire 50 ounce bladder in about 4 miles. The crew was set up to meet us at 5. When I reached them, I downed a 22 ounce bottle of HEED and refilled my pack with water and Endurolyte Fizz tabs.
After being crewed at mile 10, I noticed I was getting bloated and I mentioned it to Chris. By mile 11, the nausea set in. I recognized right away that I had made a mistake and had ingested way too many electrolytes, resulting in Hypernatremia. I would need to combat this by drinking water to dilute the minerals in my body, but all I had were more electrolyte laden fluids and I HAD to drink. I sipped slowly and slowed my pace.
At mile 12, I puked. And it never stopped.
At the next aid stop, I refilled my pack with straight water and tried to settle my body down but I kept vomiting. Very quickly, I was unable to ingest anything without triggering more vomiting. I couldn't get fluids down and food was out of the question.
I decided to keep moving while we worked this out.
At mile 20, we reached the base of Pico do Gaviao. This a 3 mile climb...steep and relentless. I tried to eat again before making the ascent, but nothing stayed in. I left my crew and made the climb, dry heaving my way all the way to the top.
I had told Chris to take Geraldo and run ahead for this climb. It's an out-and-back section so we would see each other along the way. We passed each other while I had about 1 kilometer to go before the peak. Chris stopped and asked how I was feeling. If I had anything in my body, I probably would have puked just to properly illustrate things for him. I pushed on.
On the descent, I only had to stop once for a bout of dry heaving. I took this as a good sign. Chris and Geraldo were waiting with the rest of the crew when I came off the mountain. I sat in the dirt and whined for a while but that wasn't helping either. I tried to get some water and calories in me, but nothing would stay.
I was totally resigned to my fully depleted situation and decided to keep moving in hopes that I could overcome this. I had come a long way without any hydration or nutrition and we all know this wasn't sustainable. If I could eat and drink, I wasn't going to last much longer in these conditions.
I survived 9 more miles without successfully eating or drinking anything. Near mile 35, we met our crew and I fell to the ground. I had no energy and there was no sign of recovery. I told Chris that I wasn't going to be able to continue. I just couldn't keep doing this to myself, while simultaneously, ruining his race. He argued and told me not to worry about HIS race. His was OUR race and we'll get through to the end together.
Hearing him talk just crushed me. I quietly sobbed inside while I sat in the dirt on that dark road. I just knew I couldn't go on and I knew it was crushing him to see me like this.
Almost too quiet to hear, I just said, "I can't".
Chris got down in front of me with his hands on my shoulders and just stared into my eyes. Or maybe my soul. He stared for a long time before standing back up, grabbing Geraldo and heading down the course.
I was out of the race and I was devastated. Not only for myself but for all of us. Words will never describe the profound sense of loss that I had at that moment.
I piled into the back seat of the car and slept like a baby.
I woke up 2 hours later when we stopped to meet Chris and Geraldo. I got out of the car, still in my running clothes and waited for them to come down the course. I felt like an imposter out there. I had no business being on a race course in running clothes.
When the guys arrived, I helped to crew for them and settled into my new role as a crew member. This is the role I would have for the 120 miles.
The sun was coming up and the heat was settling in. Chris was running a good race, but he was getting fatigued and beginning to have some fueling issues. With me out of the race, Chris had free reign of all my Hammer Nutrition products and I was trying to get as much of that in his gut as I could. He was responding well to HEED and gels, but neither are designed for a race this long.
The course travels through several small villages and towns. We would take the opportunity to buy groceries when we passed through during the day. Ice cream was a logical choice for Chris in this heat, but even with a chest full of ice, it was impossible to keep it frozen. The heat was unrelenting.
Now that I wasn't competing, I was fully dedicated to helping Chris have a strong race. I took charge of his wellbeing and focused on his needs.
Geraldo! Unstoppable! Unless He Needs a Sandwich.
When Chris needed a little more personal attention, I was happy to jump in and run with him. This gave us more time to talk about his physical condition and our plans to keep him moving.
Chris began to go through a series of lows and highs, with the lows lasting much longer than the highs. Fueling was getting to be more challenging and I was starting to run out of ideas to keep him stung and moving forward.
Taking on the Role of Pacer
When the sun started to set on our second night on the Caminho da Fe, we were all getting exhausted. The night sky was a welcome reprieve from the intense heat, but it brought issues of it's own.
Geraldo Can Sleep Anywhere
Chris was having vivid and wild hallucinations during the night. If I hadn't been so worried about his physical and mental condition, the whole thing would have been hilarious! When he pointed out to Jo that she had just stepped on an invisible teddy bear, causing it's stuffing to spill out all over the road, I almost lost my mind due to the hysterics! But laughing at Chris's situation would need to be reserved for later. It would just be rude in the moment.
DOGS! I love the dogs of Brazil!
Chris made it through the night and eventually into Paraisopolis, which used to be the finish line of the Brazil 135. Now it was just another town and happened to mark the spot where we had 40 more miles to go. And in all reality, the hardest 40 miles of the course.
Chris had been doing a bit of vomiting by this point. This guy wants to be me so badly that he's even started to puke like me! Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.
I wasn't worried about his vomiting because he was still able to replace the contents of his stomach. It wasn't easy, but we made it happen. I was trying all kinds of food and drink combinations to keep him fueled. I was measuring his caloric intake to ensure he was getting his essentials, even if it was on the low side by this point. I was part mathematician and part nutritionist.
I'm Sure I'm Giving Chris Some Discouraging News About the Course Here
Chris had an enormous 8km climb coming up and I was focusing on making sure his body was in a position to manage the ascent. In my mind, this would be his defining moment of the race. Jo and I made sure that he was getting all the attention he would need leading up to final miles of the race.
Side Note: a 4x4 is really necessary for this race. PLEASE take my advise on this.
Typical Course Markings for the Caminho da Fe
Even though Chris was feeling rough, he never stopped for long. He was insistent on getting in, sitting for a minute, then heading out. Geraldo would often stay behind and take care of things for Chris, then run to catch back up. But Chris kept moving forward.
Geraldo eventually needed to be relieved and Sergio jumped in to take his place. For the rest of the race, they would take turns running with Chris. I was amazed that Geraldo was able to maintain for as long as he did. That dude is true stud.
Sergio and Chris...Moving Well in the Late Miles
As Chris approached the Break Leg climb, he was already exhausted. We had been working on preparing him for this ascent for several miles, but he was just physically spent by this point of the race. Before heading up, we loaded him down with ice water, gave him a jacket and put a headlamp in his pack. We had no idea how long the climb would take but we were just a few hours from nightfall and the climb goes on for 6 miles.
We had to drive the crew vehicle around his climb because it's not passable by car. We followed our driving directions and waited for Chris at the top of the climb. AND...waited.
I was sleeping when the shouting woke me up and I realized the sun had set and it was pitch black outside. And Chris wasn't here yet. I couldn't understand what the commotion was about because everybody was yelling in Portuguese. Our interpreter, Edwardo, yelled to me that they were talking about Chris. He went on to tell us that Chris was down the mountain and couldn't go on. He was vomiting and unable to continue. We all piled in the car and drove down the mountain!
After about a kilometer, I found Chris and Sergio standing in the trail together. I jumped out and checked on Chris. He was definitely confused, and somewhat delirious. He couldn't understand how we found him and what we were doing there. I explained what we were told and he refuted every bit of it. He went on to explain that he thought he was off course and that he thought they had been lost for hours. Because he can't communicate with the pacer, they had spun this massive web of confusion.
I assured Chris that he was still on course and he was fine. Frustrated by the situation, I put the pacer in the car and got loaded up so I could pace Chris for the rest of the race. I needed to be totally confident that he was ok and I couldn't do that if he couldn't communicate with his pacer. I sent the crew back to the top of the hill and we headed up behind them.
When we got to the top of the hill, we paused to resupply. Sergio was still in the car and I knew he was upset that I replaced him. He's a fantastic pacer and I didn't want him to be upset, but we were too close to the finish to allow a tragedy over miscommunication.
Geraldo grabbed his gear and joined us for the final miles, running ahead to scan for markers while carrying Chris's gear. We were pushing forward, fast.
With the exception of some course confusion near the finish, things went perfectly. Chris was chatty, but very fatigued, as you might expect after 170ish miles. I was excited for him and happy to have this time to talk about the entire experience.
Chris finished as first international runner in just over 52 hours. He now holds the American record for the original 135 mile course, as well as the record for the new 175 mile course. I couldn't be more excited for my friend!
Chris and Mario at the Finish!
Random Dog Picture!
The awards ceremony the following day is a huge production and Mario makes sure that everybody gets recognized for their part in the race. Including those of us who failed to complete it. I had never received a DNF medal before, but I like the idea.
Mario Hanging my DNF Medal Around My Neck
Lisa Smith-Batchen, Me and Mario Lacerda
Chris Being Presented With His International Winner Trophy
While I was obviously disappointed with how my race went, I can honestly say that this race was one of the greatest running experiences of my life. The adventure is simply amazing, and having an opportunity to be a part of a race like this is a dream come true. It was all made ether when Chris set his record. It was an absolutely incredible experience.
I also had the opportunity to learn a lot from watching Chris run his race. He's a tremendously strong individual and he's totally unstoppable. He's strong in areas where I'm weak and I can learn a lot from a man like him. It was a privilege and an honor to be a part of his race.
I'm definitely going back to Brazil in 2016 to apply the things that Chris Roman taught me.
Thanks for following along and happy trails!