BRAZIL 135 Race Report: 44h 42min of beautiful mountain running, eating and powernappning
By Jeanette Mertz
Part-time endurance junkie living in Dubai
Brand ambassador @myRaceKit
Travel and pre-race activities in São Joao da Boa Vista
Given the time difference from Dubai to Sao Paulo, I decided to arrive one day earlier than I normally would – just to shake off a couple of busy weeks at work but more importantly to catch up with sleep and get into race time zone, which is six hours ahead of my natural habitat in the Middle East.
When I arrived after 17 hours of flying, my gear box had not arrived. I didn’t get super stressed as I ALWAYS carry one complete set of clothes, HOKAS and my UD vesta in my carry on. Still it was really annoying as I was missing a HUGE IKEA box with all my night gear (Yeti sleeping bag, Yeti Down jacket), first aid, food and kitchen utensils…basically all the stuff that my crew needed to support me through two nights in the mountains.
After a few hand signs and a mix of Portuguese and English, the baggage guys located my box and I started to walk towards arrival with a picture on WhatsApp of my two Brazilian pacers, who had promised to pick me up and take me to São Joao da Boa Vista.
It was with a combination of excitement and nervousness that I located these two men and their car. I mean… it is BRAZIL and I never met them before… but hey ultra-running is the best and safest community, I thought. It became evident within a few minutes that they guys were super nice and solid runners. English crash course would have been good. My crew chief was from Denmark, at least one of my crew would be easy to communicate with.
Of we went for a 3.5- 4 hours of beautiful curvy toll road drive towards São Joao da Boa Vista, where I had booked a room at hotel Mansao dos Nobres from Monday night until the start on Thursday morning. We did a quick stop at a gas station cafeteria to stock up for the trip and my first impression of BRAZIL was that it is extremely green, and that Brazilians are super friendly but seem to love white bread and cake confirmed by the endless cafeteria aisles of colorful bags of rolls, bread buns, cakes etc with occasional Haribo bags.
Next morning, I went for a small walk to the local supermarket only to realize that it was already quite hot and super humid already around 10 am. I therefore decided to spend as much time as possible outside to get used to the high humidity and the strong sun. I spend most of the day eating, resting, re-running YouTube video of the race trying to imagine the endless hills etc, eating, sleeping and more endless hills.
Wednesday was the day where the official program started. Overnight, my crew chief Kristina from Kristina Extreme Running had arrived, and we met up for a race-planning breakfast where we met the other runners and went through what ended up being a first take of the a race strategy that later would be altered numerous times as race conditions constantly changed.
At 11 am, our pacers picked us up to take us to the race check-in and race briefing. The checking was super well organized almost like an assembly line with check points for weighing, waiver signing, tracker collection etc though mainly in Portuguese. The GPS-thingy was basically a velcro-bracelet but knowing how sensitive my skin is especially in humid conditions, Kristina instead attached the GPS to my bib-belt with safety pins and some clear tape.
After the check-in, we headed for a local supermarket to stock up on all the items needed for four people and a race that we expected would last around 48 hours. As the cashier finished the checkout, I was surprised to see that the total content of two full shopping carts only came to around USD 170. We had a lot… I mean A LOT!!! Including 6 gallons of water, lots of pacer coke, huge bags of bananas etc.
From there we went back to the race-check in for lunch followed by a (for European standard) VERY long race briefing in Portuguese with a tiny English version at the end. We met some of the other runners and their crew and everyone were super helpful and in great spirit.
Three hours later, we were back in the hotel, packing gear into my big see-through IKEA boxes and heading down for dinner. On the way to my room, I had an opportunity to talk to a few Florida runners (whom I at that time didn’t recognize). They also ended up inviting me and Kristina for pizza at night, where I came to realize that everyone around the table was either BADWATER135 veterans or BRAZIL135 veterans and that two of them (Amy Costa and David Green) were there to run the entire Camino da Fe ie 381 freaking miles …I realized I had entered a different league of craziness – like five mountain marathons aren’t enough… arghh
On race day, I of course woke up at normal Dubai-time so around 3 am Brazil-time and there was no way I could go back to sleep as my head was spinning. I started eating and drinking a bit and continued for the hours to come until it was time to take off for the 10 am start line.
Frist drama of the race started before we even left our hotel as we realized that the way our stuff was packed, it would not fit four people and luggage for the drive to the start line (race is NOT an out and back race, so we don’t come back to the start town again).
Kristina was quick to offload the luggage again at the hotel so that we could focus on getting me and Rafael, who was going to be my pacer the first 33k (one of only two parts of the course where the crew car is not allowed) to the start line in time.
We arrived at 9.45 and I jumped out of the car and into what felt like an insane heat, but what proved to be about only 30+C degrees but at 90% humidity. Yikes …for someone who is comfortable with DRY Dubai heat, this was a bit tough.
Timing was perfect as I didn’t have time to get too nervous (only a bit) but then I bumped into Jessica Harding, one of the female BADWATER135 veterans, who was as calm as a rock and noted smiling ‘it’s not that difficult as long as you keep moving forward however slow you are and minimize your down time”.. I kept telling myself “its gonna be okay – if I can do 100K mountain – then I can also do 217k mountain” … it is just a few days of beautiful mountains with an awesome crew!
1st Marathon – from São Joao da Boa Vista to Pico Do Gaviao base (after climb, 54k/8:00)
After the national song, the start kicked off at 10.00. Rafael and I went out a bit conservative knowing that the race had people doing everything from 1 to 5 marathons and the 5x marathon runners were dominated by relays so there was no need to try to follow their pace.
As we ran through the hilly town streets, it became obvious that noting was going be flat in this race… it was either uphill or downhill but nothing in between. The streets were not steep like racing in the Alps but just enough to make the legs warm in no time and a bit too steep for running.
Rafael and I left town shortly after trotting along until the crew car could join us again after 33k mark in Águas da Prata. The initial part of the course was pure tarmac until 20ishK (basically a normal hilly road, so I felt good given I come from road running and I only did my first mountain race 3 months before at Vietnam Mountain Marathon 100K). Rafael kept saying I was going too fast, but I walked up all hills, so I almost felt I was going too slow. The course without crew car support only had two water stops namely at 14K and 22K. By the time, we reached the car in Águas da Prata, I had consumed the content of my small 0.5L bladder twice and eaten my banana, and managed to fall once, so I was quite happy to see Kristina and Luiz ready with the camping chair out in the middle of the busy street. I ditched my vesta for good, sat down for a few minutes in the chair and managed to get down a few salty chips and some water before heading out again.
We had ahead of the race agreed a few basic race-rules namely:
- Kristina would use each time she paced me to tell a detailed story from some of the races she has won (jungle ultra, Namibia multi-stage, Kilimanjaro etc), so I could focus on running while she provided ‘free entertainment’
- I was never to stand still (unless it was for bathroom break) nor move backwards towards the crew car; if I wanted to talk to the crew, I would continue forward motion and wait for them to pass me
- I would only sit down in the camping chair for as long as it would take to consume some quick calories on the plate and some water and that I would then start running eating the rest while in motion
- I would only sleep if I was extremely sleepy I and was in danger of falling
- I would follow Kristina’s guidance regarding fuel/hydration/salt strategy even though I did not feel like eating or drinking…It was not up for debate
- We would stick to the pacer plan to ensure that everyone would get proper breaks from driving, running and to allow for sleep
As the following story will tell, I was only able to live up to the first five rules. The 5th rule ending up being a major game changer from any race I had done before and probably the key most important thing in placing well in this race. I consistently ate, and I ate real food. Across the whole race, I only ate bread buns, avocado, rice, potatoes, nuts and total of four salt tables plus I drank water. No powder, no gels, no soda, no energy drink, no chocolate, no candy… nothing artificial as my biggest enemy in races is my stomach. The 6th rule may not seem so important from a runner’s point of view but the rule is key to ensure optimal crew performance at all times.
Anyways… back to the 33k mark, where Kristina and I took off heading up another big tarmac hill in Águas da Prata. Me in good spirit eating salted chips while Kristina entertained me for next many trail hills sharing the most personal details of her Namibia race. We continued trotting along up a few big trail hills until Rafael again took over to pace me to our planned check point at 1st marathon.
Now it was way past midday and super-hot. I started to feel a bit nausea… but I was like… “that can’t be true… we just started” so I kept pushing. My body rewarded me instantly as I stopped for a short break at 42K mark – I puked twice within 2 minutes scaring the crap out of the crew parked just ahead of us – but luckily it was only stomach acid and no real fuel and water loss, so there was no need to be concerned. The Luis and Kristina had put out the camping chair and Kristina convinced me to sit down and eat some solid food, which was honestly the last thing I felt like doing 2 minutes after vomiting. But it proved to be a good idea to eat some bread with avocado.
I instantly felt better and took off after a few minutes in the chair – happy that the puking seemed like a temporary issue. Given I had been so focused on my stomach issue, I didn’t realize that the 42K we actually were nowhere near Pico Do Gaviao base where the 1 marathon check point was supposed to be. The CP was indeed much later – more like around 46K mark before climbing Pico Do Gaviao – where we came to the second point on the course, where the crew car could not follow. It was a ~9K stint, basically 4.5K up a narrow steep trail and back down again where Luiz ran along. I was able to count the females ahead of me in the race as they came descending the peak and I was quite surprised to see I was in 5th place, so I got what felt like a second wind, returning to the base again as the time clocked 8 hours with an overall 10th fastest on that Strava segment.
2nd marathon – Pico Do Gaviao base to Barra
From Pico do Gaviao base, towards Andradas (~70K mark). Rafael and I had a 18km flat (read only little undulation) beautiful run through forest, which made it feel like at totally different place. I put some music on and got into the zone – just cruising along passing a few guys along the way, climbing up the ranks and for the first time, I get close to the female in 4th place – A strong Brazilian ultra-runner.
In Andradas, we were met by another set of stone covered streets, which was the terrain in all the smaller hilly town on Camino de Fei. It was actually a nice change from the trail except the streets were very steep and hence only walkable. After Andradas, Kristina took over and we went back into story-telling mode for 8K until we hit Serra do Llamas. Everything seemed to be on track. I was in 5th place and I didn’t feel too bad – only my stomach was rumbling a bit and I started looking around for a place to hide for a bathroom break. As I returned from my ‘behind the bushes’ break, Rafael had stopped the crew car right before a steep climb. He explains that he needs to just pull back a bit to have enough power to climb the steep incline. He asks me to wait a bit and aims full steam towards the climb. He only makes it half way up after which the wheels start spinning and the car goes a bit sideways refusing to climb further. At this moment I realize the car didn’t have 4WD (one of the specs I had put down as I was looking for crew car… a few moments of horror and me being super upset, we get a pack together for Rafael with water and bananas for us while Luiz and Kristina turn the car around to try to find another way around. Rafael and Luiz agree that we are too continue and that the crew car will meet up at a T-junction about 10 or so kilometers ahead. Me fuming a bit, we start running in the silent and cold night.
After about 1.5 hours, we see car lights up ahead on the course behind a steep hill. I start to loosen up, feeling happy that its just one steeper climb and we will be back with our crew car and get access to supply again.
To our surprise, our crew car is not at the T-junctions as agreed. There are a few other cars, but no one seems to have seen our car. I start to panic again but Rafael calms me down saying it must just be around the corner as the detour is not very far. We discuss a bit if we should just continue running without supply or wait. Issue with taking off is that the crew car may think we haven’t made it to the junction and they will then be waiting there.
After 40 minutes of waiting, I had enough. No one has seen our car, but they explain that there are a few cars that are not able to get through the detour and seems stuck on the course further back. I totally loose it that moment… exhausted and not able to think clearly, I decide to start running while Rafael wants to stay back. I realize after a few 100 meters that I will be in trouble if the car doesn’t surface within an hour as I have no pack and no supply. I turn back to the T-junction and explain to Rafael we just should go as we can get water to put in our pack from other cars.
We head out into ‘uncertainty’ but luckily after what seems like forever, our crew car pulls up along the side of us Kristina clearly fuming and explaining in Danish that they couldn’t get around and that they got lost for a while, but she quickly puts on an action-oriented mindset to calm me down. I take a quick few minutes to rest, fuel and go to bathroom before we take off for a night of running. As the sun starts to rise, the most beautiful sunrise emerges, I remove my jacket and I pass a few guys who are walking.
3rd marathon – Barra to Borda da Mata (145k/27H at 1 pm Friday)
In Barra, we meet Rafael and Luiz, who are taking picture of the huge city sign. Kristina quickly gets out the chair and serves breakfast. During the night I had felt a bit of a blister emerging but not bad enough to stop just for that. We use the breakfast break to sort my feet while I continue eating… Multi-tasking at its best!
And we take off again…
Right before we got to Incontidentes at 124K mark, my stomach started to act up a bit, but it was a narrow road with nowhere to hide. I tried to sit down and eat but it only got worse, so Luiz found a gas station with a ‘real’ bathroom.
After the bathroom break, I felt good again and wanted to take off, but we couldn’t seem to find Rafael, so I took off on my own knowing that Rafael would be able to catch up as he is a fast runner. I left Incontidentes and caught up with Andre, one of the other runners. We talked for a while and he explained that he had run it before and that there were only a few big climbs left for the 3rd marathon. I was so happy at that moment “only a few climbs…yeah push on”. Over the next hours, Andre and I took turn at passing each other on the course pending on where our crew cars where parked. It gave a super good atmosphere as it was like having 2 crews cheering for me.
We hit Borda da Mata a bit past noon on Friday after 27 hours of running and we decided it was time for a bit of food and a nap while the sun was at its highest around 1 pm. We found a nice area next to the CP (almost like a town square) where I could lay down for 20min. I managed to power nap and felt refreshed afterwards. A quick toilet break using the portacabins made for a nice change.
4th marathon – Borda da Mata to Estiva (183K/37H at 11 pm Friday)
I started out feeling quite well after the power nap though I obviously felt it was too short. Who doesn’t after 27 hours of running? But off I went in good spirit but… Hallo marathon from hell…. It was clear that it was going to be far the toughest of the five marathons in terms of elevation, but also in terms of heat and later insane monsoon rain.
I realized quite quickly after leaving Borda Mata around 150K mark, that I was in for a toasty marathon and that there was a reason that Rafael had said that the 4th marathon is the toughest. Hallo long step climbs, 40 degrees and 90% humidity.
I felt I was being fried even when walking up the hills, so we quickly pulled out my Marathon Des Sables desert hat and some arm sleeves that we soaked and put some ice cubes into to try to keep me cool. It worked for a while, but after a few back2back climbs with the sun directly hitting my back/neck, I started to feel a bit dizzy. Kristina suggested I take a break in the shade so she could ice me down… yes literally. She put ice in my top, my skirt, my arm sleeves and rolled a buff around my desert hat filled with ice. Despite the discomfort of the ice, I passed out instantly on the side of the road.
After 20 min Kristina woke me up again, and I surprisingly felt much better. Dizziness was gone, and core temperature was much better, so I got up and started moving forward again while the team packed our stuff. I kept the green buff on replenished it with ice cubes and off I went one climb after another, sun now hitting my back.
Kristina jumped out of car to pace me, every other minute replenishing with ice for the next few hours where the sun is burning and there are no clouds in sight.
At 170k or 33 hours after I started, I changed my top to my green “100-Mile-High Club” and my green sunglasses. Yes, it’s a bit laughable in retrospect but at that time it felt like a huge achievement that I had clocked the first 100miles and that there was only ~35 miles according to the race plan, so I trotted along with a big smile and a cold handheld towards Estiva.
That smile was wiped away quite quickly as it suddenly started to rain. Not just a little shower, no …rain like monsoon in Asia. Before we could even pull the car over and I could get my rain jacket on, I was already soaked and shivering. I did quick clothes change with the trunk open covering me from the rain and put a ski-pully and a UD rain jacket with a big hat on and started walking. I only managed to walk short distance in the rain when I started to notice an awful burning sensation in my groin… damn… chafing. Until then I had not had a single issue with chafing, which was why I didn’t change skirt or top at any point. But once the skirt got wet and rubbed against my legs every time I took a step, it was a totally different game. I thought about changing to long tights but given the rain had not stopped, I imagined I would be facing same issue, so I just walked on. Luckily Luiz came running with a big sun-umbrella to try to cover us both from the heavy rain. From there, we just walked in silence side by side up and down hills as the intensity of the rain took off.
At 10 pm, we came into Estiva, which was a cute small town. I was sleepy but also cognizant of the fact that I only had 1 marathon to go and a rumbling stomach. Kristina did the math again and announced that I would get a toilet break and 20 minutes of sleep. I looked like a freaking question mark. ‘You want me to sleep where? On the busy pedestrian street or?” “Here” Kristina said and pointed to a closed store next door where the pavement was only occupied by two other runners searching for some peace to lay down. “I already put out your mat so hurry up and get some sleep…time is ticking”.
5th marathon – Estiva to Paraisopolis (finish line) at 224K/44:42 – fastest marathon ~ 6.5h
I woke up by someone shaking me a bit… I was really confused and disoriented but soon I realized it was Kristina handing me warmer close to wear for the last (night) marathon. As I got out of the sleeping bag, I was cold, tired and wimpy but recalled that Rafael had said that 3rd and 4th marathons are the toughest and 5th would feel better. So, I decided to start running at a solid pace through the town and out to some wide jeep tracks. It felt indeed flatter than the last many miles and it was no longer raining, so I that gave me a mental boost to allow me to crank the pace up one notch thinking…”its almost like a road marathon and it is not going be long before I will cross the finish line and can get a shower and a clean bed”. I think my two local pacers got a bit chocked that I suddenly picked up the pace, as they fell a bit behind.
I kept pushing on, legs felt surprisingly good and only issue I faced was some difficulties in seeing where I was running due to sleep deprivation. The crew car therefore changed strategy from leap frogging to constantly drive only a few meters behind me to light up the road ahead of me. It clearly helped that I was able to see what was straight in front of me but I had a blurry vision everywhere except right in front of me… fair enough… at this time, I had run close to 40 hours and I had only laid down three times for a total of 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Rafael started to run with me, but he was literally falling asleep running. It was like running with a drunk person (not that I have ever tried that) – he was on another planet, but he kept pushing forward
After a bit of running, we suddenly saw runners ahead. Not one but two groups of two runners. It was a bit surreal as we haven’t seen people since Estiva. I increased the pace a bit to get a closer look and to my surprise it was the fourth female with her pacer and a bit ahead a guy and his pacer. I considered the situation a bit and ended up concluding that I still had an extra gear, so I pushed even harder to put a bit of distance between me/Rafael and the two groups behind me.
Rafael was still suffering, so Luiz took over and we ran a bit. However, within the first few minutes, I managed to fall as I was busy looking to see if the groups were catching up. I limped a few meters but decided to ignore the pain. Not much to do now beside finishing the race. Luiz tried to follow but he also had issues with his knee, so Kristina took over as pacer again.
We agreed that she would try to keep the high pace even if we hit some climbs. Given she is a mountain runner, she is significantly faster walking up hill than I am, so I just power-walked behind her trying to keep up with her pace on the climbs and lead the run all the down hills.
As we ran, the horizon slowly started to change towards pink and the first ray of light appeared. It was the most amazing sunrise…Kristina stopped to take some pictures while I just kept going.
The sky turned pink and it became brighter revealing beautify foggy valleys, and it felt so unique. This feeling lasting from the last climb trail all the way into town. As we reached the top of the last trail climb, Rafael and Luiz had parked the car and put the Danish national song on. It was soo magic and we found a bit of extra energy to push towards town, where we met the final stretch of steep stone covered streets but this time they were all downhill. Ironically, at this stage in the race, downhills were much more painful (burning quads) than climbing.
One of the race officials saw us coming down the final steep street as we were approaching, he applauded and started running with us, offering to take a photo. I almost cried then.
I crossed the finish line 44h42 minutes and 224km after leaving São Joao da Boa Vista on Thursday morning. I was so focused on finishing that I even forgot to stop my Suunto Spartan Ultra… but damn it felt good!
Shortly after Rafael and Luis arrived, so we could all take a team photo with our medals. Nice touch that crew get their own BRAZIL 135 crew medals!
Conclusion: Awesome race, great RD, beautiful mountains jeep track trails and great crew atmosphere along the course. Does require some head adaptation before hand (or rather humidity adaptation). Expect any kind of weather from burning sun/heat to cold nights and monsoon floods.
Here is the gear that I used:
- HOKA Challenger ATR 4 (2 pairs)*
- CEP compression socks with Danish flags
- Lululemon short skirt with sponsor logos (Thank you Scandinavian Physio therapy centre Dubai, myRaceKit and my employer SAP)
- A variety of tops pending on temperature*
- UD Woman’s Vesta*
- myRaceKit desert cap and 2XU cooling sleeves
- Kristina Extreme Running buff
- Yeti down sleeping bag*
- Yeti down jacket*
- OMM filt hat for night running
- UD rain jacket*
- Suunto Spartan Ultra with extra power bank
*Available at www.myracekit.com
If you are considering doing this race next year (I am for sure) – here are my hints:
- Always make sure the crew car is 4WD
- Ensure that at least one crew member speaks English
- Plan to run first and last marathon faster but allow extra time especially for fourth marathon
- Stick to the plan for pacers breaks – else, like in my case, one person ends up staying awake for 44 hours
- Bring big IKEA see-through boxes for easy access to gear, two coolers, camping chair and lights for car