‘Welcome to the jungle,’ wrote the 20th Century’s version of Descartes, ‘we’ve got fun and games.’ To which, I’m tempted to respond with ‘No, Axel, no you haven’t’. What you meant to say was ‘Welcome to the jungle, we’ve got 2 hours of running in the pitch black with a head torch clamped to your forehead, followed by a Sisyphean (Wayne – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sisyphus) push uphill with your mountain bike, a treacherous daybreak trail ride, a run around a cocoa plantation, more trail riding and a 2km ‘swim’ down a river. With a curly-haired, formerly obese Australian as a team mate.’
For anyone who’s never heard of it, the Madagui Trophy (http://www.vietadventure.vn/UserFiles/File/Madagui_Flyer_W150xH210mm.jpg ) is, quite simply, a magnificent event to do. Now in its sixth year, the race is variously described as ‘a chance to explore the Vietnamese jungle, feel the wilderness’ (official spiel); ‘a chance to run about in the jungle, in the dark, with your mates, how cool is that?’ (anyone who’s finished it and recovered); and ‘f**king sh*t’ (anyone who’s in the middle of it). Organised by the generally reliable, though occasionally haphazard, expat French company Vietadventure (http://www.vietadventure.vn/home), it should genuinely feature high on the to-do list of anyone with a sense of adventure and access to Vietnam. Despite generally hating everything, even I’m being nice about it, that’s how good it is.
I should, at this point, mention that my unnatural positivity stems from the sheer brilliance of the race and has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I finished second this year and am fairly chuffed about it (Though I did finish second, did I mention that?) In fact, the only reason I’m going to spend the next hour or so writing about my second place finish is because I think that you should stick it in you 2014 diary now so you don’t miss out. Still not convinced? Take a look at this video from 2012, put together by the chap who came in third this year: http://vimeo.com/38764047 . You can thank me in a year’s time.
The race comes in three formats – Adventure (2-4 hours), Extreme (4-6 hours), and Ultra (7-12 hours). Feeling brave, and having no real excuse not to after months of Ironman training, myself and Damo signed up for the Ultra. Given that last year’s winners, Ben and Wayne, finished in 6 hours something, whereas we limped over the Extreme finish line in 5 hours 45, we figured that we had no chance of getting on the podium and set ourselves the sole aim of not embarrassing ourselves – not an easy thing to do when you’re running about in public wearing a vest and bike helmet.
Our race began at the ungodly time of 2.30am (breakfast at 1am – the first time I’ve ever eaten at that time without either being on an aeroplane or smashed.) with a dash to the mountain bikes and a short ride to the start of the first run. The next two hours consisted of dragging ourselves uphill along a loosely identifiable, single file jungle path, all the while using the light from our head torches to watch for loose rocks, roots and absurdly sharp bamboo, as well as trying to spot the red and white ribbons that act as trail markers – miss these at your peril: this is where the chasing pack lost touch with the leaders after blindly following a hapless idiot, possible called Dan, down a dead end, while another team ended up doing this section of the race twice following a minor navigational error.
This brief period of woodland fun and frolics was followed by the start of the ‘bike’ leg. I use inverted commas because the word ‘bike’ generally implies a large degree of riding. Not true. This one required competitors to push, ride and carry their bikes over, around and through a succession of dense forest, large boulders, and potholed trails, all the while plodding steadily upwards. For many, this is the hardest part of the race, with many people paying the price for an over enthusiastic start. At least that’s how I felt as my hamstrings started to cramp at precisely the same time I managed to turn my ankle on a sneaky pebble. It was about 40 minutes into this that we hit the first checkpoint to be greeted with the happy news that, despite being around 30 minutes behind the leaders, we were, somehow, sat in second place. Given that this had never happened to me before, we were a little unsure as how to react. Reasoning that it wouldn’t last, we decided to hold on for as long as possible and make whoever was going to overtake us work bloody hard for it.
Another 30 mins of climbing saw the route begin to even out and we were able to, finally, clamber on to our bikes for some poorly lit
riding. Daybreak arrived as we hit the start of the descents – the previous 90 minutes of torture cancelled out in twenty mins of overly cautious down hills. A few kilometres of trails, two river crossings and a magnificent stretch of sealed road later we hit the start of the second run, still in silver medal position. It was here we had our only bit of contact with the race leaders – as we were refilling with the help of the race volunteers, Ben and Wayne came careering out of the cocoa plantation to be surprised by the news that we were the ones trying to chase them down. Though they deny it, I suspect that it was at this point the pair of them relaxed and began to work on their winner’s interviews for Vietnamese TV (and they certainly needed work – ‘it was dark, really dark. And hard. It was hard and dark.’ Brilliant boys, well done.)
Myself and Damian, on the other hand, didn’t have the luxury of being pursued by rank amateurs and had to keep pushing if we were to stand a chance of coming home as first losers. After an energy gel fuelled twenty minutes in the plantation – one climb and an annoying ten minute splash down the middle of a stream being the highlights – we were back on the bikes and I started to go a little bit mental. I’d realised that we weren’t that far from the finish line and started to lift the pace. It’s testament to Damo’s good nature and easy temperament that he didn’t punch me in the face at any point over the next hour as I constantly screamed at him to keep up, hurry up, keep pedalling and get a move on. And move he did – down some sadistically planned paths, through a handful of villages
and across yet another river with bikes on the shoulder (complete with photographer refusing to lend a hand as we struggled up muddy banks with bikes on our shoulders – cheers mate), we finally arrived at the bike drop off and the beginning of the end – an easy float down river.
At least it would have been easy if the water level was high – as it transpired, a 2km wade over slippery rocks through thigh high water while clad in an ill-fitting life jacket, is just what the body doesn’t need after 5 hours of exercise. Still, even with my partner’s abject lack of swimming skills, we survived and hit the final half km of running to the line. We finished at 7.58 am – 5hours and 28 mins after starting a race that was meant to last a minimum of 7 hours – and had a beer in our hands by 8.05. Sat with Ben and Wayne (winners, again, in 5hours 8mins), we continued to rehydrate with Heineken as we watched everyone else finish and then spent the rest of the day trying not to sit on ants nests and fending off debilitating headaches. Magic, it’s what Sundays were made for.
Fatdanironman award for athletic endeavour – week ending 10/03/2013
A plethora of choices this week – Dan (different one, better haircut) and John finished the Ultra in just over 6 hours; Abi and Lieva managed the Extreme before the cut off; Ash started the race despite suffering from food poisoning; Sophie rescued Ash from his misery, brought him back in an ambulance, then returned to complete the course alone – but it’s hard to look beyond the achievements of my friends and Madagui champions, Ben and Wayne. To successfully defend your title, overcoming an unimaginable amount of pain in the process (‘I need to stop Ben. It hurts.’) and do it in little over 5 hours is some going. The award should, by rights, be theirs. However, and unfortunately for them, my mate’s brother has recently won 87 bags of crisps in a competition on Finnish radio and I count that as a bigger achievement. Well done Ross.
Stupid racing things I’ve done this week -#8 in an occasional series
Wearing a vest for a race through the jungle. My shoulders, forearms and back are scratched to buggery by a variety of unidentified plants (though I don’t think my slow motion fall off the bike helped much). A long sleeved top would have helped. A long sleeved top like the ones given away with my race pack. The ones most other racers wore. One of those would have been great.
Week 34 –
Swim: Plan – 3 hours Actual – 3 hours
Bike: Plan – 5hours15 Actual – 7 hours
Run: Plan – 3hours15 Actual – 2hours
Week 35 –
Swim: Plan – 3 hours Actual – 2 hours
Bike: Plan -5hours15 Actual – 1 hour 30
Run: Plan – 3hours45 Actual – 1 hour 30
Race – 5 hours 28 mins