Rumble in the Jungle

Dec 8, 2014 by     No Comments    Posted under: Uncategorized

Earlier this year I read about an incredible looking race which was run by the Yak Attack organisers Phil Evans and Kate Hobson. After the continued success of the Yak Attack in Nepal, Phil and Kate have started up several new events in other far flung corners of the world, with Rumble in the Jungle being new for 2014. To begin with, I decided against entering the race this year as I thought I’d be pretty tired from a long season and not keen to jump on another plane and push my body to the limit for another big race. A few months later Phil got in touch and thought I would love the race and should definitely do it! In the end I didn’t take much persuading, and it ended up being one of the most enjoyable racing adventures I have ever done, and my first cross country marathon.

With the race being in a remote part of Sri Lanka, an island covered in swathes of tropical jungle, I added a few more items to my kit check list than I usually pack! – antiseptic cream, a well stocked first aid kit, Factor 50 suncream, Alcohol gel hand wash, Insect repellant with worrying quantities of DEET, a travel towel, chamois cream, and my boyfriend got me a survival blanket just in case! I also needed a couple of travel vaccinations a month before leaving – Hepatitis A and Typhoid.

A couple of days before leaving, Kate e-mailed all the entrants an information leaflet on how to survive an elephant attack – the main point being not to run away, and if you do, try not to be the slowest person in the group!

It was great having Sri Lankan Airlines as one of the main event sponsors, and receiving an unexpected Business Class upgrade was brilliant! It was pretty sweet flying along eating steak and drinking champagne, but the real bonus was having a proper sleep and arriving feeling fresh! 

Whilst checking in, I had bumped into pro Canadian marathon racer Sonya Looney and her husband Matt. They are both so friendly and great fun, and it was brilliant to make new friends instantly. We ended up spending most of the next 10 days together! 

Arriving in Sri Lanka was something of a shock to the system, as it was very hot, humid and incredibly hectic! The streets were full of tuk tuk’s, cars, lorries, people on bikes, people walking, cows and lots of street dogs! Arriving in the early morning the streets were just waking up, so it was lovely having breakfast on the roof of the hotel and watching the chaotic streets below on one side, the beautiful beach on the other. Hearing the prayers and singing from the church speakers only made it feel even more exotic! Beach

It was great to have a couple of days before the race registration to acclimatise, swim in the sea, spin the legs, and check out the sea side town of Negombo, just outside the capital, Columbo.

Race registration was right on the beach at the Catamaran Beach Hotel, a pretty sweet place to start and finish a race! It was great to meet all the other racers, a really varied and lovely group of people from all corners of the world. 

 

 

On Tuesday morning we loaded our bikes and bags onto a couple of coaches, ready to drive the seven hours to the start of the race proper. Originally it was planned for us to take a short flight, but I’m pleased we drove as we got to have a proper look at the beautiful places and scenery we drove through, stop at interesting places, and sample some delicious curry. A local tour guide stood at the front of the bus and talked very very fast, giving us a bit of local history, constantly repeating a lot of things and then abruptly stopping, which was hugely amusing. 

We arrived in Kuda Oya in time to quickly build bikes and get settled in our wood huts before dinner and Phil’s Day 1 race brief. That night we had a delicious dinner of lot’s of local curry dishes, most of which were so spicy I got all sweaty and delirious. It turns our that all week I would struggle with the insanely spicy food and spend most meal times getting dizzy and sweaty! I was sharing rooms for the week with Laxmi, a really lovely racer from Nepal. The hut’s were pretty basic, with absolutely loads of big bugs kicking around. At one point, I was sitting on the toilet, when a big frog crawled out from under the cistern! I got the fright of my life, and leaped backwards, crushing a poor bug with my bare feet – euugh! I jumped back into bed, and lay under my mosquito net hoping that nothing could get in! One of the Swedish racers had a huge monitor lizard lying outside his door when he walked outside in the morning!

Day 1 – Kuda Oya to Haputale – 80km – 2200m ascent 

Being the first international mountain bike race ever held in Sri Lanka, the presidents son was flying in via helicopter to see the start of the race, but not being ready until 10am, the start was delayed slightly until he arrived. It was really exciting to be finally getting racing underway after all the preparation and travel to get there! There were 40 racers, from Sri Lanka, Nepal, UK, Hungary, Japan, Canada, Spain, Sweden, Australia, Poland, Switzerland, Germany and India! It was a really interesting mix of lovely people, and being a relatively small group gave everyone a really good chance to get to know one another. 

The race started off on road following behind a motorbike for the first few kilometres, before we peeled away onto a rough track through flat plains. The pace was pretty quick, and I was intrigued to see if everyone was just insanely fit and were planning to keep that pace up for 80km, or if things would calm down and settle into a good steady rhythm. We quickly cut into jungle and dense vegetation, river crossings and a pretty rough and fun trail that took a bit of concentration! I loved the river crossings, and being in the jungle felt like such an adventure! I was half hoping to see an elephant, although the briefing email had made me slightly cautious in reality! 

We started gradually climbing, with everyone seeming to settle into their own pace, on tar roads and tracks, through villages and beautiful countryside. The climbing got progressively steeper, rougher and rockier. The rain made the rocks pretty slick so climbing on them was really exhausting, and I found it was more efficient pushing up some sections. After a good couple of hours of continuous climbing there was a huge painting on the road side which read “No Pain, No Gain”… Is that so, I thought! It seemed funny that the words had clearly been there for years, but were certainly very fitting given my circumstances! Near the top of the climb I caught up with Lee, a fellow racer from the UK, and it was nice to ride with someone after spinning along by myself for ages. 

We finally reached the top after 30km of continuous climbing, and it was awesome to get some speed up again and whiz along the final undulating descent through tea plantations to the finish in Haputale! 

It was a great first day of riding and racing, but I was really  tired and hungry at the finish and couldn’t wait to get warm and dry! After a hot shower, a stretch, a pre-dinner snack of 2 omelettes and some noodles, a nap, then dinner which was of course rice and curry, and a race brief for day 2, I was more than ready for bed!

Day 2 – Haputale to Haputale – 62km – 1900m ascent

We started off on a 500m gradual road climb between houses, schools and lots of activity, with excited school children and villagers cheering us on. After a long and steady climb up through the infamous Lipton’s tea plantation, we rode around “Lipton’s Loop”, a circular road around Lipton’s Seat which was once a lookout point for Sir Thomas Lipton. 

It was really cool riding through working tea plantations and it felt quite surreal whizzing through them on our bikes, trying to take it all in! I was really relieved that it was another cloudy day, as the second the sun came out it was absolutely roasting and made racing so much tougher, however whenever the cloud cleared the views were amazing! 

The descent was tar seal for the first little section, then once off-road soon became rougher and rougher so that it was hard to hold on! After a 1200m 16km descent on a really rough and rocky track, my hands were numb and I was for once relieved to be climbing again! I kept imagining I’d whiz around a corner and crash into a big elephant, but I never came across one.

The feed stations were roughly 20km apart and were awesome to have, a perfect chance to quickly fill up on electrolytes and stuff down some food. The guys manning the feed zones were so friendly and encouraging it was a good boost! I felt strong and consistent, the days were long I was really happy that I felt good throughout the day. I made sure to eat and drink really well – electrolytes juice, gels, jelly babies, bars, and also banana at the feed stations. 

From the bottom of the valley there was a pretty brutal 700m climb, some undulating descent through ever changing beautiful scenery, then just another 500m climb, no biggy! It was always really nice to see other racers and have some company and enjoy the camaraderie for a bit. Nearing the top of the final big climb the visibility was just a few metres and the rain got pretty heavy, so I was pleased that there were a few of us riding together.

It was such a great feeling to be at the top, with just a fast and fun descent back to Haputale and to the finish! Another great day!

Day 3 – Kalupahana to Nuwara Eliya – 78km – 2300m ascent

We were staying in a really cool hotel, with incredible views to wake up to! As we weren’t leaving until 9, my two neighbours and I had a sweet morning stretch to loosen up our tired bodies. It’s pretty cool that a couple of days ago I’d never met any of these lovely people before, and then there we were doing morning yoga and racing through jungles together for 5 hours a day! 

After a short group ride to the start, the race began with another long climb, this time a 1600m one! This was to be the longest, hardest day of the race. Once today was done, we’d broken the back of it! A few people were feeling pretty rough after consuming some suspect food or water, it was just bad luck if you caught a bug as we were all careful to drink and even brush our teeth with bottled water. It must have been awful to have the squit’s on an already really tough race… I felt pretty lucky to have felt my normal self the whole trip!

The 17km 1300m climb zig-zagged past an incredible huge waterfall named “Bambarakanda”, onto a rocky trail through small mountain villages and more remote and beautiful working tea plantations. I got into a good rhythm and although the climb was nearly two hours, I was at the feed station before I knew it! It was lovely to see some cheering friendly faces at the top, some marshals and a few racers’ other halves. I stuffed in some snacks and refilled my juice bottle ready for the final push up to the plateau and Horton Plains. The plains were really beautiful and reminded me of Africa, but unfortunately it was misty limiting visibility a little, although I think all the racers were pleased to escape the heat for another day! 

From here I didn’t see any more riders for about two hours! After a long descent back down to the valley floor, the final 17km climb to the finish went pretty quickly. Every time there was a red arrow on the road it was always a relief to know I was still on the right track, especially not seeing other riders. Asking a local whether any riders had passed always resulted in a slightly puzzled “yes”, however it seemed that the answer to almost any question was much the same so it was certainly not a guarantee!

Another racer caught up with me on the last little push to the finish, and by then it was torrential rain and a river running down the road! I got pretty cold after the long climb in the rain, and it was nice to have some moral support and a riding buddy for the last push! I was really happy when I crossed the line, and Phil told me that I was third! I had placed 4th on the first two days, so I was really happy to have moved up to third after a big day of racing and only one to go! 

Day 4 – Ramboda to Kandy – 52km – 900m ascen

I woke up on the final day of racing with a bit of a cold and sore throat, but with only about three more hours of  mainly downhill racing to the finish in Kandy it wasn’t too disastrous! The hotel breakfast was amazing, a buffet of incredible fruits, pancakes, practically everything! Having a lovely hot shower every night and staying in hotels with nice food, as opposed to camping, made it possible to recover much better and feel relatively fresh each day which was awesome and made it more of a proper race and less just a matter of survival! I had made up a bit of time on Day 3, so as long as I had another good day, third overall was well within my reach. Being in Sri Lanka, it felt as if anything could happen, so I couldn’t relax too much! Lot’s of people had had all sorts of mishaps – mechanicals, bad tummy’s, crashes and poor Steve broke his elbow and had the pleasure of experiencing a Sri Lankan hospital which had stray dogs running around inside! With 2600m of descent, I planned to chill a bit to try and finish the race safe and sound.

Although I had the beginnings of a cold and sore throat, the rest of my body and muscles felt good and I was really looking forward to the last day of racing and riding with my new friends in this beautiful country. The day started in the Bluefield Tea Plantation with a 500m 8km climb, it was always a shock to the system starting each day with a big climb, but I soon eased into a good rhythm. Knowing that once the climb was done, it was undulating downhill to the finish was awesome! I passed Eric on the climb, soon after he passed me on the descent then crashed into a ditch which I didn’t see so I just rode past. A few minutes later he passed me again, but he must have taken a wrong turn, so once back on track he passed me again! A few minutes later I came across him with a mechanical, and he crossed the finish line a couple of hours later about five minutes after me! I love that anything can happen, and it was something we had a good laugh about afterwards! I rode most of the day with Zoltan from Hungary, we were similar pace and it made the race much more fun having a riding buddy. We pushed each other on and kept up a good pace for the final section to the finish line in beautiful Kandy, where race organiser Phil was there with his big beaming smile to give us a high five!  

It was awesome to have finished, after 4 smooth and consistent, yet long and brutal days of racing! I was so happy to have kept my third position, and even make up a bit more time on the final day too! I absolutely loved my first multi-day cross-country marathon race, and I can’t wait to do more!

 

Everyone packed away their bikes into bags and boxes, and we drove across town in a couple of coaches to our hotel. It was a beautiful old colonial building, and it was a pretty sweet place to eat, sleep and have some cocktails after the race! Once again we were all starving so ordered a few omelettes each, noodles which turned out very spicy as usual, fries and everything else to keep us going until dinner. It was great to chill, eat a delicious dinner, chat and relax and know we’d all done it and had a fantastic adventure!

Train – Kandy to Columbo 

The next day we all got the train from Kandy to Columbo. It was such a lovely way to return to Columbo and was a great last day, chatting and watching the beautiful scenery whiz by. Although it didn’t really whiz, it was actually quite slow! We left the station about 45 minutes late, went forwards for 10 minutes, then back for 5, stopped for quite a while then set off again. Nobody really cared and we were just enjoying it all and found it quite amusing. We had two carriages reserved just for us, so it was pretty cool that we were all together and could wander about between our two carriages. 

We arrived in Columbo, had a few hours to chill then headed to another hotel for the dinner, awards ceremony and party!

The awards ceremony was the most fancy one I have ever been to! The food was delicious, and most people were making the most of the free bar, so things all got pretty wild soon after all the awards had been given out and the DJ started! It was a such great night, and it was awesome to celebrate with everyone!

Men’s overall 1. Ismael Ventura (Spain) 2. Cory Wallace (Canada) 3. Ajay Pandit Chhetri (Nepal)

Women’s overall 1. Sonya Looney (Canada) 3. Myriam Saugy (Switzerland) 3. Hannah Barnes (UK) 

 

 

 

 

 

I would like to say a huge thank you to organisers Phil and Kate, and everyone who raced, for giving me an adventure to remember! See you at Yak Attack next year! 🙂

 

 

 

 

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By: Rashid Azar