Brazil’s Badwater: The Brazil 135 - Page 2
We make ourselves comfortable at a café and enjoy strong coffee with cheese bread until Alex shows up a few hours later. He says he’s found a friend, Billy, an artist in Rio de Janeiro, who is willing to help crew for us as well. We will meet him after we pick up our car.
When we step outside, we are hit with a blistering “no ozone” sun and heat index over 100 degrees. The “car” turns out to be a VW Kombi microbus. It has no air conditioning, no power steering and the passenger door won’t open. Nevertheless, Alex is certain the bus will be the best vehicle for difficult terrain support. The roads are very muddy, especially after it rains—sometimes altogether inaccessible.
The Brazil 135, a realization of race director Mario Lacerda’s dream, features 135 miles and 35,000 feet of climbing. It takes part on a storied trail—the “Caminho de Fé,” also known as the “trail of faith”—whose history goes back hundreds of years as a religious pilgrimage. Each mountain climb is rewarded by a descent into each unique village, a church and folks who whole-heartedly support the ultrarunners.
This would be the 10th Anniversary of the Brazil 135. Mario pushed all boundaries to make it a special one. There are solo and relay options, as well as an expanded field to accommodate the large number of applicants. He added an unsupported class—which 18 brave racers signed up for—with just five drop-bag points for racer supplies. There’d also be real-time athlete tracking.
Kevin, Kellie and the author at the start line
Mario has a traditional whistle that ushers in the beginning of the race—something he has learned from his 20 years in the Brazilian marines. Mario’s wife, Ileana, leads a countdown from 20 before all the athletes shout “Go!” in unison, and the Brazil 135 is officially underway.
Day one contains the most difficult technical section of the race, through dense jungle trails. If this is your first Brazil 135, you start to panic, thinking, “This better not be the whole course or I won’t make it!” The section ends on a long decent into Águas da Prata, the first of many little towns that offer respite from long climbs and hard, steep descents.
Next up is the biggest climb—up Pico Do Gaveão, which lies 5,390 feet above sea level. Kellie hits a low spot on the climb. Luckily, there is cloud cover to ward off the summer heat, but the climb feels endless. Billy, our Brazilian artist turned crew member, jumps out of the van and jogs up to Kellie in flip flops. After the final 5K climb, we turn to come back down and sure enough, Billy is climbing with Kellie and—as I later found out—doing all the talking. At the bottom of the descent, we refuel at our support van and Kellie is feeling good again.
Climbs and towns come and go—a mini Tour de France of running. Directions are tricky and not everyone speaks English, but all of this is balanced by runners who are all on the same path and eager to help one another.
At Andradas, kilometer 63 (roughly 38 miles), our crew misses us looking for ice, which is not easy to find. The heat is not the only challenging factor here—there is stifling humidity, too, harsh rainstorms, hail and sometimes lightning—not to mention the stories that float around the course about a woman in Rio who got killed on the beach the other day by lightning.