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The 28 Beaches of Ubatuba Marathon – John Tovell reports back from Brazil

As some of you will know, my wife is Brazilian.  Every year, she returns to Brazil to visit family and friends, and every few years, I go with her.  Since retiring last year, and as a result being more flexible with holiday dates, I was able to plan our trip to coincide with the 28 Beaches Ubatuba Marathon.  This would be my first running event in Brazil and I was really curious to see how they organise things.  And I was particularly keen to do a trail run along a beautiful stretch of the Brazilian coast.

As well as the full marathon, there is a half marathon option; also, there is the option of teams of 2, 3, 4 or 5 runners doing the marathon on a relay basis.  In total, some 2,500 participants.  I was tempted by the marathon distance but decided that it would be wise to attempt just the half marathon because it would be much hotter than in the UK.  But before I could take part, I had to register online and this was more difficult than you might think because registration required a Brazilian identity card number.  Even to submit a question to the race organisers required the ID number.  So I guess they don’t get many non-resident participants!  Luckily, a friend of the family in Brazil is a personal trainer and he was able to register me without an ID as one of his team of runners who were also doing the event.  Thank you Sandro!

My training for the event hit a problem when I developed lower back pain in late February.  This suddenly got worse in early March to the point where, for a time, I could not run nor comfortably sit or even lie down.  By dint of lots of physiotherapy and acupuncture (or maybe just through the passage of time!), my back gradually improved.  Three days before the event, I was able to walk 10km, and the day before the event, for the first time in 5 weeks, I was able to trot a couple of kilometres without any ill effects.  Having previously checked the results from last year, I was now confident that I would be able to complete the course, run/walking as necessary, and not be in last place!

I picked up my number the day before the event at a local hotel serving as HQ.  As well as the race number and the usual promotional bumph, the kit bag contained a technical tee shirt with the word “Athlete” printed (rather hubristically in my view) on the back.  The kit bag also contained a whistle for summoning help in case of difficulty.

 

The weather forecast for race day was ‘scorchio’ with temperatures expected to reach 30°C.  In preparation, I was gulping down as much water as I could reasonably absorb, which in consequence meant many toilet visits before the start.  The start was at one end of Maranduba beach, a beautiful spot with palm trees and snack bars.  After milling around to enjoy the atmosphere and take lots of pictures, we were off on time – the men at 8.30am and the women five minutes later at 8.35am. As we set-off across the sand, there was a jolly chorus of runners blowing their emergency whistles.  My legs gradually remembered what they were supposed to do, but it was slow progress.  The first leg of 5km was as far as the first water station at the other end of the beach.  Because it was low tide, the beach was quite hard and flat, so relatively easy to run on.  Nonetheless, there was no shelter from the sun, it was already 27°C and pretty soon I started to feel tired and thirsty.  By the time I arrived at the water station, I was over-heating badly, so I found some shade and took my time to gulp down 800ml of water.  This was dispensed in flexible plastic sachets of 200ml each which you have to rip open with your teeth.  Somewhat recovered, I set off 10 minutes later on the next leg of 8km towards the second aid station.

After fording a small stream, the trail heads into the forest and starts to climb as it passes over a headland to reach the next beach.  In the shade of the forest, my body temperature felt much more under control.  It also helped that many of the climb sections were single file and walking pace.  The route now followed an alternating succession of beaches, then forest/headland.  In some of the forest sections, a bit of scrambling was necessary to pass big boulders in the way.  In these places, there were often rope handrails, and marshals to check everyone got through safely.  In general, we were never more than a couple of hundred meters from a marshal.  The beaches were shorter but more difficult to run than the first one because they were on steeper slopes, and composed of soft, dry sand. The most efficient running line was usually the strip where the beach met the sea, so necessarily running on a slope and getting your feet wet from the waves. At one beach in this section, a natural stream from the mountain had been diverted to create a shower and runners were queueing-up to use it. Putting my head and body under this lovely, cold stream of water was a marvellous sensation as I could feel the heat draining away.  I wanted to stay longer but there were other runners awaiting their turn. 

Later in this section, the fastest marathon runners began overtaking us.  They started 21km further back along the coast but 1.5 hours earlier than us at 7.00am.  A cry would go up from behind “42 (km) approaching!” and we would squeeze to one side of the forest trail to let them pass. A blur of lycra, the rumble of their footfall on the trail, a gasped “thanks” as they passed, and they were gone, leaving me feeling slightly inadequate at my own slow progress!  Arriving at the second aid station on Fortaleza beach, I took on another 800ml of water.  The organisers had a treat for us here – as well as water and energy drinks, they had snack bars and cartons of chilled coconut water that really hit the spot.  10 minutes later, I was ready to start the third section of 8km to the finish.  I was feeling a bit sluggish after over-indulging the snack bars and coconut water but at least my back was not giving any trouble!

10 Dura

The final section was easier going because the links between beaches were mostly tarmac, though there were still some substantial climbs to contend with.  From a headland some 100 meters high, I could see the finish line at the far end of Dura beach, a collection of brightly coloured tents and gazebos in the distance.  The finish line looked so far away, I had to remind myself that there was ‘just a parkrun to go’.  The final 1 km along Dura beach was a gentle trot over hard sand and I was happy to finish in 3h 28min and with no back pain.  There was quite a party atmosphere at the finish and it was great to enjoy that while paddling in the sea and waiting for my lift back to town.  By the time I left, the tide was coming in and starting to flood the site but everything just carried on regardless!

In summary, this was a wonderful event that I would love to do again when properly fit.  I would also like to take more time to explore the various beaches in a more relaxed manner with a picnic and some beers!

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