Race Report: David Wronski Runs Brazil 135 in Vibrams (Part 2)

by Abbie on February 1, 2011

Guest Post by David Wronski, which you may remember from an earlier post about the Brazil 135.

This is Part 2 of a two part race report! Feel free to read the first barefoot race report before continuing.

Race Highlights:

-Finished in 17th place, 2nd American.
-Finish time: 47 hours 25 min
-Distance/Elevation Change: 135 miles/217km, 66,000ft
-Youngest finisher ever of the Brazil 135.
-First person to start and finish a 135 mile race wearing only Vibram FiveFingers.

Day 2

The morning of day 2 was a tough few hours.

Although I was happy to be running in bare feet with Dawn, my foot that I had injured badly and had been running on for 30 miles really started to become a problem. For me, the beginning of the 2nd day is the toughest phase of the race. My body knew it had been moving for 24 hrs non-stop, and the “sleepy” tired feeling started to play with me mentally. I knew I needed to increase my caloric intake in order to combat the tiredness I was trying to overcome.

Dawn and I had 22km to the next stop (Borda da Mata).

The 2nd morning was getting hot quickly, and I knew I was in for an even hotter day than the last. After a slow and painful 22km we reached Borda da Mata, and I was probably in the most pain that I had experienced since the start. I was in the 91-93 mile range, and my right foot was in bad shape.

It was one of the toughest times during the race. The afternoon heat was reaching the mid 90s, and I was honestly not looking forward to the next stage. As I was leaving Borda da Mata, Dawn asked me if I wanted any Advil. I quickly responded with a “no” and continued on my way with Sam. I would soon realize I had made a big mistake not accepting her offer. Sam and I started our trek up some VERY steep inclines, probably the toughest climbs of the race. The heat was getting unbearable and my water was quickly disappearing.

A Brazilian runner had passed us and told Sam that there was a water pipe at the top of our climb about 1km ahead. Either my perception of distance had been severely impaired, or the “1km” seemed to be forever! We slowly crawled up this steep climb, and we were finally rewarded with what we were looking for: water! Unfortunately it only took us a few seconds to realize the water reeked of sulphur. As much as it smelled, it didn’t taste all that bad, and I wasn’t about to be picky about the water. It was water and I was glad to have it. We left the water pipe hydrated and feeling better, until we came across our first roadblock: many large horned cattle that didn’t look very anxious to move from where they were relaxing in the shade.

We enjoyed the brief stop and continued towards Tocos do Moji. About 45 minutes later, Sam and I started to slowly descend a steep hill. Up until this point I had a real problem running downhill on my injured foot, it reached a point where I was not going much faster downhill than uphill. As we descended an amazing feeling came about me, or should I say LACK of feeling, no pain! Thanks to Dawn’s advice the Advil Sam had given me had worked and was making a world of difference.

I was beyond happy and looking back it was definitely a major turning point both physically/mentally for me during the race.

Photo Courtesy of David Wronski

After another very long 5-7Km in triple digit weather, we reached Tocos Do Moji, and I picked up Dawn as my pacer. Feeling very happy with my newly “healed” foot, I was actually looking forward to the next stage. Dawn and I had another long 22km stretch to the next town of Estiva. This section turned out to be very challenging, as was the last one with many steep climbs and long descents. My foot was still feeling better though and the sun was becoming less hot and direct.

Once we had passed this unforgettable mountain area, Dawn and I were greeted by Mario (the race director). This was the 3rd time during the race that I saw Mario on the actual course while I was running. This was just another example of how special this race really was, and how unique it is to have the race director, especially someone as kind-hearted as Mario, be supporting the runners DURING the race. Each time I saw Mario we exchanged hugs, smiles, and laughs. The energy he brought to the race was just another reason it was so unforgettable.

Night 2

Arriving at Estiva was a great feeling for a few different reasons. Estiva is a major checkpoint because it means you “only” have 1 more marathon to go until the finish! Sam again accompanied me for the next 13 miles to Consolacao. After a few more Advil we headed out onto our 2nd consecutive night of adventure.

I had just under 9 hrs to run the last marathon (26 miles) in order to make my 48 hour goal. This seems extraordinarily simple, but with 109 miles under my belt (having never gone further than 100), an injured foot, and 40+ hours without sleep, it wasn’t as simple as it seemed.

Sam and I started to run at a good pace.

With my foot still feeling “ok” the goal was to run the flat and downhill portions while hiking the up hills. We were successful with this method for about an hour and a half, but then the evil demon I had been fighting for the last day and a half came back with a vengeance. As we started to hike some steep uphill portions the pain in my right foot began to come back and this time it was worse than before. I quickly told Sam to give me 2 more extra strength Advil which I was hoping would be the magic solution again, but something told me the pain was heretofore stay and it was NOT about to be relieved again by two pills. The best way I could describe the pain is to imagine the outer portion of your heel being hit with a hammer, and that’s what it felt like each time I stepped on any uneven/sharp rock, which there were MANY of!

Stopping was NOT an option, so we fought through it, but this was where the pain started to really slow down our pace.

It got to the point where I could barely walk downhill, and time was actually becoming an issue for me. Granted the time limit for the race was 60 hours, but for me 48 hours was my goal. First because the longer I stayed out there the more pain I knew I’d have to endure, but the 48 hour time was also important because starting next year the Brazil 135 will have a 48 hour cutoff time.

We arrived in Consolacao. Sam did a great job of not letting me stop even though at times it seemed like an attractive idea. I was 40+ hours into the race and ready to finish. I could feel the survival instincts inside myself starting to take over, trying to numb the pain, and push on.

This last section of the race consisted of a very “runnable” portion up to the base of the last mountain where the slow climb to the peak, and one of the highest points in the race, would begin. Dawn was great at realizing how bad of shape I was in, but still not letting me walk flat portions that I knew I should be running, so we continued this pattern of running any flat portions of the trail that we came upon.

For the first time my lack of sleep resulted in hallucinations for the next few hours, and I saw everything from giant gorillas to massive trees in the middle of the trail and holes in the ground. The shadows cast on the ground from the full moon started to become 3-dimensional and made walking very interesting.

We soon reached the base of the mountain in pretty good time, where I knew we would be walking barefoot uphill for quite a while. Again my perception of time started to become distorted and 10 minutes seemed to be an hour. Time slowed down, the pain in my foot started to grow more intense, and the peak couldn’t come quick enough. We finally neared the peak, which seemed to be a miracle, and I realized I was in for another spectacular sight: sunrise coming over the mountain tops in the distance.

It was an absolutely amazing sight that seemed even more unworldly partially because of my extreme exhaustion and fatigue, but mostly because it truly was a perfect setting for the finish of the race.

Day 3

It was hard to believe that this was the 3rd consecutive morning I had been running!   I now had 1hr 45 min to cover only a few miles in order to finish under my goal of 48 hrs.  All my mental and physical energy had gone into me reaching the peak, and now that I had I wanted to relax and let my legs walk me down this hill to the finish.  I passed my fellow runners with a good luck and a high five, and started to run very sluggishly with my head down not caring what kind of pain I was in or how far I had to go. From that point I knew I was going to run every step of the way to the finish.

To my surprise and utter disappointment, I reached the bottom (what I thought was the bottom) only to be staring at a steep but short uphill climb. I began to RUN uphill as fast as I could (which at this point wasn’t very fast). I knew this had to be the last hill in the race and was so angry that I had to go back up after going down for such a long time. I looked straight at the ground and counted to myself how many steps it took me to reach the top (74).

Dawn met me at the top and 10 minutes of glorious downhill to the finish began. My last .25 of a mile I was greeted by the same uneven broken cobblestone paved roads that I had despised for the last 2 days. Every square inch of my feet were on fire, but I was not going to stop no matter what.

47 hours and some odd minutes after I started I crossed the finish line.

I knew I had survived something that my mind couldn’t come close to comprehending at the time, and I’m sure it hasn’t all soaked in even to this day.  To everyone who was thinking of me during that time I felt each and everyone of you there with me, and your thoughts and prayers were equally important in my successful finish of the 2011 BR135!

Photo Courtesy of David Wronski

Special thanks to the Team: the HelpDavidRun team consisted of Dawn Heinrich, Sam Heto, and Vinicius Pereira. Without my amazing crew I guarantee I would not have successfully finished the BR 135. Each one of my team members played a vital role in helping me cross the finish line.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mario Lacerda February 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Congratulations, you did great out there. It was not easy, but you won the pain and fatigue.
The “lions” and other alucinatory “monsters” are waiting for you in 2012…

nos vemos no Caminho,

Comandante Mario Lacerda
Brazil 135 Ultramarathon
Race Director

Scott Walker February 15, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Hi David,

Congratulations on an amazing accomplishment!
I was just out for lunch last week with my friend Sam Heto and he told us of your adventures in Brazil. It sounds like an assume experience. Sam and I have trained and completed various Marathons in and around Ottawa Canada but I don’t think either of us ever contemplated doing a race of this proportion. I’d be really interested in learning about the training required for an event like this.

All the best

/Scott Walker

David Wronski February 15, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Thank you Mario! It was an incredible experience that will stay with me forever!

Anytime you’d like any advice or just want to talk about training, etc. You can always contact me!

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