Coldstream Guards officer, Capt. Matthew Burrows, ran Brazil’s jungle marathon
On his 27th birthday, 18 February 2010, Lt. Dougie Dalzell MC of the Coldstream Guards was killed in an explosion while on patrol with his men in Babaji, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. His platoon had already suff ered severe losses: two men had lost their lives and others had been severely wounded.
In Lt. Dalzell’s memory, his family founded a charitable trust: the Lt Dougie Dalzell MC Memorial Trust. The Trust’s aim is to support injured soldiers and the families of soldiers who have been killed on duty. Funds raised go towards rehabilitation and reintegration of wounded service personnel into society and to support families in need.
A close friend, a fellow platoon commander in the Guards who had completed two tours of Afghanistan and a Freemason, Capt. Matthew Burrows, wanted to raise as much as he could for the Trust. Gaining sponsorship from many diff erent sources he embarked on the physically demanding Jungle Marathon in Brazil which finished at Alter do Chao near Santarem, up the Amazon river.
The marathon was a two hundred and twentytwo kilometre, six-stage, self-sufficient race through primary jungle with deep swamps and river crossings together with open trails and beach. As well as the hugely testing terrain, the competition is made all the more gruelling by high temperatures and humidity, coupled with the dangers of Amazon fl ora and fauna. As a result, it is considered one of the toughest endurance events in the world.
The race is held in a protected area of Rainforest, the Floresta Nacional de Tapajos. The forest is the second largest conservation unit located in the Tapajos river watershed, a region of great biodiversity, with many species endemic to the region, and extremely scenic. Very few conservation units in the Amazon region protect such a large portion of the flora and fauna of clear water river systems.
LOCAL POPULATION PROFILE
Over 1100 families divided in 24 communities live in traditional style, mostly along the Tapajos river edge. They cultivate manioc, corn, rice, watermelon, fish, gather turtles, brazil nuts, oils and resins, sell handcrafts and, more recently, practice ecotourism - good for the local economy and for conservation.
THROUGH THE JUNGLE
The first two days were the hardest legs of the race. The first day consisted of sixteen kilometres of steep hills with numerous river crossings, perfect for cooling down, but meaning runners’ feet were never dry. As well as these difficulties, each pack carried a hammock, medical kit, spare clothing and food to last six days. Day two, a run of twenty-three kilometres was similar in terrain to the first with steep hills, interspersed with waist-deep muddy swamp crossings, rivers and fallen trees. The third day, a run of thirty-nine kilometres, gave a well-deserved change from the constant ascents and descents of the first two days. Although the majority of the course was still in thick jungle, there were parts that ran along community trails through small settlements with excited children screaming encouragement.
BEATING THE PAIN
By day four, another run of twenty-three kilometres, the constant wet, grit, mud and sand had started to degrade runners’ feet and despite the taping and care from the doctors on hand, blisters had started to appear. Everyone tried to prevent this from occurring but there is only so much that one can do in such an extreme jungle environment.
The fifth day was the longest stage: eighty-nine kilometres; forty-five kilometres through the jungle followed by forty-four kilometres on community trails and beach. Starting at 7 am, the first target was to reach checkpoint four by 3.30 pm that afternoon, a total distance of thirty-two kilometres through the jungle. There was little chance to rest as runners had to make it out of the jungle before nightfall as that area had a high population of jaguars that would have loved to snack on an unsuspecting runner.
As Matthew explained to Freemasonry Today, ‘We finally hit the sandy roads at 5 pm that day and enjoyed a relatively fl at fifty kilometres to the finish line. After eight more hours of community trails in the darkness, listening to the howls of monkeys and seeing eyes shining back at us from the undergrowth, I had developed a fever from the infections in my feet and by the next checkpoint, twenty-five kilometres later, I could barely support myself and I passed out for two hours.
‘At 6 am, I awoke to find that it was unbearably painful to support myself on my feet and the severity of the infections became evident. Luckily, one of the medical support crew was an anaesthetist consultant and she spent two hours treating my feet. After draining the blisters, injecting local anaesthetic into the worst areas and cutting off the tops of my trainers so my feet could swell out, I was ready to hit the road again with the assistance of a healthy dose of painkillers.
‘The rest of the distance was on the beach and trails with little shade from the sun: it was a long, hot and painful slog but I finally crossed the finish line ninety kilometres and thirty-five hours later, feeling slightly worse for wear!’
‘The final day, thirty-two kilometres, was along the shore of the Amazon with no escape from the incessant heat except the odd dip to cool off . However, we could all sense the end and six hours later, as the finish line came into sight, I had a feeling of total elation and an ice cold beer quickly replaced the memories of the excruciating pain I had experienced. The Jungle Marathon 2010, all two hundred and twenty-two kilometres, was complete in a mere sixty-eight hours and twenty-eight minutes!’
SUCCESS FOR THE TRUST
‘I had decided to take on the Jungle Marathon because I wanted to push myself to the very edge and it also seemed a fitting tribute to one of the most mentally and physically robust officers I had the honour to serve alongside. ‘Thanks to so many generous donations, including many from masonic lodges, I raised the grand total of £13,300.’