The warm breeze brush over my skin while I admire the breathtaking sunset that surrounds me. On one side there are vast Pacific Ocean and on the other side lush green rugged mountains and jungle of Nadi, Fiji. This is the start line for the first Lost Island Ultra (www.lostislandultra.com). A 220km five day stage race crossing the Nadi island in Fiji. Over the next few days runners from thirteen different counties are going to race and explore this island like no one has done before. Well, except for the race directors and his support crew who was constantly making the routes to ensure everything is safe for the runners.
The Lost Island Ultra has five stages:
Stage 1: Degei “Serpent God” 40km – Snaking its way around the Nakauvadra Range which is associated with the Serpent God.
Stage 2: Rerevaka “Fear” 50km – Tropical Forest and untouched single tracks.
Stage 3: Bulu “World of Spirits” 35km – A mysterious stage of single track and wild grassy hills.
Stage 4: Bati “Warrior” 80km – heading down river through the highlands and on to your camp on the hill fort overlooking Sigatoka River.
Stage 5: Baravi “Beach” 15km – Railway tracks, grass hills and sand dunes
Or at least that was what I signed up for. The weather gods had something else up there sleeves. The race got postpone by one day due to cyclone Jose hitting the island causing widespread flooding and causing access issues for the race organisers.
Day one, the sun beams prick the back of my arms while we battle up the steep grassy hills and slipping down the muddy paths to get rewarded with a cool stream meandering it’s way though the mountains. It was a tough opening stage but the constant changing scenery and my company was distracting me from the hard work.
Tonight a local village was going to house us in the village hall so no need for tents! Staying in the village was amazing.
After cooling down in the river and prepping our stuff for the next day we joined the villagers dressed in our Sulu’s (similar to a sarong) to respect their culture for dinner, fruit, rice, pasta and whatever you brought with you. That was dinner every night followed by porridge if you could stomach it. I took baby food to camouflage the monotony of the oats.
Day two was technical jungle trails and my favourite part of the race.
The locals was asked to sweep the race and make sure we cross safely. Simi, one of the locals decided to turn himself into our personal tour guide.
He was a local farmer and told us about how to plant and harvest grog (turmeric), sugar cane and Kava a local root used for the Kava ceremony. The Kava ceremony is a local tradition where the Kava root is presented to the head of the village when visiting them. He also gave us these “fat bananas” which he called “watta” which was a welcome snack after a long muddy jungle section.
Simi was a true gentleman trying to catch me every time I fell and trying to pull me out of the knee dept mud. It was interesting to listen to him talking about the land and how they have this fine balance between humans and nature as well as his total inability to grasp why we would come to their land just to run across it.
The jungle opened up to endless steps and the promise of one of the most amazing waterfalls in the world. The cool spray of the water rushing over the rugged mountains brought inner peace.
Emotions washed away while we all restored our energy.
Every stage had to be shortened because of reduced access due to flooding. Stage three has started with a four hour cut off at checkpoint three. In normal conditions running 23km in four hours would not even bother me but over mountains, through jungle and knee depth mud I knew that I had no time to chat to locals and stop for scenic pictures.
What’s very striking is the vast contrast on this island. On one mountain we could be battling our way through a recently cut jungle foot path only to find vast grass land on the next.
The high humidity and rain fall ensures that everything stays lush. I would describe the Fiji jungle as a “friendly jungle”. There’s no poisonous animals or insects. The vegetation is thick but only a few days plants has sharp edges and thorns. It’s a jungle that shows off its beauty and thee friendly people that lives there!
Unfortunately the long stage was also cut short due to bridges being washed away which would have left us with out support.
This was a test to the organisers. Transporting runners, support crew and all their baggage safely for one side of the island to the other side plus remarking new routes was evidence of how well thought through this race was. But even though we didn’t follow the original route at the top of each mountain we had breathtaking views and amazing support crew that would shower you in river water to help you cool down.
Day four has finished on the beach. It wasn’t the perfect white beach with blue sky which I imagined but it was the perfect ending to the stage with the ability to float in the warm tropical sea.
It was our last night and tropical storm Keni was on its way. There was no break in the rain and a decision was made to start the race an hour later. The thought of sleeping in a soft bed and not in a village hall gave us all the motivation to run. Until we reached the railway bridges. That’s if you can call them bridges.
Slippery sleepers with missing sections crossings over storm fed rushing rivers was enough to give us all an adrenaline boost until we reached our surprise: sand dunes!
From a distance you could see the footprints climbing up to the top to reveal the beach, a sent of the home straight, or so we thought… but the course markings meandered back into the grass hills, a last bit of forest and then onto the beach.
Thought the rain we reached storm battered beach to reach the finish line hundred meters into the sea.
An amazing finish to a race who brought people together to create friends for life.
That’s why I love stage racing. Not to win but like the Fijians say: “To find your happiness!”
To find out more about the Lost Island Ultra visit their website www.lostislandultra.com
Thanks to Rob Rickman from RawFiji for his amazing photos www.facebook.com/FijiPhoto