If you follow Ultra Marathons, Adventure Racing and sheer feats of endurance, then you will most likely have heard of the incredible Helene Dumais. Helene is a real life 'superwomen' who inspires the best in people on a daily basis, most recently Helene became the first women to ever finish both the FUEGO Y AGUA Survival Run and the Devils Double.
But what is the Fuego Y Ague Survival Run I hear you cry? The Survival Run Nicaragua is an 80km+ Ultra Distance Survival Run on the volcanic jungles of Isla de Ometepe in Nicaragua, over a 24 hour period. The objective of this race is to strip you of all comforts and to put you in true survival mode. The obstacles/challenges are natural and based on the daily survival of the traditional local culture.
The Devils Double is successfully completing the Survival Run and then taking on the 100km Ultra Marathon three days later, running 100km over the same arduous volcanic jungle terrain of Isla de Ometepe. Read more about the Survival Race in our previous article here.
If that still doesn't sound crazy enough, Helene is currently the leading female in an Endurance Society Infinitus 888km race, find out more here!
Mudstacle's North American correspondent, Amie 'Livewire' Booth, managed to catch up with Helene to hear more about this recent achievement and also what other adventures and challenges Helene has planned.
Name: Helene Dumais
Location: Based in Washington, DC. Helen often returns to her home country of Canada to see clients, friends, and family when not travelling around the world for races and adventures.
Sport: My races and expeditions are multidisciplinary. The core discipline of many of these events is ultra trail running and fast packing. Past and future events on my calendar include obstacle course racing, adventure racing, climbing, orienteering, and trekking.
Profession: Athlete, adventurer, motivational speaker, health and fitness coach.
Sponsors: Platinum Rig, Xact Nutrition, Coexiste Crossfit, Altitude Sports, Skora, Stoked Oats, and Ultra Runner Chats.
AB: How do you feel about becoming the first woman to ever finish both Fuego Y Agua Survival Run and the Devil's Double?
HD: To finish first, first you must finish. And this stark reality of the Survival Run is enough to humble even the greatest of athletes. It humbled me and forced me to reflect on my goals and dreams following an unsuccessful race in 2015. A year of reflection and training can make all the difference. After refocusing my efforts, I crossed the finish line of the Survival Run and completed the Devil’s Double in 2016 with a sense of peace that went far beyond the race itself. It is difficult to find the calm in the chaos. Disappointment and fear can destroy dreams, but the strong are capable of refocusing their efforts on their goals despite the emotional storm. These goals are often unwieldy. They are just big enough to induce a sense of anxiety, but realistic enough to spark an insatiable excitement. It is an impossible tug-of-war on your emotions. You know your dream is big enough when you struggle and doubt throughout the training leading up to the event, but you must get out of your comfort zone to reach real results. It’s easier to say than do. However, when you can embrace the fact that if you fail, you will fail hard, you are on the right path to face your fears and overcome your barriers. I faced more obstacles in the year preparing for the Survival Run and the Devil’s Double than I ever did in these events. This unique race forced me to reflect on something much larger than a race, namely my life. I now feel empowered to pursue a lifelong quest of mine: To discover the full potential of human beings and explore our world. The Survival Run was the impetus to discovering a much bigger dream. I want to help others to find calm in the chaos and keep hope alive as they strive to conquer their own dreams.
AB: What would you like to say to the few women who have come close, only to miss time cutoffs over 20 hours into the race?
HD: Success and failure knows no gender. All humans must face and overcome his or her personal barriers. This requires a person to get to know one’s self and build one’s body, mind, and spirit accordingly. It is true women’s physiology is different than men’s, but the Survival Run levels that playing field when it comes to battle of the sexes. The Survival Run is designed so that it is not the strongest nor the fastest person who will succeed, but the one that has the capacity to adapt and overcome. For example, success existed for both Paul Romero a 6 foot, 200 pound man as well as me, a petite FrenchCanadian female who could easily have been an extra in the Wizard of Oz. But size is only one factor in the Survival Run, all competitors must bring both brains and brawn to the starting line. Success comes to those who respect the island by doing their homework, training hard, and never failing to believe. This simple formula is not prejudice against gender – rather it bonds all racers to the greater good that underlies this truly unique racing experience. The spirit of “survival” is an intrinsic sense of fortitude and not just a tag you wear on race day. Such spirit is what separates not the men from the women, but rather the fearless from the faint of heart. The Survival Run is not just a race, but an opportunity to thrive as a human being. It is a race against ourselves whether female or male and a desire to overcome the barriers that separate us from our dreams.
AB: Did you spend the year training specifically for this event, to answer for your DNF at 21 hours last year?
HD: Failure is often a part of future success. It gives you the opportunity to reflect and train more intelligently. My races and expeditions over the past year offered a series of learning experiences that led to my success in the Survival Run 2016 and the Devil’s Double. Some of these hard lessons included the Cruel Jewel 100 Mile, a self-support expedition across the Koolau Summit Ridge trail in Hawaii, Adventure Science expedition in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, 125k Ultra Trail Harricana Canada (UTHC), and selfsupported 250 mile Cross Florida Invitational Time Trial (CFITT). This type of learning is a gift, especially when pain is your teacher.
AB: How do you think this year compared to the 2015 survival run?
HD: Many of the elements of the 2016 Survival Run were the same, but these were the ones I was looking forward to seeing – the island with its gorgeous landscape, amazing people, and same unique survival run concept. Nonetheless, race directors and participants declared the 2016 edition of the Survival Run the hardest course designed to date. I can’t deny that assessment. It’s difficult to directly compare years because the course design is as unique as the island itself – a change in weather, start time, or type and order of challenge can dramatically change the dynamic of the race. Despite these variations, the real change in the 2016 Survival Run was me. I was a different person than last year – more humble, better trained, and ceaselessly determined. I think the change in “self” is what really made all the difference in 2016.
AB: Tell us more about the events you did to prepare for this year.
HD: To change your body, you must change your mindset. This required me focusing on training my mind, body, and spirit. The Survival Run and Devil’s Double is not for the faint of heart, so I took my racing and expeditions to the extreme. For example, I spent weeks on a volcanic ridge-line in Hawaii with the intent of learning to respect the likes of Conception and Maderas in Ometepe. I spent over 110 hours running across the state of Florida, so as to place the gruelling pace and long hours of the Devil’s Double into perspective. I carried heavy packs during expeditions and races in Hawaii, California, and Florida because I knew the burden of The Survival Run would be even heavier. I did significant bouldering in Hawaii and climbing in California to sharpen my skills and dull my fear of heights. The training never stopped as I continued to push mind, body, and spirit – thank you Platinum Rig, Coexiste Crossfit in Montreal, Canada, and Rock Creek Crossfit in Kensington, Maryland for helping drive me far beyond my limits.
AB: What is so unique or difficult about Fuego Y Agua nicaragua SR?
HD: Every challenge has personality – Fuego Y Agua is the one you love to hate. The entire Survival Run concept is quite beautiful from its remote location to the challenges inspired by and done to support the local community. However, this race is a mess of gorgeous chaos filled with an unknown number of tasks proving danger hides in beauty. Participants are constantly facing the unknown being forced to master different physical, mental, and technical skills. It is futile to try to plan ahead because you never know what you will be asked to do, how long you will do it, or where it will take you. You can only hope you have the physical and mental endurance to love the race despite its abuse – gruelling sun, cold nocturnal swims, ceaseless rough terrain, and limited food and water. This race is purposely designed to be almost impossible. The real competition becomes time and yourself. If you think you have everything under control, you’re not moving fast enough.
AB: What was the most difficult task you faced in this year's event?
HD: The most difficult task of any racer is maintaining faith in his or her training. The slow creep of fatigue and pain in the race is inevitable, but doubt must be battled at every turn. The belief in oneself must never falter and this steadfast resolve of the mind, body, and spirit must be built in the months prior to the event. This requires leveraging your strengths and acknowledging your weaknesses. My physical size is something I have had to learn to both leverage and overcome as an athlete. For example having to carry a bucket full of sand is a significant challenge for someone my size. Having to do it 10 times in the middle of the night makes it even more difficult – especially when you are the shortest and lightest person left on the course at that point in the race. But you can’t fall victim to the sympathetic looks of the volunteers, you must simply smile and get back to work. And if it’s not a physical test challenging your resolve in the Survival Run, it will be a mental or emotion hero’s trial. The tree climbs were a real test of my intestinal fortitude as I am afraid of heights. It required me to stay relaxed, focused, and determined. Thank you Patrick Warren, an amazing climbing guide in the beautiful Yosemite Valley of California, for helping me face and overcome my fears.
AB: What gear did you use or find essential?
HD: The most important piece of equipment is your head. Your machete can be sharp, but your mind must be sharper. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what gear you carry if you don’t know how to leverage it to increase your chances of success during the race. For example, my long sleeve shirt was vital. Despite the fact that you will inevitably be cooked in the Nicaraguan heat, that shirt allows protection from the sun, acts as barrier against chaffing in the carries and tree climbs, prevents cuts and scrapes from the bushes and undergrowth, and provides insulation during the night while completing water challenges. Water treatment pills are also lifesavers. You never know when you will have access to water. Therefore, when you do – even with the less than ideal water sources – you must refill your bladder. I drank water from both the fish tank and the swamp crater on Maderas. It was no fine wine, but it did the job and I’m still alive thanks to those water pills. Gear is important, but remember to pack a sharp mind, a little modesty, and an adequate supply of common sense. These important tools are some vital reason why “I did not fail.”
AB: What do you feel changed about you as an athlete, from last year, that allowed you to be such a strong and successful competitor?
HD: Someone once said that people change for two reasons: Their minds have been opened or their hearts have been broken. For me, I have experienced both as an athlete and adventurer. Sometimes personal failures force reflection which can help us redefine ourselves and our purpose. However the key is not focusing our energy on the past, but driving our new sense of purpose into the future. Over the past year in preparation for the Survival Run, I challenged myself more in mind, body, and spirit than I have the past ten years combined. I constantly strove to push myself beyond my limits, realizing that failures were learning opportunities. The “unpleasantness” of today would be the “benefit” of tomorrow. I used this year to get to know myself – and perhaps more importantly, redefine myself. My heart was broken. My mind was opened. And it all resulted in me growing an athlete, person, and citizen of the world.
AB: Will your attend the Fuego Y Agua Australia Survival Run in 2016?
HD: I would love to, but with all great adventures it often requires balancing the pocketbook with heartstrings. I have a special place in my heart for the Fuego Y Agua “tribe,” but my finances will limit a reunion in Australia this year. Financing racing events and expeditions is a constant challenge. I am at a point where I need sponsors who are ready to team up to make the world a better place by using these events to share our values and pass on our message. My hope is such groups will see the impact can we create together.
AB: How likely is it that you will return to Ometepe to defend your finish in 2017?
HD: I am not the type who likes to do things twice. Once I reach a summit, I am already scanning the horizon for the next one either to challenge myself more or in a different way. One adventure’s finish is nothing but the starting point for the next great challenge. Yet, Ometepe and the amazing people of Fuego Y Agua have an important place in my heart and I know I want to see them again. I feel I owe them a lot and I will always be thankful.
AB: Can you tell us a little bit about your nutrition for this event?
HD: Jack LaLanne once said,
“Exercise is your king, and nutrition is your queen. Together they create your fitness kingdom.”
This is very true. Endurance running requires as much practice with nutrition as it does with running. It is a learning experience requiring the athlete to experiment with amount and frequency of food and water intake. Too often events like the Survival Run prevent you from having the luxury to plan the perfect nutrition. For example, running for over 4 days self-supported across Florida required pit stops at convenience stores in the middle of nowhere to feast on a not-so-healthy diet of microwave hot dogs, potato chips, and the occasional candy bar. Nonetheless, your nutrition must meet the requirements of more than just the energy expenditure from running, but also heat, cold, and fatigue. In addition, food satiates mental needs as much a physical ones. For example, I remember craving a Sierra Mist for more than 6 hours while pushing through the night during the Fuego Y Agua 100K. Such cravings can be just as important to quench as a parched mouth. Lucky for me a local bar in the middle of nowhere manned by an old, drunk, toothless bartender sold me a little piece of heaven in the form of a lemon flavoured soft drink. Sometimes nutrition does more than just feed the body. It feeds the soul.
AB: Do you have a personal mantra or saying that you live by?
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
It was as if Ralph Waldo Emerson had written this especially for me. Such a simple answer to what seems like such a complex question for so many people. I took this eloquent concept to achieving dreams and made it mine at the beginning of 2014. This new mindset inspired what many would call an impossible obstacle course race season. For me it was a chance to test myself, because we don’t know what is impossible until we try. The rest is history.
“It is not a matter of if, but a matter of when HOW.”
When it comes to following dreams, I realized people need to be more proactive. Dreams aren’t going to wait for you – they must be chased down and tackled. One of my biggest accomplishments so far is the completion of the Koolau Summit Ridge trail in Hawaii, in June 2015. My adventure partner in crime Liz Barney and I worked on this project for one full year. I faced obstacles and unsolvable riddles all the time. Lots of sweat, money, and failures later, we finally did it! What made our third attempt successful were these words my husband told me once and that I live by everyday since: “It is not a matter of IF, but a matter of HOW you will make it happen. The WHEN only follows the HOW.”
When you truly believe that there is a way, even though you don’t know what it will be, this is when you can begin to create the impossible. It is a drive, a no-kidding attitude, which empowers you to face the point of no return… Welcome to this world that exist beyond your own limits.
AB: What events are we likely to see you at in 2016?
HD: I’m working on many projects right now, but the next one is the Endurance Society’s Infinitus 888k in May 2016. This epic challenge represents the longest trail running race I have attempted to date. I am stoked! Not only does this run offer an opportunity to push my mind, body, and spirit beyond its limits, but also to inspire others to do the same. I am raising money and awareness for the non-profit organization Stop Soldier Suicide. I recently took on their 22 in 22 push up challenge – a physical contest to raise awareness of the epidemic of suicide plaguing military veterans and service members. The number of veterans and service members who commit suicide per day is 22. And 22 is 22 too many! I will run to be a source of inspiration for female veterans and spouses, helping them to find strength and power to solve what may sometimes look like an impossible task to overcome. I will dedicate 22k for each of the four US military branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) which equals 88k. This is approximately the length of one loop. I have to run the loop 10 times to complete this 888k race. Join me and my team to raise $8,888 to increase awareness for this cause, because 22 is 22 too many!
Wow, #inspired! To find out more about Helene head over to her website here, the world is most definitely her playground!
Thanks to jeffgenovaphotography.com for the photos.