- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

MANAUS, Brazil (AP) - The Amazon rainforest city of Manaus was, according to many observers, the place to avoid at the World Cup.

Located deep in the jungle near the meeting of the Rio Negro and the Amazon River, the city is sweltering with high heat and humidity nearly all the time, an inhospitable place to compete at any sport, let alone the high-intensity atmosphere of the World Cup.

But there are about 2 million people that live in the city. And some of them, like Dirsley D’Angelo, get on with their active lives despite the often stifling conditions.

D’Angelo is one of the founders of the Amazon Runners, an athletic group in the city with about 60 members that meets for jogs three times per week.

“There are some that run 5 kilometers and others that run 10,” the 44-year-old D’Angelo said at a local community center, where he is a physical education instructor. “But some, like me, are training for a marathon.”

Getting in shape for a marathon is no easy task even in the best of conditions. While most aspiring marathoners don’t usually run the full 42.2-kilometer (26.2-mile) distance in training, plenty of long runs are needed.

Those training runs can take hours. And hours under the sun in Manaus, with the humidity as high as it usually gets, can be quite dangerous.

“Well, we don’t train when the sun is hot,” said D’Angelo, a father of three who is trying to get his kids involved in running as well. “We train before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m.”

The Amazon Runners aren’t the only game in town, however. There are about a dozen running groups in Manaus, including Endurance.

The Endurance running team started in Manaus 10 years ago and has about 200 members, but it has spread to other cities around Brazil as well.

According to Lisiane Thompson Flores, a member of the group, the key to running in the jungle is to have the correct provisions.

“We take a lot of power gel and a lot of coconut water,” said Thompson Flores, a 47-year-old psychologist originally from Porto Alegre. “This is the best. We believe it’s better to have the coconut water than the gel.”

The first three of the four World Cup matches at the Arena da Amazonia had 6 p.m. start times, just as the sun is going down on the city. The final match, between Honduras and Switzerland, will start at 4 p.m.

Some players and coaches have already complained that it was too hot to play in Manaus, even at the later start time. Italy midfielder Claudio Marchisio said he felt like he was hallucinating during the match against England because it was so hot.

The comments came as no surprise to D’Angelo, who is originally from nearby Manacapuru but has been living in Manaus for the past 15 years.

“It’s hot, but they’re not used to it. They should prepare themselves for it,” said D’Angelo, who will run in the Rio de Janeiro City Marathon on July 27 with several of his teammates. “If I would go some place that snows or is cold, it will be difficult for me.”

The Amazon Runners group started in 2004, after D’Angelo’s previous running club dissolved. He said they decided on the name after much discussion and many suggestions, settling on an obvious choice of combining where they live with what they love to do.

And they take advantage of their exotic location when they can.

Although Manaus is a big city, there is real jungle all around it. So the runners sometimes head into the dense forest to run on trails.

“We’re going to do a 21-kilometer race in the jungle on July 19. You run in a completely dark place with headlamps,” D’Angelo said. “The race is organized by Amazon Runners.”

Maybe the remaining World Cup teams still to play in Manaus could learn a lesson from D’Angelo if they are still worried about the conditions.

He is, after all, a phys ed teacher.

“Hot is good, because hot doesn’t hurt,” D’Angelo said. “Cold hurts.”

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