FiveFingers in the Jungle Marathon Amazon

October 29, 2013 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Foot Care, Footwear, Sports 

This blog post is a summary of Stefanie Bacon’s experience with Vibram FiveFinger Lontra’s in the Jungle Marathon Amazon. The first image shows Stefanie in one of the water crossings. She did the four-day 122km race and was the second place female. When I noticed she was running in FiveFingers, I asked if she could write a short review of the shoes. Here’s her report followed by information on the Lontras.

Stefanie in the Jungle Marathon Amazon

Stefanie in the Jungle Marathon Amazon

I have been running in my Vibram FiveFingers for over 2 years now. I am very careful choosing which ones to run in, depending of the terrain. When I decided to run the Jungle Marathon Amazon, I decided to research which ones would be best as I knew I was going to encounter water crossings, soft sandy beaches, mud swamps, forests, creepy crawlies on my ankles etc. So I knew they had to be somewhat more resistant then the ones I use to run on normal roads and sand tracks. I went for the Lontra, which have the thickest sole, and extra protection over the toes, and are higher on the ankles (to avoid sand coming into them so easily).

Stefanie's FiveFinger Lontras

Stefanie’s FiveFinger Lontras

The second photo shows Stefaine’s Lontras.

For a race like Jungle Marathon I really found my FiveFingers Lontra’s to be an advantage, especially at water crossings and soft sand. It was way easier because you can swim in them without feeling any kind of weight on your feet, and when running in soft sand, no sand came into them and my feet felt really light. Like with any other shoes you need to really be careful with cut off trees, to not step on one of them, but I must say the Lontra’s made me feel confident, as they are way more resistant then any other Five Fingers. One thing I did realize, is when I did the water crossings, as the fabric they are made of is meant to be water resistant the water didn’t escape the shoe so quickly like other Vibrams I have which are made of neoprene, but this didn’t make my feet suffer in any way.

Stefanie's Taped Toes

Stefanie’s Taped Toes

The only problem I had (which I only realized on the third day what was causing that problem) were my big toe nail and my pinky toe nail, I felt some pressure on them and couldn’t understand why, after a lot of thinking I realized that it was my socks, when using five fingers you need to make sure that your toes fit perfectly into the sock (I highly recommend to use Injinji, I was wearing the Nike ones and those where not good for my toes). The image here shows her toes taped with StrengthTape Kinesio tape.

I don’t recommend anyone who is starting to use Vibram FiveFingers to do a race like this in them; it is essential to have a lot of experience, and test different styles on different terrains. 

Vibram FiveFinger Lontras

Here are the links to Vibram’s website for the Lontra shoes: Vibram’s FiveFinger Lontras and Women’s Vibram Lontra.

Vibram FiveFinger Lontras

Vibram FiveFinger Lontras

Vibram Men’s Lontras are shown in the next photos. You can see in the first image how high they ride up the ankle and the strapping system. The next photo shows the more aggressive than normal tread.

Here’s Vibram’s website description: The all-new Lontra makes cold weather running in minimalist footwear a breeze. A multi-layer laminate upper with fully taped seams provides insulation and water resistance. The micro-pile fleece liner is soft against the skin while helping wick perspiration away from the foot. Other features include a neoprene heel cuff to keep out snow and debris, and a reinforced hook-and-loop closure for a snug and secure fit. Run safely at night with reflective surfaces for enhanced visibility. The 4mm EVA midsole provides insulation from frozen surfaces, and the TC-1 Dura outsole provides traction, durability and superior plating protection.

The Agressive Lontra Outersole

The Agressive Lontra Outersole

Stefanie made a good choice in the Lontra’s for her Jungle Marathon Amazon race. The shoes hardly showed any wear after her race. I could see these shoes working for similar events and trail runs. Considering the other shoes I saw runner’s wearing at the Jungle marathon, the Lontras performed well, did not fall apart, and did not become waterlogged. For an event where water, sand and mud, and streams or swamps are on the route, these shoes are worth a look.

For the record, the Jungle Marathon Amazon also had a marathon one-day race and the main event, a seven day 254km race.

Shoes at the Jungle Marathon – Amazon

October 22, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Footwear, Sports, Travel 

The Amazon Jungle Marathon had 78 runners. Most of them did not have problems with their shoes – but some did.

Most shoes were trail runners with good tread. I saw a lot of Salomon shoes and a mix of everything else. At least one runner wore Hokas and another wore Vibram Five Fingers. Every day I tried to watch the runners and check with shoes.

There was so much water and sand that their shoes were always wet and covered in sand – with the exception of when we spent the night in the deep jungle camp. Even then, it was dirt that caked the shoes.

The afternoon before the race started, seven of us hiked three miles into the first day’s checkpoint. It gave me a taste of what the runners would start with the next morning. The jungle is unforgiving. Roots, rocks, and vines are everywhere. Leaves and ferns are on the trail and hanging over it. Low hanging branches and tree stumps line the trail. Inattention to the trail will lead to catching your foot on roots and vines, stubbing your toes, or turning an ankle. Inattention to the stuff alongside and up high on the trial will lead one into running into something hanging head height.

When they got to the checkpoint, they had their first water crossing, a deep stream that once they crossed, took them into a swamp. Two other days started on a beach where they had 200 to 300 yard plus river crossings – pulling themselves and their packs along a rope. You get the picture.

Torn Mesh on Shoes

Torn Mesh on Shoes

At the end of the first day several runners had major problems with their shoes. As you can see from the first picture, the shoes were coming apart where the uppers meet the midsole. The mesh in the shoe’s upper was torn. Without repair, the next day the shoes would have fallen apart.

Mesh uppers have become popular in many road and trail shoes. In fact it’s hard to find shoes without mesh. Mesh makes the shoes lighter and cooler. Water typically drains better too. In the Amazon, these mesh shoes were worn by most all the runners. And they were filled with sand and trail junk. With the water, they became much heavier than normal.

In the Amazon, the vines, branches, rocks, and whatever else the jungle threw at the runner’s feet destroyed the shoes’ mesh. On a mountain trail race, the same thing can happen. All it takes is one swipe across a sharp rock or root.

Remember that mesh allows grid, dust, dirt and sand to get inside. The mesh is also susceptible to tearing, especially at the junction of the upper and midsole.

Repaired Shoes

Repaired Shoes

Fortunately, one of the runners was an expert with needle and thread. He expertly and patiently sewed the mesh back into place – more than once. The second picture shows a runner’s shoe that has been repaired. If you look closely, you can see the thread at the bottom edge of the mesh.

Sewing Shoes

Sewing Shoes

The last two pictures show how Roberto Domingues Areiro used dental floss to sew Jean-Paul van der Bas’ shoes back together.

Roberto sewing Jean-Paul's Shoes

Roberto sewing Jean-Paul’s Shoes

Another runner wore Hokas and loved them. For the first six days they served her well. For the final day, she switched to a lighter pair of regular shoes. The reason was evident. She realized that her Hokas were waterlogged and each weighed two pounds. Hokas are larger than average shoes. Every pound on a foot is equal to five pounds on the back. For the runner, that meant carrying an additional 20 pounds in her pack.

Remember that while your shoes may be fine when they are dry, once they go through water, their weight can increase dramatically. All that weight is added stress on your legs and back.

Remember that where ever your race, consider the terrain and conditions when you pick your shoes. Making sure you have good shoes, as close to new as possible, but broken in to your feet. Don’t chance your race to a pair of old and worn shoes.

The runner who wore Vibram Five Fingers did well. She was used to the unique shoes and had trained with the miles necessary to do 142km in the minimalist shoes. She had minor problems with her big toes and pinky toes that we taped, but she managed to complete the race.

Remember that if you wear minimalist shoes in a race, make sure you put the miles on your feet with the shoes so your feet and legs are used to them.

The Amazon Jungle Marathon is a great event that promised runners an adventure. They got that and more. Their shoes showed the wear and took everything the jungle threw at them.

Feet, Sand and Water

October 15, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Sports 
Jungle Marathon

Jungle Marathon

I am writing this as I am flying home from the seven day Jungle Marathon Amazon stage race. Since 2002, I have helped at races like Death Valley’s Badwater, BC Canada’s Raid the North Extreme, Chile’s Racing the Planet Atacama, California high Sierra’s Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race, Costa Rica’s Coastal Challenge, and the Primal Quest and Gold Rush Adventure Races – and each is unique and difficult in their own way. The Jungle Marathon topped most of them in difficulty.

We had a medical team of 15 doctors and paramedics for the 78 runners. The team manned checkpoints along each day’s stage. Each medic team had a full medical kit, which included provisions for foot care. Depending on the stages, the medic team went out the afternoon before to get to the checkpoint to set up their hammocks and eat before jungle darkness came. For example, Todd and I hiked three miles through the jungle to get to the first checkpoint of stage one. We were accompanied by Rod and Lee to set up the ropes over a water crossing, four locals to clear the camp and manage the fire and water, and an interpreter. Our job was to make sure the runners were in good shape, and provide any medical care if needed.

This checkpoint came only three miles into the first of seven stages. But it set the stage for the whole race. The runners had come through three tough miles of jungle trail with rocks, roots, loose vines to trip feet, low hanging branches – all on terrain that was rarely flat. Toss in the stifling humidity and heat, and you get the picture.

Now comes the heart of the race – water. Our little camp was about 30 feet long and 20 feet wide, on the bank of a stream, carved out of your typical jungle fauna. Once they reached us, the runners had a mandatory 15 wait before continuing. When their time came, they jumped into the chest high stream and used the rope to pull themselves to the other side. Of course, there were no dry trails on the other side. The route was through a swamp. Three miles and 100 feet into the race their feet would be wet most of the time.

But as if water was not enough, there was sand. The trails through were on sandy jungle soil and on sandy beaches.

Combine water and sand and you have a mixture of two elements that are problematic to runner’s feet. We saw it every day. I have written about maceration many times, and generally tell people to avoid getting their feet whenever possible to avoid this painful condition. But in the Jungle Marathon Amazon, water is present everyday – along with sand. Even without the water crossings, the humidity would keep your feet wet. By the time we hiked the three miles to our camp with our overnight packs, my pants and shirt were soaked. And nothing dries overnight.

Without a doubt, I think the Jungle Marathon Amazon has been the toughest event when it comes to the participants’ feet.

The sand gets everywhere. And it sticks. While I did not see the skin abraded from the sand inside socks and shoes, especially at the heels, it’s damaging effects were more visible in the runners’ shoes, socks and insoles. One runner had holes in the toes and heels of one of his socks after day one. Another runner had holes through both heels of his insoles.

You might be asking yourself why people do this race. Good question. It has a great reputation in a very beautiful setting. The jungle is fantastic. This section of the Amazon River has white sand beaches. The race offers three events, the seven days race, a four-day race, and a marathon day. Runners carry all their gear including clothes, hammock, mandatory gear kit, and food for seven days.

Helping at this race was a fantastic opportunity, which I will never forget. Over the next few months, I will be writing about what I observed and learned. My posts will talk about shoes, socks, insoles, skin treatment, “hot shots”, tapes and taping, blister patching, and several products. As you might expect, a common thread through these post will be water and sand.

Even though you may never do the Jungle Marathon Amazon, there is a lot that can be learned from what these runners experienced. I hope you will stay tuned.

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