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.

A Survey About Feet From The 2012 Amazon Jungle Marathon

Vicky Kypta is the Medical Team Manager for the Jungle Marathon, which starts October 6 in the Amazon in Brazil. Last year she did an informal survey of the participants and the results are interesting. The race lasts seven days and goes through the jungle on pre-existing paths, trails, and tracks with natural obstacles to pass including streams and shallow rivers. This leads to feet that are constantly wet.

Jungle Marathon foot care

Jungle Marathon foot care

This is the race that I will be at in a few days.

Vicky shared the results of the questionnaire and commented it was quite interesting, although the sample group was quite small. There were about 30 participants.

Here are some of the findings:

  • 77% of the respondents wore Injinji socks
  • 100% of those NOT wearing Injinji sock got blisters
  • 46% of those wearing Injinji sock got blisters: out of those 50% were on the balls of the foot and 50% were on the toes. Those who had blisters on their toes all wore shoes in their normal size.

Out of those with no blisters:

  • 100% wore Injinji socks
  • 100% wore shoes one size larger
  • 75% applied some form of anti-friction compound to their feet; i.e. Body Glide, 2nd Skin or Zinc Oxide cream
  • 75% pre-taped problem areas or hotspots

I find this interesting and wonder what we will find with the 78 participants next week. The Jungle Marathons are well run and the staff tells runners to train with wet feet. They have found this results in less foot problems.

The results are striking in several areas (remember this is a seven day stage race):

  1. All the runners who did not get blisters wore Injinji socks and shoes a full size larger than their normal shoes
  2. All the runners who did not wear Injinji socks got blisters
  3. Runners wearing their normal size shoes all got toe blisters
  4. The majority of blisters were on the forefoot and toes

Over the past 17 years, I have worked a lot of ultramarathons and multi-day stage races. I can honestly say that overall, feet have improved. More runners are prepared and know how to manage their feet.

When I return, I will share what we found at this year’s Amazon Jungle Marathon.

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