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