Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Barefoot in the park - with a couple of little beauties from Brazil!

I KNEW these wafer-thin shoes would come in handy one day!  Bought them in a moment of madness more than 20 years ago and ever since they've been tucked away, unused and gathering dust. Until now!

My latest attempt to overcome chronic injury saw me this week exploring the world of ‘barefoot’ running - and these shoes are proving just the ticket. They are hand-made and there’s not a single other pair like them in the entire world. They are, literally, unique. 

They were made from recycled material by an under-privileged person from one of the favela districts that surround Brazilian cities. The company involved – Nao do Brasil – say no worker is exploited, all are legally-employed adults, and every shoe is unique, hand-sewn from whatever material was available at the time.

My various chronic running injuries have responded well this week to a spot of ‘barefoot running’ on local grass sportsfields, wearing these little beauties from Brazil. They are a joy to wear after years of clunky, conventional shoes. (Don’t try this at home folks - unless you are desperate like me - for these shoes were built with ‘fashion’ in mind, not running!)

Pulling them on reminded me of a trip to Brazil back in the days when I could run properly! It was an occasion when my running activities showed the sporty Brazilians just how we English often perform like heroic failures.

While in Porto Seguro, I was told of a marathon taking place locally the following day in which runners had to stop at every bar along the 26-mile route, swallow a drink and then move on. The area was absolutely awash with bars, so you can see that health and safety was not an issue in Brazil back then. 

Instead of paying an entry fee for the race you were expected to donate a quantity of food to a local orphanage. It was a good cause, but being a sensible Englishman, I naturally backed off and opted for a different road race that I thought would be safer and more appropriate. Things didn’t quite pan out that way.

My choice was a 10k in the city of Salvador da Bahia. It involved rising at an ungodly hour around dawn to catch a bus to the Iguatimi shopping centre. Here I assembled with 500 others for the first ‘Corrida Rustica da Justica 10k’. I was in a tiny minority of foreign participants and alongside my precious (and now defunct) Nike Air Sock racers, I couldn’t help but notice the vast amount of bare feet on show. It was hard to tell if these runners were too poor to afford shoes, or whether they simply preferred the Zola Budd/Bruce Tulloh approach.

The course proved hot, humid and hilly so I didn’t push too hard, aiming to nip inside the 40-minute mark at worst. When we reached the latter stages and were still going uphill out of town, it began to dawn on me this must be a point-to-point race and at the end I’d be a long way out of town without no transport back. We duly finished at a local government office in Salvador’s remote hinterlands, and lapped up the free water melon handed out instead of medals or T-shirts. Several fellow runners keeled over in the intense heat, one I saw being given oxygen and on a drip in the back of an ambulance. If the locals were going down, what were my chances of surviving this ordeal?

Stuffed in the pocket of my shorts was a tatty little street map which I showed to a policeman in the hope of some directions home. I attempted some Portuguese at him, but in my exhausted state it must have been unintelligible because he just looked at the map, scratched his head and shrugged.  

I attempted to walk/jog back the way we’d come but the course had not been marked and every street looked the same. It was searingly hot and I had no fluids, no sunscreen, no mobile phone, nada.

I followed the occasional direction sign saying ‘Centro’ and found myself strolling down a busy dual carriageway. These were tough districts, but my skimpy running gear clearly indicated I possessed nothing worth mugging me for. It took an hour or so, but eventually I got back. Surely no other 40-minute road 10k in history had ever involved quite so much blood, sweat and effort? 

* Rob Hadgraft's books - including six biographies of champion runners of yesteryear - are on sale via Amazon at:

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