My ultra-journey to the 25km “George MUT”

Barefoot running george MUT minimalist running sandal sandal running Trail running

by Tenisha Roos

 

The Race

If someone told me, two years ago, that I would soon line up for a challenging trail run, I would have laughed and shrugged it off. Pain emanating from my core, ITB and associated physiology, had been a constant companion through years of mountain trail adventures. Now, after a change in attitude and a new approach, I found my strength and motivation improved to the point of running the 25km George Mountain Ultra Trail Race (George MUT). My longest mountain run ever.

Not long before the George MUT I was delighted to very comfortably finish the Jonkershoek 20km race giving me the confidence to look for new challenges. The George MUT was in my sights and coincidently, took place on my birthday. That was a sign!

The town of George greeted us with open arms and beautiful mystical mountains hinting at the scale of challenges ahead. In no time the race was getting under way with a welcome free flow start to calm the nerves and prevent bottlenecks especially on the technical sections ahead. After two early short and steep climbs the terrain allowed us to open up the pace a little and settle into a comfortable rhythm.

At about 12km my legs were put to the test as we began to climb the Montagu pass. Feeling good I pushed harder hoping this would not backfire later! My t-rocket Vegan X Ultras glided across the rocky terrain. These technical sections were so enjoyable and in my mind I thought how crazy this must seem to others in shoes, but I was having a really good time. River crossing? Water? Bring it on I thought! This was my birthday.

In my opinion the most significant feature was the incredible grip the sandals provided. I felt confident enough to cruise down steep technical and muddy single-tracks, feeling like one of those specialised mountain goats. Foot placement was always secure on the grippy Vegan X footbeds giving confidence to move faster when I wanted to.

I thought to myself "How lucky am I to fly down such a technical descent in nothing but sandals?” I felt invincible. After the 4km descent, a few steep climbs were mildly daunting as the reality of trail running reminded us that what goes down must go up.

Still feeling strong at the finish line, two emotions washed over me. Firstly (and somewhat shockingly) I was disappointed that the race was over! I wanted more.

And secondly, I was so excited about the future and the possibility of many more races. Suddenly my range of possibilities and confidence had grown substantially. This race meant more than running to me. It opened a new world of possibility.

My journey of discovery

My road to running joy has been one of discovery. What seemed to work for others did not work for me.

I started enquiring about trail shoe technology and biomechanics. And yes, I know they say a little knowledge is dangerous, but I was alarmed at the range of varying opinions. Some experts suggested shoes with good ankle support and plenty of cushioning, while others argued for a more minimalist approach. The concept of simplicity attracted me as I am drawn to nature and a more authentic, natural behaviour. For me these are gifts we need to embrace and share.

Research has shown that we have incredible feet and that our bodies are natural shock absorbers. I read about the Tarahumara, their ultra-runs and home-made sandals. I also came across articles that pointed out disadvantages in our every-day shoes. It felt like I was entering a secret world of hidden knowledge. The idea of running in sandals captivated me and encouraged my search for something different that stripped away the complexities of the world around us. Testing the "less is more" mantra fired my search. An “open” shoe, good grip – this is what I wanted. 

In January 2021, I bought my first pair of t-rockets – the Yeti. I went from a cushioned shoe with an 8mm heel-to-toe drop to a sandal with a zero drop. On my very first run, the sandals started highlighting what I interpreted as flaws in my form or style. I was forced to engage with the actual way I ran and had to think more carefully about what I was doing each step of the way. I was absorbed in the process and appreciated all the new feedback.

"No more hiding behind shoes” I thought. To my surprise, within a few months I started running a little further with more comfort and strength. Increasing speed and distance was a drug – it was so exciting! With renewed resolve I started working on uphills with enthusiasm rather than dread. For the first time in years, I felt in control and extremely grateful to run for hours without pain (that was my number 1 goal). I felt confident enough to start training for certain events, eventually leading to both the Jonkershoek Challenge and the George MUT.

Many new possibilities and adventures lie ahead. It really is wonderful. This is only the beginning!


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