Most of them now wear shoes – or some form of it. The first three miles contain 3,000 feet of gain on boulder-strewn trails, which turn into smudged mud for the next two thousand feet of ferr. The last three miles drop 5,000 feet across moist granite slabs at a 40-degree angle, bound by several river crossings. Whether porters are dressed or not, they fly.
“They float straight up the trail,” says Matthew McGyver, an experienced trail runner based in Colorado, marveling at the local talent. Will MacGyver think about trying barefoot? “This is the most technical race I have ever done. Without shoes, my feet would wear down to the ankles.”
At the finish line, a crowd of 4,000 racers cheered the riders stumbling—crumbing into the dirt, completely gassed. The lap record of 2 hours 4 minutes was unbroken, despite the brave efforts of first place Juffali Gosam, of nearby Lekhopola, who clocked 2 hours 7 minutes 13 seconds. “I think anyone can run it in under two hours,” Shamwala says. “Every year people get closer.”
Theresa Master, a local Olympic marathon runner based in Mulanje, reached the finish line in 2 hours 57 minutes, taking second place. She has won the women’s team six times.
her shoes? Aqua Blue Champion sneakers with slits at the sides. The Master’s second-place prize of 300,000 Malawian Kwacha (about $300) should more than cover some fresh kicks. But in poor Malawi, other staples come first, even for a famous local Olympian.
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