An ultra-endurance athlete ran two marathons per day to break the record for running the famous National Three Peaks in nine days, seven hours and 18 minutes – all barefoot.
The barefoot runner Tony Riddle ran more than 450 miles from Mt Snowdon in Wales to Scafell Pike in England, and Ben Nevis in Scotland.
The father of four ran up each mountain with nothing on his feet – a total climb of 23 miles combined ascent and descent of the peaks – and for the 400 miles between each mountain on the road, he ran in Vivobarefoot footwear, which allowed him to mimic the barefoot condition with some protection for his feet.
Tony, from Camden, London, started the challenge at Mt Snowdon on the 29 August, before reaching the summit of Ben Nevis on Tuesday, beating the previous record by four hours and 31 minutes.
The decision to attempt the epic challenge came off the back of a 30-day barefoot run from Land’s End to John o’ Groats last year.
Tony says that running up the mountains was actually much kinder on his feet than the flat roads he raced between summits.
‘The tarmac became quite brutal in a way,’ Tony tells metro.co.uk. ‘When it gets wet it has this cheese-grater effect on the feet, so it starts to wear away the pads of the feet. That doesn’t happen in a natural habitat – up in the hills.
‘In a natural environment I can have butt naked feet, but in unnatural, man-made environments I needed some protection.’
Tony was originally meant to do the challenge in May and he wanted to finish on top of the final mountain his 45th birthday, but Covid hit and cancelled his plans.
To top it all off, Tony was struck down with an illness that his team were 99% sure was Covid. It was a really difficult time for Tony, as the illness really wiped him out.
‘There was a huge level of uncertainty and I had to put everything on pause,’ he explains. ‘When you do an event like this, I think people very rarely appreciate what’s going on behind the scenes.
‘It really takes six months to a year to even prep something like this, even just the logistics of it, let alone the training to get the body and the mind to endure and experience like this.’
Tony’s fascination with feet began with a trauma he experienced before birth and in the early parts of his life. He was a surprisingly long baby, and in the womb he managed to wrap his feet underneath his armpits, leading to a deformity which doctors had to work hard to correct.
‘I had to wear plaster casts for 12 weeks, which had to be replaced every week,’ says Tony. ‘It was to try to get my feet into the correct position. I then had to wear boots with a brace to further align them.
‘I’m now a natural lifestylist, so I look to ways of living that are more in sync with human biology. If we look to the natural beings of the world, they have the most incredible physicality and movement – especially the running tribes of the world. And they don’t have footwear. So if I strip away the stuff that we have in our culture, you get closer to finding our natural norm, rather than our social norm.
‘People look at me and think it’s completely crazy for me to be barefoot, but if you look at biomechanics and you understand our physiology and anatomy, then you’ll be able to relate to it.’
For Tony, it’s simple science. Our feet are incredibly complex, so he believe that simplistic shoes are only going to stifle what our feet in their natural state can do for us.
‘We have 36 joints, 26 bones, and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, that reside in one foot, then you have up to 200,000 receptors in that foot that feed information to your brain to allow you to minimise the risk of injury, and increase efficiency. In other words, your whole biomechanics, physiology and anatomy receive information through your feet – all the time.
‘If you draw around your foot you will see that the front of your foot is wider than your heel, however almost all modern shoes are narrower in the toe area. So your entire physiology is going to be affected by that.’
Tony described the challenge as both ‘brutal’ and ‘beautiful’, and he is just delighted to have finally smashed that record after an incredibly rocky year.
‘Running solo for up to 12 hours a day in challenging weather, on hard punishing roads and on beautiful, yet unforgiving peaks has tested me emotionally, mentally as well as physically,’ says Tony.
‘There is no way I could have run 50 miles a day on tarmac without the brilliant tech behind Vivobarefoot.
‘Record aside, most of all I’m grateful to have been able to have this experience in 2020, and raise awareness and funds for the indigenous beings of the world.’
As part of the challenge, Tony has raised more than £7,000 for Survival International – a global movement which helps to protect the rights of tribal people across the world.
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