Meet the man with two barefoot world records

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Find out how South African-born Kiwi Wayne Botha used Facebook messages to Zola Budd and methylated sprits to smash not one but TWO world barefoot records.

Dental technician Wayne Botha, 41, ran a remarkable 528 times around the Millennium track in Auckland, to break two barefoot records: 100km in 8:49:42 and 211.519km in 24 hours. SPIKES loves a plucky ultrarunner, and we just had to find out more…

Why did you do it, Wayne?

“I did it as a personal challenge, but also to catch the eye of a potential sponsor and raise the profile of ultra distance running in New Zealand. I did a race in Sydney last year and I saw Robert Knowles [of Australia] break the records.

“It looked to me like something that was doable. At that time the record was 11 hours and 17 minutes for the 100km – and 166km for the 24 hours. Last October I broke the 100km record by three minutes. I knew if I prepared properly, I could take a big chunk from that time.”

When did you find out you were a good barefoot runner?

“I grew up on a farm in South Africa, so I spent a lot of time barefoot. Maybe it is the African in me? Last year I tried to incorporate barefoot running into my training because I’ve struggled with bruised feet [competing in shoes] at events like the World and Commonwealth 24-hour Championships.

“I wanted to run barefoot to toughen up my feet. From May I started focusing on the record attempt and I started running about 30km a week barefoot. I would do 10-15km on the track and the other 15km running barefoot on the pavement and the roads.

“I’d always end my daily run barefoot. I’d probably run about 13km with shoes on, then I’d take them off and run the final 5km or so with the shoes in my hand. It must have looked pretty strange. My feet got quite hard but later became softer but lost their sensitivity.”

Any tricks of the trade to keep your feet strong?

“I sent a Facebook message to Zola Budd [the South African-born, British distance running icon of the 1980s who ran barefoot] to ask her if she could give me any advice. She replied to say she couldn’t comprehend running such a distance.

“She used to put tape on her toes, but I wouldn’t be allowed to do that to attempt the record. I was in the Army in South Africa and we used to pour methylated spirits on blisters to harden them up. I put this on my feet a few days before the race for toughness.”

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Zola Budd (in front) at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, a tiny titan of barefoot running

What was the biggest challenge you faced trying to break the record?

“I faced a real mental challenge because only a week before the race, I heard a new record for the distance had just been ratified. As far as I was concerned, I was attempting a 10hrs 47mins 100km – and then a 166km distance for the 24 hours.

“But it was brought to my attention that the records had changed, and it was now 9hrs 46mins [for the 100km] and 181km [for the 24-hour record], so I had to overcome that.

“Thankfully, the weather on the day was perfect. It was then just a case of putting my head down and going for it. At first I was concentrating on the 100km, and then once that was broken I had a further 15 hours to think about the 24-hour record.”

Which was the tougher record?

“The first record was tougher because it got quite hot during the day. My feet got quite warm and started burning. The track cooled down at night, which made the 24-hour record a little easier.

“I did have a few indigestion issues and my mind started to play tricks on me when I was tired. To pass the time I was running next to a guy [the event doubled as the New Zealand 24-hour Championships] who was listening to the rugby commentary and giving me updates of the South Africa v New Zealand rugby game.”

How were your feet at the end of the race?

“Surprisingly OK. I had a bit of general stiffness, mainly stiff calves, but no blisters under my feet. I got away without too much damage. It was quite amazing.”

There has been a lively debate about the virtues of barefoot running. Would you recommend it?

“I would, and I will continue to use it as part of my training. I was running 130-140km a week [in shoes] but always seemed to suffer from tight hamstrings. Since I started barefoot running I’ve never had any hamstring injuries or any knee pain. It seems to have strengthened my muscles. It is such a natural way of running.”

Do you plan any more barefoot records in future?

“It depends if Robert Knowles [his Australian rival] is going to break them again! I do believe I could improve on those times, so this time next year I might consider having another go at them.”