Over half of the teams in the race had to pull out due to foot problems caused by the persistent and sometimes torrential rain. It was an 11 day race in the jungles and deserts of Forteleza, Brasil (the Elf Authentic Adventure, 1990)
It’s a common problem. Wet feet become soft, and this immediately increases the likelihood of blisters. Then, after a further two or three hours of being wet, feet eventually wrinkle like a prune, and as this advances further, the wrinkles turn into folds which very quickly turn to blisters and tears (yes.. both tears in the skin and tears in our eyes!) Advanced versions of this are trench-foot (also known as immersion foot syndrome), where infections can sometimes cause gangrene, necessitating amputation!
GurneyGoo hadn’t been invented in 1990, and this race is where the motivation came to develop something superior to Vaseline that would last the distance. Hence after extensive development and testing, we came up with GurneyGoo.
On the eve of the race start, with a forecast of solid rain for several days, we realised that we would have wet feet for the entirety of the trekking legs… a major threat for blisters and pruning and this could easily force teams to withdraw from the race. So we packed spare socks and made up a foot-care kit consisting; a tiny trekking towel for drying and cleaning, some Vaseline, some medical alcohol and Compeed-brand sticking plasters.
Prevention is better than cure. We made a rule that, as a team, whenever our feet started wrinkling with the wet, we’d stop, make shelter, remove our shoes and socks, lay down with our feet elevated until our feet dried with the wrinkles gone before we would allow ourselves to continue racing. We’d liberally coat our feet in another layer of Vaseline, and put on our spare dry socks before continuing. Meanwhile we’d try to dry out the other wet socks for the next change, and so the rotation goes.
Vaseline helped a little in waterproofing our skin and reducing friction, thus stalling the wrinkling, but it didn’t last anywhere long enough. Hence we needed to use massive quantities of it, and in these quantities the old, spent Vaseline, created a gluggy, sticky and messy pulp that totally inundated our socks and shoes, making them heavy and uncomfortable.
To finish first, first you must finish
Of course, stopping like this was incredibly hard to do as we watched most of the field surge past us. It triggered a mix of anxiety and despondency as we went from the front of the field to the back, in the space of 12 hours. It took massive discipline and trust in our judgement.
This time stopped to dry our feet wasn’t wasted however, we’d power nap, investing in sleep for later in the race.
The strategy paid off in the days to come, as one by one, the teams in front of us dropped like flies. Rewarding as the gains may be, it was a gruesome and painful sight passing them stopped on the side of the track nursing massacred feet, massive blisters and skin peeling off in thick white slabs of flesh. Sometimes the entire sole of the foot peeling away.
In the end we won by a massive 18 hours, all because we took the time and discipline to treat our foot health as a major resource to be looked after.
Even though we won the race, it was only though being super disciplined and resourceful... and being a bit of lucky. We needed something to make blister management easier.
After the race we set about developing and refining GurneyGoo as our secret weapon for race-winning foot care.
For race details see:
Team Pharmanex-Spie (Steve Gurney, Cathy Sassin, John Jacoby and Tim Grammar)