In 2018, I traveled to Chamonix, a beautiful town known for its love of trail running. It was there that I was introduced to a brilliant concept that would change the way I thought about running shoes. As an ultra-marathon runner, I knew that I needed to replace my shoes every 3-4 months, or even less frequently, depending on my mileage. But what I didn't realize was the environmental impact that my running shoes had.
The manufacturing process of running shoes releases large amounts of carbon dioxide and is responsible for 1.4% of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Each pair of runners generates 30 pounds of CO2 emissions, which is equivalent to keeping a 100-watt light bulb on for a week. Moreover, running shoes are made of synthetic materials that take years to biodegrade. As trail runners who love nature, we are inadvertently having a significant impact on the environment we so cherish.
That's when I discovered a company that was revolutionizing the way we think about running shoes. A truck that replaced shoe soles on running shoes, and not just any soles, but Vibram soles, which are widely regarded as the best in the industry. Vibram soles are lighter, more functional and can reduce carbon emissions by 30 pounds per pair of shoes.
I was immediately intrigued and decided to test out the product. However, I quickly realized that fitting the soles onto my running shoes was a challenge. If even a little of the sole came loose, the sand and water would eat away at the glue and remove the sole rather cleanly from the shoe. But I didn't give up. Instead, I teamed up with an experienced shoemaker and began a rigorous testing process.
As I continued to test the product on the rugged terrain of Western Cape mountains, I heard about the plight of runners who were spending upwards of R2000 every three months on new shoes. Some complained of poor grip and others of soles weathering away fast. But with the help of the Vibram team in Italy and our own team in South Africa, we continued to build and break shoes at a rapid rate.
After two years of intense testing and research, we finally figured out the method to stick Vibram soles to running shoes. We also made technical choices about suitable options for the South African terrain and identified a process that would help people save money and reduce their impact on the environment.
It's amazing how often we find the biggest problems or the easiest solutions right under our feet. I'm grateful to have discovered this product and am excited to share it with other trail runners who want to reduce their environmental impact while enjoying their passion for running.