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Malawi’s Porters Race Is a 25K Rite of Passage Like No Other

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Most are now wearing shoes—or some form of them. The first three miles contain 3,000 feet of gain on boulder-strewn trails, which turn to slicked-out mud for the next 2,000 feet of vert. The final three miles plummet 5,000 feet across wet, 40-degree granite slabs laced with multiple river crossings. Shoed or not, the porters are flying.

“They straight-up float down the trail,” says Matthew McGeever, a seasoned trail runner based in Colorado, marveling at the local talent. Would McGeever ever consider trying it barefoot? “This is the most technical trail race I’ve ever done. Without shoes, my feet would be worn down to the ankles.”

At the finish line, a crowd of 4,000 cheers on competitors stumbling in—collapsing in the dirt, absolutely gassed. The course record of 2 hours, 4 minutes remains unbroken, despite a valiant effort by first place Jafali Jossam, from nearby Likhubula, who clocks a superhuman 2 hours, 7 minutes, 13 seconds. “I believe someone can run it in under two hours,” says Chamwala. “Every year people get close.”

Three Malawian children looking directly into camera

Future competitors assessing
Kiran Kallur

Tereza Master, a Mulanje-based local and Olympic marathoner, arrives at the finish line in a blistering 2 hours, 57 minutes—bagging second place. She’s won the women’s side six times.

Her shoes? Aqua-blue Champion sneakers with gaping holes in the sides. Master’s second-place prize money of 300,000 Malawian kwacha (about $300) should more than cover some new kicks. But in impoverished Malawi other staples come first, even for a famed, local Olympian.

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