Running 21,097 icy meters without shoes in record time

The Hayani on the ice during the half marathon.

Karim El Hayani has a contagious smile and greatly enjoys feeling the ground with his bare feet; he is also an off-road racer. The Hayani completed the half marathon in a time of 1h 37m 54s, but in one of its most extreme modalities: barefoot on snow and ice. On March 3, he thus imposed the new world record (Guinness has yet to homologate it) with his strides on Lake Beauport, located in the Canadian province of Quebec, under a thermal sensation of -13 degrees. “I had to go up and down the pace according to the surface. Running on the ice was the hardest. When you put your foot, it sticks a bit. What worried me the most was not exceeding the mark in front of so many people who were present supporting me. I did not want to fail them, “says El Hayani to EL PAÍS.

The pandemic, he points out, canceled his sports appointments on the calendar. “I had to have a goal to stay motivated and I saw the mark of Wim Hof, a highly respected extreme athlete,” he says. In 2007, the Dutchman ran the half marathon barefoot on snow and ice in 2h 16m 34s. “I wanted to try it in 2022, but a few weeks ago I did a 13-kilometer workout and I felt like I was ready,” he adds. Two days after breaking the record, El Hayani went back to training; his feet suffered very little from the effort on the frozen lake.

Born in Tangier (Morocco) in 1994, Karim El Hayani crossed the strait and arrived in Spain at the age of 12, without family company. “I did it looking for a better future, like many young people,” he says. He went through a reception center and was assigned a place in Aldeas Infantiles de El Escorial, an institution that he remembers with affection and gratitude. His dream, like that of millions of children, was to become a professional footballer (he declares himself a Barça fan), but he began to participate and excel in school careers despite not having prior training. “El Escorial is a small town, but it has several athletics clubs. Álvaro López Cotillo, Club Las Ardillas coach, contacted me, ”he says.

Hayani was champion of the Junior Spanish Mountain Racing Cup in 2013. Two years later, he obtained Spanish nationality. Her triumph in the 2015 Javelina Jundred – a 100-kilometer course in the Arizona desert in hellish temperatures – earned her fame. He took the victory in a time of 9h 29m; the youngest winner in the annals of this event. In the summer of 2016, he broke the world record of 100 kilometers barefoot in Santander. El Hayani divided periods between Spain and the United States, but decided to settle in Canada in April 2017. “A friend suggested that I move to Montreal. I thought about trying a few months and I’m still here. It is a multicultural city where you can do outdoor activities within walking distance, ”he says. He currently lives in Bromont (an hour’s drive from the Québec metropolis) and has worked in various trades (in kitchens, hotels and butchers).

El Hayani recalls that he ran his first test with some shoes to play soccer on synthetic grass, although later others came more in line with the terrain. Later, he switched to sandals. “One day, after training, I decided to run for a few minutes barefoot. I felt very free. As a child he always played like that with his friends. Over time it caught my attention more and more; that idea of ​​taking minimalism to another level ”, he says. On this point, it regrets that the Spanish Federation of Mountain Sports and Climbing does not authorize in its regulations to participate barefoot in their races. “I do not get it. It seems absurd to me. They let people run with asphalt shoes and inexperienced, but not someone with knowledge of the terrain and years of participation, “he says.

Karim El Hayani already has the next goal in mind: to run 250 kilometers barefoot in a desert. “I would like to try it in October or early next year, but it depends a lot on the pandemic,” he stresses. This admirer of Rafael Nadal (“an example of humility and the highest sporting success,” he says of the manacorí) shares with race tennis players the ability to adapt to different surfaces. Although El Hayani – with slippers, sandals or barefoot – would also be equivalent to shrewdly returning the ball with a paddle, racket or bare hand.

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