Hear how Greg Armstrong, high school biology teacher, ultramarathon runner, and founder of the nonprofit Run4Water ran more than 2,700 miles in Teva sandals. Photos courtesy of Greg Armstrong and Mary Beth Richerson.
Greg Armstrong has lived an impressive life filled with bucket list moments from summiting Kilimanjaro to exploring active volcanoes in Nicaragua. Even more impressive? He’s experienced them all while wearing a few pairs of trusty Teva sandals.
It may be unconventional, but for Greg who has been drawn to the simplicity of running, it just works. Adding up all his steps throughout numerous different countries, trails, roads, and mountain ranges, he has trekked more than 2,700 miles in his Teva sandals—almost as far as driving across the United States from San Francisco to Washington D.C.
Shortly after Greg broke a new course record for the Vol State 500K (a difficult multi-day 314-mile ultramarathon race across Tennessee), we caught up with the Tennessee-based high school biology teacher, runner, and founder of nonprofit Run4Water to hear more about his most life-changing travels.
Greg’s favorite well-worn Teva Sandals.
Tell us about how you got into ultramarathon running.
I was drawn to the raw simplicity of ultra running. For years I raced Ironman® triathlons; the expensive gadgets and all the hype wasn’t my scene. Most ultras, especially when I started 12 years ago, were low hype events where people from all walks of life would run 100+ miles with very little recognition. The self-discovery of getting through the weak moments of 314 miles is hard to describe but no other sport can compare.
Pictured: Greg has finally retired his Tanza sandals for the new Minam sandals in Black.
Running an ultra marathon in Teva sandals.
How did Teva sandals become your favorite footwear for running?
In 2013, I spent 3 months in Southern Honduras helping villages get clean drinking water. It was the rainy season and practically every day my feet and shoes were soaked. I would go on morning runs through the forest with stream crossings and come back with wet feet that remained that way the rest of the day. I had two pairs of shoes but they still wouldn’t dry, not to mention the wet stinky socks.
Once back home, I told myself I wanted to find a sandal that would fit my minimalist mentality. I had to be able to travel, work, and of course run in the sandal. Initially, I didn’t expect it to replace my running shoes but just something I could use while abroad. After trying multiple pairs I finally tried a pair of Teva Tanza sandals and was hooked. I started running in them just to see if they would work for me while traveling. Not only did they work but I attempted a few races in them and had my fastest 100-mile time to date in the Fall of 2013. From that point, all I have ever worn has been Teva except for a super technical trail run like the Barkley Marathons.
Greg Armstrong jogs through a creek in rural Haiti during a Run4Water humanitarian trip.
Your Teva sandals have been with you for thousands of miles! What are some of the most memorable moments you’ve had while wearing them around the world at ultra marathons and why?
- Competing in the ultra marathon world championship while representing Team USA in Torino, Italy 2015 was special because I was able to represent our country in a world championship event. I was able to experience the moment (24 hours) with my wife and two daughters.
- Running from Badwater Basin in Death Valley to the top of Mt. Whitney (146 miles) in 2016 had been a goal for some time. Witnessing the stars in the desert and the sunrise on top of Mt. Whitney (14,500 ft) was awe-inspiring.
- Summiting Kilimanjaro will be one of those experiences I tell my grandchildren about. The sense of accomplishment and relief to reach the summit is a treasured memory. [My] Teva sandals had over 2,000 miles on them [during this hike] in 2019.
- Running up active volcanoes in Nicaragua.
- Completing the Vol State 500k (314 miles) four times in Teva sandals, twice in Teva Tanza sandals and twice in Teva Minam. Broke course record in 2019. Probably the “masterpiece” of my ultra running career.
- Countless hikes and canoe trips with my students as I share/teach science.
Greg climbed Kilimanjaro in his Teva sandals.
“This kind woman sewed my pants for $1.50 after climbing Kilimanjaro.”
Why do you love wearing Teva sandals for your travels?
Versatility. I can work (repair wells) run, hike, swim, and climb mountains in my Teva sandals. I don’t have to worry about wet feet or changing footwear for different activities.
Tell us more about your non-profit Run4Water. What inspired you to start this organization and why is water access an important issue for you?
I teach biology and environmental science so I’ve always been concerned about the environmental and humanitarian water crisis. Back in 2007, I had some students that wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. I suggested that we find a cause greater than ourselves to hike for; they chose to raise awareness and funds for a well in Africa based on my lessons in class. They were 9th-graders at the time.
In their 10th-grade year, they came to me and said, “Coach Armstrong, that was great raising money for a well to be built but we want to actually go and help with the water crisis hands-on.” So it was an attempt to fulfill the request of a 15-year-old student that sparked Run4Water. Our mission is to raise awareness and provide solutions for the water crisis in our world. We have worked in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Uganda, Kenya, Haiti, and in Appalachia, US. Run4Water also engages and teaches young people leadership through volunteering.
Greg constructed this water well to teach his students how to build them in other countries for Run4Water projects.
The famous Teva tan line.
One of your Run4Water projects took you to Uganda with Teva sandals. Can you share more about this project and why it was impactful?
By far my most memorable and special ministry moment. While repairing a well for a leper colony. Yes, leprosy still exists! These individuals have actually been cured of leprosy; they live near one of the few leprosy hospitals in the world. Although cured and not contagious, the stigma of the dreaded disease prevents them from returning home or associating with anyone else but other cured individuals. These are truly some of the most rejected and broken souls I’ve ever met. Their bodies have been damaged by the disease with missing limbs and deformities of hands and feet. Many are lacking nerve sensation in their feet leaving them susceptible to cuts and infections. Some even sleep on dirt floor stick huts where the rats come and eat their flesh at night without them knowing.
One day I was visiting with those cured of leprosy and they shared that one of their greatest needs was proper footwear. They said they needed custom made shoes since most had deformed feet. I looked down at my Teva Tanza sandals and realized that the adjustable Velcro strap might just work. I took off the only pair I had while in Africa and strapped them to an elderly gentleman. They worked perfectly! I wrote Teva and they donated 70 pairs! We went back a few months later and washed the feet, cleaned the wounds and fitted each individual with a new pair of Teva sandals. They were full of joy not only for the footwear but for human interaction.
Taking Teva sandals to those in need in Uganda.
Where’s the next race and Run4Water project that you’re taking your Teva sandals?
My next race is the 24-hour ultra world championship race in Albi France, Oct 26, 2019.
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