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The Trail Running People

March 2, 2010

They are called the Tarahumaras and they live deep in the remote and impenetrable Barrancas del Cobre – the Copper Canyons in northern Mexico. If you’re into ultra trail running you probably heard about them, blazing the Leadville 100 Mile course a few years ago. The Tarahumara however is an alias. Their real name is Rarámuri, which means ‘the running people’. I read about them in Christopher McDougall’s exciting and inspiring book “Born To Run” (Profile books, London, 2009). McDougall has a knee problem and several doctors advise him to stop running, since running long distances “isn’t good for you”. But then he stumbles across a magazine story about the Tarahumaras, who seem to run their whole lives without injuries. And they run a lot. McDougall sets out to discover their secret. Or secrets, as it turns out.

From early age they perform a sport called rarájipari, where 2 teams each kick a small wooden ball size of a baseball along a mountain trail. The team that finish the course first with their ball wins. The grown-up version of the race can go on for twento-four hours or even forty-eight, whatever had been agreed the night before when the teams, usually from two different villages, get drunk on tesgüino, a homemade corn beer. The race starts in sunup with the two teams, usually with between three and eight runners on each side. During night they run with torches and they use chia seeds for long lasting energy supply. “To endure a challenge like that, you had to possess all the Tarahumara virtues – strength, patience, cooperation, dedication, and persistance. Most of all, you had to love to run.”

In his 300 page book McDougall also gives a examples of the ultra scene in US and tell entertaining stories about odd characters, like ‘Caballo Blanco’ who followed the Tarahumaras back home after pacing them during the Leadville 100 Mile race. Here and here you can watch youtube clips about the Tarahumaras and the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon he organizes. And here is the link to the race website. The 2010 edition will be held the upcoming sunday (March 7).

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