Ode to Tarahumara, Mexico
Dan Haugen | July/August Issue 2012
For a people who prefer not to be seen, the Tarahumara always look fantastic,” writes Christopher McDougall in his 2009 bestseller, Born to Run. The book recounts McDougall’s journey to Copper Canyon in northwestern Mexico, made in the hope of learning from the local people, who are believed to be the greatest distance runners on the planet. For generations, the Tarahumara have depended on distance running as a practical way of getting from one place to another. Roads aren’t common in the vast, remote Sierra Madre wilderness they call home. While modern civilization is beginning to encroach, many Tarahumara still live in cliffside caves the way they have for centuries.
The Tarahumara may be quiet runners, but they can be loud dressers. Men and women wear skirts, sandals and colorful blouses, even while running 10K races, marathons or all-day ultramarathons.
“No matter what kind of fancy hiking duds you’ve got on, you’re guaranteed to feel underdressed among the Tarahumara,” writes McDougall.
More than festive apparel, though, what sticks in the minds of people who have run with the Tarahumara, and to what some attribute their incredible endurance, is joy.
“They are very shy, very serious people, but when they start running, everything transforms. They just love running,” says Marcos Ferro, a photographer and long-distance mountain runner who annually attends the Guachochi races, which are billed as an opportunity to run alongside (or behind, as is more likely to be the case) Tarahumara runners.
The Tarahumara’s running technique, called “natural running,” has long drawn the curiosity of distance runners, more so since the publication of McDougall’s book. But for Ferro, like others, the most powerful lesson has been mental. “They helped me recover that feeling of freedom and happiness you get when you’re running a mountain.”