The Tarahumara, an indigenous northern Mexico tribe, has been immortalized in the works of the great Christopher McDougall and other noteworthy writers on the subject of running.

The tribe has a great tradition of ultra-running and refer to themselves as “Rarámuri,” which means “those who run fast”. With a name like that it’s obvious that running is the transport of choice among the Tarahumara and they cover hundreds of miles in one day conducting trade, hunting and passing communication between villages.

McDougall’s seminal Born To Run gave us a peek into the Tarahumara way of life and their story inspired thousands of runners to give up the comfort of a cushioned trainer and choose a minimalist approach or barefoot even. Now, Running Competitor has tried to distill down the secrets of the tribe in an article. New runners, pay heed, as this could be the difference between enjoying running and seeing it as a chore.

“Do not waste energy”

Quoting ultrarunning legend Scott Jurek, Duncan Larkin writes the Tarahumara waste little to no energy. “We would take a water break or a rest and they would all sit down right away. They didn’t stand. It was all about conservation to them,” the article quotes Jurek as saying. Other quotes from Jurek marvel at the consistency of the Tarahumara as they use running as a means of transport to conduct official business or trade, and cannot therefore afford to take it easy on some days.

“Work as a team”

This is the same idea as joining a running club. Other runners motivate you to push and push. In Born to Run, it’s noted that the Tarahumara run as a team, coordinating the pace, so that everyone is on the same intensity and no one runner is burnt out. It’s also known to create a friendly atmosphere that keeps runners in good spirits. “These days, I run with friends as often as possible and it’s made a tremendous improvement in my mileage and enjoyment,” the article quotes McDougall.

The Tarahumara running 'shoe' which spawned a generation of barefoot and minimalist runners
The Tarahumara running ‘shoe’ which spawned a generation of barefoot and minimalist runners

“Run with a contagious joy”

Dana Richardson and Sarah Zentz, filmmakers who have also worked closely with the Tarahumara believe that running “is a joyful and sacred experience with a powerful spiritual significance” for the tribe. The tribe famously smiles through all their traditional races even as they knock off hundreds of miles. This feeling of joy is contagious and can have a great positive impact on the tribesmen. “Their traditional running is about working together in teams, celebrating as a community and honoring one another.”

“Embrace simplicity”

This may be harder to do in today’s day and age but the over-reliance on gadgets and data adds a mechanical twang to running, which robs it of the essential joy and freedom. Like the Tarahumara, it may be wiser for you to not rely on GPS watches or expensive heart-rate monitors. Getting rid of such distractions allows you to think clearly about your running, and correcting your form. “Artists don’t obsess over speed; they obsess over mastering skills. For runners, that skill is form. The more you learn about moving your body lightly and efficiently, the closer you’ll be to running like the Tarahumara,” McDougall said on the subject of running in a simple fashion.

Main image credit: Luis Escobar

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