Native Village Youth and Education News

January 1, 2009 Issue 193 Volume 4

Tarahumara Feats Inspire Awe

Original article by Victor M. Mendoza
Edited by Gina Boltz, Native Village

Leadville, Colorado: Last weekend, Ken Chlouber was laboring up a dirt road about 25 miles into an ultra marathon when he was passed by two other runners. He looked at the runners, and then at their feet -- which were bare except for sandals made out of used tires, leather thongs and nails.  "Maybe I'm spending too much on shoes," Chlouber half-joked as the runners passed him.

Those sandal-clad feet were the first to cross the finish line at the Leadville Trail 100 Ultramarathon, America's highest and possibly most rugged ultra-marathon. The runners, Victoriano Churro and Cerrildo Chacarito, are Tarahumara [Raramuri] Indians from the Copper Canyon area of  Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental.  The pair finished one-two after 20 hours while another Tarahumara [Raramuri], Manuel Luna, was fifth. And they did it their way, on sandals, called "huarachas," pieced together from tires picked up at the Leadville junkyard.

"I think this will set the ultramarathon community on its ear," smiled Kitty Williams, who, with Rick Fisher of Tucson, was primarily responsible for bringing the Tarahumaras [Raramuris] to Leadville.

The Tarahumara tribe numbers about 40,000. They live in small villages scattered over 35,000 square miles of remote and rugged mountains and canyons. Their name for themselves is "Raramuri," which, in their language means "foot runners".  For the Tarahumara [Raramuri], walking and running is the only way they get around, so difficult and lengthy races are part of their leisure time. Tales include running 70 miles a day, going 170 miles without stopping, and running 500 miles carrying 40 pounds of mail.

The 2008 Leadville Trail Ultramarathon has only added to their legend: this years winner, Victoriano Churro, is 55. His running partner, Cerrildo Chacarito, is 38. 

Ultra-marathoners are talking in wonder about seeing them pass.  "When you leave the Twin Lakes aid station (at 60 1/2 miles), you have to climb a steep ridge. No one runs up the trail there; no one," says Chlouber, a state representative and one of the race organizers. "Well, they (Churro and Chacarito) just took off and ran right up it like a couple of deer. It was amazing."

Tarahumara running facts:

Some Tarahumara have run over a hundred miles without stopping, taking only pinole and water with them.
Tarahumara catch deer by running after them for days until they tire them out.
The root of the name Tarahumara refers to foot running.
The Tarahumaras do not measure running by clock time but by the sky.  Races are be run "from sun to moon" or "from sun to moon to sun to moon," and so on.
The Tarahumaras do not have to train for their races. They are always running somewhere,
 Wherever men gather, races are spontaneously organized. 
When training for big races, they practice with a massive, wooden ball which they kick as they run.
In competitive racing, managers of both sides decide on the terrain and number of miles that can be run in circuits or back and forth. The course is indicated on trees or other marks.
The opposing sides are distinguished by headbands of different colors.
At night, the audience keeps scattered bonfires burning along the course or carry pine torches alongside the runners for short spans.


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