3 Interesting Insights Into The Tarahumara Running Culture

How about a game of football? Over the distance of 100 miles… 

I am intrigued by the Tarahumara lifestyle. Numerous studies have honed in on their hardened culture and endless endurance.

Most famous of those – Christopher McDougall’s Born To Run. And Reading it prompted me to run further down the trail of interesting information.

This Article Will Cover:

  • The Raramuri Race/Rarajipari – The traditional sport of the Tarahumara, slowly making its way into America, thanks to the creators of the Born To Run Ultras.
  • A culture built on the value of Mental Toughness – While the modern world consumes every self help book imaginable to get tough; these guys just live tough. Or perish.
  • Ultra Marathons? Easy. Marathons or a 10k? Not so much. – How will the Tarahumara runners tackle the speedier distances? 

The Raramuri Race

“Precise kicking technique… Team Co operation… A unique way to get more out of running.”

Rarajipari is the Tarahumara sport. It involves kicking a handmade wooden ball over long distances. The teams of competitors follow closely behind, and watch where it falls. 

The Tarahumara do this over distances of 100 miles and as explained by Micheal Miller (creator of Born To Run Ultras, California), “They would prefer to play these games than just do an ultra distance run.” and can you really blame them? Adding a precise kicking technique, alongside team cooperation, sounds like a unique way to get more out of running. 

Building Team Skills Through Running

Running is individual. And each step must be fuelled by your own desire. On the other hand Rarajipari takes some of the loneliness out of running. Perhaps we will see it become more popular? Micheal Miller and Luis Escobar have introduced Rarajipari to America, and explain the enjoyment of making running a team game:

“Where here endurance running is an individual sport, Rarajipari involves running and team. It’s about the connection with other people, community and the social aspects of getting together in nature.” 

Skills for Survival

So we see that the Tarahumara have used this game just as we use our sports in the modern world. To bond and experience a shared goal. Crucial for developing co operation when running hundreds of miles in the Copper Canyons of Mexico.

Tarahumara mindset: Communities that value Mental Toughness

“The Tarahumara show an important lesson in my opinion, that is, Mental toughness is a lived experience. Not a bullet point in a self help guide.”

Mental toughness.

 Driven people want more. The guides are becoming endless. And the self help community love it. But the thing about the Tarahumara is that they are mental toughness. Their culture is built upon it. 

They have a saying, as documented in the journal of human sport and exercise,University of Alicante, “The one who does not last does not survive!” 

Why they live by this saying, is self explanatory. You will not endure their life style, and you will perish, if you cannot endure. According to the same journal of Human Sport, they also affirm, “It is necessary to resist, to live!”

Mountain Living Requires Mental Toughness

Their hardened mind has developed due to living circumstances. They must travel extreme distances to connect with other villages, and must look after their livestock on treacherous terrain high in the mountains.

The Tarahumara show an important lesson in my opinion, that is, Mental Toughness is a lived experience. Not a bullet point in a self help guide.

Live a challenging life and your mind will follow suit… 

Tarahumara Transition To Olympic Running

“Catalina Rascon won her first 60k at 12 years old!”

The Challenge Of Running Shorter Distances

The Tarahumara struggling to win? It appears so… On the shorter races.

For instance two Tarahumara runners competed in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, finishing 32nd and 35th. Their reason was that the race was “too short.” (Which I think is the best reason given for a defeat…) 

Carlos Ortega, a former Marathon runner, rousted a handful of Raramuri prospects, and is looking to snatch Olympic gold.

He says his runners can keep a consistent pace over the Ultra distance, however the pace is too slow for Olympic events. But undoubtedly, there is talent. For example, Catalina Rascon won her first 60k at 12 years old!

Their focus with Catalina is over the shorter distances such as 800m to 10k. She has had positive results so far and is working towards competing in Tokyo. 

Final Thoughts

Months of vigorous training may allow us to enjoy their everyday sport, their culture is humble and based on the values most runners would aspire to live by, and while they have struggled so far to run fast, I think there is little doubt that they will soon speed up…


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