Rarámuri Runners In the USA

Tarahumara (Raramuri) Indians' Feats Inspire Awe
By Brad Smith - Special to The Denver Post

Ken Chlouber was laboring up a dusty dirt road about 25 miles into the Leadville Trail 100 ultramarathon last weekend when he was passed by two other runners. Chlouber looked over at the pair and then down 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.

Just after midnight Sunday, those sandal-clad feet were the first to cross the finish line of America's highest and perhaps most rugged ultramarathon, carrying with them, new-found respect for their owners - two Tarahumara (Raramuri) Indians from the Copper Canyon area of northwestern Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental.

Not only did Victoriano Churo and Cirildo Chacarito finish one-two after 20 hours, another Tarahumara (Raramuri) - Manuel Luna - was fifth (one of his sandals' thongs was broken hurting his foot). And they did it their way, on sandals they pieced together a few days earlier from tires picked up at the Leadville junkyard.
"I think this will set the ultramaraton community on its ear," smiled Kitty Williams, who, with Rick Fisher of Tucson, was primarily responsible for bringing the Tarahumaras (Raramuris) to Leadville.

The Leadville Trail 100 is considered one of the most grueling in the country because nearly all of the race is run at elevations higher than 10,000 feet and twice goes over 12,600-foot Hope Pass.

Only 138 of the 294 runners who started the 11th annual race at 4 a.m. Saturday finished the course.

Running always has been a central part of the Tarahumara (Rarámuri) culture, because it has been the only way for them to get around.



Games that involve running for long periods of time are a focus of their leisure time, but they seldom run what Americans consider a competitive road race.
Tales of tremendous running feats are attributed to the Tarahumaras (Raramuri), including running 70 miles a day, going 170 miles without stopping and running 500 miles carrying 40 pounds of mail.
Fisher guides tours of Copper Canyon, has written several books about the area, and has known the Tarahumaras (Raramuris) more than eight years. Recently, he has become more concerned that their culture is being threatened by increasing development.
Williams said the Tarahumaras (Raramuris) are running less because of the development which has brought roads closer to the tribe. Still, Luna lives in an area so remote it is a three-day trip to the nearest road.
Fisher and Williams brought six Tarahumaras (Rarámuris) to run in the Leadville race partly to draw attention to their situation. They hope to stop the Copper Canyon logging because they fear it will destroy the Tarahumaras' (Rarámuris) agriculture-based culture, and, along with it, their running.
"Their running has been declining because there are more roads", said Williams.
Last year, Fisher put together Team Rarámuri, recruiting runners from various villages. He brought five of them to the Leadville race in 1992, but, inexperienced in competitive racing, all of them dropped out after about 30 miles. Although there are frequent aid stations on the race course, the Indians didn't take the food and drink offered because they didn't think it was for them.
This years winner, Victoriano Churo, wanted to be on the team badly enough that he apparently lied about his age, fearing they would think he was too old.
He had told them he was 38, the same age as his running mate, Chacarito.
"When he finished the race, he came to the medical tent and I heard the doctor asking him his age," race director Merilee O'Neal said.
"I heard him tell the doctor he was 55." Churo then admitted his lie to Williams and Fisher.
Churo and Chacarito, who ran in tandem nearly all the race, started out wearing running shoes they had been given.
They discarded the shoes at the May Queen aid station 13 1/2 miles into the race, opting for their sandals instead. They declined offers of rain ponchos despite periodic showers.
Their Leadville achievement has added to the Tarahumara (Rarámuri) legend, with ultramarathoners 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 (Churo and Chacarito) just took off and ran right up it like a couple of deer. It was amazing."
History does not finish there, Cirildo Chacarito Gonzalez (then 43 years old), won the first place among 248 runners in the Ultramarathon 100 Miles, Los Angeles Crest, which was celebrated on September 27 and 28, 1997, in Wrightwood - Pasadena, CA, crossing the 100 miles in 19 hours, 37 minutes, 3 seconds.
His closest competitor, the North American Tom Nielsen (38 years old) finished the run 33 minutes later.

I like to transcribe the words of Kit Williams, one of the two most important supporters and organizers of the Rarámuri Runners competing in the United States:
..."Unlike the other participants, many of whom prepared for months and even years, the Tarahumaras didn't train specifically for this or any other race. They were able to run the way they did simply because their lifestyles enables them to maintain this level of fitness.

The very simplicity of their running, even more distinguished by the surrounding world of high-tech shoes and special training diets, touched many hearts.

In stark contrast to the journey up from Mexico during which the prejudice against the Indians was so severe restaurant personnel were often hesitant to serve them, the Tarahumara would return to Chihuahua as heroes. This time when they walk into the restaurant in Chihuahua, Mexican patrons and staff alike give them a standing ovation. Part of the strength of the Tarahumaras is that they have been always proud people, but in these men perhaps the pride is now a little more visible. Sometimes it even looks as though there might be a hint for a swagger to their step. They certainly earned it.

A small team of Tarahumara racers came to the 1993 Leadville Trail 100 and the result was kórima in its truest form. Kórima between the Tarahumara and their crew and pacers, between the Tarahumaras and everyone who watched them run".

To the previous page The Tarahumaras The Rarámuris To the next page
Philosophical values Kórima The mountains of the signs "Adopt" a Tarahumara child
Sierra Tarahumara, a land of beauty

Pages: 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 , 8

Primitive? Rarámuri, ball race The Rarámuris' problems & solutions
Rarámuri runners in the USA