Jog on with Helen Twose

Pounding the pavement and keeping up with the latest in running news

Jog On: 'Secret Mexican ultra-running tribes - is this for real?'

10 comments
Tarahumara in Copper Canyon.
Photo / File, Granada International
Tarahumara in Copper Canyon. Photo / File, Granada International

If there is one book that has become a "must read" for runners in the past couple years it's Born to Run.

The book chronicles journalist and injury-prone runner Christopher McDougall's journey to Mexico in search of hidden tribe of ultra-running legends called the Tarahumara.
While living a subsistence life in the wilderness of the Barrancas del Cobre - Mexico's Copper Canyons - the Tarahumara run extraordinary distances in homemade sandals, just for sheer hell of it.

McDougall seeks out a mysterious, near-mythical character Micah True, or as he is known to the Tarahumara "Caballo Blanco", the White Horse, to help him make contact with the tribe.

His quest is to unlock the secret of how the Tarahumara can run over such amazing distances, at speed and seemingly without injury.

"When it comes to ultra-distances, nothing can beat a Tarahumara runner - not a racehorse, not a cheetah, not an Olympic marathoner.

Very few outsiders have ever seen the Tarahumara in action, but amazing stories of their superhuman toughness and tranquillity have drifted out of the canyons for centuries."

At this point I was firing up Google. Secret Mexican ultra-running tribes - is this for real?
Surely if these guys were everything McDougall claimed they were then I'd be reading about them in the sports pages?

Well apparently it isn't just a fanciful story and these people just like the idea of keeping their secret tribe, well, secret.

Woven through McDougall's story of meeting with True, the Tarahumara and the creation of a long distance running event in the tribe's Mexican homeland are deviations into the world of ultra-distance running and research backing the claim we are all born to run.
The story is spiced up with an extraordinary gang of ultra-running characters, many of whom join True - who recently died while out running - and McDougall for the penultimate 50 mile race in Tarahumara country.

Born to Run might be non-fiction but it didn't stick around in the New York Times bestseller list by being as dry as the Mexican dust.

It's an easy-read page-turner with a racy storytelling style that you don't have to be a runner to enjoy.

Yes, there has been a fair bit of poetic licence taken with some of the characters in the name of telling a good yarn, something True mentions in a 2010 interview with Running Times, but there is also plenty of inspiration to be found.

Born to Run has been credited with creating converts to long distance running and its claims the running footwear industry's production of highly cushioned shoes cause injuries has seen many runners switch to minimalist-style footwear.

While I was wowed by the tales of epic runs and curious about the barefoot running trend, I was struck more by the attitude of the runners.

They all seemed to take absolute pleasure from their running in a way some of us haven't since we were kids blasting around the playground.

Ultra-runner Ann Trason, for example, ran close to 30km daily to and from work as a way of beating job stress. Weekends were reserved for big blow outs of up to 80km.
When her friends worried about her running obsession Ann told them running in the mountains was "romantic".

"Her friends didn't get it because they had never broken through," she says in Born to Run.

"For them, running was a miserable two miles motivated solely by size 6 jeans: get on the scale, get depressed, get your headphones on, and get it over with. But you can't muscle through a five-hour run that way; you have to relax into it, like easing your body into a hot bath, until it no longer resists the shock and begins to enjoy it.

"Relax enough, and your body becomes so familiar with the cradle-rocking rhythm that you almost forget you're moving. And once you break through to that soft, half-levitating flow, that's when the moonlight and champagne show up. 'You have to be in tune with your body, and know when you can push it and when to back off,' Ann said."

Now, there is no way I'll be doing a five hour run any time soon, if ever, but I like that idea of running for sheer enjoyment and taking pleasure in the wonderful machinery that is our bodies.

In the words of 96-year-old Jack Kirk: "You don't stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running."

Follow @Jog_On_NZ on Twitter

Events:

* One for the ladies: A 5km or 10km run around Cornwall Park, Sunday May 6, from 9am.

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 28 Jul 2014 17:00:03 Processing Time: 627ms