Running with the Tarahumara
To this day, the book Born to Run ranks as one of my favorite books of all time. It came out about ten years ago when I was first really getting into racing triathlon and it proved to be a huge inspiration for me in endurance sports. It's a true story that follows Christopher McDougall (the author) as he embarks on a personal journey to transform from a "hater of running" to an ultra marathon runner. He travels deep into the Copper Canyon of Mexico in hopes of learning the secret of the Tarahumara, the indigenous people of that area, who are rumored to be some of the best ultra runners in the world.
Imagine how excited I was last month when the Olympic Channel called me up to see if I was interested in hosting a television show about the Tarahumara where I would travel to the Copper Canyon just as McDougall did to interview and race with the locals. It was not a hard decision. I quickly said, "Yes!" and packed my bags, disregarding the fact that I hadn't exactly been training for an ultra, and the race and production were just a few weeks away.
Just getting down to Urique, Mexico, the small town in the Copper Canyon where the race takes place, was quite a journey. I departed Big Sky, Montana to make my way to the race. It took five separate car rides, two planes, a 9-hour train, and finally a two-hour drive down a dirt path into the canyon (with mile long drop-offs and no guard rails) to finally arrive, 36 hours later, at the start of the race.
I had the opportunity to interview many of the previous race champions including one of the protagonists of the book Born to Run. It was a dream come true to speak to them, and hear about their culture of running. For the Tarahumara, running is a way of life. They live in a remote place; mostly untouched from the outside world with no roads and merely rugged footpaths connecting villages and families. It's not uncommon to just run over to see a friend, and that might be 10-20 miles away.
The race kicked off at 6am. My longest run in the last year has been about 10 miles. However the shortest race distance in the Copper Canyon was 50km - just longer than a Marathon - and on my watch measured 28.5 miles on the day. Most everyone was racing the even longer 50 mile race. Though humble and calm waiting for the race to start, once the gun went off everyone sprung into action. Men, women, young, old, it didn't matter. Everyone seemed was up for the race.
One of the most memorable moments of the race was coming across this woman in full traditional dress, 15 miles into the race crushing one of the hill climbs.
I wrote this as a reflection on my Instagram to sum up my reactions and emotions on the day.
"Today was a truly inspiring day that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I ran a Marathon (well technically 28.5 miles) with the Tarahumara today through the trails of the Copper Canyon. The Tarahumara are known to be some of the best endurance runners in the world. This moment that I captured on camera blew my mind. 15 miles into the race while making my way up a VERY steep trail I came across this woman who had been outpacing me since the race started. Wearing full traditional dress, patent leather sandals, and carrying a bag of chia seeds for fuel she made the run seem effortless. She would go on to finish all 48 miles while seemingly barely breaking a sweat. I witnessed young, old, male, female, you name it, all types out here running for hour after hour in the brutal heat most wearing only sandals. Despite all of this strength on display there was not a single flash of ego. Everyone went about the challenge with the upmost humility and grace. Ever since reading the book Born to Run it has been a dream of mine to run with the Tarahumara. Today that dream came true. My experience here further redefined for me the power of the human spirit. They proved that we all have reservoirs of strength and untapped potential inside of us. I know for sure the next time I’m getting tired or doubting my abilities I’ll remember this woman and draw strength from her example. Feeling in awe and inspired; the end of a perfect day!!"
The TV segment we shot for the Olympic channel will come out later this Spring. I can't wait to share it with everyone!