Jul 262013

While generally referred to in English as the Tarahumara, the people’s own name for themselves is Raramuri“, literally “the light‑footed ones” or “footrunners”. The Tarahumara live in the Copper Canyon region of Mexico and are renowned for their long distance running exploits across some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain. As “modern” life encroaches on the Tarahumara and begins to change their traditional way of life, bringing problems like environmental damage, loss of native lands, and narco-trafficking, will they manage to preserve their ancient traditions such as long distance foot races?

As his contribution towards helping the Tarahumara preserve their foot races, a few years ago, Micah True, an American better known as ultramarathon runner “Caballo Blanco”, who regularly visited the town of Urique in the Copper Canyon, organized a Copper Canyon Ultramarathon. True, who died in 2012, was featured in Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run. As True hoped, the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon has become an annual event, now known as the Ultra Caballo Blanco that helps maintain the running heritage aspect of Tarahumara culture. The event is usually held in March. Completing the race requires running an estimated 50 miles (80 km) of tracks, trails and and dirt roads, which start and finish in the main plaza of the town of Urique. The event has become the focal point for a cultural celebration.

This short 9-minute Youtube video–Super Athletes of the Sierra Madre–describes the 2009 Copper Canyon Ultramarathon.

Ini additional to some great shots of the rugged scenery and the race itself, the video includes brief references to the history of the area, and details some of the current pressures on the Tarahumara way of life. The Copper Canyon ultramarathon is aptly labelled “the greatest race the world has never seen”. The race is not sponsored and there are no huge monetary prizes for the race winners. Donations are accepted to offset the cost of prizes. Anyone who completes the course within the 14-hour time limit is awarded a voucher for 500 lb of corn. Foreign athletes who compete alongside the Tarahumara in this event donate their corn and prizes back to the community. The event attracts more than 200 runners, with about half of them normally completing the course.

Route of Ultra Caballo Blanco

Route of Ultra Caballo Blanco

This image of the course (from Ultra Caballo Blanco) gives some idea of the terrain in which this race is run. The race starts with a 21+ mile loop up-river from Urique, followed by another 18+ mile loop down-river, and then a final loop (up to the Tarahumara village of Guadalupe Coronado and back down to Urique) adding another 10+ miles to the total distance.

The 12th Annual Ultra Caballo Blanco will take place on March, 2, 2014.

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