Did you know that there’s a tribe of Native Americans living in Mexico called the Tarahumara, who are capable of running hundreds of miles a day? In many ways these runners outperform even our top long distance athletes and what’s even more amazing is that they do this while wearing nothing on their feet (or in some cases just very thin homemade sandals).
The question then is how this is possible, and whether we could possibly learn from these people in order to develop similar athletic prowess ourselves…
What is it that lets the Tarahumara run such long distances without getting tired or getting injured?
The most likely explanation for the Tarahumara’s abilities is their footwear. As mentioned, they wear little to no footwear whatsoever when running, and many believe this enables them to run with better form and efficiency.
What’s important to remember here is that we evolved to run barefoot, meaning that it is the running technique that our bodies are actually designed for. When we wear shoes with large heels, this encourages us to use a ‘heel strike’ meaning our heels hit the floor first. In fact this was thought for a long time to be the best way for us to run.
In fact though, our legs are designed for us to land on the balls/middle of our feet with our legs directly underneath us when we run. Correct running should use short strides so that the impact can be absorbed by our ankles, knees and hips like a spring. This also enables us to lean slightly forward, thus allowing gravity to help carry us forwards as we run (though the back should remain straight).
While it’s not advisable to run in barefoot through your hometown (because of glass if nothing else), you can nevertheless get many benefits from using more minimal shoes – and particularly the famous ‘Five Finger’ shoes from Vibram (the ones with the toes).
Another thing that sets the Tarahumara apart from most of the rest of us, is that running is a big part of their culture. In other words, they do it a lot and from an early age they will run hundreds of miles. The body has an incredible ability to adapt to the demands we place upon it, so if you do this regularly enough it follows that you will gradually become a more and more efficient runner.
Conversely, most of us will spend most of our time sitting completely still either at work or watching Game of Thrones at home. Not only does this lead to a weakened cardiovascular system, but it also weakens the muscles in the leg and back and creates a number of imbalances.
Unfortunately you’re not going to catch up with the amount of practice that the Tarahumara have had at this point in your life. That said, if you gradually start running more and more, you might be surprised at the changes that occur in the body.
Finally, some of the Tarahumara prowess may be a result of their diet. This diet consists of largely beans, squash, greens, corn, chilli and chia. Chia is a seed which is able to absorb over 12 times its weight in water.
On top of that, the Tarahumara also like to drink. Specifically they enjoy a home-brewed corn beer which is made from chia seeds.
Not only is this diet high in all manner of vitamins and minerals, fibre, protein and more – but it’s also possible that the chia seed helps to provide a supply of water to keep the Tarahumara running for longer.
Combine this with the relatively high calories of the beer (and the fact that it isn’t particularly alcoholic) and you potentially have a very good source of energy and hydration before a long distance run.
You can buy chia seeds on Amazon if you want to give them a go yourself, and likewise you can try stocking up on calories of one form or another (try bananas) next time you head out.
Again, having chia beer is hardly going to turn you into a super athlete overnight. The real take-home message then is just that you could be running farther and faster. And while you might think it’s normal to be completely out of breath and in pain following any kind of running or jogging, this is in fact very far from the truth. You might not be able to get to Tarahumara standards, but you could certainly do better!