‘Light of Feet’ indigenous Mexicans leave seasoned ultramarathon pros in their wake at Canyons Ultra

The ‘Light of Feet’ locals run to victory in the Canyons Ultra despite sticking to traditional dress and carved sandals, against their professional counterparts wearing hi-tech running gear

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 12:23pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 July, 2017, 7:05pm

In old indigenous Latin American cultures, women toil at farming and tackle family duties. Atop this remote Mexican mountain, they also slap on sandals and crush pro athletes on long-distance runs.

Talk about extreme sports: the Raramuri people – part of the Aztec family – over five centuries ago fled up the mountains of Chihuahua state to stay safe from Spanish invaders. There they stayed.

Over the years they have become cliff dwellers, often sleeping in caves.

But they also are moving their animals along constantly – and as part of their nomadic lifestyle learned to master truly extreme long-distance runs.

This year’s Canyons Ultramarathon brought together more than 1,000 competitors from around the world – Russia, Canada, the United States, Ecuador and Spain – to take on the steep slopes of the Sinforosa range of the Tarahumara mountains in the Sierra Madre Occidental.

With the wail of “Weringa!” which means “Onward” in their language, runners were off. They battled it out in the men’s and women’s 63-kilometre and 100km contests from Friday through Sunday.

The results: all four races swept by Raramuri (which means Light of Feet) talent.

The course was not some manicured grass pitch; the trail – which follows mountain ridges – is clotted with mud, rocks and even takes runners over a traditional woven suspension bridge.

While some competitors were decked out in hi-tech gear to absorb sweat or avoid friction, local champions stuck mostly to their traditional gear.

It famously includes sandals hand-carved out of old car tires and their centuries-old handwoven shirts, petticoats and scarves, for women, and a slightly lighter outfit for their men.

“We really don’t have to do a lot to train. Because we don’t have cars, we walk or run everywhere,” said Miguel Lara, 27, who won the 100km sprint in nine hours and 46 minutes. His record is eight hours and 47 minutes.

The locals are attached to tradition, but clearly are not afraid of innovation.

At some point in the past, obviously, someone shifted from sandals made of natural materials for running, to recycled tire tread sandals with a light strap.

Perhaps Lara’s shoe sponsorship contract could go to Michelin.