A 22-year-old indigenous woman from Mexico came in first place during a 50km ultramarathon, defeating 500 other runners.
Yet, the part that has the world in awe is that while her fellow marathoners wore shoes, María Lorena Ramírez, who is Tarahumara, ran the full 31 miles in huarache sandals. What’s more: her sandals were made of recycled tire rubber, according to reports.
The Tarahumara, also known as Rarámuri, hail from the hills and valleys in northern Mexico’s Copper Canyon and are renowned for their running endurance, wrote Cynthia Gorney, a contributing writer for National Geographic. “They are extraordinary endurance runners, having lived for generations amid a transportation network of narrow footpaths through the canyons,” she wrote. “Rarámuri means ‘foot-runner’ or ‘he who walks well,’ and they’ve been known to irritate American ultramarathoners by beating them while wearing huarache sandals and stopping now and then for a smoke.”
Ramirez’s full running outfit included a long skirt, T-shirt, and sandals. She allegedly has no professional training. When she’s not going viral by winning marathons in huaraches, Ramirez, who won the race in seven hours and three minutes, herds goats and cattle and walks between six and nine miles every day, according to reports. She won $320 for coming in first, zipping past runners from 12 other countries.
The Tarahumara make traditional corn beer which reportedly keeps them hydrated and provides them with the carbohydrates needed to run long distances. They are also known to run barefoot and in groups.
John Berardi, an exercise physiologist and high performance nutritionist, told the Discovery Channel that running is an “integral part of their culture.”
“They run for survival; they run for inter-village communication, and they run for sport,” he said. The corn beer the Tarahumara consume, he said, is low in alcohol and it would take upwards of four liters to become intoxicated. “So if you think about it, the amount of carbohydrates that would come with that and that amount of just simple fluid load would be very high.”
Experts have also theorized that persistence hunting – chasing prey until the animal collapses of heat exhaustion – which is still a practice of the Tarahumara today, has bolstered their endurance levels. Scientists believe that because the Tarahumara run in huaraches or barefoot they run much differently than most marathon runners, possibly contributing to their unique abilities.
Unlike the United States and Canada, Mexico does not have a reservation (or “reserve”) system or enrollment that recognizes its indigenous population.
Culture Editor Simon Moya-Smith contributed to this report.