the Tarahumara ultra-marathon, much more than a run

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Hundreds of amateur athletes are set to take on the tireless long-distance runners of an indigenous community in the mountains of northwestern Mexico on Sunday in an ultra-marathon through the Sierra Tarahumara Gorge, which is much more just a simple run.

Mexican and American organizers are expecting hundreds of participants for the 20th anniversary of the “Utra-marathon caballo blanco” around the village of Urique in the state of Chihuhua, where the festivities began on Saturday with children’s races under a radiant sun in an azure sky.

The sporting event is above all a moment of conviviality between the Raramuri community and endurance enthusiasts from other regions of Mexico and abroad, starting with the United States.

“It’s much more than a race. The spirit is to share, to exchange between cultures”, says Fabio Meraz, head of tourism in Urique, a village at the bottom of the “barranca” (gorge or canyon) the deepest in the country (1,800 m).

The raramuris (“light feet” in their language) have the particularity of running with simple sandals attached by straps to the calves (huarache).

The women run around in brightly colored dresses, while the men wear simple, slightly flowing white boxer shorts.

Their legendary endurance over 21, 40 or 80 km is a real challenge for other participants equipped with much more sophisticated sports shoes.

On Saturday, many raramuris, most of them looking intimidated, came to pick up their bibs on the eve of the race.

The ultra-marathon is also a social work. Participants from neighboring communities will return home with food vouchers. “Families sometimes cannot feed themselves with what they grow”, underlines a raramuri, Irma Chavez.

The local police and the army discreetly watch over the smooth running of the race. A few kilometers from Urique, two Jesuits were killed as well as a tourist guide in June. The alleged killer is still at large.

The Caballo blanco (“White Horse”) Ultra-marathon owes its name to its founder, Micah True, an American lover of the great outdoors who launched the race in 2003. His story and his encounter with the Sierra Tarahumara was told in a book, “Born to run”, by Christopher McDougall.

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