Running With Mexico’s Tarahumara Indians

Tarahumara Runners Mexico
Tarahumara Runners in the Copper Canyon
Cerocahui, Mexico

Tarahumara runners are some of the best long-distance marathoners in the world. While exploring Mexico’s Copper Canyon, I attempted to go running with them.

Northern Mexico’s rugged Sierra Madre mountains are home to the indigenous Tarahumara (Rarámuri) people. During the 16th century they retreated deep into these formidable canyons to escape slave raids by Spanish conquistadors.

For hundreds of years they remained isolated from the outside world growing their own corn, potatoes, and beans while living in caves. A complex network of trails links the various Rancheras — small communities of 3-7 families who share work & farmland.

Trail running to deliver messages between families is a major part of their lifestyle. Running was also important for hunting animals, chasing down deer until they were too exhausted to escape a Tarahumara arrow.

They call themselves Rarámuri which translates to “the running people”.

Tarahumara Runners Mexico
Ultra-Running Champion Miguel Lara

Born To Run?

Like many others, I first learned about the Tarahumara after reading Christopher McDougall’s bestselling book “Born to Run“. It explores the life & running habits of the tribe while arguing that modern running shoes damage human beings more than they help us.

So visiting the Tarahumara homeland and meeting them in person was kind of a big deal for me. I’m not much of a runner, but was excited to learn from them. I arrived in the town of Bahuichivo after a beautiful train journey through the Copper Canyon.

From there we traveled to San Isidro Lodge above the village of Cerocahui by way of a steep, rough, and winding dirt road.

Then I met Miguel Lara & Leonardo Cleto from the Tarahumara tribe.

These guys have been running their whole lives, starting when they were kids competing in rarajipari races. It’s a traditional Tarahumara game where contestants kick a wooden ball down mountain trails for hours (or days).

Tarahumara Runners Mexico
Comparing Our Huarache Sandals

Running For Fun

Both Miguel & Leonardo were clad in zapetas (loin cloths) and traditional huarache sandals made from tires and leather straps. They quickly noticed I was wearing huaraches too, although mine are a pair of Luna Sandals made in the US.

The sandals mold to your foot, providing just enough protection from the terrain without interfering with natural movement.

All three of us took off for a short morning run through the forest. Miguel & Leonardo ran fast and light over the rough trails, making it look easy. They ran with short strides, fluid speed, and landed on the balls of their feet rather than heels. Watching their legendary technique up close was quite a treat.

But it was their attitude that brought a smile to my face.

Running is not a chore for the Tarahumara. It’s just fun. I could feel their joy running alongside them. It was infectious. We only went a short distance but I was hooked.

Running for exercise is one thing, running for fun is completely different.

Tarahumara Runners Mexico
Running for Fun with Leonardo

Tarahumara People

Not only are the Tarahumara some of the most skilled long-distance trail runners alive, 22 year old Miguel Lara is arguably the best in the whole tribe at the moment. He’s won most of the races he’s competed in.

In fact I just learned he placed 2nd last weekend in the Ultra Caballo Blanco, Micah True’s famous 60 mile trail race held in the Copper Canyon.

Running with the Tarahumara has directly contributed to my renewed interest in the sport. I logged quite a few miles jogging through the rocky canyons of the Sierra Madre during the rest of my trip. And I had a lot of fun doing it.

Actually just writing this post has inspired me.

It’s 10pm right now, but I think I’ll strap on my huaraches & go for a run. ★

Travel Planning Resources for Cerocahui, Mexico
Accommodation: San Isidro Lodge
Company: Authentic Copper Canyon

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I hope you enjoyed my story about running with Mexico’s Tarahumara Indians! Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

Are you a runner? Every heard of the Tarahumara?


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
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Comments (29)

  1. You are blessed to be able to travel in these adventures.
    These people are very poor and do not have many possessions yet they seem way happier than any one I know. Material passions are not all that…
    These natives are much richer than I am or ever will be.

  2. Matthew my Great grandmother was tarahara indian I don’t where to start finding information. Her husband was from pecos texas. How can I find more of her I need help

  3. Hello , April 2018, please contact me if it’s still possible to visit and run with the Raramuri tribe . I have known of copper Canyon people since the 70’s but could never go there . Now I have more time and would love to fulfill a dream to at least meet amd see these Indigenous people in their home lands .
    Girija Gwendolyn Edwards

  4. I saw an episode on TV about the Tarahumara years ago. I was telling my friends about it and nobody could understand who what I was talking about so very happy to find this article, keep up the good work. I was just wondering why in the article you didn’t mention that the corn Mash or whatever that they ingest before they go long distance running. It was part of my story but I couldn’t explain that part to them I couldn’t remember what it was called just that it was almost like fermented corn, but they could get drunk if they ate enough, but it was very very low alcohol content. Do you recall hearing about it or what it was called?

  5. Oh my god! I can’t believe you actually went there! I have read the book long time ago and it has always been my dream. I am planning to go there in April, when I will start my own lifetime journey! thanks for this article. it was very encouraging! :)

  6. Would love to visit one day, thanks for the info. My mother and her siblings are decedents of the Tarahumara tribe. My mom was born and raised in Sanderson, Texas. My mom’s father was a Tarahumara

  7. I really enjoyed reading that, so thanks for posting it. I’ll probably be in Mexico later in the year and would love to go through the Copper Canyon. Do you have any suggestions about places to start from, or the best way to contact the locals? (Private email may be easiest). Thanks!

  8. Tarahumara runners are so good at what they do they were actually banned from competing in one of the largest marathons held in the US. After humiliating many world runners of course.

  9. Great post! Did you live with them? Would they allow you to train with them and just learn from them? Is it possible for an American to live with them for a year and just become a part of their culture?

  10. That’s pretty incredible that the best type of running gear for this terrain is a simple and effective pair of Huarache Sandals. Time tested and comfortable: the human foot.

    Thanks for this great post Matt!

  11. I am co-producing a documentary featuring the Tarahumara, the most indigenous tribe in North America. The Tarahumara are renowned for their long distance running ability and remarkable resistance to the top 3 modern diseases – cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Our documentary Goshen, links their extraordinary health to their indigenous diet and extremely active lifestyle.

    In March 2013, we got to live among one of the remote Tarahumara communities for a month and document their way of life in the remote depths of the Copper Canyons, Mexico. We believe your readers will be inspired by the Tarahumara lifestyle. Check out

  12. My family is from Chihuahua, My abuelos dad was tarahumara and I spent about three months out of the year every year there until I was about 17 and you rarely see this side of them thank you for sharing this is awesome!

  13. Very impressive. I hate running – and I think those trail runners are half cyborgs. How do they train? Do they just run everywhere all the time?

    • These two run regularly in the mornings like most runners, but they’ve got rough, high-altitude trails right outside their doors. Miguel runs in ultra-marathons in the US occasionally too.

      But your average Tarahumara runs the canyon trails to get from his home into town looking for work or to sell produce. There are many running games played during local holidays too.

      • People that had run with them told me that they dont know the term “training”, they just run to go to other places as a need.
        I think that the caballo blanco is a race that all trail runners in north america must do. Its pending for me :)

    • I didn’t get video unfortunately, was planning to run with them again later in the week but it didn’t pan out and I arrived at the race too late. I do have some video of me playing the Rarajípari game with some kids, eventually I’ll get that posted. They kicked my ass. :)

  14. What impressed me most was the terrain… they just ran across uneven mountainous terrain with ease… complete ease.

    congrats to Miguel too… he has a long career in front of him…

    stay adventurous, Craig

  15. Awesome post Matt! What an incredible experience it must have been to get a chance to run with Miguel. I’m guessing that goes down as one of the most memorable runs you’ve ever taken, because, as we all know not too many runs are memorable.

    • You can say that again. After the experience I’m learning to treat the whole thing as a fun challenge, and it’s making it more enjoyable. Running with others and on varied/scenic terrain also helps. Now if I could only make burpees more fun… :D