The Tarahumara and running shoes

Here is a piece that tackles two fascinating subjects – the Tarahumara and why expensive running shoes are bad for you:

Science and sceptical runners are catching up with something the Tarahumara Indians have known for ever: your naked feet are fine on their own. According to a growing body of clinical research, those expensive running shoes you’ve been relying on may be worse than useless: they could be causing the very injuries they’re supposed to prevent.

Perhaps the best research in the field has been going on for hundreds of years in a maze of canyons in northern Mexico. There, the reclusive Tarahumara tribe routinely engage in races of 150 miles or more, the equivalent of running the London Marathon six times in the same day. Despite this extreme mileage, as I learnt during several treks into the canyons, the Tarahumara are somehow immune to the injuries that plague the rest of the running world.

Out here in the non-Tarahumara world, where we have access to the best in sports medicine, training innovations and footwear, up to 90 per cent of all marathoners are injured every year. The Tarahumara, by contrast, remain spry and healthy deep into old age. I saw numerous men and women in their seventies loping up steep, cliffside switchbacks on their way to villages 30 miles away. Back in 1994, a Tarahumara man ventured out of the canyons to compete against an elite field of runners at the Leadville Trail Ultramarathon, a 100-mile race through the Rocky Mountains. He wore homemade sandals. He was 55 years old. He won.

So how do the Tarahumara protect their legs from all that pounding? Simple – they don’t. They don’t protect and, most critically, they don’t pound. When the Tarahumara aren’t barefoot, they wear nothing more cushioned than thin, hard sandals fashioned from discarded tire treads and leather thongs. In place of artificial shock absorption, they rely on an ancient running technique that creates a naturally gentle landing. Unlike the vast majority of modern runners, who come down heavily on their foam-covered heels and roll forward off their toes, the Tarahumara land lightly on their forefeet and bend their knees, as you would if you jumped from a chair.

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3 Responses to “The Tarahumara and running shoes”

  1. Legal Eagle Says:

    Now that is fascinating. I want to try running like that, but am not quite sure how it would work!

  2. BirdLab Says:

    Jason, have you seen these yet?

    http://performanceandwellness.com/2008/01/30/shoes-for-happy-feet/

  3. daddy dave Says:

    that’s really interesting.

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