The author is athletic but had recurring running injuries and went to sports medicine specialists, but found no solutions besides quitting running.
Many doctors caution against running due to high annual injury rates (around 65-80%).
The author started to question why something so natural can be bad for us.
“In terms of stress relief and sensual pleasure, running is what you have in your life before you have sex.”
The author learned of the Tarahumara (Rarámuri) tribe, a mysterious group of Mexican super runners located deep within the Copper Canyons in Mexico, who can run extreme distances over rugged terrain wearing minimal footwear, seemingly injury-free.
A Tarahumara runner once ran 435 miles nonstop.
Tarahumara people enjoy long lives within an egalitarian society and are free of modern health issues like heart disease and depression. A 1971 study called them the most physically fit people since ancient Spartans.
Tarahumara people don't train, they see running as a human necessity and part of Tarahumara identity.
Tarahumara people participate in rarájipari, an ancient traditional game in which people fling two wooden balls with their feet as they chase after them. The game could last all night and go up to 50-60 miles.
Human bodies are evolved for endurance running.
We survived by hunting animals through persistence hunting -- chasing prey to exhaustion.
Four-legged animals overheat more easily since galloping limits their breathing and they can't sweat to cool down like humans do.
Bipedalism allowed humans to stand up to expand lung capacity for increased endurance.
The Achilles tendon, arched feet, and butt muscles are uniquely human features that help to propel us forward efficiently.
Humans stay good at distance running for decades. 64-year-old runners can outpace 19-year-olds.
“If you don't think you were born to run you're not only denying history. You're denying who you are.”
“You don't stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running.”
In ultramarathons, women tend to outperform men, but this performance difference diminishes as the race distance increases.
People tend to run ultramarathons because they love to run. There is not much fame or money in ultramarathons.
Approaching running as means to an end (e.g., to lose weight) leads to dislike of running. To excel at distance running, you must befriend the sensations of running, and learn to love running again as you did when you were a child.
“That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they'd never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankind's first fine art, our original act of inspired creation.”
“Only recently have we come up with the technology to turn lazing around into a way of life. We've taken our sinewy, durable, hunter-gatherer bodies and plunked them into an artificial world of leisure.”
A former Californian boxer named Micah True/"Caballo Blanco" (White Horse) came to live among the Tarahumara tribe to escape modern life.
He embraced their lifestyle -- wearing sandals, eating pinole corn, and running extreme trails.
Caballo became much healthier and happier through his Tarahumara immersion.
Caballo planned a 50-mile race in Copper Canyons between US and Tarahumara runners.
Tarahumara runner Arnulfo Quimare, star American ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, the party-crazy and Beat-Poetry-loving ultramarathoner couple Jenn Shelton and Billy Barnett, and the author would all join the race.
Top ultramarathon runners are often vegetarian.
Vegetarian diets provide maximum nutrition from the fewest calories.
With a vegetarian diet, the body doesn't carry extra bulk or slowly digest protein. It also allows more time to train as carbs digest faster than protein.
The Tarahumara diet is vegetarian. Scott Jurek also ate a mostly vegetarian diet.
Barefoot Ted is an accomplished runner who began running barefoot to eliminate back pain from shoes.
Tarahumara runners run barefoot or with simple sandals.
Studies show that expensive running shoes are associated with higher probabilities of injuries. Runners wearing pricey shoes face a 123% higher risk of injury compared to those in affordable, flat-soled footwear.
Natural pronation of the feet when running acts as shock absorption but is marketed as "bad" by shoe companies.
Shoes restrict foot movement and lead to weakened muscles and tendons.
Cushioned shoes prevent us from feeling painful impact and lead to bad form, whereas barefoot running provides constant feedback to help us adapt the correct gait naturally.
Under coach Eric Orton's guidance, the author prepared for Caballo's race with a "back to basics" approach, focusing on form, strength, pace, and diet.
Utilizing a metronome the author learned the Tarahumara's quicker foot turnover and proper form. He also incorporated a heart rate monitor for pace control.
The author trained in simple flat-soled shoes.
The author switched to a new diet similar to the Tarahumara diet, which includes pinole and chia seeds.
The author shed 25 pounds, experienced improved mood and energy, and achieved faster, injury-free running.
“Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy because if that's all you get, that's not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don't give a sh*t how high the hill is or how far you've got to go. When you've practiced that so long that you forget you're practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won't have to worry about the last one – you get those three, and you'll be fast.”
By mimicking the Tarahumara people in his training. The author was able to complete the grueling Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon.
Tarahumara runner Arnulfo Quimare won the race, beating Scott Jurek, one of the best professional ultra runners in the world.