Running is more than just a sport. For some people running is a way of life. Running gets the blood pumping and the endorphins flowing, and in today’s overly stressed world running is a great stress reliever and confidence booster. But is there a better way to do it? How can we train better? Is there a better, more natural way to run? Hardly anybody considers that question until their muscles start aching, and let’s not forget those other running complications such as tendonitis and shin splints. Is the any way they can be avoided if we learn how to run differently? The Tarahumara running technique may just be the answer.
Who are the Tarahumara?
The Tarahumara people are a Native American tribe that inhabits much of the state of Chihuahua in north-western Mexico. The Tarahumara are particularly known for their athletic prowess. In fact, they are also called the Raramuri which means “those who run fast” in their native tongue. With highly dispersed settlements throughout the region these people developed a running tradition covering up to one hundred and twenty miles through rough canyon country. However the thing that’s unique about the Tarahumara is the Tarahumara running technique which uses the barefoot toe-strike method of running.
How can you better develop your running technique?
When we are children we run on our toes. It is only as we grow older that we train ourselves right into an unnatural style of running, one that is prone to more sport’s injuries, whereas running injuries such as tendonitis and shin splints among the Tarahumara are relatively non-existent. So how can we change our style of running and use the Tarahumara running technique to our advantage?
First of all, consider your running shoes. Many of today’s styles of running shoes are overly cushioned and motion controlling which can cause foot muscles to atrophy while stiffening the tendons. The solution to this problem is choosing shoes that are neutral, low-heeled, and comfortable. When your foot is allowed to move naturally the muscles become stronger, making you a better runner.
Next, try landing on the balls of your feet when you run. Traditionally, people are taught the heel-to-toe style of running. When you land on your heel you are applying greater force to your bones and cartilage which can be physically damaging after awhile. The Tarahumara running technique of landing on the forefoot acts like a shock absorber. You land on the balls of your feet and your legs are never completely stretched out and the force is absorbed by the active muscles like the calves which can become sore after the first few runs when you are just beginning this technique.
When most of us compete in races we tend to burst into a run at the beginning of a race and slow down as the race progresses. We believe that if we explode out from the starting block we can get ahead before slowing down to pace ourselves and conserve energy. That is not the Tarahumara running technique. The Tarahumara begin slowly with short easy strides that build in intensity. In so doing they maintain their energy levels and instead of finding the right pace to stay ahead of the race they set the pace for others to follow.
Tarahumara, like all good runners, use centrifugal force to propel themselves forward. The best runners whip their heels up – literally kicking their butts – to cycle their legs for the next stride. Such runners can move at great speeds.
The Tarahumara running technique uses the abdominal muscles for propulsion relaxing their legs as they run instead of putting maximum tension in them. In addition, the Tarahumara have a smoother stride. Whereas inefficient runners bounce up and down as they run – a good way to waste energy – the Tarahumara running technique eliminates the up and down vertical motion – conserving energy to carry them through for long distances. Indeed, the Tarahumara are champion runners when it comes to endurance.
How much has our over-reliance on technology – namely the vast amount of cushioning in our running shoes – cost us in running ability? Practicing the Tarahumara running technique may be able to spare us both injury and energy when running.