Colorado's Most Amazing and Punishing (and Magical) Race
In 1992, that first year they showed up in Leadville, all six Tarahumara dropped out, apparently victims of culture shock. They'd had been escorted to Colorado by a self-styled "friend of the canyons," an Arizona explorer named Rick Fisher. According to Ken, they'd been poorly prepared. The Tarahumara were pointing their flashlights straight up like torches and were acutely uncomfortable in the Converse sneakers Fisher provided.
But in 1993, the Tarahumara came roaring back-in their own gentle, silent way, that is. This time, Fisher had them in running shoes from Rockport, a race sponsor. But at the last minute, the Tarahumara went scavenging in the Leadville junkyard and lashed together homemade huaraches from tire scraps. And like that, running nearly barefoot and eating only ground corn from a small sack around his neck, 55-year-old Victoriano Churro came in first, followed hard behind by two fellow tribesmen in second and fifth.
The media took note. Mythical Indian runners in loincloths defeating some of the most scientifically trained athletes in the world? A near geriatric winning one of the world's toughest footraces? Now that's a story! Suddenly, Leadville was a media darling: The New York Times, Runner's World, and ESPN announced they'd be on hand for the '94 race.
"The Tarahumara put Leadville on the map," says Micah True, a wilderness guide and ultrarunner from Nederland who paced one of the tribal runners over the strange terrain in the 1994 race. During the long, silent run, Micah and one Tarahumara in particular, Martimiano Cervantes, bonded so tightly that later Micah practically moved in with the tribe. Micah learned that violence is virtually unheard of among the Tarahumara. So are prostitution, obesity, theft, child molestation, domestic abuse, and heart disease. There had to be a connection, Micah thought, between the Tarahumara's superhuman virtues and superhuman endurance. If there is a master race, he thought, maybe they'll be the humblest and they'll carry their message on foot-like another guy in sandals long ago.
But that doesn't mean they ain't some tough hombres, Micah realized as they ran through the night. Up ahead, a 25-year-old Tarahumara named Juan Herrera was chasing down ultra sensation Ann Trason. Herrerra not only won but chopped 25 minutes off what was then the Leadville record.