Running in Tarahumara culture

Running in Tarahumara culture

Media Release:

“Running in Tarahumara (Rarámuri) Culture,” just published in Current Anthropology (v61, no. 3 (June 2020): 356-379) studies the Tarahumara Native Americans of northern Mexico. For over a century, the Tarahumara have been famous for their long distance running traditions and abilities, with many accounts claiming they have superhuman athletic abilities that partly result from being uncontaminated by westernization. Now an international team of researchers (including a champion Tarahumara runner) combine their own observations with detailed interviews of elderly Tarahumara runners to dispel these stereotypical myths, which they term the “fallacy of the athletic savage.” Lieberman and colleagues use accounts by Tarahumara runners to detail the various ways Tarahumara used to run for hours to hunt animals, and they describe how the Tarahumara still run traditional long distance races that, for men, involve chasing a small wooden ball and, for women, a hoop. While these many different kinds of running have important social dimensions, running is also a spiritually vital form of prayer for the Tarahumara. Further, contrary to the fallacy of the athletic savage, Tarahumara runners –both men and women– struggle just as much as runners from other cultures to run long distances, and instead of being the natural “superathletes” that some journalists have claimed, they develop their endurance from regular hard work and other endurance physical activities such as lots of walking and dancing.

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Daniel E. Lieberman, Mickey Mahaffey, Silvino Cubesare Quimare, Nicholas B. Holowka, Ian J. Wallace, and Aaron L. Baggish, “Running in Tarahumara (Rarámuri) Culture: Persistence Hunting, Footracing, Dancing, Work, and the Fallacy of the Athletic Savage,” Current Anthropology 61, no. 3 (June 2020): 356-379.

Running the marathon barefoot

Abebe Bikila was a runner from Ethiopia who, running his first marathon won the Rome Olympics marathon on 10 September 1960 running barefoot without running shoes. He was a last minute addition to the Ethiopian team and the teams sponsor did not have enough time to organize running shoes for him and they had only two pairs left, of which neither was able to fitt him. He decided he would then run the race barefoot. At the subsequent Olympics in Tokyo in 1964, he again won the marathon, but did it this time wearing running shoes. He died in 1973 at the age of 41 from complications following a motor vehicle accident. Abebe Bikila is honored and revered in Ethiopia.

Abebe Bikila has a special place in the history of running, especially from those who advocate barefoot running as they hold him up as evidence that a marathon can be run barefoot. There was a fad a while back for doing away with running shoes and running barefoot. This was driven by a lot of websites, forums, books and social media commentary as something that was beneficial and better for runners. Lots of unsubstantiated claims was made for barefoot running, none of which stood up to subsequent scrutiny. This fad last a few years, probably peaking around 2013 with probably 25% of runners trying or dabbling it. The fad quickly dropped off when most who tried it got and injury or realized that it did not live up to all the claims that got made for it. It has now been relegated to the history books, with only a handful of hardcore barefoot runners still doing it.

There has been a lot of research done on barefoot running that those who like to support and advocate barefoot running offer as evidence that barefoot running was better than running in shoes. However, the research never showed that at all and was widely misinterpreted. All the research showed was that barefoot running was different to running in running shoes.

There were claims made that the first sub 2-hr marathon was going to be run barefoot. The folly of that claim is now obvious.

‘Minimal’ shoes may reduce running injuries

Press Release:

Runners who wear trainers with no cushioning and land on the ball of their foot rather than the heel put significantly less demand on their bodies, new research suggests.

Researchers compared how quickly the force acts when runners’ feet hit the ground — known as the loading rate — which has been shown to influence running injury risk.

The study of 29 runners found significantly lower loading rates for those who wore so-called minimal trainers and landed on the ball of their foot, compared to people in normal running shoes, regardless of whether the latter landed on the heel or ball of the foot.

Lead author Dr Hannah Rice, of the University of Exeter, said: “So many people use running as a means of reducing the risk of chronic diseases, but about three quarters of runners typically get injured in a year.

“Footwear is easily modifiable but many runners are misguided when it comes to buying new trainers. “This research shows that running in minimal shoes and landing on the balls of your feet reduces loading rates and may therefore reduce the risk of injury.”

Running continues to grow in popularity, and research aimed at reducing the high incidence of running-related injuries has been ongoing for decades — but injury rates have not fallen.

Modern-day runners in cushioned footwear tend to land on their heel — known as a “rearfoot strike” — while those who run in the natural barefoot state are more likely to land on the ball of their foot – a “forefoot strike”.

Rearfoot strike runners experience an abrupt vertical impact force each time the foot lands on the ground. This impact force is often missing when running with a forefoot strike, but previous research has shown that forward/backwards and sideways forces can be higher with a forefoot strike, meaning the total force is similar.

Total force seems to be similar between foot strikes if wearing modern, cushioned trainers.

Dr Rice said: “This seems to suggest that, for runners in traditional, cushioned running shoes, foot strike pattern may not matter for injury risk.

“However, we suspected that the same may not be true of runners who regularly use minimal shoes, which don’t have the cushioning provided by traditional running shoes.

“Our research tells us that becoming accustomed to running with a forefoot strike in shoes that lack cushioning promotes a landing with the lowest loading rates, and this may be beneficial in reducing the risk of injury”

Any transition to new footwear or to a different foot strike pattern should be undertaken gradually, and with guidance.