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Tarahumara Runners Racing In Colorado

Three Tarahumara runners are entered in the 45K Hardscrabble Mountain Trail Run.

Three Tarahumara runners are entered in the 45K Hardscrabble Mountain Trail Run on June 1.

On a cloudless day last June, Arnolfo Quimare effortlessly cruised across the finish line of the Hardscrabble Mountain Trail Run wearing a smile, traditional sandals with soles built from tires, a cream-colored zapeta (loincloth) and a blue “Custer County Bobcats” T-shirt given to him by an awed local cross country team. He wasn’t the winner, but Quimare, a Tarahumara runner featured in “Born to Run,” the 2009 New York Times best-seller by Christopher McDougall, was greeted with hoots, hollers and photo requests nonetheless.

For decades, tales of superhuman accomplishments have drifted north from the canyons of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental—the Tarahumara’s rugged homeland—but few American runners have witnessed these feats or had the opportunity to run with (for a few steps at least) the renowned Raramuri or “running people.” Race director and veteran trail runner Hal Walter changed that with the wildly successful 2013 Hardscrabble 5K/10K which drew 275 runners, including four Tarahumara, and hundreds of spectators, to Westcliffe, Colo., in its first year.

“Last year far exceeded expectations,” says Walter, who partnered with friend Kristie Nackord to create this spirited event. “People read ‘Born to Run’ like it’s a fictional account of a hidden tribe, but then they’re standing next to a guy in full Tarahumara regalia–sandals and a zapeta—who leaves them in the dust and it becomes real. Having the Tarahumara here was amazing and led to a powerful cultural exchange.”

Looking to up the ante, Walter used unmatched knowledge he’s gained from running Westcliffe trails the past 23 years to develop a 45K (27-mile) course that will be added to this year’s 5K and 10K on June 1. He confirmed this week that three Tarahumara runners will be competing in the ultra-distance race. (The trio of runners also recently ran in the May 17-18 Born to Run Ultra Marathon near Los Olivos, Calif.) Among the group is Miguel Lara, who won this year’s Copper Canyon Ultramarathon in Mexico.

“We are thrilled with the cultural exchange that these runners brings to our event,” Walter says. “This is really a unique opportunity to be able to host them in Southern Colorado.”

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Four Raramuri participated in last year’s inaugural HMTR, three of them finishing in the top-five and all four in the top-10 of the 10K field. 

“I worked to create a run that will appeal to beginners and seasoned veterans. It’s an adventure and like any race, it will test each individual,” says Walter, who believes the ultra race, which begins on Bear Basin Ranch and climbs 4,500 feet to top out at 10,100 feet, will easily reach the 135-runner limit. The race course ventures through Bear Basin Ranch, which includes lands once inhabited by Ute and Apache indians.

Walter hopes the 45K forges an enduring relationship with the Colorado ultrarunning community as well as the Tarahumara.

But, it’s not only a penchant for suffering or the chance to run with the Tarahumara that attracts people to the Hardscrabble.

“People run to show support for a shared vision–to protect the land we love,” says Nackord, the San Isabel Land Protection Trust’s Director of Development who saw the potential for an innovative outreach opportunity within Walter’s idea for a trail race. For this reason, the race routes push limits, but they are also stunning and remote. Breathtaking views of the majestic Sangre de Cristos and Pikes Peak reward runners as they travel through a wild space where four-legged critters dominate the landscape.

“Running on wild lands helps people reconnect with land we are working to protect and hopefully, it inspires them to engage more fully in its preservation,” Nackford says.

Registration for this year’s Hardscrabble Mountain Trail Run is almost full. Proceeds from the event go to help fund important conservation projects through San Isabel Land Protection Trust.

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