Running in tarahumara (Rarámuri) culture: Persistence hunting, footracing, dancing, work, and the fallacy of the athletic savage

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Current Anthropology








The Tarahumara (Rarámuri) are a Native American people from Chihuahua, Mexico, who have long been famous for running, but there is widespread incredulity about how and why they run such long distances. Some characterizations of Tarahumara running are also based on stereotypical views of athleticism among non-Western peoples, here labeled the “fallacy of the athletic savage.” To place Tarahumara running more appropriately into its larger social and functional contexts, we combined our own observations and ethnographic evidence with interviews of 10 elderly Tarahumara runners about running during hunting as well as during footraces. We detail how running played an integral role in persistence hunting, in which groups of hunters employed a variety of methods to chase animals on foot. Running during hunting, moreover, is linked to men’s and women’s footraces, and both kinds of running are considered powerful forms of prayer. Long-distance running is also related to endurance dances that have important spiritual dimensions. Although the Tarahumara do not train to run in any traditional Western sense, and not all of them are great runners, the Tarahumara, like many Native American peoples, consider running, along with other endurance-based activities, to be important social and spiritual pursuits.