People usually train for years and invest in professional running gear just to be able to complete an ultramarathon, but María Lorena Ramírez, a native Rarámuri woman from Mexico who had not have any professional training or even basic gear, not only managed to finish a 50 km race, but actually win it. And she did it wearing a traditional long skirt and sandals made of recycled tire rubber.
High quality running shoes, compression socks, Lycra suits, energy drinks, all these are considered essential by most runners participating in an ultramarathon, but they were of no importance to 22-year-old María Lorena Ramírez, a sheep herder from Chihuahua, Mexico, who showed up at the starting line of a women’s ultramarathon in Puebla in traditional clothing and equipped with just a bottle of water and a handkerchief. She stood out like a sore thumb among the 500 or so other runners from 12 countries around the world, but she didn’t seem to care.
The Rarámuri or Tarahumara natives are famous for being the best runners in Mexico, and Ramírez is considered one of the fastest long-distance runners in her community, but I don’t think anyone actually expected her to win, at least not dressed in a skirt and wearing rubber sandals. But after seven hours and three minutes, the unthinkable happened, as the 22-year-old was the first to cross the finish line, taking home both the bragging rights and a 6,000 pesos ($320) cash prize.
“She carried no special accessories,” said race organizer Orlando Jiménez. “She didn’t bring any gel, nor energy sweets, walking stick, glasses or those very expensive running shoes that everyone wears to run in the mountains. Just a bottle of water, her hat and a kerchief.”
It’s important to note that María Lorena Ramírez had undergone no professional training for the 50-km race, apart from the 10-15 kilometers she walks each day while herding her sheep.
Interestingly, winning the Cerro Rojo Ultramarathon, in Puebla, central Mexico, on April 29, was not María’s first notable achievement. Last year she came second in the 100-kilometer category of the Caballo Blanco ultramarathon, in Chihuahua.
The Rarámuri are legendary long-distance runners endowed with an unusual physical endurance. They only use natural supplements like pinole (roasted corn ground into flower and mixed with sugar and water) and iskiate (chia seeds mixed with water and lemon juice), and run either barefoot or wearing pre-Colombian sandals called huaraches. Their soles were originally made of thin leather, but runners now prefer a version made of thin rubber from old car tires. They are tied to the foot with strips of cloth. The name “Rarámuri” comes from the words “rara”, which means “foot”, and “muri”, which translates as “to run”.
María Lorena Ramírez’ incredible achievement has sparked controversy in the world of sports. With advances in athletic technology being announced virtually every day, and the success of great athletes being linked to famous brands of professional athletic gear, here comes this young gifted woman who proves you don’t really need advanced equipment to be the best.