Trail Running: A practice from the dawn of time

Trail Running: A practice from the dawn of time

A practice from the dawn of time

For thousands of years, humans have used these paths to hunt, find food and travel, and some cultures have completely assimilated running into their culture and mythology. 

This is the case, for example, of the Tarahumara of Mexico, the Kalenjin of Kenya, the Mursi of Ethiopia, the Kung of Botswana, the Hopi of the United States and the Aborigines of Australia.

Many of these cultures have developed running techniques, training methods and cultural practices specific to their communities.

In this article, we put a spotlight on these exceptional people!

The Tarahumara

This people of ranchers, on whom the excellent book "Born to Run" has put a spotlight, would prefer to be called the Rarámuris - literally those who have light feet - the term Tarahumara coming from the first missionaries.

This Amerindian people, descendants of the Aztecs, live in the Sierra Madre Mountains in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico and have a tradition of running during religious ceremonies and festivals, during which they may engage in "ultra trail races" that can last several days. 

While it is likely that centuries of natural selection have contributed to the development of excellent athletic qualities, their incredible endurance is also most likely developed by their nomadic lifestyle, centered on herding and requiring them to spend hours on the trails. 


The Kalenjin 

The Kalenjin are a group of related ethnic communities living in the highlands of Kenya, East Africa. The Kalenjin are known for their ability to run long distances and have a long tradition of running as part of their cultural and spiritual practices.

In recent years, the Kalenjin have become famous for their success in international running competitions, and many of the world's best long-distance runners are from the Kalenjin community. Since 1980, Kalenjin have won 40% of all medals in middle and long distance running! 

It now appears that part of their superiority over the races may have come from the skills developed by their ancestors, who used running as a means of hunting and surviving in the rugged terrain of the Kenyan highlands. 

But for Véronique Billat, director of the INSERM laboratory for the study of exercise physiology, genetics only accounts for 30% of the superior performance of these athletes, with the rest coming from the cultural framework (training at altitude, type of training, practice from a young age, etc.). 


The !Kung

The Ju/'hoansi, more commonly known as the !Kung, are a group of indigenous people who live in the Kalahari Desert, which covers Botswana, Namibia and Angola.

They have long used running for transportation and hunting, and it plays an important role in their culture. For them, being able to run long distances is vital for survival in the harsh desert environment, and !Kung runners are highly respected in their community.

The Hopi

The Hopi have a culture and mythology very much tied to long distance running. They believed that their ancestors and animals taught them how to run and that these races were necessary to organize the world. The Hopi ran not only for practical reasons such as hunting and transportation, but also for ceremonial reasons such as chasing away misfortune and renewing their energy. Races between villages were common and Hopi runners were highly respected for their speed in delivering messages.

If in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Hopi ran mainly for spiritual and practical reasons, the practice of running has continued into the twentieth century, but in a dimension of maintaining physical fitness or performance. Some Some Hopi runners have been able to achieve worldwide fame, such as Louis Tewanima of Songòopavi who won the silver medal in the 10,000 meter race at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, or Nicholas Quamawahu who won the Long Beach - New York marathon in 1927.

 The Aborigines of Australia

The Australian Aborigines have a long history with running. For thousands of years, they have used it to travel and hunt.

But running is also an important part of their traditional ceremonies and rituals. It is a way for them to connect with their ancestors and the land. Australian Aborigines also run to express themselves socially and spiritually.

The annual Sydney Morning Herald Sun-Herald City2Surf race, held in Sydney, Australia, includes a category for Aboriginal riders.

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