22-year-old Lorena Ramirez stunned the world in April 2017. Ramierz won a 31 mile ultramarathon in Mexico. She ran the treacherous mountain trail in 7 hours and 3 minutes.
What was so special about Lorena?
Race organizer Orlando Jimenez said:
“She carried no special accessories. She didn’t bring any gel. No energy sweets. No walking stick. No glasses. She didn’t wear those very expensive running shoes that everyone wears to run in the mountains. Just a bottle of water, her hat and a handkerchief.”
That is right. Lorena Ramirez won wearing sandals and a traditional dress.
Ramirez repeated her feat in Spain. She placed third in the 63 mile ultramarathon on the island of Tenerife. She was the first female to run the race.
Lorena Ramirez is a fitting example of using Difficulty to Your Advantage. Properly used it is the Greatest Barrier to Entry.
She forced bigger competitors to follow over difficult ground. Terrain that her people are intimately familiar with. Topography that competitors were not accustomed to.
Ramirez is part of the Tarahumara, or ‘light-footed people.’ This indigenous group lives in Northern Mexico’s Copper Canyon. The canyons are up to 4 times deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Traditionally Tarahumara live in widely-dispersed settlements. They must travel long distances on foot to hunt, trade and visit neighbors. Tarahumara adapted by running the long journeys. Running for hours has been a part of their daily lives for centuries.
Running also provides entertainment, economy and social cohesion. Children often run 6 - 18 miles. Women compete against one another in a game called Rowema. They throw a ring of twisted fiber using a curved stick as they run. Rowema distances range from 30 - 62 miles. Men compete against one another in a game called Rarajipari. They flip a wooden ball with their feet as they run. Rarajipari distances are 93 + miles long, non-stop. Days of running. All while running in sandals known as Huarache.
Spectators bet on these races. The spectators keep track by running along the racers.
Physiologist Dale Groom performed cardiovascular tests on the Tarahumara in 1971. The Tarahumara ran a five-hour race. During the race Groom checked the pulse and blood pressure of the runners. What startled Groom was that after running 50 miles, the Tarahumara didn’t look tired. They looked unphased.
Like the Kalenjin tribe in Kenya, the mundane ingredients that make up the Tarahumara - genetics, environment, diet and culture - mix together to create a lollapalooza effect. Groom stated, “Probably not since the days of the ancient Spartans has a people achieved such a high state of physical conditioning.”
Lorena and other Tarahumaras focus on their niche, ultramarathon mountain running. Ultramarathoners from the developed world have a hard time competing against any Tarahumara.
At the Leadville 100 mile race in 1993 three Tarahumaras finished 1st, 2nd and 5th. In Nov 2017, Santiago Ramirez, Lorena’s father, finished first in the 50-kilometer Polar Bear Marathon in Canada. The temperature was -4 F (-20 C).
Tarahumaras are so well known for their endurance that competitors immediately know where they stand before the race has started! For example, a German runner was quoted as saying he realized he was not going to win when he learned that Santiago Ramírez was entering the race.
Tarahumaras Outside Their Niche
Tarahumara dominate races over 50 miles. The runners are expected to show less speed than endurance. Therefore, as a rule, distances run by Tarahumara should be as long as possible.
For adult men marathons (26 miles) are too short. The first Tarahumaras to race in the modern world finished 32nd and 35th in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic marathon. That might seem like a poor showing. On the contrary. The Tarahumara men kept running after the finish. Olympic officials had to run after them to tell them the race finished. The two Tarahumara men were unsatisfied with distance.
The Tarahumara adapted to life in the Copper Canyons. However, they have had trouble adjusting to life in the modern world.
A Tarahumara man named Angel gave an example in the book Born To Run:
“There’s a Tarahumara village called Mesa de Hierba Buena," Angel begins. "Many of the best runners were from Hierba Buena. They had a very good trail that would let them cover a lot of distance in a day, much farther than you could get to from here." The trail was so fine, in fact, that the Mexican government decided to slick it with asphalt and turn it into a road. Now that it could be supplied by truck, Hierba Buena soon had grocery stores, and in them, soda, chocolate, sugar, butter - foods the Tarahumara had rarely eaten. They developed a taste for junk food, but needed cash to buy it, so instead of working their fields, they hitched to Guarchochi to work as dishwashers and day laborers.
“That was 20 years ago. Now, there are no runners in Hierba Buena.”
Martin Castillo is a Tarahumara man. He’s not much older than Lorena Ramirez. However, Martin is obese. He can’t run. He can barely walk.
Dr. Jesus Arguelles, at the Obesity Centre Chihuahua, Mexico, said, “When Martin first came he had several problems, one of which is that he is insulin resistant. That means he was already in the early stages of diabetes.”
Martin is one of the few Tarahumara who have moved to the modern world. He lives in nearby Chihuahua, Mexico. Genes that helped his people survive in a harsh environment are a huge disadvantage in the modern world. A world abundant in processed food. A world where running is unnecessary.
Dr. Jesus Arguelles added, “The main cause of death among (Tarahumara in the city) is diabetes.” Diabetes, heart disease and obesity are not found at all in the Tarahumara living in their native land. Only when the Tarahumara leave their niche do they suffer.
Business is challenging. Investing is Hard. Don’t make operating in either sphere more complicated than it has to be.
Build the Greatest Barrier to Entry.
Like the Tarahumara, find your small niche. Live it. Breathe it. Develop it. Know it and do it better than anyone else. In the process you build a home court advantage. Let the competitors come. They will play on your field, by your rules. And you will win.
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