After trekking from his North Carolina home to Mexico's Copper Canyon annually for the past decade to learn from the famed endurance running tribe, the Tarahumara, ultrarunner Will Harlan witnessed the rarajipari—an ancient footrace in which Tarahumara men chase a wooden ball along jagged trails for up to 100 miles. But when Harlan and his pal Mickey Mahafey organized a rarajipari in the canyon on Jan. 29, offering food as the prize, the race ended at about 50 miles, with many of the famously fit Tarahumaras too tired to continue.
"They were running for their lives," says Harlan. But running on empty. The worst drought on record in Mexico has exhausted the Tarahumara's food supply. Runners worldwide, many inspired by The New York Times best seller Born to Run, which features the tribe, launched a grassroots effort to save their brethren. Harlan's nonprofit, Barefoot Farm, last week delivered four tons of food and seeds to the Tarahumara. Almost all the donations, Harlan says, came from runners.
The tribe's way of life may be on its last legs, though, as the drought compounds pressures from Mexico's drug war and deforestation. "This is a make-or-break moment," Harlan says, urging all who want to help to visit norawas.org or barefootfarm.org.