Aire Libre designs deeply thoughtful running and hiking experiences that connect people with nature and local culture. We’ve long admired their work, and feel a deep kindred connection to their philosophy around movement in nature. To celebrate our partnership, we sat down with co-founder Mauricio Diaz to explore the Aire Libre way.
"The fewer layers there are between your feet and the land, the deeper your connection is."
VIVO: So how did this newfound passion evolve into Aire Libre?
MAURICIO: It wasn’t planned! It started when one of my co-founders, Manuel, invited me to do an ultra distance along the Sea of Cortez. That section belongs to a native tribe, the Seri, so Manuel met with the elder council to ask permission. Their answer had a big impact on Aire Libre and its philosophy. They applauded Manuel, and told him: “You have to do this. It represents a sacrifice that will bring a greater good to our land and our people.” Until that moment, we hadn’t heard of running for a greater good. Their response unlocked a deeper understanding of what running can mean for our species. Our perspective was informed by 150 years of Western running. But we’ve run as long as we’ve been on Earth: for spirituality, as rites of passage, as a way of hunting. We had to put a name to all this, and Aire Libre was born.
VIVO: Movement and nature is the heart of Aire Libre’s philosophy. Why is that?
MAURICIO: I remember the first guy on our first ever experience, when we were piloting. He finished and told us, while crying and hugging us: “I’m 37 and I’ve never felt this amount of freedom. These are the five most vivid days of my life!” We didn’t know our experiences were going to have this impact. And pondering why, we’ve concluded that it’s nature and movement, plus ancient knowledge, community, and healthy eating. It’s going back to our roots. In Westernised society, we are completely disconnected from our roots. As soon as you go back and do the simple things, these eureka moments happen. It’s also really important that our experiences are designed for all levels of runners, even hikers. We can have a pro athlete and somebody running their first 10k in the same experience, having the same richness. What’s more, the name Aire Libre leaves us with the possibility of integrating running, hiking, and even surfing. Any activity that involves movement and nature.
VIVO: What about barefoot running? Is that part of your practice?
MAURICIO: My barefoot journey began by reading Born to Run. Then, through Aire Libre, running experiences in Copper Canyon with the Rarámuri, in their homemade rubber-tire sandals. From reading and watching, it’s very clear that our body is perfect as it is. The more layers of so-called technology we add, the worse it is in the long term. We make our bodies weaker, more reliable on other stuff. Barefoot running is much healthier, more engaging, more connecting, and more fun. Personally, I switch between regular and minimal running shoes. Some people at Aire Libre are much more hardcore, doing long, long trail runs in Vivos. Sometimes they take them off, and just run barefoot!
VIVO: Did the barefoot angle inspire the partnership with Vivobarefoot?
MAURICIO: Well, there are very few companies so aligned with our vision. Vivobarefoot’s vision is to reconnect people with the planet. That’s our vision, too! The closer people are to nature, the more they will love it and protect it. That’s why we do our own work.
VIVO: Movement is the foundation of Aire Libre experiences, but you also integrate mindfulness practices. Why is this important?
MAURICIO: We do various practices that you could name as mindfulness, from deep ecology to guided meditations. Put simply, these practices help fine-tune our human antennas, so we are sharp and ready to receive as much information as possible.
VIVO: That makes sense, given Aire Libre retreats are so rooted in place and culture. How do you choose retreat locations?
MAURICIO: It’s an evolving process, but it’s primarily three things. The most important is where our community tells us would be interesting. Second, we explore all the ideas our local partners bring to the table. And lastly, where do we as a team want to go?
VIVO: Perhaps more important than location is the cultural experiences you engage with during retreats. What are you looking for here, and how do you curate these experiences?
MAURICIO: We work with people representing a healthier, more sustainable way of doing things. And we prefer teaching by immersion – going to places, meeting people, seeing what they do, seeing how – than by preaching. We make a deep effort to find people with a legacy of practice – maybe a family business – away from over-commercialised areas. Oaxaca is a great example. We attend a textile workshop through a family business in the northern mountains. They’re damn passionate about what they do, and make their own natural dyes. To Western ideas, it may seem like these people have such a hard life, are so poor. But then you meet them, and see how they live, and you start to realise they are the happiest, healthiest people. And you get to learn why. We eat in their houses, follow them as our guides, and run alongside them.
"Run as if you were a kid again, like you're playing with your friends or imaginary friends. Forget the distance, forget the speed. Just be there, be present, be playful, and move."
VIVO: You mentioned that trail running can be intimidating at first, with its images of big mountains and talk of big distances. What advice would you give somebody just starting out?
MAURICIO: My advice is to forget about the races. Just go to your local trails and do your thing. Run as if you were a kid again, like you’re playing with your friends or imaginary friends. Forget the distance, forget the speed. Just be there, be present, be playful, and move. It all begins with a first step, but this approach will carry you to 100 miles.
VIVO: And what about runners, regardless of experience, who crave a deeper nature connection while out on the trail?
MAURICIO: If running in a new area, I do a little research. What’s the mountain range? Whose land is this? Where am I stepping my feet? Then, as I start, I touch the ground, or a rock, or a tree. I ask permission, and express thanks, for running in this place. Your run and connection will be profoundly different thanks to these few moments.