Born To Run: Caballo Blanco Interview

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The ninth annual Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon took place in March, presided over by Micah True, a.k.a. Caballo Blanco. Christopher McDougall's book Born To Run made The White Horse famous among the running crowd, but True continues to do what he's done since he first came out to the badlands of Mexico: cultivate respect for the Raramuri, the Running People. He took time out from his travels to talk about this year's race and set the record straight about barefoot running, which is technically not done barefoot. Go get a pair of huaraches and put them in action on a dirt trail, and you'll see what he means.

–Aileen Torres

How was this year's Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, compared to last year?
It went great. We had 365 participants, in which 265 were Raramuri from all over la Sierra Madre, representing all four municipios. There were 60-plus international runners and about 40 Mexico nationals. One-hundred sixty-five finished the 51-mile version, with 9,300 feet of climb and equal descent.

Last year was also great. There were 235 runners, mostly Raramuri. That race occurred when Born to Run was still on the editor's desk. By the way, the race until this year has been 47 miles, with 1,800 feet less climb. I figured I'd live up to the book's description and give runners more fun for their peso.

Take me through the race terrain.
The run starts and ends in the deep canyon small town of Urique, at 6,200 feet deep. There is a 21-plus-mile loop downriver, with an extension climbing about 3,000 feet up a side canyon, arroyo, on dirt road, then single-track trail to a high Mesa Naranjo with some awesome views before looping back through a cheering town, running downriver for six miles before crossing the river and encountering an awesome trail climbing 1,500 feet on roller-coaster terrain to a little settlement called Los Alisos at 31 miles, then back to Urique at 40 miles, where there is an option to stop, and the big race finishes with a very hilly dirt road to the mission at the Tarahumara village of Guadalupe Coronado, and back on what at this point are some pretty good death hills to Urique to finish the 50-plus miler. Great fun!

What were the race conditions this year?
Beautiful, unusually cool–70 degrees. Helped runners quite a bit. Last year was a brutal 90-something-degree heat. Ya never know! I got a government grant for the rural communities to be paid to maintain their historical caminos reales, and the previously very gnarly trails are currently in great condition.

Did Christopher McDougall, Jenn Shelton, Billy Bonehead, Scott Jurek, and/or Luis Escobar return? When was the last time you saw any of them?
The race mentioned in the book occurred in 2006. In 2007, most of them returned, except McOso, “The Bear” McDougall, and a couple others. None of them returned in 2010. I think all returned in spirit. I have seen most of the “Dream Team” at times over the last few years, especially the first couple years after that 2006 race when we were all still very inspired. El Venado, Scott Jurek, won his rematch with Arnulfo in 2007 and gave all his prize money back to the Raramuri. I continue to be inspired, except when I get down about los zopilotes [opportunists] circling–they will not go away.

Who won? How did the gringos do against the Tarahumara?
The Raramuri took the first five places, and nine out of the first ten places were Raramuri. Nick Coury from Arizona was the first gringo, finishing in sixth place. Most of the $14,000 in prize money and 100,000 pounds of corn went to the Raramuri. When is the last race you ran where first place won $2,500 and a ton of corn? Tenth place won 1,000 pounds of corn and $250. Anybody who finished the race won 250 kilos of corn. Everybody won! The gringos gave their corn back to the community to feed needy families, school children, etc. In the women's race, there were 50 runners, and most of las gringas placed in the top ten. Prize money was equal and went ten deep! The second place woman, Ruthanne Hamrick of New Mexico, won $1,500 and a ton, literally, of corn. She gave it back to the Raramuri and projects for the people.

The cultural exchange aspect of the race was to encourage everybody that to finish, even participate, was to win. To let the Raramuri know that how they live is respected by the outside world. The international runners set a great example for this message. To run in beautiful places amongst unique and beautiful people is to have won.

Did you run in the race?
Sure. I ran 40 miles before continuing my race director duties from the sideline. It was fun, as always.

Do you plan to do the race again?
Ask me in a couple of months. I want to have regular smaller community races for the Raramuri, with cash and nutrition and seeds as prizes to keep them active, fit, and running free. Also, to provide a form of actual training–by staying active–to compete with the hotshot gringo runners coming to run with us in the big CCUM in Urique, who help me greatly to accomplish the goal of, along with all of the wonderful people that come down to run with us.

What's your daily running regime?
I like to run almost every day. Have no regime. Sometimes I go 11 miles, other times 30. Almost all on dirt surfaces and trails.

What's your technique?
I run easy, light, and smoothly on my forefoot and up on my toes.

What footwear do you use?
Irun in whatever is light, comfy, and cheap–true minimalism. I have run in Tarahumara sandals–not for awhile, as in public I wear socks with my sandals to cover my gnarly, ugly toes that make women faint, babies cry, and grown men gasp. I had been wearing a really lightweight and good sandal for a few years, until Hi-Tec discontinued my favorite sandal to run in. I wear whatever beat up and breathable running shoes I may have. Vibram sent me some Five Fingers, and they are comfy.

By the way, I am very proud of the Raramuri, who they are, and love to see them win in traditional skirts–kind of long loin cloths–and huaraches. This year's winner chose to wear shoes and is, otherwise, a very traditional Raramuri farmer.

Have you been relatively injury-free in recent years?
I have not been injured much in the last few years, simply by running on uneven terrain, easy, light, and smooth, mostly in sandals that are low to the ground with no heel. And mostly by not–trying, anyway–taking myself so seriously. I did get a nasty cut that required nine stitches and fractured a toe–wearing shoes–while entering a mountain park in Phoenix this last October and having an encounter with one of those sharp, tire-puncturing devices. Ouch…punctured my tire!

While running outside of the village of Batopilas this winter, I encountered a van full of paparazzi who were guided out by a tour company to encounter the mysterious Caballo Blanco. I rounded the bend and cameras flashed in my face. “What the ?@&%$#!” I said. The photographers said, “Look, he's wearing shoes. What a phoney!” Some of the goofy stuff surrounding the book is just too strange and funny sometimes.

What's the most important running lesson you've learned from the Tarahumara?
Run free!

What's the best advice you would give to a runner?
Run easy, light, smoooooth, happy…and run free! Andale!

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