Friday, January 13, 2012

"It's not the shoe..."

(C) 2011, Miachelle DePiano. Micah True speaks at AVE in Chandler, AZ.

Back in October, I was given the opportunity to hear ultra running icon Micah True, aka Caballo Blanco, speak at AVE in Chandler, AZ and publish a story on his presentation in the Santan Sun. The presentation was a fundraiser benefiting True’s non-profit charity, Norawas de Rarámuri which works to preserve the Rarámuri, and their running culture.

Before the presentation began, I had a few quiet minutes with True. We talked about my recently torn calf muscle and the issue of running barefoot or in Vibrams. His next statement echoes in my mind to this day as I get back into running:

“It’s not the shoe, it’s what’s in the shoe.”

An inspiration to many runners around the world and whose philosophy is "Run Free", True appreciates the opportunities his newfound fame brings him. His opening remarks depicted his humility.

“I don’t know what happened. Someone wrote a pretty good book, and I happened to be a character in this pretty good book. I’m not a great runner, I’m not a great athlete, I’m not a great interpreter…I’m not a great anything.”

True’s journey among the Rarámuri began with his own search for inner peace and simplicity. Previously a martial artist and boxer in his twenties who ran as part of his training, he quit fighting but continued running. He travelled to Guatemala in the winters, looking for trails and running from village to village around Lake Atitlan. It was during these running excursions that he acquired the name “Caballo Blanco.”

“After a while, as I’d enter the outskirts of these little villages, the women and children, the Mayan Indian women and children started lining up in the streets, and they’d welcoming me with smiles, and they’d call out ‘Eres son caballo blanco’, ‘you’re a white horse.’”

True would return to the U.S. to work as a manual laborer in the summers and make money for his next trip back down south. Over time, True’s running regimen expanded, averaging 160-180 miles a week.

A friend convinced him to run a 50-mile ultra marathon in Wyoming, and he won the race; from that point True continued running races, graduating to the famous but brutal Leadville 100 in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. He ran it four times in the 1980’s. His success led him to believe he could be sponsored as a professional.

“I started taking myself too seriously,” True admitted. “I found myself not really liking myself if I came in fourth or fifth place, because I didn’t come in the top three. I was kind of a jerk.”

Another serious aspect drove the point home; True was getting injured more and more as he trained harder to perform better in the races.

“I started spraining my ankles, and I’d sprained my ankles so many times it got to the point that I could even just think about it and it would just go kkrrrrrch,” True recalled.

This realization convinced True to stop competing.

“I kept running, but I cut down my mileage, to maybe 100 miles a week. I continued to run for the reasons I began, and that was for joy and transportation and the love of running.”

In his presentation, True discussed many aspects of Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, including the now-famous race in which female racer Ann Trason nearly won the Leadville 100 in 1994 against the seven-man Rarámuri team brought by Arizona photographer Rick Fisher. That year, True missed being able to enter the race but was invited to pace Rarámuri racer Martimano part of the last 50 miles of the race.

After the race, Fisher’s relationship with the Rarámuri and the race sponsors collapsed, and the Rarámuri returned home, soured by the conflict they found themselves thrust in.

True’s experience running with a Rarámuri inspired him, and while in Boulder, CO, he conducted a coat and sweater drive for the Rarámuri. He drove the load down to Mexico, not knowing how to get to where the Rarámuri lived. He reached Creel, a tourist town in the Sierra Madres, and by chance ran into Juan Herrera, the winner of the 1994 Leadville 100 at the hotel where he had stopped. Herrera recognized True’s truck parked outside and came in looking for True, needing a ride to the Rarámuri village.

His generosity to the Rarámuri and his respectfully cautious approach was the foundation of a lifelong relationship between True and the indigenous people.

“I wanted to leave the Rarámuri alone down in the canyons, because I figured they lived in remote areas for a reason. So I wanted to respect their privacy.”

Over time, True wanted to create a footrace with the Rarámuri so he could run with them, but in Mexico. After the exploitative experiences in the Leadville 100, True did not want to expose them to further exploitation.

“I didn’t think it was wise to bring them to the United States, to put them in that position of being exploited by various people and sponsors and corporations,” True explained.

And so began the race that today is the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon. True organizes the yearly Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon to further his cause of running free. International interest is growing, though recently the numbers of international participants have dropped slightly due to fears over reports of border dangers as a result of drug cartel activity. Entry in the race is free, runners are housed and fed while taking on the challenge, and the prizes, awarded in first through tenth place, are substantial both monetarily and in corn. Since 2007, “gringos” have won the race and have generously given their prizes back to the Rarámuri.

“Every year, all the gringo winners, they don’t have to give their prizes back, but they do,” True said. “Is the pressure on? Well, maybe.”

True further explained the generosity.

“People that have come down to run with us, they become ‘mas loco’…acting out of love with no attachment to the results.”

Run free, Caballo.

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