How Will Caballo Blanco’s Death Change Ultra Running?

Photo Credit: Luis Escobar Photographer

Over the past few days, the running community has been swarmed with news of Caballo Blanco’s death (Born to Run star aka Micah True).

I won’t repeat how tragic this is, or how deep of a loss the running community has suffered. But I can’t help wonder how, going forward, this event will make its mark in ultra running. What will change? And how will we move ahead?

I never had the privilege of meeting Caballo Blanco, although we chatted briefly via Facebook. I can’t claim he was a close friend, but he was someone I followed, drew inspiration from, and very much admired.

Much good has been said about Caballo, and I won’t repeat his exceptional qualities here. But in addition to those great things, I was also drawn to his quirkiness and his slightly fiercer side.

I enjoyed watching Caballo’s hardass demeanor and the way his personality would sometimes clash with others. Caballo didn’t give a shit about a lot of things, yet he cared deeply about others.

He was his own man. He could not be bought out, compromised, or predicted. Some even wondered if his disappearance had been intentional or planned. Surely he was capable of anything? Did any of us really know him?

Now that he’s gone, I wonder about the future of ultra running. Here are four categories that I think will be touched by Caballo’s death.

1. What will happen to… the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon?

This race was Caballo’s baby. It was his dream. North American ultra elites race alongside Mexico’s best Tarahumaran runners. The vibe is carefree and generous. Entries are not charged, but donations are given freely to support the local community. Caballo made damn sure of this.

But over the years, this low-key race has caught the world’s attention. Some have tried to use it for profit, or to push a variety of interests and agendas.

Caballo was the one who kept the integrity of this race. He viciously fought for the Tarahumara’s best interest and showed no mercy to those who might harm the culture.

What will become of Copper Canyons now that Caballo is gone? Will it be the next large-scale event, sponsored by big names and priced with a hefty registration fee? Will it be made more accessible to boost attendance? Will the course be simplified so more people can finish? Will the lure and magic of the Tarahumaran presence disappear?

2. What will happen to… the Tarahumara?

Caballo was the loudest and fiercest defender of the Tarahumara. He sheltered them like family and was skeptical of those who wanted to get close. He trusted few.

What will happen to the Tarahumara now? Who will fight for them?

3. What will happen to… the Born to Run brand?

All who have not yet read Born to Run are picking up a copy. They want to know who Caballo was and what all the fuss is about.

What does this mean for the Born to Run brand? Higher book sales? More Luna Sandals sold? A renewed interest in barefoot running?

4. What will happen to… the spirit of ultra running?

Caballo had a spirit that could not be matched. He embraced running in its purest sense. He ran for the sheer joy of it. Not to compete in races. Not to log his runs. Not to improve his training. He ran because he loved it. Period.

As our race schedules fill up and we pursue PRs, will we still remember the joy of bounding over a mountain for no reason at all? Will we forget how to run as Caballo did, or will his death inspire us to represent his spirit even more?

I don’t have the answers, but I hope for the best. I personally fear for the future of Copper Canyons and the Tarahumara, but am determined to be a small voice on Caballo’s behalf. I hope that you will too.

A Call to Action

In Caballo’s honor this week, I encourage you to run once without logging it as a workout, or thinking of it as training. Don’t track your mileage and don’t time yourself.

Pay attention to your surroundings, have compassion for the life around you, and work to protect and preserve your trails as well as the people who run them.

The spirit of ultra running must always embrace selflessness, generosity, adventure, and strength. These are things that cannot die.

Here is a poem my friend Trisha wrote for Caballo:

Run close to the mountains
Stay a heartbeat away
Cover the low moon with your wings
And walk tomorrow’s miles today

Watch the sun race the sky
And know you’ll pass her once again
When time frees your soul and you find
the fabled trail that doesn’t end

Dust ascends on the horizon
A deep, rumbling thunder without rain
The sound of rampant hearts, a legion
Earthly, feral and unconstrained

The search will end as it began
A trail of footprints, a bird and a feather
When a white horse dies on a sandy road
All wild hearts mourn together

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18 responses

  1. Thought provoking questions, Vanessa! Luckily for me, I had one of those “true ultra running” mornings out in the Lagunas. My hip was killing me, but I couldn’t help but marvel at the ice coating the needles of the pine trees and how the wind attacked us on the PCT with enough force to make Michelle shriek with glee. Who cares about pace or time when you’re running like a kid? So beautiful, so inspiring. So can’t wait to hit the trail again!

  2. On my run this morning I ran some local trails thinking of memorable passages in the book about him. It was early and quiet in the wildlife preserve which allowed me to reflect on why I started running long. I found the the Caballo Blanco story inspiring as many did. Those of us who caught the long distance bug appreciate the experience and will continue.

  3. Caballo Blanco’s comments in BTR and his love of running have been a focal point in my choosing to transition to natural style running. I posted a commentary this afternoon – http://www.jlgentryauthor.com – about how his philosophy can be applied to many pursuits in our life.

    You final note is so appropriate. His wish was for us all to run free. Your suggestion takes us along that path. Running is discovery – in many ways.

    jlg

  4. Now that you mentioned it that way, I really must read that book because apparently I’ve always been running in Caballo’s honor ,never logging as a workout, or thinking of it as training. I just run barefoot for the catharsis and excruciating ecstasy.

  5. i fully agree with trisha – wonderfully written post. i am all too guilty of logging and tracking everything – tomorrow i will not! thanks for the inspiration.

  6. A wonderful amazing man who I read about in Born to Run, about 6 months ago. Caballo Blanco’s story has inspired me to begin a quest that will allow me to run and conquer my painful flat feet and run for the enjoyment of it. Cabello Blanco’s story and achievements are more than about running and should be an example to man on how to live in harmony with fellow man and nature.

  7. Thank you for a wonderfully written post. I opened my email to find this waiting for me, reminding me about why I started running in the first place. Let us hope that what he was as a runner will be carried on by all of us and handed down to the next generation of runners to come.

  8. Pingback: Micah True: How Did an Experienced Ultramarathoner Go Off Course? | Keeping Score | TIME.com

  9. I ran up the Camelback mountain today without a watch or thought except to run and feel the terrain under my feet. I am in Phoenix and needed to see if I could still run after the old Goat 50miler. I loved that it was some rough terrain and a 1351 ft elevation gain in a mile and half. I truly enjoyed just going out being one with my mind and body and running. It was nice to run for fun. In the spirit of Caballo Blanco I ran today. Thanks for the great read Vanessa!

  10. Perhaps Micah’s true legacy is showing the way of truth. No doubt the ultra community will move ahead. That’s what it does. It’s what we do.
    The CCUM is in real peril. For Micah, it was a true labor of love. Is there anyone who has that passion and commitment to carry it on the way it should be? What would Caballo want?
    I don’t think Micah would be too concerned about the BTR brand. As long as there are folks willing to speak and live the tenets of what he held so deeply the spirit will continue.
    As for the Tarahumara, they have been in the Copper Canyon for centuries. I feel they will find a way. It is a difficult time for them to lose such a close proponent. They have lost a friend but how many more have they gained because of what Micah did?
    In the end, isn’t it up to them to decide? We can certainly do our part by supporting them, being vigilant that they are not exploited and spreading the message of their way of life. I think that’s what Caballo would want us to do.

  11. Hi Vanessa, I am Micah True’s brother, Steve. I love the poem that was shared and am wondering if you can put me in touch with the author. My Facebook is Stephen Hickman.

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