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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