The legacy of trail running legend Micah True (aka, “Caballo Blanco”) is alive and well.
Two years ago today, March 31, 2012, the body of Micah True was recovered from a remote part of the Gila National Forest in southwest New Mexico near the Arizona border. Nicknamed “Caballo Blanco,” or White Horse, the 58-year-old True became a reluctant celebrity in 2009 after he was featured in the best-selling non-fiction book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. But he made the most of the notoriety, celebrating and educating the world about the Tarahumara Indians (aka, the Raramuri people) from the Copper Canyon region of north-central Mexico.
True had spent another winter in his adopted winter hometown of Urique, Mexico, and was heading back to the U.S. for the spring and summer when he stopped at the Gila Wilderness Lodge and Hot Springs on March 27 for what was supposed to be a 12-mile trail run through a section of the national forest. But True never returned and after several days of a high-profile search, his body was discovered on the edge of a creek. An autopsy report later said he died of heart disease.
After learning of the plight of the Raramuri people in the mid-1990s, True, a vagabond trail running pioneer who had spent time in Colorado, Hawaii and Guatemala, among other places, took it upon himself to try to help them embrace their ancient running roots while also trying to find ways to help their impoverished society. He eventually built a small adobe house in Urique, spending winters there and summers in Boulder, Colo. He also created an ultra-distance race to help support the local people, attracting top trail running stars Scott Jurek and Jenn Shelton, among others.
Now two years after his death—and almost five years since the release of “Born to Run”—True’s legacy is alive and well.
On March 2, 715 athletes representing 15 countries—including more than 400 Raramuri runners—started the 12th annual Ultra Caballo Blanco, a 50-mile race and celebration of “running free” among all cultures of running people. True started the race to help ensure nutritional sustenance to both the physical and cultural survival of the Raramuri people. For each loop completed, runners receive vouchers for maize, beans, rice, flour and non-GMO seed corn. (Non-local runners donate their portions back to the locals.) Blankets and food are also given to Raramuri runners and their families who come down for the race.
Those who have participated in the race and have helped contribute to True’s cause were nicknamed the “Mas Loco” runners.
Miguel Lara Viniegras, a local Raramuri runner, won this year’s race in 6:39:16. Every race finisher, received a handcrafted amulet from Bill Molmen, an accomplished ultrarunner and artist from Hawaii. In the tradition of “korima” (a Raramuri term for sharing whatever you have and giving without any expectation of return) and with respect and honor to the Raramuri, international runners, Arizona’s Michael Versteeg (who placed seventh in 7:05:06), and California’s Rickey Gates (eighth,7:09:50) donated their cash prizes to the youngest and oldest Raramuri finishers.
The festival also included the official unveiling of a mural by local artist named Yo Yo. The mural, commissioned by president Daniel Silva Figuerora and based on a photo taken last year by Mas Loco runner and renowned trail running photographer Luis Escobar, shows Raramuri families participating in the traditional Rarajipare ball race. The race weekend also included the “Corrida de Los Caballitos,” a run for the children of the local canyons, awarding to all participants finisher medals, shirts and a bag of school supplies.
Through the dedication and fundraising efforts of Mas Loco friends worldwide, Norawas de Raramuri (Friends of the Running People), raised more than $25,000 in cash donations for the purchase of vales (food vouchers) to feed the Raramuri athletes who participated in the race.
In the post-race newsletter, co-race directors Josue Stephens and Maria Walton summed it up: “Although the founding race director, Micah True, is no longer with us, his presence, spirit and powerful message, breathes ever stronger, and lives throughout the hearts of many. Through his vision, he created hope, giving a lasting purpose for the Raramuri, inspiring all of us to find joy once again in life, and to run free!”
The 13th annual Ultra Caballo Blanco 50-mile race and celebration is scheduled for March 1, 2015.
Following True’s “Run Free” theme, Escobar is hosting his fourth annual Born to Run Ultramarathon event on May 17-18. After gaining access to an 8,000-acre ranch in Los Olivos, Calif., four years ago, Escobar, who was a friend of True, decided to create an intimate social event where people could get together, camp, sing, share some beers and run—a lot. The event has grown from 75 people to a projected 500 participants for this year.
“The series has matured into its own organic, weird animal,” he says. “It started out as this secret running community, and now it has grown into a giant running celebration.”