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Meeting Caballo Blanco

by Emily Gindle » on Nov 01, 2010 4

On Friday I saw the “ghost” Caballo Blanco in the flesh! While for many people the idea of a “celebrity” conjures up people like Brad Pitt or Josh Duhamel, for me it’s this leathered old gringo who lives and runs in the deepest canyons of North America, the Sierra Madres of Mexico. Made famous by the book Born To Run and depicted there as a shy, shadowy outlier, in real life he was much more chatty and gregarious than I expected. At one time a professional boxer, then an ultramarathon racer, he now spends his time organizing and promoting the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon, a rugged 50 mile race that strives to keep running culture alive among the Raramuri Indians of the Copper Canyons. When Caballo Blanco isn’t touring around venues (such as the gear shop where I work) to raise donations for Indian participants in the race, he lives in a handmade hut in the canyons. As he explains it, he used to run 35 miles from his former dwelling to the nearest town to use a transient internet connection. He built a new place near a satellite station that now keeps him in much better communication for organizing the race.

Caballo Blanco is full of amazing stories, far too many and too full of detail to try to relay them here. While mostly happy with the book in which he appears, he said there were a few small things he took issue with; but what I found fascinating was that the author Christopher McDougall’s depiction of the Raramuri culture was consistent with how Caballo Blanco saw it: as an inspiring love of running, not just as a sport to do in one’s free time but as a way of life and a natural way the body moves. My favorite story, told both in the book and at the talk, takes place during the Leadville 100 in 1994. A team of Raramuri runners was brought to the crazy-strenuous 100 mile race in Leadville, Colorado, to run against such amazing competitors as Ann Trason, who has broken 20 world records in her ultramarathon career. Caballo Blanco meant to compete in the race that year, but registration was only open for three days before it filled, and he missed it. Instead he decided to act as a pacer for one of the Raramuri runners–he would run the last half with the team. Caballo Blanco told the runners that Ann was a witch, and they should run her down like a deer; keep behind her to wear her out until the end when they could pass her.

All of the runners save one – Juan – passed Ann early, and sure enough she cursed them, says Caballo Blanco. One runner developed a knee issue and the others were wavering in their motivation to stay in the race, but Caballo Blanco kept on them to run La Bruja (The Witch) down. Caballo ran with a guy named Martimiano, and at an aid station with twenty or so miles to go, Martimiano was really dragging; he asked for a beer, which Caballo didn’t think was a good idea, but he chugged the beer and raced out of the station refreshed. With ten miles to the end, Juan passed Ann, and in her account she talks about how pissed she was that he did it with a smile on his face. Effortlessly. In his thin tied-on sandals. As though running one hundred miles were fun. Juan won. Ann came in second, and she still shattered the women’s race record by hours.

It was great to see how committed Caballo Blanco was and is to cultivating the fading running culture in the Copper Canyons. As villages become more connected with the outside world, as they build roads and get internet, there’s less and less reason to continue running. More than two hundred Raramuri people came to last year’s Copper Canyon Ultra, and none of them were professional racers. I find this completely fascinating. Have you ever met two hundred regular people who can run one hundred miles at a stretch?

Most of this has nothing to do with Fivefingers other than that I see this thin little shoe creating a running culture with regular people in my own community, and it’s very exciting. I fit people for these shoes every day, and it’s amazing to see all the different kinds of people – old, young, athletic, overweight, men, women, black, white, latino – who want these shoes to get out running. For some, it’s the first time they’ve been interested in running in their lives. For myself, it’s just great to have running feel so natural again.

Submitted Comments

  1. Rob Holden says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see the honor in calling a competitor a “witch.” I didn’t like that part of the book and I don’t think it makes “Caballo” look like a very decent person. I thought the whole point was about running for the love of running, anyway — not to win or vilify other competitors.

  2. Emily says:

    I probably didn’t portray it well, but Caballo Blanco did talk at length about the awesomeness of Ann Trason and I truly think he came up with the “witch” idea as a lighthearted game, not as a competitive slander. I liked the idea that in the middle of a grueling 100 mile race (the suffering of which I will probably never endure) they could still joke around. Try as they might, no one can knock Ann Trason; she’s incredible.

  3. LlamaCaleb says:

    I have to agree with Emily’s assessment of calling Ann “La Brujita”. I know Micah/Caballo personally, and the name definitely was never meant in a malicious manner. After that race Caballo AND the Raramuri both looked up to Ann with respect and reverence. I believe the Raramuri runner even presented her with a gift afterwards, a pair of huarache sandals that they’d made themselves.

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