Micah True, the legendary trail runner, has just left us at the age of 58. Better known as Caballo Blanco, his birth name is unknown. It might as well have been Ian MacKaye. Or Kim Gordon, or Kurt Cobain, or Greg Ginn. Caballo was punk rock to the core, and resisted commercialization nobly, even when he was in the limelight.
Caballo was a white man who made his home as an expat in the Copper Canyon area of Mexico amongst the Tarahumara Indians (more correctly, the Rarámuri) the greatest ultra-distance runners in the world. He found them on his own, made friends and set up his life there with a do-it-yourself attitude almost never seen in our hand-holding culture where guiding and shepherding is the norm.
Caballo was best known for being portrayed in Born To Run and for pacing the Tarahumara team in what was probably the greatest Leadville 100 race ever, in 1994 (Caballo’s excellent account of the race is here). The last line of his account: “May the Raramuri and all of us continue to run free.”
The DIY ethic led Caballo to establish the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon, the legendary, remote, and competitive 50-mile race documented in Born To Run. When the race became famous, drawing more than 500 runners in 2010 and 2011, The North Face wanted in on the action and offered to sponsor. Caballo turned them down, opting to continue to do it himself. Reminiscent of the great Prefontaine when he turned down money to race, saying “I run best when I run free.”
In ultrarunning, as in real punk rock, there are no stars, no pedestals. There are just compadres. People are people. And the people Caballo cared most about were the poverty-stricken Rarámuri. He mourned to me that they had not benefitted one bit from Born to Run, even thought the ultrarunning world had been lit afire by it. Caballo implied to me that if he thought the North Face sponsorship would have benefitted the Rarámuri, he would have done it. But it seemed like the North Face just wanted their name attached to a hard core event, and was not interested in what made the area or the people unique.
Caballo looks goofy in this pic, but he was a goofy guy. For a “better” pic see my Leadville race report here. Note the “Club Mas Loco” shirt, from the ultramarathon he directed.
I talked with Caballo only twice, three times if you count during racetime. Most memorable was the part of one conversation when I pointed out that his shirt said “Born to Run,” and might be taken as a promotion for the book. He said that it was his last clean shirt and that the shirt was from a race that preceded the book. But then on further introspection he took off the shirt, going barechested in the middle of the Leadville town center, turned it inside out to conceal the logo, and put it back on. Born to Run author, Christopher McDougall is vehemently anti-commercial, and good friends with Caballo. But Caballo was not into promoting anything that made money.
Flipping a shirt inside out, perhaps not unlike cutting the Nike Swoosh off of your shoes and writing Zoom Loco in magic marker in its place at age 15? Perhaps it could be easily forseen that I would be so strongly drawn to the noncommercial spirit of ultrarunning. And that’s why I especially mourn the loss of those with true DIY ethics like Caballo, who underpin the sport. He died alone, on a run in the wilderness, probably of a heart attack. Caballo was a legend, and legends always seem to slip away too soon.