This past week, the running community lost an individual who exemplified loving the sport for the mere pleasure of it and leaving it a better place then where he found it. Micah”Caballo Blanco” True of “Born to Run” fame was found dead in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico on March 31st after being missing for nearly three days while on a run. The cause of the death is unknown, but there have been reports that there were no signs of trauma. Rather than focusing on the death of this intriguing character, let us look at the accomplishments and vision that this man was able to inspire.
Having found a career in professional boxing to be not to his taste, True later became hooked on ultramarathoning by aiding a Tarahumara Indian in pacing at the grueling Leadville 100 in Colorado. As chronicled by “Born to Run,” True eventually became attached to the sport and to living for stretches of the year with the Tarahumara Indians of the Copper Canyons of Mexico who comprise a society of the world’s finest elite ultra runners.
Since the release of the book and an article by “Born to Run” author Christopher McDougall in “Men’s Health,” True became a cult hero in ultra circles. The ultra community is already a semi-underground activity with eccentric personalities and was enlivened by a story of an American able to live on the edge of modern civilization and pursue his enthusiasm among the isolated indigenous population.
His love of running and care for his adopted culture with the Tarahumara brought him to create an annual race in the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon which proceeds helped to fund the purchase of corn and foodstuffs for the Tarahumara who have been plagued by drought and the violence of the ongoing drug war in Mexico. This type of fundraising and help opened eyes to the plight of the peaceful and aloof Tarahumara while at the same time engaging new adherents to the ultra community which has shown signs of growing in popularity.
The unfortunate loss of True’s life may cast a dark shadow over the possibility of the race being continued and being organized at the level he had managed. Without a conduit between the natives and the outside world as respected on both sides equally, we can only hope that there will be a way to honor True’s legacy and come to the aid of the Tarahumara who are precariously stuck between the threats of modernity and a hostile environment.
Also as an addendum to this tragedy, we must look how one man and his love of the sport can add to its success and exposure. Since the release of the “Born to Run” and the new minimalist running craze, there has been peaked interest in ultra running. Most assuredly it will remain a niche sport with a group of dedicated competitors but its publicity may continue to grow through the efforts of men and women such as True who extol the beauty and simplicity of ultras. This, however, is unlike the showy methods of athletes like Dean Karnazes, whose career has included 50 marathons in 50 days attempt and his being profiled on 60 Minutes, that give the sport notoriety but in the manner of some kind of oddity rather than a legitimate activity.
In an era when track and field is struggling to bring viewership while athletes like Nick Symmonds fight for the right to earn a living to be a top flight competitor and look to ward off the constant fear of doping in the sport, maybe the simplicity and beauty that Micah True brought to running is a method by which we may all find a kernel of wisdom. We should all remember that in his memory that running can be a force for helping others, self exploration and bringing together the best in humanity.