July 12, 2013

Game Changers

My friends at Tribesports have asked me an interesting question. They are in the midst of a feature they call “Game Changers”, which tries to highlight the exceptional people who have had such an influence on their sport that they actually brought some change into either how the sport was played or how it was perceived.

As an example, they mentioned Roger Bannister, who ran the first sub-4 minute mile, explaining the he had proven to Humanity that we could be faster than was reputed impossible, if we worked hard enough for it.

Then they asked me if I knew a Game Changer in running. It didn’t take me very long to answer. Not only do I know one, but I actually had the privilege of running with him and spending some time in the land he helped the rest of the world discover. I am, of course, talking about Caballo Blanco, Micah True.

Let me start right away by saying he would hate this article if he read it, scoff and call it all sorts of awful names. He would say that having an influence in the world of running is the last thing he wanted, that people should make their own minds and blaze their own paths. And that, in part, was the true genius of Micah; never would he tell anyone to do anything. He just did what he did, followed his heart and his vision and waited for no one to follow.

Caballo Blanco started ultra-running over 20 years ago, way before it was cool and probably before it was even recognized as a sport in itself. He would just hit the trails and run for hours, exploring the capabilities of his body and mind, reflecting on many things and setting his fiery heart back to a peaceful state. All the while, he was also looking for purpose, for a higher meaning to life. He was convinced somehow, there had to be a way for running to become not only a way of life, but the essence of a meaningful existence.

He kept running for years with this idea in mind, reflecting, searching, until the day providence made him cross paths with the Tarahumara. Within a couple hours of running with Martimiano Cervantes in the 1993 Leadville race which would change everything, Micah discovered a civilization that was in almost every way aligned on his yearning for a different world.

He never saw the Tarahumara as superhuman, half gods or anything of the sort. He recognized them as brothers and sisters, and felt a deep kinship with these proud, yet very humble people who kept mostly to themselves, favored peace over conflict and lived quietly in harmony with the earth. And in all the following years, when he travelled to the Copper Canyons and slowly made contact with the Tarahumara, it’s his humble respect that served as an ambassador and, ultimately, as the gateway to a most unusual connection.

When he was introduced to the world, clumsily, by an otherwise fascinating book, his reaction was not to live out his newly-acquired fame or to try and build a fortune around it. He simply, humbly recognized that he had been given a voice, and he decided to use it to carry a simple message. After years of exploring, by himself, with others and among the Tarahumara, he had distilled the essence of running down to a powerful principle, a philosophy so pure and simple that it stood in only two, small words.

Run Free.

Go out into the world. Use your body as the vehicle it was always intended to be. Reawaken your DNA’s memory and make one with nature. Explore. Do not relinquish your own judgement at the profit of the experts or the merchants of the time. Make your own mind. Fail. Then try again. Invest time and effort into your running, with an open heart and a true interest. And you will get more than you ever expected.

He spent the last years of a life too short spreading this message, not by trying to convince anyone, but by incarnating it. The bridge he had created with an amazing people, he shared with an open heart as well with a vast family of kindred spirits from all around the world, which he christened “the most crazy”, the Mas Locos.

He left this world richer than when he joined it, with a cultural and spiritual connection so strong that he is recognized in Tarahumara culture as a genuine member of the tribe, as a true brother. His humble vision and philosophy, shared and spread by the Mas Locos, lives strong today as the race he created continues in the same spirit and more people every year join the ranks of those who run free, the Running People.

When you encounter a runner today who doesn’t wear a fancy GPS, doesn’t follow a training plan and is keener on talking about the experience of their run rather than the time it took them to complete it, chances are this person has been influenced, in some way or another, by Caballo Blanco and his beautiful, important message.

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