March 11, 2016

A Homecoming

Standing at the UMCB 2016 starting line, I felt like I had been catapulted into this moment through a whirl of events which started 4 years ago, when I showed up in Bauichivo, dusty, tired and absolutely amazed only to stumble onto Caballo Blanco and have my life changed forever.

With a single color bracelet at my wrist, I contemplate the extent of the day ahead of me, but quickly wipe that thought and concentrate on what matters; the sun will shine in the Barrancas today, I'm here and so are my friends.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and we are off in a crazy cavalcade, as always, through the early cheers of excited Uriquenses standing on their porches in the early light of a new Canyon's day. I take a couple of weary steps, and everything suddenly falls into flow. I'm a the right place, and this is the right time. It's all going to work out exactly as it's supposed to.

I don't know exactly where this chain of events started. Is it when my brother Dan gave me that book, or when I could't just finish it, put it down and go on with my life, and went online looking for the Raramuri? Is it when I got down from the train and ended up drinking a beer with Micah True 15 minutes later, or when he left me and all my new Mas Loco family to go run with the Elders forever?

All I know is I found myself surrounded with a handful of close friends in a human ocean of Raramuri runners, and that all was right in the world again.

La Plaza, the day before the race
I'll never really know what the Canyons folks really think of us weird gringos and our crazy ideas. What I do know is that they had a twinkle in their eyes this year, and a palpable excitement to see us that felt genuine and almost overwhelming. Sweeney, Tyler, Mike, Muldonado, Kimberly, Tony, everyone was called by name and cheered on like the long-awaited return of a family member. Even Raramuri families on the side of the road seemed to forego their legendary shyness and shouted "Weriga!" for me, something I had never witnessed before.

The miles started piling and my excitement didn't fade. It seemed like everyone shared a little extra friendship, a little extra joy of seeing that no matter what happened before, we were all still here, we were all still running together and we were all, as it always will be, one.

I don't know if it was because so few of us had showed up, but the Raramuris and the local runners showed heartwarming hospitality and shared the trails with large smiles and nods of approval at every corner. I ran some sections with women, who usually step out of the trail at the first sign of a chabochi, looking down or away in silence. With a smaller group of younger Raramuri girls, we even joked about the fact that a faster girl and me, who ended up progressively passing them, were a weird pair with my huaraches and her running shoes. It looked like we were all just a big family out on a long run together, and it was a fantastic feeling.

Coming out of my first stop in Urique, I stumbled upon two very young boys from town, who told me they had been training and preparing for months to be able to run the race. I grinned from ear to ear and congratulated them on their achievements. We shared a good section of the way to Guapalayna, until they decided to take a break away from the rising heat.

The aid stations were filled with happy, giggling teens very eager to help and offer us fruits, pinole and abundant water. There were teams of Red Cross volunteers everywhere, ready to step in and help out struggling runners even on the way out to Los Alisos, far away from the closest road. One of the unit chiefs, a young girl all decked in her Red Cross uniform and vigorously hiking the trails under the burning sun, cheered me on and made sure I was all right before giving me a little slap on the butt and shouting "andale!" which gave everyone, myself included, a good laugh.

As always, showing up half-dead in Los Alisos and being revived by Prospero and his team was a high point of my day. Seeing our friends so busy and dedicated to the race was both humbling and heart-warming, and the hugs and cheers at the end of the trail gave me energy to keep going and reminded me of the importance of what we were doing; we were showing our friends that we love them, the Barrancas and this event, in whatever shape of form it takes.

No matter how hard the day went, people everywhere went out of their way to help out, from that police dude in Guapalayna who literally showered me with a bucket of water to the young girls in La Laja who sat me down and gave me an awesome leg rub with a local analgesic pomada, all the way to that lovely young woman on my last way out of Guadalupe, who popped open a Tecate for me, offered a couple sips and assured me her boyfriend wouldn't kill me if I gave her a kiss. So I gave her two :)

My Oso's and my colors :)
Absolutely everything went as well as I had hoped, and even better. My Raramuri friend Javier placed 7th overall in the race, smashing his previous record and finishing ahead of some legendary runners despite a pretty bad cramping bout on his last stretch. Tarzan Tyler had an amazing run and finished first gringo under a thunder of cheers. All the Mas Locos in our caravan finished their runs and crossed the line with a lot of emotion, as some were experiencing this for the first time. No matter where you were in Urique, UMCB 2016 brought joy, excitement and a whole lot of positivity.

I managed to have an about-12-hour overall run, which I am very satisfied with. After a rather demanding stretch from Los Alisos almost all the way up to Guadalupe, I pumped myself full of the gels my friends had scrambled for me in Urique and pulled a pretty impressive last 5K, catching up with my friend Muldowney and finishing in daylight, exhausted but filled with joy.

The Urique government did an amazing job at organizing the event, from super-well-staffed aid stations to the 100% local cultural program. They pulled a world-class event pretty flawlessly, providing food and camps for the Raramuri runners as well as cash prizes and food vales like has now become tradition.

Like every year, I left Urique too soon, my head filled with memories and my heart filled with the pride of knowing that Ultra Caballo Blanco is in good hands with the people of the Barrancas, that it will go on for a long time in the future and that I, for sure, as always, will be back in the beautiful Copper Canyons as soon as I get the chance.

I kept my 5 colors on my wrist like a trophy up until today, not so much for the running achievement, but as a reminder of the love, friendship and peace we helped create.

I will be back in 2017 and I'm sure that I won't be alone. Until then, I have a year's worth of daydreaming and memories to cherish and a ton of new projects with my friends who live in the Barrancas, the home I will always love coming back to.

Moldonado, friends, and me, sharing
a celebratory cold drink at the finish line


  1. Flint, thanks so much for your heart warming account. After the terrible events of last year I was worried that the UMCB would either disappear, or worst, be taken over by a group out to make money off of its namesake. But here I am reading that indeed the beauty and magic of this wonderful event is alive and intact. God willing I'll see you there next year. Kuira Ba.