Running Free in Peace was the theme of this years CCUM. While some are at war in many parts of Northern Mexico and the world, we came together at the bottom of a deep canyon to share with the local people of the region, eat, laugh, dance, run, and create peace. The news reports are grim; many are scared away, the Mexican economy choking from the lack of tourism, the people sad to be generalized in such a sorry, scary way, feeling abandoned by the outside world. What to do? Run Free!
Sunday March 6, 2011 was just another beautiful day in the deep canyon country of la Sierra Madre. Earlier in the week they came, 26 international runners hiked with Caballo Blanco from the Rancho Del Oso lodge above the rim of the Urique canyon and 7+ miles under the train station, out of a lovely mountain valley covered with juniper and pine trees intermixed with interesting rock formations, over a pass at 6,700 feet, then gradually down through ranch country in the pines before hitting mountainside narrow singletrack wilderness, and down, down, down, skirting deep side canyons into the vast 6,200 feet deep and wide Urique canyon.
We took about 7+ hours to make the long day hike. All runners were pointed to a few inexpensive lodging options and met the other runners who had traveled by bus, train and vehicle, a total of 40 international runners, at Mama Tita's plaza restaurant to drink cerveza, eat tasty food, and meet the other runners. All received their Club Mas Loco--Copper Canyon UltraMarathon t-shirts and a commemorative poster.
As the week moved on with the runners, there was an equal number of Mexico nationals and local mestizo runners signed up to run as well as a daily influx of many Tarahumara [raramuri] runners and family that were provided a blanket and freshly killed and cooked cow, pozoli and frijoles to eat. Some befriended and ate with gringo participants. About 230 Raramuri would eventually arrive in Urique and some were given Nascar tire tread and sandal making material brought from El Paso by long time Copper Canyon Mountain bike guide Ray Molina, who would also run and complete the 51 miler. Barefoot Ted and a team of "LunaTics" came wearing BF Ted's designed Luna Sandals, named after Manuel Luna, a Raramuri whom had inspired Ted to begin to make huarache sandals. As always, it was a beautiful cultural exchange of trail running people, all happy and respectful.
Saturday evening was the presentation of runners numbers on white tank top Mas Loco shirts and an introduction of the teams as well as lots of Folklorico dance and a very good Mariachi band. "Viva Chihuahua" was a favorite tune played by the soulful cantador [singer] who intermittently mixed singing with playing a mean trumpet!
The roosters crowed early and all runners made their ways to coffee and whatever was the desired breakfasts. Caballo and Raramuri ate pinole, and others fed themselves accordingly to prepare for the 6:30 start, that was ten minutes late.
Andale! The race began with the lead runners blasting off the line in front of the urique town plaza like it was a 5 km. There was quite a mixed assortment of different faces, colors, and running attire, literally, as many tire tread sandals patted down the street leading out of the small town and onto dirt track to the Tarahumara village of Guadalupe Coronado, which is upriver 5 1/2 miles from the start.
At Guadalupe Coronado we were given a colored bracelet showing that we had arrived, then circled the church and headed back the way we came until crossing the river on a new bridge 1.5 miles from town, then heading up the other direction on a long sustained climb of 2+ miles on dirt road before veering onto our first awesome singletarck trail, climbing smoothly on freshly maintained trail with some rolls a little under a couple of miles to an old footbridge where the trail crossed the lovely parrot filled arroyo Mescalera and climbed steeply for a couple more miles to the lush mountain mesa settlement called Naranjo [orange tree]. We looped around the settlement, many thinking that the long 2,800 feet in 5.5 mile climb had ended, but, it had not, until flattening out at the top and another church where we took aid, got another colored bracelet, and ran the soft dirt road with stunning views of where we had come before beginning a long descent back into the town of Urique to finish our first 22 mile loop.
Towns-people were lined up in the streets to cheer, and in the case of the RD Caballo, to heckle. "Andale Caballo viejo--muchas muchachas adalante!"--get moving old horse, lots of girls are ahead. I just grinned and stamped my front foot, making the horse sound and acting like a stallion just cut loose. The people laughed.
In front of the plaza was the most stocked aid station along with drop bags, as we would loop through to this place a couple of times. We would then run down river 6 miles on dirt road running right through another town called Guapalyna before crossing the river on a footbridge to encounter the most beautiful trail portion of the run to Los Alisos.
Los Alisos is about 3.5 miles and 1,500 feet of altitude away, with the roller coaster climbing trail really adding quite a bit more accumulated climb. Lead runners, all Raramuri, had already been coming back when I arrived at the bridge, with the fastest having already crossed the bridge and blazing the road back to Urique. I was surprised to see a 20 year old Tarahumara from the Urique mountain settlement of Parochi way ahead at that point. His name is Miguel Lara, and I had heard that he is the up and coming, first great runner to emerge from the Urique area Tarahumara since we began the race in Urique in 2005. The young people are running again; and that is beautiful!
The trail to Los Alisos is very testing in the 90 degree heat, southern exposed to the sun and seemingly endless to those looking for an end, eventually arriving at the Grapefruit trees filled small settlement aid station. Los Alisos is an oasis at 50 km, and a very critical part of the run--make it or break it!
After partaking of the scenery, pinole, grapefruit juice, wonderful atoli [corn soup], runners are fueled to return the way we came. This time we run down the roller coaster soft trail at a potentially fast clip to see other runners making their ways up, greeting all with "buen hecho" [well done], soon to cross the bridge over the river again and back to Urique at mile 40. Only 10+ to go! There is also a 40 mile ultra option that ends at that time in Urique. Many would take that option, including the busy RD Horse.
Many had dropped out when reaching the road after re-crossing the bridge returning from Los Alisos, thrashed and humbled. Pickup trucks would fill with dropped runners to ride them back to town, tempting others to jump in. It is at that point of the run when the mind chatters and you think how when finally arriving in Urique there is still that 10+ out and back to Guadalupe again. What time will I arrive in Urique, and figuring the last out and back stretch to be much slower than the first time when beginning in the morning, fresh, and the air was cool.
Caballo hiked most of the last 6 miles back into town after beginning with a run and intermittently trotting. Lots of thoughts ran through my contented mind, evaluating the race, course, aid, conditions. I thought that the finishing rate was sure to be low with the heat that had only just arrived a few days before, and the difficulty of the course, that entertains us with 9,300 feet of climb and equal descent.
Upon my arrival in Urique, all of the top 10 runners had already finished and many more were on their way back from the church turn-around of the last loop at Guadalupe Coronado.
The winner was the young Miguel Lara with a new course record of 7:04! Second place was a high country Raramuri from way on the other side of the Sierra in a place called Tataguichi, in the county of Guachochi. And third was a 23 year old up and comer, Florencio Quimare, from Batopilas canyon. Like in the U.S.A; the young'ens are running strong! The winner won $3,000 dollars cash and a ton [literally!] of corn. Second place earned over $2,000 and third $1,500. The top 5 also all won a ton of corn. The second 5, places 6-10 all won about $250 dollars and 1/2 ton of corn. ALL finishers won 500 pounds of corn. The corn prizes were in vouchers at the value of the corn to purchase whatever food items are desired or needed.
The women's race saw a Chihuahuensa woman winning, Hiroko Suzuki from Japan took second and Crystal Basich from Ohio won third place. All top women showed mucha class and kindness by giving their winnings to the Raramuri women who had won fourth, fifth, and sixth places.
I was/am very happy to have endured the ups and downs, the stress and uncertainty of the last 9 months or so, MUCH more difficult than the run itself, which was just another beautiful long journey through amazing canyon country with people I count as friends.
What had weighed my spirit down this time was the uncertainty of support, the growth of the event and potential greed that goes along with something so successful.
Thanks to the new secretary of tourism, Cecy Villalobos, her enduring work the last few weeks before the event, the continued enthusiasm of the good people inhabiting the small deep canyon town of Urique, the Raramuri runners emerging from ALL over la Sierra Madre and deep canyon country of the Copper Canyon region of Mexico, and ALL international runners everywhere. Without all, this event would/could not happen. Kuira Ba: Raramuri greeting, meaning literally "We are all one"---
March 6, 2011. The town was a big party, the people dancing, everybody celebrating as one. For that day we were all one. Even the out of shape and non running spectators were one running people.
The town had filled up with people to witness this now famous event. For a few days there would be more people in Urique than the rest of the year combined.
At the awards ceremony, $11,000 in cash was awarded by the town of Urique and their sponsors, and the food value of 60 tons of maize was provided by yours Truly, the RD Horse Caballo Blanco, working with www.Norawas.org. Nick and Jamil Coury, from Arizona, were the only gringos in the overall top 10. They generously gave back to the people.
For a few days in early March, 2011, together, we all created peace in a small town at the bottom of no-where. No-where but beauty. What more is there? Run Free!
Micah True [Caballo Blanco] RD Horse