A race report from the Copper Canyon Ultra 2012 by ultra runner John Maddock
When does an adventure begin? The book Born to Run by Christopher McDougal kept popping up in my life for almost two years before I finally read it. A triathlete friend of mine asked me a number of times if I had read it. Then while shopping for new running shoes in the hope of curing a tendon problem I had an encounter with a young man who glowed about “The Book”. There in front of the shoe rack, trying to make up my mind, a voice from behind me asked, “Have you tried these yet? They completely changed my running. “ The voice was connected to a young hippie looking guy with long dread locks. He was very earnest as he explained how the minimalist shoes had corrected his stride, and how his joints no longer hurt. Then he asked me if I had read Born to Run, the book about the Tarahumara, and how they run in tire tread sandals. That night in mid-November of 2011 I picked up a copy and read it in a hand full of days.
Chris McDougal’s book tells the story of why we run, its history, its anatomy, and how running shoe companies have wreaked havoc on us all in the name of big profits. But it is also centered on the character Caballo Blanco, who in the mid-90’s wandered into the Copper Canyon to live near, and if possible, learn from the Tarahumara Indians; this is the name that the Spanish gave to them, they call themselves Raramuri, who are considered the greatest long distance runners in the world. He is also the creator of the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, the race that caps off the book.
The night I finished Born to Run, and switched off my bed side lamp I had no idea of the door I was about to open. The next morning I woke thinking about the incredible story that I had just finished when it hit me; does this race still exist? Later that day a Google search took me to the “Race” web site that included pictures of Caballo Blanco, stories from past participants, and there staring at me was the date for the 2012 event, March 4th. I looked at it for a very long time; the worm in my brain took notice and started to squirm. I passed the cursor over the register button, it highlighted. The worm whispered yeah go ahead, register. I quickly closed out of the site.
At this point in my life I had been training for short distance triathlons for two years. I swam, biked, and ran five to six days a week, but I was not a long distance runner. Still I had discovered that I really enjoyed trail running, but this was fifty miles with over nine thousand feet of climbing. I’m not fit for this I told myself, but the worm kept squirming. The next day I looked at the web site again, and again I highlighted the register button. I thought about how I had wanted to see the Copper Canyon, and about my love for Mexico. Then without any more hesitation I clicked the register button. The worm rolled over laughing.
On February 25th 2012 I flew to El Paso to meet up with Doug Rhodes, our driver/tour guide, and a group of runners affectionately known as Mas Locos, for the drive to the Copper Canyon. Our group consisted of people from all parts of the country, Idaho, New Mexico, Kansas, Washington State, Michigan, and California. We also picked-up four internationals from Ireland, Australia, Germany, and trail running hero Hiroke Ishikawa from Japan. Hiroki took second place behind Will Harlan in the 2009 race that is legend. For the next two days we drove from the burnt desert south of Ciudad Juarez to the pine cover up-land that surrounds the Canyon, and the small town of Cerocahui. We spent the night in the working class city of Cuahtemoc and had an exciting stop on the second day at Divisadero to ride the zip lines. Our guide for all of this is an American Doug Rhodes. Doug has been living in Mexico for over twenty years, and is the owner of the beautiful lodge Parasio Del Oso. He has carved for himself an incredible niche, and from what I can tell has helped many people young, and old in his area.
After two long days of driving we finally pull up to Parisio Del Oso, and there standing on the porch, wearing a big grin is Caballo Blanco.
As we unload the vans I introduce myself to Caballo and his girlfriend Maria Mariposa. Caballo is over six feet tall. He has a shaved head, long arms, and a medium build. He has flashing blue eyes, and this trade mark broad smile that he wears regularly- his smile seems to always say, hi, nice to meet you, that sounds great, yeah let’s go. But from the moment I meet him the trip takes on a new shape, or, a something other, that I was never able to put my finger on. It’s as though reality is being mixed up. I’m here in rural Mexico, and a character from the book that propelled me to travel here is standing in front of me. Non-fiction characters are real, you can rationalize, but until you meet them, they are just words. Good words perhaps, arranged in a well-written description of the character, but still just words. But this was only half of the problem, or a partial description of the dilemma. When the van pulled up and we all piled out I started to have an unusual feeling of being written into a story, a story that was being constructed page by page as I watched. But that’s not entirely correct either. It’s was more like the story had already written and we were just a couple of lines behind, like we were just there to live it out, to give form to destiny, but the thing about it is that we all seemed to know. This something otherness, or other reality, would hover around me the entire time I was there. It would pursue me all the way home and it would stay with me for nearly a week. Then weeks after I was home, and with events that came to pass, I wondered about the strange feeling I had experienced, and I would be further dumbfounded.
The next day, Tuesday, Caballo led a group of runners up a pretty creek canyon. I, along with a few others, opt for a shorter six mile run. Then on Wednesday Caballo leads an even larger group, about forty of us, on the eighteen mile hike to Urique. It is this morning that I become acquainted with Hiroki Ishikawa.
In 2009 Hiroki was leading the race, but he didn’t want to win. He told me that it wasn’t his race, that he wanted one of the Raramuri to win. So he slowed down, and went for a swim in the river to cool off. Once Arnulfo Quimare had caught up, Hiroki ran along with him and tried to urge him on. Will Harlan had passed them both, and Hiroki was hoping to pace Arnulfo back to the front. But the day was hot, and Arnulfo had nothing more in him. So even though neither one of them spoke a single word that the other could understand, Arnulfo convinced Hiroki that he should go, that it was okay. Hiroki crossed the line in second with his arms stretched out from his sides like wings. He dipped and turned, swooping from one side of the street to the other like a graceful winged dragon, an act that earned him the nickname “El Dragon.”
But I didn’t know any of this when Hiroki politely asked me if I knew what the model name, ’Rufous’, on my Gregory hydro pack meant. I said no and he told me, in carefully spoken English, that it is a type of humming bird. He says he knows this because he named this pack, and that he helped design it. We get a great laugh out of this, but even more of a laugh when he starts questioning me about all the things I had cut off of his design. Then I tell him that I would be happy to help modify the pack he is wearing, but he politely declines, and we laugh even more.
For almost eight hours Caballo leads our group from one rocky drainage to another. First we climbed for five miles to a saddle with a cross erected in a heaping pile of rocks. Then we start the endless decent to the canyon floor, and the small town of Urique. For hours we descend steep trails not cut in by a well-equipped Forest Service crew, but walked in by centuries of people, and their beasts. Now and again the feeling of other reality comes over me, and I find myself looking back over my shoulder half expecting to see a Jesuit monk or Spanish conqueror on horseback walking behind me. This place is very old I think to myself.
At a point about seven miles from Urique Caballo holds us up. From this point on he tells us no more cameras, put them in your packs, and don’t take them out until we get to Urique. A short distance later his concern becomes obvious as we pass irrigation lines that snake along the hills, cross the trail above our heads, and lead to patches of marijuana. More ominous though are the fields of poppies. One, a very large field, borders the trail that will be part of the race course. This is the new reality that has invaded the Copper Canyon – the Cartels and their drug business.
Six hours of hard walking down steep rutted trails leads us to the top of the first loop of the race course, a broad open plateau called Mesa Naranjo. From here we descend past the large poppy field, and into the last steep drainage, a piece of trail that we will be running up on race day – it’s here that I start thinking “Oh Johnny what have you signed up for?” Another hour of walking and running and the group arrives in Urique.
Urique is a small dusty town that lies at the bottom of the canyon near the Urique River. The main street runs north and south, and is lined with small cramped stores that sell everything from chips to beds, and stoves. There are also a few restaurants and hotels. Between the dusty stores and the rustic street is a stone and cobble sidewalk. Growing in the sidewalk is a line of enormous cieba trees. To the east of the main street is another road, then the river. Running from the main street to the west, steeply up-hill, are three or four streets that are lined with small homes, more shops, and two schools. At the top of one of these streets is the main grocery store that sells everything from produce to toilet plungers. It is dimly lit and has a wood floor that creaks as you walk amongst the half-empty shelves. At the top of these streets I find an unusual street that is three or four times the width of any other street in town. No cars seem to drive on it, and it is paved with concrete. Later I’m told that it’s a landing stripe, built by the Cartels.
But for me and the other runners, who have traveled from all over the world, Urique is the center of the universe, and at its heart is Mamma Tita’s restaurant. Mamma Tita is another character from the book Born to Run, and it is a great pleasure to meet her. She is very small, about five feet two, but it is obvious from the moment that I meet her that she has a big heart, and reserved within it is a special place for the runners who now occupy every inch of her restaurant, and who consider it race headquarters. From a table there, Caballo checks runners in as they arrive in Urique, and the night after the race it is the place for glassy-eyed, exhausted runners to be fed and to lick their wounds. Mamma Tita and her staff spend day and night cooking and serving hungry runners’ plates of hot delicious food. By the end of the trip, I come to revere her as a saint.
I know that another eighteen mile day is a completely bad idea, but when you consider that I’m being carried along in an altered state of reality, and everyone else is going, well, I have to go. The morning after we walk into the canyon Caballo gathers us up in front of race headquarters for another eighteen mile walk to preview the second loop of the course. First we walk down river for almost six miles before crossing on a suspension bridge, and then start the three mile climb to Los Alisos, the turnaround point. The trail to Los Alisos is well groomed but incredibly steep, and although it’s early in the day it’s already hot, too hot. During the race this is the piece of trail that will chew people up, and where a few of the really lucky ones will have a conversation with God. But today is mellow, and our group reaches the grapefruit orchard at the top of the trail in good spirits. We relax in the shade of giant old trees before heading down.
On Thursday afternoon, and that evening the Raramuri start to arrive in great numbers. Some have walked to Urique, others have ridden the public bus, but most arrive in the back of trucks. Flatbed trucks with wooden gates carrying twenty people, all standing up, arrive in the middle of town. When the gates are removed they climb down quietly, no fuss, no hooray we are here, just a quiet no-hurry exit. The men are dressed in white loin cloth skirts, tire tread leather sandals and beautifully colored blouses. Their blouses are turquoise electric blue, reddish pink or bright yellow gold, this in contrast against their deep brown skin. The women, some carrying babies, are dressed in brightly colored dresses that drape to their ankles, multi-colored patterned blouses with long sleeves to their wrists, and many are wearing brightly colored handkerchiefs on their heads. Their arrival and presence in town adds to the growing festival-like feeling, and I find that I’m smiling at nothing in particular. Also the sense that I have fallen into a story prevails even more strongly around me. ”This is the most alien thing I have ever seen” I think to myself.
For the next two days I rest, drink lots of water, and eat. I have walked, and run about forty-two miles in mountainous terrain over the last three days. Not exactly following the formula of tapering, but nothing can be done about it now.
By Saturday afternoon Urique has been transformed from a dusty little town at the bottom of a very deep canyon, to a dusty little town hosting a crowded street party. I sit on an old wooden bench in the shade of a cieba tree and watch as people from around the world pass by. Government officials and dignitaries arrive; some land their planes on the Cartel landing strip. More international runners arrive. South Korea, Scotland, South Africa, and the Czech Republic are represented. Runners from fourteen different countries are here; Caballo is very happy with the turn out. And there, mixed into this international gathering, are the Raramuri- brightly colored clothing against dark skin, quiet, expressionless, taking it all in.
Mexico knows how to do a celebration. A large stage had been erected in the square adjacent to the municipal building, and starting Saturday afternoon, official after official takes the microphone to give a speech. Then there’s a Mexican guitar band, and more speeches, followed by the drum and flag corps, and more speeches. This goes on for hours. The runners have been given signs with their country, or location, printed in nice large letters to hold on to, but what none of us realize is that at the end of all the speeches we are to be paraded up on stage to represent our country. Unfortunately by the time this is to take place we have all left to go eat, and to get ready for tomorrow, race day.
The night before the race Hiroki and I agree that 4:20 a.m. is a good alarm time. I prepare my running pack so that I will have plenty of time to stretch before Mama Tita’s opens at 5:00 a.m. At 9:30 p.m., we switch off the lights and I’m fast asleep. I’m not anxious or nervous about the next day; I’m as ready as any complete novice can be. And really, I think, what kind of experience do you need when tomorrow you’re to be flung into the volcano? The ability to scream? Check. Faith in God and knowledge of a few prayers? Check. Uncommon beauty and an intact virginity? I am so screwed. This serenity is broken at 10:00 p.m. when a mariachi band starts blasting away in the hotel parking lot below our room. Because of the high walls around the parking area the music is amplified, and it’s as though the band is playing at the foot of our beds. When I go out on the walk way I find other runners staring in disbelief at the party below. Hiroki will have none of it and stomps off down stairs. Through a sleeping pantomime he gets the hotel owner to understand that the runners need to sleep, and much to our relief, it is the bands last song.
When the alarm sounds everything goes like clockwork, and as I reach Mama Tita’s at 4:59 in the predawn light she is just opening her door. The thing that surprises me though is how many people are already up, not runners but shop owners and people preparing for the race. Trucks with mountains of bottled water are heading out of either end of town, and shop keepers are busy sweeping up last night’s party.
For breakfast I eat a stack of pancakes, scrambled eggs, beans, and of course hot corn tortillas. I wash all of this down with two cups of Nescafe with powdered milk - yum. Back at the hotel room I stretch and exercise a bit more, and at 6:20 I go to the start area to wait.
There in the cool morning light with hundreds of people around, the feeling of being outside of myself sweeps over me. Am I really getting ready to do this, after months of imagining it? Like many things in Mexico the start of the race is delayed. 6:30 comes and goes. We all become more anxious to go, and start tugging and gnawing at our reins. Like many others I busy myself by taking pictures, or shooting videos. At 6:40 there’s an announcement that the race will start in five minutes. I notice how fresh and cool the air feels on my body, unaware of the awful heat and suffering we will all experience in a short time. Finally there’s a count-down and at 6:45 we are turned lose. The front runners are all Tarahumara, and they go tearing out of town likes it’s a drag race. I hold my camera above my head and shoot video while laughing and howling at the hilarious scene I find myself in. Months of careful eating, running, and weight lifting, and here I am laughing like a lunatic, and howling like a mad dog. God it feels good.
The first loop heads out of town, traveling up river for about two miles before it crosses the river at a new concrete bridge, and starts the climb to Guadalupe Coronado. At this point the road turns from a good gravel road to a rocky, rutted jeep trail that demands all your attention lest you want to face plant. The race strings out in a double and single file line up the broken road. I watch in amazement as the front of the pack, a half mile or more ahead of me, runs up the grade, and disappears around the first corner. For me, starting at this grade, I’ll be walking all the hills. I don’t know much about ultra-running, but I do know that fifty miles is a very long way, and that energy conservation is the rule of the day.
About a mile and a half from the turn-around, the front runners pass me going the other way. All of them are Tarahumara, some of them are wearing jeans, but all of them are just hauling ass. As I reach the turnaround at mile five, a fierce canyon wind wipes the dirt road into a choking dust cloud and I stumble half blind for the last quarter mile to the aid station. It’s like a scene from a Clint Eastwood western but this movie is cast with half-crazed ultra-runners, blind and laughing at the absurdity of the scene. It’s at this point that the pancakes have had enough jostling. I ask a number of people about a bathroom, but I may as well have been asking for a space ship that can move through time by an as-of-yet undiscovered force; Caballo had warned us about this, and told us to carry some T.P. I was glad for the heads up. I feel so much better after my pit stop, and pick up the pace. After a short time I start to reel in runners who are even slower than me. Eventually I make it back to the bridge, cross, turn right, and start the section I have been dreading, the climb to Mesa Naranjo.
The next two miles is a gravel road that climbs almost continuously. It’s in this section that the front runners pass me again going downhill. Daniel Oralek from the Czech Republic and a group of Tarahumara race past me. I clap and cheer them on, not having lost any of my enthusiasm. Following close behind them is more Tarahumaras, then Will Harlan and Hiroki. Intermixed with these runners are the guys in jeans. I’m not kidding.
The big, wide, well-groomed road is followed by miles of rocky trail that climbs as steep as any trail I’ve hiked on. I’ve been dreading this climb since I hiked down it on my way to Urique a few days earlier. But it’s during this section that I see some extraordinary strength.
This part of Mexico has been in a drought for a number of years, and the crops that the Tarahumara live on have been failing. Caballo’s race not only pays out cash prize money, but also gives food vouchers to any runner who can complete even the first loop, twenty-two miles, with maybe four thousand feet of climbing. The gringos are here to run with the Tarahumara, in this fabled race, and many of the Tarahumara are here to race for the win. But for many, the incentive is to feed their families. It’s during this hellish section that I witness the meaning, or spirit, of this race.
I catch-up first with a mother and her daughter, both are wearing the traditional brightly colored dress and long sleeved blouse, and both are very tired, but the daughter is exhausted. The mother is quietly urging her daughter on. The girl runs, then walks, and then runs a little more, then stops. As I pass them I urge them on, but what I really want to do is cry. Their struggle and quiet determination is like nothing I have ever seen. The sun is climbing, and the heat is starting when I come across two young girls, also in traditional dress. One of the girls would run or walk from one shady spot to the next, then coax her friend to follow. Finally I come across a family from Mexico City. Mom and Dad are looking rather beat up on, but their son, who is thirteen, is doing pretty well. Funny though, but very late in the day I would see not the father and his son, but mom, still struggling along, looking like death twice warmed over. The race might be miles ahead of me I think to myself, but the heart of the drama is here at the back of the pack.
Finally I reach the aid station at Mesa Naranjo, pick-up my wrist band, grab some fruit and start the long descent back towards Urique. Unfortunately this section is steep, rocky and rutted. An attempt to run fast leads to a tense moment as I leap over a giant rut and land in a pile of loose rock. “Slow down John” I tell myself, “Remember, if you break an ankle out here you’ll have miles before you reach help.” I reel in a few more runners who are also having trouble with the grade, and after almost an hour I reach the big gravel road. I pass the bridge, and jog the two miles back into Urique. It has taken me four hours and forty-five minutes, which is about thirteen minutes a mile, not exactly a blistering pace, but pretty much on target. At this point I feel pretty good, but little do I know.
After refueling at my drop bag, I head out of town with Roy from Michigan. From Urique the course heads down river for six miles of rolling dirt road before it crosses the river and heads up the brutal climb to Los Alisos. Having Roy’s company during this section is a great help. We talk, run, walk, and interact with the local spectators. Roy’s enthusiasm for this event and life in general, is contagious and is carrying me along, but at mile twenty-five/six I start to feel the heat and the effort. After another mile we reach the aid station at the suspension bridge. I’m hungry, and I feel awful. It feels to about ninety degrees, and all systems are flashing red. I get a bottle of water, a cup of pinole (ground corn mixed with water) one whole banana, two orange slices, and a ham sandwich. I sit in the shade and contemplate the meaning of this madness. At this point a young Tarahumara lad limps across the bridge on his way back from Los Alisos. He has a hard time bending his legs to negotiate the four tall steps at the end of the bridge, and then he finds a spot in the shade just to my left. His eyes are glazed, and he stares off into that middle ground. He looks absolutely beat so I get him a bottle of water and a cup of pinole, but when he takes them from me his eyes say “I don’t think I can eat or drink.”
Roy is ready to go, but I’m not, so I send him on. I know what’s coming and I really don’t need any witnesses. I cross the bridge and run the short distance to the start of the climb. For the next hour and fifteen minutes I gasp, stumble and curse my way up through the burnt landscape. I plead for relief, but God, who has a devious sense of humor, only turns up the heat. At the two aid stations I grab a bottle of water and pour half on my head. It hisses into steam. Warning lights that I have never seen before start to flash. Runners passing me on their way down urge me on with kind words of encouragement. You’re looking good, they tell me, and your only ten minutes from the top. “Yeah, bullshit” I think to myself. “Your skin and eyes are bright red, your brains are cooked, and I look like death.” But then I stagger into the little slice of heaven called Los Alisos. I sit on a rock in the shade of a giant tree for a very long time. Bare foot Ted lays curled in the fetal position a short distance away, a victim of the heat. I pour water into myself, take more electrolytes and eat some more fruit, but still all I want to do is lay down. I began to realize that I am not going to make the 4:30 p.m. cut-off time back in Urique to complete the full fifty miles. Emotions swirl around my cooked brain. I’ve trained hard to be here, so to not finish the full fifty miles is a huge disappointment. Worse yet is to not to be able to contribute my full five hundred pounds of corn to the Tarahumara. This is a blow, and I feel that I’ve really let them down. But I also realize how badly I’ve had to flog myself to get to this point, and then I remember that I still have nine miles between me and Urique; two years ago nine miles was a long run. Then, in the back of my poached brain, one last brain cell raises its hand and quietly says “Caution steep grade ahead.”
A short time later the two guys from Scotland struggle in. To make room for them at the table I wander a short distance away to stand in the shade. Then it’s time to go.
The next three miles are a blur. The heat is terrible, and half way down there is a nasty up-hill that faces south and is in the full on blazing sun. This section of trail throws my recovering brain back into the red zone and the warning lights flash on and off, on and off. My scrambled brain decides that it would be good to run, well, because it’s downhill, easy, right? I jog some gentle grade and feel pretty good, I’m making up time, I think to myself. Then the trail steepens and I pick up speed. When I hit the first hard left turn I have just enough strength to slow down to make the corner. Now my legs are complete jelly and I’m in neutral, coasting downhill out of control. I have just enough brain power to stare at the trail a few feet in front of me and that’s when that one last brain cell screams “LOOK UP!” I look up to see a yawning abyss for a catcher’s mitt waiting for me, but down in the bottom right hand corner of the blurry picture is a hard, rocky, right turn. “Oh Crap!” I say out loud. I slam on the brakes, but the pedal goes to the floor. My legs are shot. I pump the pedal furiously and my body reacts by throwing
itself into a crouch, facing right with its left leg stretched out and weighted hard like a downhill ski racer. Rocks and dust are thrown up as I skid into the corner, and as I do, I force my left hand around to keep myself facing right. While all of this is going on, multiple images of my demise play out in the sauce that was once my brain. In one scene, I whip off the edge, tumble hundreds of feet down the steep mountain side and come to rest broken in a thousand pieces at the bottom of a dry, desolate ravine. In the other scenario I whip off the edge, take one great rolling bounce, then get tangled up in a cactus that saves my life. I make the turn, and with the help of adrenalin, manage to slow down before the next corner, but the experience frightens the hell out of me, and I decide to walk.
Sometime later I make it to the river and cross the bridge. The aid station is packing up but they gladly get me water and a banana. The two Scots and a young man from Mexico City cross the bridge and join me at the aid station. We talk about our day and what we have seen. To my surprise the Scots are still pushing for the full fifty miles, but it’s already past 4:30 I tell them. No matter they say, and off they go at a slow trudge. This is such a great sport I think to myself.
It’s a very long time before I reach Urique, but I don’t care. Twice I’m offered a ride back to town, but turn them down. The air has cooled off enough for my brain to reboot and I’m able to appreciate what has taken place, and also the beauty around me. Long rays of afternoon sun light blaze through gaps in the canyon rim. The opposite walls light up in mossy green, burnt orange and copper; colors hidden during the heat of the day. Underlining all of this runs the Urique River, coursing quietly in the bottom of this broad canyon.
For a couple of miles I have the company of five local children: two girls, and three boys. There are hundreds of half-empty water bottles that litter the road back to Urique, and I get caught up in a running war between the kids. The boys pick up a bottle or two and when the girls get close enough they fling the water at them. A couple of times I get caught in the cross fire, but when they see that the bright red gringo is laughing, they laugh even louder. Then the girls screech and race off down the road. I’m completely astonished as to how fast, and agile these girls are. They hold hands and race down the rocky road, leaping over ruts, with grace, and ease. Okay. I get it now. If you grow up in a place like this, you get to run like that.
The kids are a great deal of fun, and when they reach their destination and part company I’m a bit sad and fall back into my solitary trudge.
When I reach Urique the party is in full swing. Jeremy is the first to see me. He wraps me in a hug, and congratulates me as though I have just topped out on Everest. Many others are there to welcome me back. Roy, Dennis and Tyler are there with a hug and hardy congratulations. Then out of the night comes Lynette, cheers go up for her fifty mile effort, and a short time later there are more cheers when Hans crosses the line. We take pictures of one another, and tell our stories. The sense of admiration and comradery is wonderfully thick. For the moment I forget my exhaustion and find myself buoyant with glee, and on the verge of tears - to miss people whom you only just met.
I make it to the sanctuary of Mama Tita’s restaurant but I’m too worn out to speak Spanish so Chris orders me soup, dinner and a coke. Sitting at a long table surrounded by people I become lost in my own thoughts. Voices fill the room and music from the party filters in with the cool night air. As the food starts to rejuvenate me I begin to remember things I had seen, funny things. Like the armed guard at Los Alisos who climbed down from his perch with his AK-47 to bring me a chair so I could sit in the shade and rest. Or the Tarahumara woman in the long dress and blouse wearing rubber slip on beach sandals who raced past me on her way down from Guadalupe Coranado; she was flying. And what about those guys in the jeans? They were still in the top twenty runners heading back into Urique from Los Alisos; at about mile thirty-six, could that be possible? Later that night back at the hotel room I ask Hiroki about it and he shows me a video he shot at 15K. He is behind the guys in the jeans, and they are just flat out running, we both laugh in complete amazement. Then he tells me that it took him another fifteen minutes to pass them, we laugh even more. Finally I sleep.
The next day our group, the Mas Locos, pile back into the vans for the drive out of the canyon and the journey home. When we reach the rim Doug stops at an overlook. The view of the canyon is immense and the scope of the distances we traveled the day before really set in.
Miguel Lara of Porochi, Urique was the winner. He ran fifty miles with over nine thousand feet of climbing in six hours and forty minutes. Daniel Oralek of the Czech Republic was second at six and forty-six. German Silva of Mexico came in third at six and fifty-one. All three broke the course record, a completely astonishing feat considering the temperature was over ninety degrees. The heat would take its toll on everyone. The last ten mile loop was littered with exhausted, half conscious runners going for the maximum in food vouchers; two hundred and fifty kilos of corn will be a big help to the family. Will Harlan collapses a short distance from the finish line and has to be given an I.V. Hiroki finish seventh and he is happy with his effort. He tells me that the pace was very fast and that the heat was terrible. But he is more happy that a Tarahumara has won, and that they also took fourth, fifth, and sixth place. This is their race, he says.
The universe is an unpredictable place.
On March 27th Caballo Blanco went for a run in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. Five days later a close friend, who is part of a massive search and rescue effort, would find him lying peacefully in a remote creek canyon with his feet in the stream; he was dead. I had planned on finishing this story several months earlier, but Caballo’s death tore through me, and I found that I couldn’t write about the event. Now that time has passed though, I have become grateful. I am so very glad that I went, and that I was able to be there, to be witness to, and to be part of Caballo’s last race. His dedication toward the Raramuri, and generous nature made a big impression on me – have compassion for others, and give without wanting anything in return. Imagine what the world could accomplish if this became the new paradigm. But I also wonder about, and marvel at, all of the events that had to line up just right. If that young man in the shoe store had not said anything, would I have clicked that register button?