21 September 2011

White Horse

It's a rare thing, I suppose, to have a book written about you without having any input into it. But essentially Born To Run is about Micah True, aka Caballo Blanco, although there's a lot more to it than just him. He is, in a small way, a legend: indeed, to many of the locals in that part of Chihuahua that he has made his home he was thought of as a ghost, if I remember the book correctly.

On Monday he certainly wasn't a ghost: he was in London, speaking to a hundred or enthusiasts, most of whom - surprise, surprise - had read the book. It was his opportunity to tell his story himself - though he admitted he's writing a book too - not that he seemed to have much argument with Chris McDougall's work, which he described as a "really nice book".

The audience was distinctive, recognisable by their running backpacks, drinks bottles (those whose backpacks didn't pipe their refreshments to their mouths), serious oversize GPS watches, heavy-duty trainers (one pair of Five-Fingers and one of Huaraches: mine were in my backpack, and I didn't think they'd look good with pinstripes), Gore-Tex outer layers, and ultra-runner stubble. The national tendancy to obesity had clearly passed this group by, and my marmalade flapjack habit (but it is classic runner's food) probably meant that I had more excess weight than the rest of the audience put together. My concessions to the dress code were my Livestrong band (after a couple of breakages this one has been on for five years) and a Jerry Garcia tie, although geography aside the overlap between Deadhead and ultra culture is probably vanishingly small.
Three of those present were wearing suits, but I never found out what excuses the other two had. The sound check found one of them: "In the suit, at the back - can you hear?" "Yeah - what language is that?" Nice.

Kes, who had put the whole thing together, asked for our indugence to enable a few missing souls to find their way to the venue: "If you can find your way around the Barbican, the Copper Canyon will be a breeze." Micah introduced himself as "the lone wanderer of the London wilderness", not for the time being of the Sierra Madre. He turned out to be an engaging and fluent but not polished speaker - much as you'd expect. I learnt years ago not to drink water close to a microphone (thanks, Ray Snow, in that recording studio on Abbey Road - no, a different one) and I can tell you that from a plastic bottle with one of those spout things on the top it is even worse: maybe it's part of Micah's charm - and I can understand that he is keen to stay hydrated. Just not like that while using a public address system.

He started by telling us about the tarahumara, so called because the Spanish invaders heard that instead of "raramuri" (which means running people): being a non-confrontational people, they said (according to Micah) "whatever - just don't call us late for dinner." We saw a short film about them, and he told us that in the 2006 Coppoer Canyon Ultramarathon - the one featured in the book, but actually the fifth, not the first as widely thought - the first four places were taken by raramuri and him. Later he explained how he had come to the area and become a race promoter - not, I think, that he'd give himself such a title.

The race is sponsored, he said, not by a big corporation but by "korima" - the raramuri concept of sharing. Great idea, but it doesn't pay the bills, does it? In Urique the bills are small to start with, so sharing gets you a long way - and the communal (perhaps even communist) ethos certainly has its appeal. Caballo also gave us another raramuri expression, Norawas de Raramuri, "friends of the running people" - he told us, gratifyingly, that by turning up and paying our tenners for the evening, we'd all become friends of the running people. Surely all runners are friends already: I certainly like to think of other runners as friends, although that puts me in mind of the difficulty I've remarked on before of making eye-contact with other runners in central London.

As I have been slow to post, the Lazy Girl Running blog beat me to it and with much more style - there's not much point in repeating what she has to say. But I will note a few points that Caballo set me thinking about ...

  • He spoke of "the romantic notion of practising self-propulsion." Fantastic. The lady on the coach yesterday evening with the Brompton liked it too.
  • He mentioned the point at which "I started taking myself too seriously." I did that too. About 40 years ago, and I haven't stopped yet.
  • The raramuri greeting "Kuira ba" which literally means "we are one". More hippy nonsense. I love it.
  • He described the Raramuri language as "a mixture of Chinese, Martian and a flock of birds." Memorable. I'll probably recycle that one day (with a footnote to attribute it).
  • He described us as "human two-legged confused ones" who appreciate what no longer exists. I suppose you can say that sort of thing if you're a horse. Food for thought. Does that include listening to the Grateful Dead?

Asked by an audience member whether anyone could run an ultra, he said yes, anyone who wants to do it badly enough (I paraphrase because I didn't note it down). I've said that about marathons before now, and I believe it's nearly true - there are some people who just couldn't even with a superhuman effort of will-power, though they might be able to practise some other method of self-propulsion. An ultra is just somewhat longer, so it needs more willpower, perhaps. One day I'll find out. Thanks, Caballo, for the inspiration.

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