LOUDONVILLE — This past weekend not only meant the running of the annual Mohican 100 Trail Run, it also brought Micah True to visit and inspire area runners and non-runners alike. True, an ultra marathoner and trail runner, came to speak about his work with the indigenous people of the Copper Canyon region of Mexico.
“I came up at the end of April from Mexico and I was invited to go to New York,” said True, who is a subject of the best-selling book, “Born To Run” by Christopher McDougall. “I was really surprised, because I didn’t expect New York to be so nice. We were up in the woods in West Chester County. So, I ran up there and I went to Madison Avenue and gave a talk. I spoke about the race and about Norawas.”
Norawas is a nonprofit organization working on behalf of the indigenous Running-People of Mexico’s Copper Canyon region. True has also spent time running and speaking in New Mexico.
“Brian Komminsky in (Loudonville) invited me to do the same Ohio, so I’m out here,” said True.
True spends a great deal of time living among the running people in the Copper Canyon region called the Raramuri.
“I interact with the indigenous people who live down there, the Tarahumara. They call themselves the Raramuri, which means the light-footed ones. I decided that I would encourage them to continue their age-old traditions of running, so I started a foot race down there and that’s what I do. I’ve been doing that for a few years, actually.”
In the beginning, True, who the natives have come to know as “Caballo Blanco,” was awarding the prize money for the race out of his own pocket.
“Christopher McDougall, who wrote the book, tracked me down,” said True. “He was down in the canyons to do a story about the Tarahumara. He hired a government spy to drive him around in a 4x4 and hike down into this Tarahumara village to find a renowned Tarahumara runner and nobody really wanted to talk with him. They don’t talk to people very often. They are a bit shy.”
McDougall, eventually found what he was looking for.
“He got to the local village where a local school teacher told him a story about how their runners used to be really good,” said True. “They used to run all the time. There was a village that had the best runners. They had a trail that would go forever.”
Unfortunately, they weren’t the only ones who cared about their trail.
“The government liked their trail, too. They built a road over it, convenience stores started springing up and with it came a bunch of junk food,” said True. “With that, they became more accessible to the outside world. That was 20 years ago and there are no longer any runners left in the village. The school teacher was afraid that they were going to lose their old ways; they’ll eat junk food, they will not eat the way they have always eaten. There are Raramuri that don’t appreciate our traditions as much as Caballo Blanco does.”
That was when McDougall discovered True, A.K.A. Caballo Blanco (White Horse), and how the book got started.
“The Raramuri have been distance running for many centuries,” explained True. “It was the traditional way that they used to go around to get from point-to-point. They would also have a traditional ball game that they would play, where they brought the material gains of each village. One village would bet against another village. Everyone came out, including the holy men and the shamen. Everyone would bet. It was considered high status to bet high. The poor would bet corn and the wealthy people would bet livestock. That means there would be all this booty piled in the village plaza. It would be one village against another and the winning village takes all. So, it directly related to the material gain of the community. The runners of these small villages would be like NBA players — like stars.”
True works on a number of fronts to restore the Raramuri running tradition.
“They don’t grow enough food to afford the caloric intake to run 20 miles a day the way I do,” said True. “What I am doing down there is to help provide the opportunity for them to actually practice. We are trying to provide traditional foods because they are healthy. They are corn and whole grain. I encourage them to continue to grow their own food after years of drought. We’re trying to encourage people to live simply and close to the earth, the way they always have.”
It’s not just the running, but the entire culture.
“We are trying to encourage them to be proud of who they are,” said True. “They are living simply and we have a lot to learn by that lifestyle.”
Last year, 62 runners came down to run in the 6,000-foot deep Copper Canyon region a part of an international exchange of running cultures.
“So, 267 Raramuri came from all over the Sierra Madres to run,” said True. “There’s a cultural exchange of running people, sharing traditions. In our cultural exchange, nobody loses anything. The Raramuri are still running for material gain, but everybody wins because, anyone who finishes the race, wins 500 pounds of corn.”
The top 10 finishers win increasing larger prizes up to the first-place finisher, who wins $2,500 and one ton of corn.
“I don’t know any races up here that pay prize money like that,” said True.
True is getting more and more help. The local government is pitching in with aid stations and trail maintenance.
“Even the Mexican government is beginning to realize that these people are a resource to be cultivated and not exploited,” said True. “That’s another nice side effect to our project.”
For more information on the Raramuri people and True’s work, log on to www.norawas.org.