Sunday, April 1, 2012

Caballo Blanco: run free us all!

Dear Caballo Blanco,

My friend, as you were using in our correspondence. Friendship is such a precious thing and I have so much respect for the legend you are; I would have not use this term first, but you did and I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to get to know you. Like thousands of runners and non runners alike, I first met you in Born To Run. It started in May 2009 when, upon landing in SFO, back from a trip to Europe, I found a message from Zombie Runner advertising a book signing by Chris McDougall himself that afternoon. Agnès and I stopped by and Chris wrote something nice about my blog and my approach to running in the copy I bought there.

So, here we are, getting to discover and know a running ghost in a remote area of Mexico. I wrote a review of Chris' book (Born To Run: the Tarahumara secret), a post which got a lot of hits since then, although not as many as the number of copies Chris has sold since; it takes quite a tipping point to create a legend and your were not so thrilled about certain aspects of this media tornado. As sensational and fascinating as your appeared in the book, that seemed a bit odd for a true ultra running and I could feel there was something more simple and authentic in your personage, especially based on the other interactions you had with other characters of the book that I had met before (Scott Jurek, Tony Krupicka, Jenn Shelton, Ann Trason, ...). Then you appeared on FaceBook and finally I could meet you in person in October 2009. I'm grateful to Mike Nutall for having open his house for this fund raising event for your foundation, the Norawas de Raramuri. Mike is a local ultra runner and one of the three founders of the renowned design company, IDEO. It was quite a thrill to get to know you better and experience your joy of meeting members of our local ultra running community. We were all hoping to run a few miles with you but you had injured your foot a few days before.

Last weekend, I posted this call to action relaying the news about the terrible drought affecting the Copper Canyons and the Raramuri community. As you know, I first checked with you about the best way to help out and I was therefore slightly disappointed when you commented both on the blog and on facebook, about the danger of getting sensational with this story. I don't think I was and I hope readers didn't conclude it wasn't worth sending money to one of the agencies providing support to the Raramuris, because the need is still very much there and you acknowledge it! I believe that you wanted to protect the identity and pride of your people down there, after a few derailments in some press coverage. That was Monday...

Then, on Thursday, the news broke about you being missing after a morning run on Tuesday morning. Knowing your survival skills and the fact that you live in the wilderness a large part of the year, some of us imagined you smiling at the scale of the search which went on in New Mexico. But, as time passed, we became so concerned. We heard stories about you running in the car traffic, then the fact that you left with only one bottle of water, that the temperature in this large wilderness area was oscillating between 70F during the day and 20F at night. Then I got extremely worried when I learned that even your dog wasn't with you and couldn't find your trace. On Saturday morning, you were still missing, 4 days after you left the lodge. I went to the track (Los Gatos High School) to do my long tempo run and I kept thinking of you with optimism. It was very windy but I pushed hard and managed to clock 58:27 for 40 laps (close to but not quite 10 miles on that track). The strong wind made like the track had a few percent of incline... I came back home and kept checking the status on facebook and the best source of updates and information, Mark Kreuzer's blog entry on It's later that night we got the terrible news about your death, Caballo, with your friend Ray finding your body just 6 miles away from the lodge. The only consolation was to learn that you died doing what you liked the most, running, and that the report was talking about laying down peacefully...

But you left us way too early, we had so much more to learn from you! How symbolic is it that you ended your running journey on Earth right in the middle of your cherished communities of Boulder, Colorado in the North and the Raramuri and the Copper Canyons in the South. Close to a border that splits North America and didn't make much sense to your dual life here and there and your global approach to getting connected with our Planet. And what a symbol this happened in a place called... New Mexico! At least the news came before April Fool's Day, or that would have been a very hard thing to believe, especially knowing your sense of humor and mystery... Here is my favorite picture of you which captured so well your authenticity and inner peace (unfortunately, this picture has been flying around so much on the Internet, I don't know who to give credit to...):
I thought of you all night and, like many other runners, decided to go for a run this Sunday morning. I cannot believe how much I connected with you during these 4 hours. First I was debating which shoes to pick and, guided by your spirit, I ended up choosing my Brooks PureConnect although they were at the other end of the garage. Pure for minimalism and Connect to get in touch with the Earth. I was dialoging with you for quite a few miles and it's only after 8 miles that I looked at my GPS for the first time. Usually I look at it at least every 5 minutes... Not only this surprised me but, more importantly, I had never run up Montebello so fast! I was running... free! Free of negative thoughts, free of a priori about my pace, free of the clock pressure... The more I was talking to you, the more positive thoughts emerged and running felt so easy, while I was passing cyclists (Montebello is 6 miles and 2,500 feet up to the top of Black Mountain). Thinking of your communicative smile and joy of running, I was going through all the luck life brought me, my wonderful family, my parents still alive, our landing in this amazing Bay Area, the discovery of ultra and trail running, the connection with that special community in particular, and the list goes on... With a strong wind coming from the Pacific Ocean, the sky was almost all cleared up after yesterday's rain but for a few white clouds, another opportunity to think of you and your FaceBook profile picture:
I reached the summit in record time (1:33 for 11.3 miles, a 8:13 min/mile pace). I could have turned back to see how fast I could do on this out and back but you were not the type of guy interested in records, so you told me to go on with my original goal of running longer today. After Montebello, which would not have been your type of surface (asphalt), I went on Bella Vista and, certainly, the views were wonderful up there. You would have enjoyed this trail so much. The ground was so soft after yesterday's rain and running down from the summit felt like flying over the hills. At this point I thought it would have been great to have a camera to videotape this scenery and I thought JB Benna (author of Unbreakable) might do a great movie with Chris, Luis Escobar and your other friends, about the joy of trail and ultra running, and the Raramuri culture in particular. To be honest, I couldn't get if you would support more mediatization of your second native family.

I never ran this loop so fast, I was stunned to have run so "free" and I'm so thankful to you for this incredible experience. Given all the traffic on FaceBook and the press coverage, it's clear that you have touched thousands of runners and changed our World for the better. You were so authentic, you had found such a peace in running and living in the Copper Canyons, you were so true to yourself and others in the observations you were making about our World (yes, Mr. Micah... True! ;-), so eager to both find peace in living a simple and austere life like a monk but travel the world to inspire others and share the Tarahumara secret, your life left a wonderful imprint on the Earth for us and the generations to come. Here is a letter to turn one page and help keeping the warm memory alive. I didn't have the opportunity to meet your love ones but hope to do so soon and thinking of them in the meantime. Again, I'm so glad to have met you and to know that you'll keep inspiring us to run free.

With all my respect and gratitude for sharing your gifts and passion,


PS: glad Scott Dunlap captured this picture of us at Mike's in October 2009 ;-)


Anonymous said...

Je viens seulement de trouver le temps de lire cette lettre si émouvante; tu me commenteras plus lorsque nous nous reverrons...
Je t'embrasse

Jean Pommier said...

A nice and detailed orbituary in The Telegraph.

Jean Pommier said...

More details in New York Times with Barry Bearak's recount.