From the monthly archives:

April 2012

Seattle’s “The Stranger” pulls back the curtain on Barefoot Ted, Inc. You heard it here first (well, assuming you’re not in touch with Roman Centurions and Biblical prophets):
Huaraches are about to become the next footwear sensation. In a year, Lunas could push aside Vibrams as the next less thing.

Sandal Factory
As Ballard makes mattresses, on the other side of town, in the quiet part of Capitol Hill (19th and Prospect), the people at Luna Sandals are drilling holes in the soles of minimalist running shoes. This factory is not your typical factory. It’s above a beauty salon and is surrounded by big trees, expensive houses, and private schools. It has four or so heavy machines (standard drill presses), shelves containing materials (fabric, straps, leather, vegan leather, rubber, buckles), a main desk (at which the founder, Barefoot Ted, sits and receives orders or makes deals), and a central table where the sandals are assembled.

During my visit, nine casually dressed women and men are at work at this table. On an internet radio station, Paul Banks revives Ian Curtis’s ghost: “Surprise, sometimes, will come around/Surprise, sometimes, will come around/I will surprise you sometime/I’ll come around when you’re down.” Sunlight fills the small space. One of the employees, Dylan Romero, guides me through the process of making a Luna sandal. (On the company’s website, Romero is pictured eating the leg of an animal that looks wild, recently killed, barely cooked. This image prepared me to meet the wrong person; instead of a lusty, loud, loquacious type, I met a very mellow and affable human being.)

We begin with the shelves by the factory’s entry, then proceed to the drills along the walls, then come upon a tree stump that’s used for hammering and banging things. The Luna sandal, he explains to me, is a part of the minimalist movement. What this movement wants more than anything else is to reduce the running shoe to the brink of nothingness. Purists, of course, want nothing but nothing. Barefoot Ted, a runner who is featured in the popular book Born to Run and heads a school of sorts for those who want to master the art of running with what god gave you, is not in this camp. Though committed to barefoot running, he believes there are exceptions: There are places (rocky hills or city streets) that require something to protect the human foot from the world. He discovered that something in Northern Mexico, where a rugged people (Tarahumara Indians) make the sandals out of old tires. These most rude/rudimentary of shoes are used for work and sport.

Barefoot Ted returned to Seattle with the idea of these sandals impressed on his mind. A little thought and a few experiments led him to replace the old tire with materials from Vibram, the makers of FiveFingers barefoot shoes. A company was eventually born and named after the Mexican runner Manuel Luna. All of this happened in 2006. Six years later, Barefoot Ted’s small-scale operation exports a variety of these sandals to any part of the world that the global mailing system can access.

“We are doing very well and growing,” explains Romero. He is a big fan of the sandals because they conform to his feet and don’t stress his joints the way regular running sneakers do. “But yesterday morning, Don Imus mentioned us on his radio show, so we are very busy today. We usually have three people working at a time, but today we had to call in friends to help us meet these orders. It’s pretty weird that a small hippie company got great publicity from Imus.” One of the factory workers, a tallish young man assembling sandals at the table, takes a break and hugs the woman working next to him. She hugs him back. They have a moment. CalPortland is about massive machines; Canvas Supplies, families; Luna Sandals, friends.

One thing I regret about “Born to Run” was not getting more of Luis Escobar into it. During the Copper Canyon adventure, he was always upbeat and up for anything. Caballo called him “Coyote,” and that pretty much nails it: without his quick eye and instincts, photos like this would never have existed:

Recently, he spoke with “Run Barefoot Girl” about everything from Barefoot Ted’s remarkable influence on the running industry to what it was like to hunt for Caballo and play the Tarahumara ball game with Silvino:

This is the kind of guy we’re talking about:
Running Man
Kenny Cress / Times Sports Writer |
Thursday, November 6, 2003

Righetti High School Freshman cross country runner Antonio Ortiz competes at the Mt. Sac High School Cross Country Invitational.

Last February Antonio Ortiz, an autistic eighth grader at McKenzie Junior High in Guadalupe, wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Lakers basketball organization.
He explained in detail how much he loved the team and requested a ticket to a game. The organization was so impressed it sent Antonio/s entire class tickets to see the club/s March 21 home game against the Boston Celtics.
Now he is applying the same zeal to cross country running as he did to letter writing that February day.
Ortiz is a freshman at Righetti High now, and he competes for the Warriors/ junior varsity boys cross country team.
“He comes in last, dead last, every race,” says Righetti cross country coach Luis Escobar. “But he never quits, he never walks.
“He/s the only kid out here who has been to every practice. He is the first one to get here and the last one to leave.”
Autism is a lifelong neurological disorder for which, as of now anyway, there is no cure. Autistic traits can include lack of empathy and problems forming interpersonal bonds.
However, “The kids love him,” Escobar says of Ortiz. “Sometimes he does drive them crazy 7 he can repeat things endlessly (an autistic trait), and the kids will tell him, /Antonio, SHUT UP./”
His fellow Righetti runners/ affection for him is obvious, though. They encourage him loudly during the races he/s in.
“The kids tease him a lot, good naturedly,” Escobar says. “He/s very open (about his autism).
“He was in special education at McKenzie, but he started in the regular ed program when he got to Righetti.”
“I take math, reading, P.E., study skills,” among other courses, Ortiz says.
“I really want to take home ec next because of all the girls in there.”
“I had never run cross country before in my life,” Ortiz adds. “Let me tell you something 7 Jesus Solis and Kenna Wolter inspire me.”
Solis and Wolter are Righetti/s top boys and girls runners respectively, and they are among the favorites in the PAC-5 League Finals varsity races today.
“Jesus Solis is a great runner,” Ortiz says.
The PAC-5 finals begin at 2 p.m. with junior varsity races at the Fairbanks Course across from Cuesta College. The top three varsity teams in each division are guaranteed berths in the CIF Preliminaries. Righetti/s boys and girls varsity teams both figure to qualify.
Ortiz is a first-time runner, but it did not take him long to decide his course preference 7 the flatter, the better.
“I hate all courses with hills,” he says, well, flatly. “I hate Mt. SAC. I hate Atascadero. I hate Atascadero the worst, because it makes my legs tight.”
Alas for him, his last race this year will be at a course with hills aplenty.
Regardless of how he finishes today, Ortiz/s season has been one of accomplishment 7 he ran a personal best late in the season, the ideal time to run one.
“He PR/d by 20 seconds at the Santa Barbara County meet,” says Escobar. “He ran 37:50,” over the flat three-mile course at River Park in Lompoc.
Not only that, he has lost weight, he points out proudly. “When I started, I weighed 250 pounds,” he says. “Now I weigh 237. I am 6-2, 237.
“The girls tell me I/ve lost weight.”
And he is bucking a trend. Because of poor coordination, studies cite, many autistic children are disinclined toward sports.
Ortiz has gone dead in the opposite direction. “I like all the sports 7 football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, cross country, track.
“My favorite sport to watch is basketball.” In fact, Escobar and others have said, Ortiz can rattle off reams of statistics concerning his beloved Lakers with dead on accuracy.
“Everything there is to know about the Lakers,” Escobar says, “He knows.”
Escobar adds, “Sometimes he forgets his shoes. But he knows what happened on June 15, 2001. He/s like Rainman.
“His nickname is /Ferocious./ That/s the boxer Fernando Vargas/ nickname. Antonio says he had it first.”
Escobar calls out, “Hey, Antonio!,” Ortiz inclines his head toward his coach and Escobar says, “When did you get the nickname /Ferocious?/”
“!995,” comes the immediately reply.
“What month?”
Ortiz says he is running to get in shape “for wrestling. Then I want to do track. I/m a sprinter 7 I want to do the 100 meters. And I want to throw the shot put.”
Some of Ortiz/s struggles are typical of many who have autism. When other Righetti runners take off to do roadwork, Ortiz stays on the running track to do his workouts.
“He/s gotten lost before,” says Escobar. “He gets confused easily. I/m with him (for guidance) during the last two miles usually,” during races.
“Luis Escobar is the reason I am out for cross country,” says Ortiz. “I went out for cross country when I got cut from freshman football.
“When I was cut from (freshman) football, I was (ticked) off. I didn/t understand why I was cut.”
Escobar, whose son Brad is a star running back for St. Joseph, understands.
“It/s the football team/s loss, but really they just couldn/t have him out there,” Escobar says.
“He would have gotten his clock cleaned. He would have been a danger to himself and others 7 he wouldn/t have been able to think fast enough (during the course of the action). He would have been hurt.”
“He came to me after he got cut from football. He said /When are the cuts?/ I said, /There are no cuts. You come to practice, run every race, you/re on the team./”
There were uniform problems to overcome.
“Antonio took a double extra large shirt size,” says Escobar. “I looked around, and there really weren/t any.
“The day of our first race, at Morro Bay, Jeff Rubio, who owns Venue Sports in San Luis Obispo, brought over a double extra large shirt to us himself.”
“He doesn/t really have a pair of running shoes,” Escobar says of Ortiz. “He/s wearing Number 35, Phillip Adam/s shoes, right now.”
Adam is a linebacker-fullback for the St. Joseph football team. “I knew that Antonio wore about the same shoe size as Phillip and his brother Jeff,” says Escobar. “I called their mother to ask about it, and they brought over three pairs of shoes for Antonio to try. These are the ones we chose.”
Ortiz has worked hard in those shoes, and he expresses the same fondness for Escobar that his coach has for him.
“Luis Escobar,” Ortiz says, “is a great man.”

November 06, 2003


by Christopher on April 20, 2012

Finally, a double-feature of films that don’t depict running as the awful thing you have to endure to succeed at something else. The first is an ode to El Venado, and it may be the only surviving footage of him jitterbuging with a saucy Mexican señora after a 50-mile trail race.

The second, “Town of Runners,” looks so great I may have to break voluntary house-arrest. It’s screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, and even though I swore I’d do nothing this week but stay home and work, I know if I watch the trailer one more time I’ll go under the wire and slip off to NY to see it.

Caballo’s last words

by Christopher on April 18, 2012

Norwegian journalist Kjetil Lyche and photographer Luca Kleve-Ruud were in the Copper Canyon for what turned out to be Caballo’s last race. They created this heartbreaking video.

Who cares how Geronimo died?

by Christopher on April 13, 2012

Outside magazine gave me the chance to describe what it was like to hunt for Caballo. For us, it all began like this:

It was amazing and almost reassuring to hear photographer Luis Escobar now sounding so calm and lighthearted, because his first reaction when he heard that our friend Micah True was missing in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness was to grab the keys of his wife’s Chevy Tahoe, tell her, “I’m going,” and start barreling south from Santa Barbara, California on a 1,000-mile rescue mission. Texting while he drove, fighting his way through rush-hour traffic, Luis was steering with his knees while coordinating an all-points-bulletin with his thumbs…

The rest of the story is here.

Launching from the great story about high school supernova Cayla Hatton, the Johnson Brothers at offer some smart advice — if your doctor tells you not to run, see someone else.

Take it away, Brojos:

Weekly Free Coaching Advice – Are You Under The Age Of 20 And Told By An Orthopedist Not To Run Because You Are Injury Prone – Don’t Believe Them & Go See A Physical Therapist
Last week’s recap was full of insight on Cayla Hatton, the high school prodigy who ran a 33:17 for 10,000 seemingly out of nowhere. Well, the website formerly known as Dyestat followed up on that run with an excellent profile piece by Doug Binder on Hatton last week. In it, Hatton elaborated on how she has battled back from some injuries that largely kept her during her sophomore and junior years of high school.
Hatton said that a doctor basically told her not to run anymore.
“Hatton said that her doctor told her there was a structural problem, that she had ‘retroverted cups’ in her hip joint. The doctor advised her that running would only lead to more pain and injury.

That news took Hatton to a new low.

“I went through all the phases of mourning,” she said. “I remember being so upset, so angry at (the doctor). I was in denial. But I also think the whole experience made me realize how much I love running. Before, it was soccer, and running was just a hobby. When (running) was taken away I realized how much I missed it.”
The sentiment – being told not to run any more by a doctor while under the age of 20 – is one that is pretty darn common (on a side note: we think the whole concept of not realizing how much one enjoys running until they aren’t running any more also is common).
Our advice – don’t believe it.
This issue is a bit personal for LetsRun as one of the co-founders was told while in HS by a prominent sports doctor- an NBA team physician – not to run as well. The quote still burns raw: “Since your nothing more really than a recreational runner and have had a series of stress fractures, it’s best that you don’t run and find another sport as you just weren’t cut out for the sport.”
Don’t totally ignore a doctor’s opinion, but at the very least get a second opinion. More importantly, runners should see physical therapists, as Hatton did, about their injury problems. Physical therapists help people run. Doctors normally tell people not to run.
Whenever teens or early 20s types talk to us about serious injuries, we generally tell them to adopt sort of the Chris McDougall “Born to Run” philosophy.
We’ll respond with something like, “You are a young guy (or girl) in the peak of or your physical prowess. Human beings are meant to be active. You won’t be hurt forever. Ultimately, your body almost certainly will get better if you keep trying different things.”
It’s unbelievable to us how many people are told to just “give up running” under the age of 25. We know of one person who was told their freshman year in college, after having a knee surgery that didn’t work, that they had arthritis and there was nothing that could be done except move to a better dry climate like Arizona. In reality, an ITB problem was very much solvable with some strengthening drills from a physical therapist. Unfortunately, this wasn’t figured out until three years of college were down the drain.
Injuries are frustrating, but there are few people in the prime of their lives so structurally unsound that there isn’t some way to get back to the sport they love. If you don’t believe us, believe Cayla Hatton.

“Who was the mysterious White Horse?”

by Christopher on April 4, 2012

Thanks to the BBC magazine, I had a chance to memorialize Caballo right after I got home from the search:

4 April 2012
Ultra-running: Who was the mysterious White Horse?
The long-distance runner Michael Randall Hickman, also known as Micah True, White Horse or Caballo Blanco, was a talismanic figure for ultra-runners until his recent death. He befriended an enigmatic tribe of super-athletes and inspired many to take up ultramarathons, writes friend and Born to Run author Christopher McDougall.

The mysterious thing about the disappearance last week of Micah True – better known as Caballo Blanco, the White Horse of the Sierra Madre mountains – was that for once, we knew where he was.

He wasn’t bushwhacking a secret new route through the Mexican outback because he heard a bandit was laying in wait for him on the old one.

He hadn’t set off at sunrise to run all day through Mexico’s Copper Canyons to visit the hidden homes of his friends, the reclusive Tarahumara Indians. He wasn’t clattering across the Mojave in an ancient pickup truck, hoping to earn a few more months of food as a vagabond furniture mover.

Instead, he filled a water bowl for his pup, told a friend he’d be back before lunch, jogged three miles down the road toward a nice, safe, American wilderness park in Gila, New Mexico – and vanished.

The news got out last Thursday. By first light on Friday, friends and fans of the Horse who’d driven all night to get there were lining up to join search and rescue teams. Among them were champion ultra-distance runners like Kyle Skaggs and Scott Jurek, the US 24-hour record holder. The actor Peter Sarsgaard would soon arrive.

I was 750 miles away when I found out, but so many people were speeding down from so many directions, it took only two calls and ten minutes to find a ride. I climbed in next to Luis Escobar, a photographer and race director I’d met when we’d last gone in search of the Horse six years ago.

I first heard about Caballo Blanco in 2005, when I was trying to learn the secrets of the Tarahumara, who call themselves the “Running People”. For centuries, fantastic tales of Tarahumara speed and endurance have drifted out of the Copper Canyons in northwestern Mexico, and on rare occasions, so have the Tarahumara.

In 1993, a 55-year-old Tarahumara runner in homemade sandals and his native toga appeared at the starting line of the Leadville Trail 100 – a gruelling race through the Rocky Mountains equivalent to nearly four full marathons – and defeated a field of elite international athletes. The following year, another Tarahumara runner shattered the course record. Then they retreated to the canyons, never to return.

If you study video of that 1994 race, you’ll see a tall, lanky figure running step-for-step with a Tarahumara runner. He’s there for an instant, then slips off to the side just before the finish line and disappears into the crowd.

He was an ex-professional boxer, I discovered, who was recovering from a broken heart with long, rambling runs across the Colorado trails. When the Tarahumara needed someone to guide them for the last 50 miles of the race, he volunteered.

Something about that night – about the experience of whisking silently through the dark by the side of a stranger from another century – must have affected him deeply, because soon after the Tarahumara left, Michael Randall Hickman went after them.

He’d be reborn – first as Micah True, self-named seeker of ancient wisdom, and then, to the Tarahumara children he entertained by snorting and stomping, as Caballo Blanco.

By the time I tracked him down, he’d spent nearly 15 years living among the Tarahumara. Their secret, Caballo told me, was simple – the Tarahumara remember that humans are creatures of constant motion, and if we forget that we survived and thrived for most of our existence as long-distance runners, we’ll suffer the same consequences as any other caged animal – disease, mood swings, eating disorders, all-around misery.

“The Tarahumara aren’t smarter than us. They’ve just got better memories.”

Learn the fine art of running, Caballo told me, and you can change your life.

“Don’t fight the trail. Take what it gives you,” he began. “Lesson two – think easy, light, smooth and fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t [care] how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go.

“When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practising, you work on making it smooooooth. You won’t have to worry about the last one – you get those three, and you’ll be fast.”

Caballo’s dream was to let the rest of the world know there was ancient wisdom worth protecting down there in the canyons, and his method was to create a wild, multi-day running festival in the heart of Tarahumara territory.

Nine months after he’d shown me how to transform my technique, I was able to return to the Copper Canyons in 2006 with ace runners like Scott Jurek and Luis Escobar for the 50-mile Ultramaraton de Caballo Blanco. Since then, the race has grown beyond even Caballo’s wildest expectations – this year on 4 March, more than 400 Tarahumara and nearly 100 outside runners participated, including past New York City marathon champion German Silva.

“He was the happiest I’d ever seen him,” Will Harlan, one of Caballo’s friends, told me. “He seemed to have a tranquillity and centeredness, even as record numbers of Tarahumara descended on Urique to run the race.”

Barely three weeks later, Caballo began driving from Mexico to Arizona to visit his girlfriend, another runner who, like me and Sarsgaard and thousands of others, have been transformed by Caballo’s message. Along the way, he stopped off at the Gila Wilderness Lodge in New Mexico, a place he’d visited many times.

On Monday, he went for a six-hour run with Guadajuko, a Mexican mongrel he’d adopted and called “the ghost dog”. On Tuesday, he decided to do a quick 12-miler before hitting the road. Guadajuko’s paws were sore, so Caballo left him on the porch and told the innkeeper he’d be back in two hours.

Five days later, he was finally discovered by the side of a cool mountain stream not far from the lodge. His death is still a mystery. But one of the running buddies who found him said Caballo looked peaceful – as if he’d stopped for a nap at the end of a long, glorious ramble through the woods, and never woken up.

Next Wed, April 11, I’ll be speaking at the UPenn Museum, which is featuring a unique Tarahumara photo exhibit. I understand that Caballo figures in some of the photos, and even a short video.
Admission is five bucks but seating is limited, so you’ll need to grab a ticket soon.
I’ll also be meeting with a gang of runners to stretch our legs beforehand along the Schulkyll River. The plan is to set off from Philadelphia Runner in University City at 3:30pm, then walk over to the museum afterward.

Thanks for everything, Caballo

by Christopher on April 2, 2012

Caballo Blanco leads Scott Jurek & other Mas Locos into the Copper Canyons

From Patrick Sweeney, who dropped everything to join the search for Caballo:

Micah True lived the dream: simply, fully
By Mike Sandrock, For the Camera
Wherever I went in town over the weekend, the talk was about “Caballo Blanco.” His disappearance while on a run in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness Area. The four-day search for him. The sad discovery of his body Saturday evening.

While in line at Alfalfa’s, at the library, on runs, in the running stores and at the coffee shops, people asked about Micah, offering condolences and their personal takes on this larger-than-life runner, a man with a heart as large as his lungs, and, it turns out, many, many friends.

People I never would have imagined knew Micah have been telling me how they used to have beers with him at the Mountain Sun, espresso at the Trident or go on runs with him up Green Mountain.

Surely, there are few runners as beloved as Micah True, not just in Boulder, but around the nation. Dozens dropped what they were doing to rush down to Gila, N.M., to search for Micah when he did not return from a solo 12-mile run last Tuesday.

One of those was Scott Jurek, the U.S. 24-hour record holder who ran True’s Copper Canyon ultra race in Mexico; another was Christopher McDougall, whose best-selling “Born to Run” propelled Micah into international stardom.

For Jurek, McDougall and others, there was never a question of not going; that’s the kind of friendship Micah engendered. He was a man of the people, with a charisma born of being confident in himself and in what he was doing.

He was doing exactly what he wanted, not postponing life until his “ship came in.” He was living the dream right here and now, and that is appealing simply because it is so rare. It is a difficult approach to life, one that shuns the comfortable path for a life of perhaps greater depth and significance.
For many years, I thought of Micah as simply another of the many long-distance runners populating the foothills west of town. He lived up on Magnolia and had a moving business to support his nomadic running lifestyle. That was common back in the 1980s.

I had an inkling of True’s appeal one morning in the Camera sports department. Former sports writer Neill Woelk was working on one of his columns blasting the then-athletic director at the University of Colorado. You did not want to interrupt Woelk when he was on deadline, but as soon as Micah walked in, Woelk stopped typing and began chatting about True’s prizefighting career, including a fight Woelk covered in the early 1980s at the Boulder Theater. (“He made a few bucks on the undercard by decking some poor schmoe.”)

“The term ‘rugged individualist’ may have been coined to describe Micah,” Woelk said when I asked him about Micah when he first went missing. “He was a man with a big heart who was always, always ready to lend a hand — and he detests bullies. He has always lived life on his terms, but he’s never forced those terms on anyone else. An incredibly interesting, complex man who has lived very simply.

“We (Neill and his wife) both hope he is found and is safe.”

Of course, Micah was found, and he was not safe.

True is gone, and with him all the stories he wanted to write. “True Tales from the Horse’s Mouth,” he was going to call his book, seeing it as another way to help his Tarahumara friends in the Copper Canyon.

Last summer, True donated his time to the Molly Bowers defense fund, coming to help his good friend and fellow ultra runner Dan Bowers, whose daughter is fighting her conviction in the death of her baby son, Jason Midyette. Micah showed a film, spoke and answered questions in a poised, funny, self-deprecating way. I was amazed at what a good speaker he was.

Rarely have I been around someone who was so “present,” so content and happy with what he was doing and who he was. Micah was an excellent listener. He stayed and talked to everyone. My biggest impression from that evening was how many young people wanted his autograph; he was a cult hero. He was one of the original impecunious ultra runners who finally reached some success.

And then, all at once, it was gone. The fabric of Boulder’s running community has been torn.

What meaning can be found from Micah’s passing? Oh, there are the concrete steps we can take to protect ourselves. “Always run with a partner” ultra runner Henry Guzman advised.

On Monday morning, I took a solo run on one of the “secret” trails Micah showed me, on the backside of Flagstaff. I recalled how we ran past the Red Lion and up the dirt road, when, without a word, he veered off up a gully just past the stone bridge. In a flash, he was 50 meters above me, moving nimbly up the slope. We ran through cactus, over logs, into fields of mountain flowers.

“Not the easiest way to get to the top of Flagstaff,” I said when we hit the amphitheater.

Micah put his arm on my shoulder, and with a big grin, said, “That’s the point, my friend. That is exactly the point.”