'Kórima' means 'sharing' in the language of the Tarahumara, the tribe most of us have come to know from the pages of Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run. But it means more than just ‘I’ll give you half of my orange,’ Kórima signifies a commitment to mutual assistance and support within the community. When I first read Born to Run four years ago I was not a runner – but the story that McDougall wove in those pages placed a longing in me –not just to run, but to able to run pain free, to be able to run an ultra, to run THE ultra – the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, and to experience the Kórima that seemed to exist in the crazy ultra-running community, especially by the ones that made the pilgrimage to the Copper Canyons to race with the Tarahumara, the ones Caballo Blanco, founder of the race appropriately named, “Mas Locos.” This March I was finally able to live out that dream – the only thing that was unfulfilled was meeting The White Horse himself – Micah True, who died on March 27th of 2012, eleven months before I was able to make it to the Canyons to run the race that is now named for him: Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco.
Manuel Luna and Barefoot Ted, Urique, 2013.
¿Quien es Mas Loco? Caballo was fond of saying, “Who is crazier?” According to my wife and many of my friends and colleagues over the last four years, the answer would be: me. When I read Born to Run Valerie was pregnant with our second child, I was in my early 40s and had never run more than three miles without severe back pain, but was desperate for a time efficient way to stay in shape with the looming reality of two young boys, full time work, and a yard and chickens to take care of. The seemingly miraculous stories of Barefoot Ted and Chris McDougall transforming themselves into runners in their 40s, despite lifelong histories of running injuries sounded too good to be true, but I was desperate and hopeful enough to go online and buy a pair of Five Fingers. For most people buying a pair of Vibrams and being able to run in local 10k races may have been enough, but I tend to jump in with both feet sometimes – this time it was full on baptism by immersion. I contacted Barefoot Ted and attended his barefoot running clinic and thirteen months later ran my first ultra with Ted. Most of my friends put up with my crazy smelly toe shoes well enough, but the day I came home a year and a half ago and told my wife I was leaving my secure job at Seattle University to make huaraches with Barefoot Ted she essentially said, “ARE YOU CRAZY?!” I was one step closer to being a Mas Loco…
I’m goal driven, and for the past four years all of my goals have been stepping stones toward my One Goal – meeting Caballo Blanco in the canyons and running 50 miles with the Tarahumara. I lost part of that opportunity after Caballo wandered into the Gila Wilderness and never returned. But – I could still run the race, and I was determined to do it this year in honor of Micah and all he did to inspire me. I traveled with Ted, Bookis, and Scott, my coworkers at Luna Sandals. We met up in Mazatlan with several Mas Locos, including Luis Escobar, the central California ultra-runner and photographer who was also in the book Born to Run, and began the twenty-one hour road trip by every conceivable means of public transportation Mexico has to offer into the town of Urique at the bottom of the Copper Canyon. We arrived several days before the race. This allowed us to hike, swim, eat great food, adapt to the heat, and begin to get to know the 120 international runners and 300 Tarhumara runners we would be racing with the following Sunday.
On Thursday about eighty of us gathered for an early morning hike to one of Micah’s favorite spots, a small farm called Los Alisos. The day was unusually cool, and after three miles we reached our destination and relaxed, joked with new friends, and ate sweet grapefruit from the trees overhead. Maria Walton, ‘La Mariposa’ Micah’s soul mate and one of this year’s co race directors gathered us into a circle and read a story to us that Micah had written about the couple that had lived there. “The first time they made love was under the giant tree on his property” the story began. It went on to tell of their love and life together, the joy of the times they had welcomed him into their home, and how when they died a few years before, both in their 80’s, they were buried under the same tree, the one we were standing under now. Before she started reading, she pulled out Micah’s ashes and passed them around the circle, that we all might have a moment with him. Also as she read, Micah’s friend Flint started a small fire. After the reading Maria placed the story, and a special Copper Canyon race shirt with a white horse that had been given to her into the fire, and scattered Micah’s ashes around the base of the tree. She was followed closely by Guadajuko, Micah’s faithful dog.
The race began at 6am on Sunday. It would be my first 50 miler, and training in Seattle all winter did little to prepare me for the nearly one hundred degree weather I’d be running in all day. Unlike more than half the starters of the race, I did finish, but not without vomiting, weeping like a baby, and death marching across the finish line fourth from last. After training for four years specifically so I could run this race, I’d love to tell you that it was hard, but I persevered and finished because of my amazing will power and great training program, but I can’t. I finished because when I got back into Urique with ten miles to go and had already decided to quit, Luis Escobar saw me sit down on the sidewalk, ran up to me and asked me if I wanted to finish. “I want to finish so badly” was all I remember saying, and burst into tears. Luis then gave me the pep talk of the century. “I’ve been in WAY worse shape than this a hundred times!” Dehydration had caused severe stomach distress so that I had not been able to eat more than two tortillas or swallow more than a few drops of water at a time over the last fifteen miles. “You’ll feel better in ten minutes” Luis said, “Just sit here and take LITTLE sips, only LITTLE sips. If you quit now, what are you going to DO?! Lay in your bed? If you do you’ll feel better in fifteen minutes and beat yourself up for NOT finishing!”
“But I’m not going to make the cut off!” I wept.
“This is MEXICO, what do you think they are going to DO?!” He said. Then he took the yellow Buff off his head, soaked it with water and put it on my head. “I won the HURT 100 in this Buff, I’ve run Badwater three times in it, Western States seven times, NO ONE HAS EVER QUIT WHILE WEARING THAT BUFF, AND YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BE THE FIRST.” At the same moment I looked up and saw Scott and Bookis – Scott had his finisher’s medal on, and I did not want to go home without one. Luis asked if anyone would pace me through the last ten miles and Bookis, who had not run the race said, “Absolutely.” As we walked those last ten miles, and the sun began to set behind the canyon walls and the most beautiful night sky I’ve ever seen emerged, I vomited every last calorie I had left in me. Without Bookis there to laugh with me about how this was so much like the dramatic endings in all those awesome race documentaries we love to watch, I again would have quit. When I finally stumbled across the finish line, two hours after the official cut off time, but was still greeted by all my friends cheering for me, and Mariposa throwing her arms around me and a finisher’s medal around my neck, I was overwhelmed with joy, not the joy of the ‘personal accomplishment’ of completing a goal four years in the making, but the joy of experiencing the Kórima of this Mas Loco community.
This is a longer version of a piece that was originally published in the June 2013 issue of Trail Runner Magazine.
Note: Tom is the Sales Monkey (and so much more) here at Luna.