Last Tuesday night, I went to hear Micha True, aka Caballo Blanco, speak at Seattle Running Co. He's the "mythical character" who lives among the Raramuri (aka Tarahumara Indians) in Copper Canyon, Mexico and has become well known through Chris McDougal's book, Born to Run. In this book, the author chronicles his journey into Copper Canyon, where he meets Caballo Blanco and learns about the indigenous people who live in the caves and canyons that form Copper Canyon. These people are known for their endurance running, and Caballo, an ultrarunner himself (5 times at Leadville 100) establishes a race for villages to compete against each other. He invites runners from the "outside world" to run one of these, with hopes it will bring awareness of these people to the rest of the world. The book carries the story of the race throughout, as well as McDougal's own journey into helping him solve his own running issues through minimal or barefoot running. His thesis is complete with research studies backing up his claim that barefoot running is the best way to go. The book, now a bestseller, has gotten almost a cult following with people determined to throw away their bulky, built up running shoes, and follow Chris in sandals, Vibram 5 Fingers, or barefoot. In fact, Vibram is having a hard time keeping up production as the shoes have become so popular!
So, naturally, at this talk by Caballo Blanco, 1) the house was packed (people were standing in the cold, watching through the store window!) and 2) I noticed Vibram 5 Fingers on several pairs of feet. I don't know if these people were expecting to hear him talk about minimalist running, or if they were just wearing the "race Tshirt", so to speak, or if they truly enjoyed wearing their Vibrams and won't put anything else on their feet. I enjoy a weekly run in my own Vibrams, or other minimal shoes, so I don't fault these folks for theirs. But it was just funny (to me) to expect to see them and there they were....
But Micah wasn't there to talk to the wealthy about the many options we have for shodding (or not) our feet. Rather, he was there to talk about the people he's come to love and the conditions in which they live. While he spoke, a slide show played, showing beautiful scenery of the Copper Canyon, and of the people who inhabit that area. They live very minimally ("when it all comes crashing down around us, these folks will be okay because they're already treading lightly on the earth" he pointed out) and subsist mainly on what the earth gives them - corn being the main staple. If there has been a drought, then they have a bad year, and don't eat so well. It's vice versa if the rain gods have been good. They live at 8000 - 9000 feet, so winters are fairly chilly, as their caves don't have central heating. Caballo first learned about korima (gifting) when, after pacing a Raramuri at Leadville (they were brought there by someone promoting their running talents), he asked for donations for sweaters and blankets to take down CC, and filled up his pickup truck so full he had no room to sleep! In return, the Raramuri kept him fed and allowed him into their homes and villages. After a year or so, he built his own little house (with the help of some of the locals) and spends most of his time living down in the CC with the Raramuri as his neighbors.
Today, the Raramrui are exploited by the Mexican government as a tourist attraction, and they suffer from malnutrition, lack of education,etc. Infant mortality rate is high, with tuberculosis being the main cause. Caballo's mission, so to speak, was to raise awareness of this culture that has been around for the last 10,000 years and to seek monetary donations to help them preserve that culture while meeting basic needs. His talk was well received, and Seattle came through, raising well over $500 (and $500 was matched by Scott Dunlap's company NearbyNow)! Way to show the korima, Seattle! As expected, some folks wanted to know what he wore when running. (He prefers sandals - anything cheap, but right now he likes Hi Tec Vitarroz.) But he reminded us we should run in what works for us individually. His main mission is to see that his neighbors are cared for by the rest of the world - and he got one step closer to that goal last Tuesday night in Seattle.