Myth Always Overruns Reality

I did the workout the coach prescribed yesterday, an easy run. I've been having trouble slowing myself down on the easy days, usually running a minute per mile faster than I am supposed to, so I slipped on my barefoot shoes.

I got an earlier version of these Osma's about the time that Born to Run came out. That was when the barefoot craze cranked up and everyone seemed to want some, usually the Vibram's because of the coolness factor. A few people, like my youngest daughter, went truly barefoot for some of her runs. Drove her coach nuts when she did.

I was thinking about barefoot running and barefoot shoes after reading an article about the cancellation of the Ultra Caballo Blanco. The Tarahumara live in the cartel infested badlands of the Copper Canyons and live with the violence year-round. The race organizers decided that the level of violence was too high and cancelled the race at the last minute.

Some runners completed the race anyway, in a tribute to their hosts. Kudos to them.

The author of the article, Justin Mock, got one thing wrong though, and it would have annoyed the heck out of Micah True, aka Caballo Blanco.

He lived in the remote area of the Copper Canyons to be close to the Tarahumara (also known as Raramuri) people, the barefoot Native Americans known for their long-distance running prowess, whom the race benefitted by providing vouchers for corn, beans, rice, and flour.

Micah True made a visit, not long before he keeled over dead in the New Mexico desert, in Moscow, Idaho. He talked about why he started the ultra (which wasn't named after him at the time) and his love of the Tarahumara. In his voice, you could hear the pride he felt at being accepted into their community, a man who finally found his home.

He also talked about his disappointment with Christopher McDougall, the author of Born to Run. Two points in particular upset him. The first was a breakdown of trust, of confidences shared in private that reached the pages of the book in overly dramatic prose. The hurt was palpable.

It was the barefooting craze, though, that annoyed him. For a fee, True would guide Americans around the Copper Canyons, promising them that "he would run them 'til they broke if they wanted." It seemed that some of them felt gypped because he ran in shoes. They'd accuse him of being a fraud when in fact, they were the victims of their own poor comprehension.

Justin Mock either didn't read Born to Run, or needs a refresher. Barefoot Ted ran without shoes. The Stanford track team would run without shoes. The Tarahumara, as recounted in the book, ran in huaraches, thick soles from reclaimed tires, tied together with string. Caballo Blanco ran in whatever he happened to have.

We unfortunately live in an age where people expect miracle cures (why do my feet hurt?) and latch onto the next, greatest thing - or The 10 Things You Must Do To PR Your Next Race hype. (I made up that title, but you get the idea.) When Born to Run came out and clobbered Nike, a lot of people cheered, convinced that their running problems were someone else's fault and that barefoot running was the new miracle pill.

I am not sure that Micah True got this part. All he knew is that he presented himself honestly and, because someone didn't read a book accurately, he got accused to misleading people. It didn't help that he thought barefoot running was a stupid idea. He was right, as a cure-all, but it has its place.

All this rattled through my head yesterday, a result of my run. In the middle of the night, a small regret re-emerged, the same one that I had the day I heard he'd died a runner's death outside of Albuquerque,  that I didn't find the wherewithal to head to the Copper Canyons before Micah True passed. I didn't need him to run me to death, or challenge me. What I lost was the opportunity to see the Tarahumara through his eyes, and to see him from their's.

I'm not big on miracle cures, but the magic that happens between people - that I find awe-inspiring. That was the big point that Micah True thought everyone missed in Born to Run.