March 24, 2015

Why I Run


I run for health.

I run to make every step matter, to fill my eyes with the beauty of nature. I run to slow down and think, to feel instead of rationalizing. The crunch of my feet against the surface of Mother Earth gives meaning to my being out here.

I run for silence.

It’s the only time I feel the noise I make is fully part of something larger, better, balanced. I give and receive sounds that stay with me long after I’m back. Sometimes, I get so sunk in that it’s hard for me to pull out of the silence and deal with the real noise of the busy, confused and disconnected world I come from.

I run for peace.

I was born angry. I spent years banging on the walls inside myself, crying out in rage and despair. The first step I take outside, for a run, is also a step outside of these inner walls. It’s a true gesture of venturing, a commitment I make every time to reach out and assume my deeper nature.

I run for discovery.

It’s my non-verbal way of reaching out. Very often, it is through this simple gesture that I connected with other humans who’ve become friends, family, kin. I was recognized by others who welcomed me with open arms and hearts, sharing their own journeys and passions. It’s my entry into an alternate world of beauty, humility and compassion.

I run to live.

Je cours pour la santé, le silence, la paix et la découverte. je cours pour vivre.

March 10, 2015

Mourning Doves

Peaceful. Quiet. Spiritual. Words that will often be used by those who visit the Copper Canyons of Mexico. Whether they came to experience a running journey with the Raramuri or they wandered down on a traveling adventure, visitors of the Barrancas Del Cobre emerge back transformed, changed.

At the heart of the Caballo Blanco Ultra is such a story of personal, spiritual transformation. One man, Micah True, intrigued by what he had witnessed at the Leadville 100, began a journey to the Sierra Madre that would not only change his life, but the lives of many others. He would meet the Raramuri and, through his cultural sensitivity, adjust his behavior to allow ever more proximity and mutual understanding. By taking the required time to wander around the Canyons, by refraining from intrusion into the houses and villages, by remaining a humble and peaceful observer, he was offered a great privilege of growing access and exchange with The Running People.

After several years of a growing relationship, he decided to do something he felt was important, something he felt his new friends would understand and appreciate. With the help of local sponsors, he created a running event. A gesture of immense symbolism for a People who define themselves by the very act of running. They understood, and they responded. Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco, and the history that ensued, was born.

It was never easy for Micah True to realize his dream and vision. He understood the social, economic and cultural challenges both the Raramuri and Northwest Mexico face on a daily basis. He struggled with the local powers, both official and non-official. He was always culturally conflicted between establishing a bridge connecting the running people of the world and intruding on a millennial culture that had done well without interactions with others.

But he never gave up. He searched his soul for answers and he based his actions on a set of values which he would never compromise. Truth. Integrity. Peace. Openness. He would follow them to a fault, not hesitating to refuse commercial opportunities or widespread endorsement. He followed an uncompromising path of action very few can claim for their own.

When he left, Micah left the world, the Running People, the Mas Locos, the inhabitants of the Barrancas and his friends with a work of love that needed to continue. All of them united behind the importance of that work to agree it had to be perpetuated. Josue Stephens and Maria Walton stepped up, against all the unknowns, the risks and the open questions. They, before everyone else, realized that above all, UMCB had to carry on. Others soon followed.

2013 rolled in, and a first running celebration happened. It was moving. It was difficult. It was beautiful. It brought the realization that UMCB was still the life-changing experience Micah True had created. Facing the same challenges, risks and uncertainties.

2014 confirmed the commitment of international runners, an ever-growing group of Mexican nationals and the whole population of the Canyons to perpetuating a tradition that has become charged with meaning and purpose. “Race week” is not only a time for festivities in Urique; it is a time where runners from the whole world can come down to a sacred land and share what they do best. Being Humans and being runners who share the same footpaths, unhindered by politics, language, culture and appearances. It is a time for the Raramuri to witness good will, respect and support from the four corners of the world; to be given a mirror image of the beauties of their own culture and to humbly feel pride to be a part of it.

This is the true tragedy of UMCB 2015. This year, just as we were crossing that symbolic Bridge of Nations, we were faced with a surge of brutality and death right on the doorstep of our friends’ homes. We were confronted with the harsh, unfiltered reality of life in the Barrancas. We were victimized, just like the local people, by inhuman acts of violence.

Now I want to ask you; does it matter what the source of that violence is? Are there clear-cut sides in that conflict that can be oversimplified to the Good and the Bad people? Should all the deaths be accounted and described in gruesome details? Should that critical situation of personal and global security be used for sensationalism and shock value?


Whether 2, 20 or 200 people were kidnapped and murdered, whether hand guns, machine guns or grenades were used is completely and utterly besides the point. It doesn’t matter how many troops had to be brought in. It doesn’t matter what affiliation the people partaking in the conflict had. It doesn’t change a thing where the dead bodies were discovered.

What matters is the People of the Canyons are our friends. The People of the Canyons are human beings who suffer through violence, hatred, confusion and bloodshed. What matters is that mothers cry for their disappeared sons, and families are torn with grief in a silent, constant storm fueled thousands of miles away by people who simply don’t care and turn a blind eye, while rolling a Friday-night joint with their friends. What matters is, as I was told, this whole situation could not happen if not for the tacit approval of everyone. Everyone.

Photo : Mikko Ijas
And this is where Norawas de Raramuri, the race directors and the family of Mas Locos drew a line. Saturday, February 28, 2015, in the face of violence, we decided to take a stance. We decided that, notwithstanding the clear and present danger of the situation, cancelling the race would not be a matter of security. We would do the only thing in our power to protest the madness and destruction. Cancelling the race would be a humble, quiet, nonviolent statement for Peace.

We would speak with our bodies the same universal language we have shared since the beginning with the Raramuri. We would not accept to perform an act of friendship, openness and sharing in the face of a fratricidal war. We would not run.

With unspeakable sadness, I walked back to my camp in the comfort and company of many. I was stopped on my way out by countless townspeople and Raramuris who either voiced their thanks for our gesture or silently bowed their head, expressing more than a thousand words. As the hours passed, I was consoled by witnessing people coming together for impromptu meals and celebrations, sharing together like we have always done. I was visited by friends who could not hold their tears in a mix of resignation, frustration and despair at a situation that poisons the lives and the minds. We shared those feelings, together, as well.

When later in the evening, word spread out that an ad-hoc, unsanctioned race would happen the next morning, nothing had changed in the minds of many. The decision that had been taken had, truly, nothing to do with immediate security. The statement that had been made remained. The only thing that anyone could do, in most runners’ mind – and no matter how much everyone yearned to run with the Raramuri - was to quietly stay the course and maintain that stance of peace. The symbol was powerful, meaningful and direly needed. We were saying “We know, we suffer and we oppose.”

Turning around and running the ad-hoc race would have been a blatant approval of the very workings we deplore. Using the language of our bodies to support a façade would have been a lie and a misrepresentation of the values that brought me to the Copper Canyons in the first place. Joining the remaining Raramuri in Urique who literally ran out of options and lined up because they had so much more to lose was, to me, the worst thing I could ever inflict on a People known to turn away and leave at the first sign of aggression.

I packed my bags, hugged my friends and swore to them I will be back, no matter what. “We know”, they simply answered.

Leonardo Cleto. Runner, father, husband, friend
As the dust kicked up on the view of Urique, climbing up that wild winding road in my friends’ truck, my stomach, my heart and my soul were sick. I felt the worst abandonment, powerlessness and despair. I still do to this day and will for a long time. I cry for the loss of my friend Leonardo Cleto, senselessly murdered in the cycle of violence. I cry for my Raramuri friends who could not walk away like those from closer villages and stayed behind, caught in the confusion and face-saving sham. I cry for the selfishness and insensitivity of some foreigners who used the events for self-promotion and glorification. I cry for Mexico, The Beautiful, from which I received numerous messages of shame and sadness. I cry as I still receive horrible news of substitute policemen reeled in for the unsanctioned race being kidnapped and killed as retribution. I cry for the fear that eats away at the weary heart of the Uriquenses.

I, as many others who were witnesses, am losing sleep over such terrible events. But, like many of my friends, my determination has not wavered. My love has not faded. I hold no grudge to others who have lived the experience in their own way, following their own hearts, values and interpretation of events.

The message has not changed. Peace, truth and openness are what make Mas Locos. I will be back in the Barrancas. We will be back in the Barrancas.

The iconic bird of the Sierra Madre is the Mourning Dove. It is a quiet, shy creature. But its soft song can be heard everywhere in the Canyons.

It’s time to show the Raramuri that we understand the true meaning of Kuira Ba.

We are one.

Le sensationnalisme et la peur ne sont que la voix de ceux qui l'imposent. La paix, l'ouverture et l'humilité sont les seuls moyens pour les contrer.

February 9, 2015

Why Raramuri Trails Matter, And How YOU Can Help

I first became aware of Norawas de Raramuri through Caballo Blanco himself. He told me that a group of people and him had created a non-profit organization that gathered funds to help with the purchase of food vouchers for the runners of the Ultra, but that, eventually, maybe they would do something more.

“Like what?” I asked.

His answer struck me. He told me never to forget that the Raramuri had survived – and thrived – on their own for hundreds of years, pretty much without outside intervention. He warned that we should always consider the actions we take to make sure they are genuine Korima and not the result of good-intentioned but ill-planned, culturally-intrusive projects.

So when we had to do without him, both in our lives and in the work of Norawas, we tried to always remember and consider what he said. We had lengthy conversations about how we could broaden the actions of Norawas in the Canyons and, for a while, we agreed only that the ideal first step would be to have a project that came from our friends themselves, a local idea that stemmed from the very people this organization celebrates.

And it happened.

One day, a group of us ran up to Los Alisos, to pay a visit to our friend Prospero Torres. As he was telling us the story of his friendship with Micah and how, together, they had set in motion the first plan for a race in the Barrancas, he told us he had an idea he wanted to share.

He explained that as the first sponsor of the Ultra Marathon, he had offered food and comfort to the runners on their way to Batopilas. He had also helped Micah figure out the way to use through the complex network of footpaths the Raramuri use in their everyday life. Later on, when the race became bigger, Prospero was put in charge of maintaining a segment of those trails that spanned from the bridge at La Laja up to his ranch.

He noticed that, after the race, local Raramuris would use the trail in greater numbers. The footpath was smooth and wide, safe for the people and for pack animals, and therefore a better travel option than before.

He told us he wanted to do the same with more trails. He asked if we could help him fund a local team that would restore and maintain a much longer way. He wanted to revive the whole length of the original Caballo Blanco Trail which had been used for the very first race. We answered that it would be an honor. What an awesome idea ; giving work to local Raramuris reinvigorating the traditional footpaths that serve as foundation to their culture.

So quietly, we gathered the initial funds to begin the work on the trail, last year.

When I traveled back, in early 2014, Prospero had a big surprise waiting; he told me to meet him up the trail and get together with the work team. When I asked how I was supposed to find my way, he answered, all smiles : “From Los Alisos, just look up. You can’t miss that trail now!”.

He was right.

A couple steps from the gate of Los Alisos, I discovered a beautiful, smooth, freshly-worked trail that climbed and twisted and took me to ever-more beautiful sights, ever higher up the Canyon walls… until I reached this point :

That in itself was a delightful surprise. But what struck me straight at the heart, confirming the whole purpose of Norawas and the projects we sustain, was when I reached the point where the local team was working. They raised their heads up one by one. Manuel, Silvino, Isidro… all from the original, very first group of 7 Raramuri runners who ran with Caballo Blanco in 2004… and started it all :) They had all come to lend a hand. They had all come to show support.

With 2015 rolling in, now you can also show support. Not by doing anything flashy or over-the-top. We offer you to do it Raramuri-style, humble and quiet. We offer you to sponsor a mile marker on the trail with the message of your choice. Basically, we offer you to buy a rock, and to adorn it with a word, a symbol, a drawing, a totem animal.

I am proud to announce that one of these first rocks will be sponsored by a group of people I love, namely Martin Coulombe, Dominic Melançon, JF Boucher and the Pandora 24 Ultra team. I will be honored to take Pandora’s totem creature to Las Barrancas in a couple days.

If you have a minute, read the Caballo Blanco Trail Project description on Norawas’ blog. Better yet, make a donation specific to getting a mile marker and make a true difference, quietly, supporting a beautiful running culture we all celebrate.

Kuira Ba!