December 14, 2011

From the Horse’s Mouth – An Interview With Caballo Blanco

Portrayed as an evasive ghost and the lone wanderer of Mexico’s Copper Canyons, Caballo Blanco, AKA Micah True, is a rather busy man. Between touring the world to spread awareness about the Tarahumara (Raramuri, “The lightfooted ones”, is their real name) and organizing his now-famous Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, he remains deeply committed to his way of life and has a very contagious love for the sport, his people and the place he calls home.

Away from Urique in a recent trip to the city of Creel, where he manages the purchase of the maize vouchers distributed to runners who finish the 51-mile race, he took some time to answer FlintLand’s questions. We humbly bring them to you as-is, unaltered… straight from The Horse’s Mouth.

FL - The Born to Run fame has had many effects on your life, first by putting you under the spotlight, then by bringing awareness to the Raramuri and their struggle. You seem to be able to reconcile both, and you’ve been very busy this year traveling the world and giving talks. What is the message you carry?

CB – “Run for peace”. I don't really use words like "struggle" or "plight" in regards to the Raramuri. WE are all [humans] on the same earth and it’s up to all of us to honor and take care of her.

FL - As the creator and race director of the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon (CCUM), your prime objective is to rekindle and celebrate the running culture of the Raramuri. Did the race have an influence on that culture? Do you see concrete results of your actions?

CB - More Raramuri are running again. The people are gaining both materially and in deeper ways because they are re-realizing a running tradition [although our race is free-style trail running and not the traditional ball race... ] But, they are running. And they are running more rarajipares [ball races] as well. And they have the nutritional means now to do so.

FL - You are very protective of the Raramuri culture, both in your talks and in organizing the CCUM. Do you think the culture is at risk? Have there been negative impacts from the outside world?

CB - WE are ALL at risk -:} Every action causes reactions. I am a little guarded, realizing that all change is imminent and all people must adapt. The Raramuri are very progressive and adaptable, even in their traditional ways. They are kind of a running contradiction. Traditional and progressive simultaneously. Proud and humble at the same time.

FL - You bring a lot of relief in the Copper Canyons through a non-profit organization called Norawas de Raramuri (Friends of the Raramuri). What is the vision of that organization and how does it help the people?

CB - To help encourage and enable the people to help themselves to continue to run Free! To take pride in being who they are and know that they are respected and looked upon as positive examples. The Raramuri are bringing "relief" onto themselves, and us, through inspiration. Yes, the economy of the region has improved greatly in large part because of our race event.... It has planted a seed of hope.

FL - You have mentioned that the harvests this year have been very small due to a drought in the Canyons and that the Raramuri need help to secure basic food staples and supplies. How much is needed?

CB - I don't know. NOTHING is needed as the Raramuri will make do as they always have; they will survive as always… ANYTHING is appreciated. This season’s running projects will bring over 1,500 costales [250 kg sacks] - 75 tons of maize [the food value in vouchers to be redeemed at community markets to purchase what they want/need]… and substantial cash to the top 10 men and women, many of whom will be Raramuri. That windfall of nourishment will assist the people considerably and boost the economy of the whole region, for Mexicans and Raramuri alike.

FL - How can our readers support you in your efforts?

CB - Run with us -:} is the best… or make a donation directly to the Raramuri [no overhead or salaries to board members--ALL volunteer, including expenses] to the non-for-profit organization Norawas de Raramuri. Tax deductible in the USA… Karma deductible elsewhere -:}

FL - You have mentioned several times that there are companies and organizations out there using the name or the image of the Raramuri and not giving back to the community. Are you on to them? Do you plan to expose them and try to make them change their ways?

CB – That’s the way of the world… No; I am not going to "expose" them nor get anybody to change there ways. Set an example; and maybe some of them will pick it up and do the same [set examples]. We all have our freedom of choices and actions.

FL - You have taken some distance from Born to Run’s contents, and now there’s a movie underway. It seems like the book and the upcoming movie have motivated you to start writing your own story, “From The Horse’s Mouth”. Can you tell us more about it? What will your book be about?

CB - Born To Run was/is a very good book/story.

"Born To Run Free: True Trails From The Horse's Mouth".
I have written a story based on living experiences previous to the book. The book just gives it more content and experiences to draw on… It also has provided me a certain voice. It is up to me to use that voice and whatever notoriety I have acquired from the book to use in good ways. It is up to me... No Mas.

FL - The Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon 2012 is fast approaching. You recently announced that up to 60 runners from many countries will participate this year. In the future, do you think the race will remain an event of exception or will it eventually hit the mainstream?

CB - 75 international runners and I don't know, maybe 50 Mexico nationals and a couple hundred Raramuri. I don't know if it will hit the mainstream. Depends on how you define mainstream -:] Kind of already has.

FL - What do you envision for the CCUM in the future?

CB - I don't know. WE will see.

Run Free!

Caballo Blanco

Following Caballo’s suggestion, I will be joining him and the other runners, the Mas Locos, for a celebration of peace on March 4, 2012. If you are an avid Run Smiley / FlintLand reader and can spare a couple dollars, please make a donation to support the organization Norawas de Raramuri. Even better, pack your bag and travel down to the Copper Canyons and join the celebration!

December 13, 2011

Flint's Gear Blacklist

This is a usual time of year for wish lists and gear awards. I think it’s very useful to know other runner’s opinions about gear, but realized the other day that I’ve never seen a list of gear that a runner does NOT recommend. Since I often test various pieces of equipment, I decided to not only list the ones I like, but also the ones I don’t, and to explain why. I hope this can be useful and maybe avoid you costly mistakes.

The Power Balance Bracelet

Why it’s blacklisted
Because it’s a total sham! The company marketed their “magical” bracelet with multiple professional athlete endorsements and numerous ads in sports magazines, stating that the mylar holographic disc (whatever that is) it contains adjusted your body’s vibratory levels to improve your strength, balance and overall performance. The problem is, the company’s marketing was so deceitful that the Australian government forced it to declare in an official statement that “We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims and therefore we engaged in misleading conduct in breach of s52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.” . To top things off, the construction of said bracelet is so cheap that its “hologram” will crap out and fade away in a couple weeks. So, in a nutshell, 30$-worth of absolute bullshit.

What should it do to leave this blacklist

  • Admit it misled consumers, reimburse everyone and go live the rest of its life in shame?

Alternative gear
A couple sessions at the gym, some yoga classes and you’ll kick more butt than any “magical” bracelet ever will.

FuelBelt - multiple products

Why it’s blacklisted
This one’s a special case, as I am tempted to blacklist all their products. So far, I have tried the traditional 4-bottle belt, the 2-bottle “Revenge” series and 2 handhelds – the “Sahara” and the “Dash”. Of all these products, I only still use the “Dash”, even though its bottle has lost its transparency and molded up a bit. That’s the worse thing about FuelBelt; their bottles quickly mold up, whether you use soap, don’t, or put them in the dishwasher. I have tried everything I know to keep my bottles clean, nothing worked. There’s also something to be said about a hydration specialist whose bottle lids leak. How hard would it be to add a rubber washer? The worse experience I had was with my “Sahara” holder, whose zipper tore off, neoprene bottle collar fell to bits and bite valve molded up badly, all in a matter of weeks.

Considering the high price I paid for every piece and the disappointment they brought, none of the FuelBelt gear I have is worth your trouble, or money. There are way better solutions out there.

What should it do to leave this blacklist

  • Improve the quality of their bottle material
  • Offer no-leak lids
  • Improve the quality of the fabric / zippers on their holders
Alternative gear
There are a lot of very good hydration solutions out there. Generally speaking, Camelbak and Nathan / Human Propulsion Laboratories offer way better products at comparable prices.

New Balance Minimus Trail

Why it’s blacklisted
Fundamentally, I have nothing against the Minimus design. It offers a wide toe box, breathable upper material and a lightweight build, all the things you would expect from a good minimalist shoe. However, I find it preposterous to call this a trail shoe, because it is really not. Look at the sole for a moment, and you’ll quickly realize it is filled with holes. Anyone who’s ran single trail before will know that if there’s one thing a trail shoe needs to have, it’s the protection of a rock plate, no matter what type. Punching dozens of holes in an already thin sole transforms a run on hard, rocky terrain into a bruising lottery, where you lose every time your foot falls atop a sharp object that pricks through one of the holes.

What should it do to leave this blacklist
  • Call itself a road runner; or
  • Change the sole design to include some form of rock plating

Alternative Gear
The VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail offers a similar design but features an aggressive outsole with rubber studs and rock plating that is very efficient, yet super flexible. Plus, it’s waterproof.

Merrell Sonic Glove

Why it’s blacklisted
It’s mind-boggling how similar the Sonic Glove is to the Trail Glove in terms of design, but how different it feels on the run. The Sonic Glove is supposed to be an all-weather alternative to the other “barefoot” shoes from Merrell, when basically the only difference it offers is a different upper fabric. Sadly, this fabric makes the shoe much stiffer, so much that it actually stops moving with your foot and starts doing pretty much the contrary. I wore the Sonic Gloves the first time for a 5k commute, a very small run, and actually had to run back home barefoot because the back of the shoe had ripped the skin on the back of my Achilles. Furthermore, it gave me a blister on the top of the foot, where the upper fabric is supposed to bend to let my toes move and push off. All that in only a couple kilometres. Imagine a long run… Thinking maybe my low-cut Injinji socks had interfered with the shoes on my first run, I tried the Sonic Gloves again a couple weeks later, this time wearing above-the-ankle Ironman socks, to the exact same results. Since then, the shoes are picking dust on the lowest shelf of my shoe rack.

What should it do to leave this blacklist

  • Retire, really. It doesn’t bring anything to Merrell’s “barefoot” line anyway.
Alternative gear
Surprisingly, the Trail Glove! It’s almost identical in every way, except for the upper fabric. This one’s breathable and moves perfectly with your foot, and is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a good minimalist shoe fit for both road and light-trail running.

Under Armour Half-Sleeve Compression Shirt

Why it’s blacklisted
I don’t know if Under Armour had a specific use in mind for this shirt when they designed it, but if they did, I’m sure it wasn’t endurance running. The large white stitches that run around the shirt are very abrasive on the skin and cause irritation in the worst of places; your armpits. If you wear a hydration pack, a running backpack or run long distances, this shirt is a bad, bad choice.

What should it do to leave this blacklist
  • Be redesigned with running in mind
  • Replace the large-stitch concept with seamless construction

Alternative gear
The Adidas TechFit compression shirt, with its “power bands” that stretch the shirt to cling tight to your skin and the special vented fabric under the arms is an excellent choice that will completely eliminate any skin friction issues, no matter what else you wear or how long you run.

Got some gear you'd like added to this list or reviewed? Contact me with your info!