The White Horse

So Caballo Blanco is dead.

Who’s he, you ask? Fear not, even I didn’t know until he died. But Chris McDougall who first shot him to fame in his book Born to Run paints him as a mystical character in the book. He was just an American/gringo, who met with a Tahuramara runner and decided to adopt their running lifestyle. McDougall talks about this running lifestyle in his 2006 article, which probably was a precursor to his book (or maybe it came after, I don’t know). I haven’t read the book but I’ve watched McDougall’s Ted Talk on barefoot running.

The guy definitely has a point. But a lot of things he recommends based on the tribal runners are quite drastic. Running trails, long distances without shoes; eating vegan food; maybe even drinking before racing! I mean the tribals live the best life I could ever imagine – drink/eat/party/run. What else could one want? How they can do this is still a mystery and I don’t think McDougall’s book is any closer to solving it. (Yes, I know that without reading it).

What I do know is that some people are better at some things than others. So some runners are ‘born to run’ while others learn. So what? The other thing I do appreciate, which the article quotes Caballo, is about self-imposed limitations. One of the things he says Caballo Blanco (he’s called that by the tribals who he begins to live with and perhaps because of the way he runs. Caballo also organized one of the toughest ultra races in the world. And FYI, most ultra races are trail races) is that he just decided to do these impossible things and because he did them in the Tahuramara way, even his injuries went away.

Whatever it is, it definitely motivated my to kick my own butt this evening at the Tejas trainign run at St. Ed’s. If you ever read any previous post on St. Ed’s it’s a beautiful but very technical/hilly trail. Very rocky and a pretty steep climb. We do our hill training here. Did I learn anything about my body being able to beat any self-imposed limitations. Perhaps not. Maybe that depends on training and the frequency of how often you subject your body to beating limitations. But the first loop, I did well, I pushed myself to run up the hill in its entirety. I ran faster down and probably finished the whole thing in 17-20 minutes (about 1 – 1.5 miles). But the second time round, no matter how much I thought I was going to beat the hill, I couldn’t. I was hot and tired and took a shorter route and also walked a bit up hill. That was my homage to Caballo’s death. I tried harder than usual.

There was a group of trail runners that came out after us to do a ‘memorial run’ for Caballo. Many of them wore the sandals that Caballo (and the Tahuramara) ran in. These sandals spun-off the Born to Run’s barefoot running philosophy I guess, which was already getting popular among runners. Joanna, one of Joe’s runners also wore them. She said it definitely had an impact on her running style – she took shorter steps and didn’t go banging or jumping around. McDougall definitely talks about running form/style of the Tahuramara being very short strides. He describes, “Watching him run, I was surprised to find that instead of the long, galloping stride I’d expected, he never stretched out his legs at all. He kept his knees bent and his forefeet padding down directly under his body, as if he were riding an invisible unicycle.”

While my running shoes are no sandals, they are the most minimalist shoes I’ve worn to run. They’re pretty light and very little cushion. Running in them is something I’ve had to get used to. My ankles do feel sore but don’t hurt, but then I don’t run crazy miles. But I did try to fix my form while running as McDougall says. I tried to keep shoulder above hip, hip above knees. I think it might have helped but I’ll probably know more if I do it more often.

So those are some of my learnings today, some from reading about a guy who ran a lot of miles and was a mystery. While I knew nothing about Caballo, he is a fascinating character. Supposed to be a really nice guy, great race director and somewhat of a recluse, no one knows how he died, but he was found with his feet still in water. He wasn’t very old. He was just a guy who all he did was run for miles in the jungles. I think that somewhere out there in the mountains, while running or dipping his feet in the water, he found his zen. Who knows, he achieved Nirvana while running. Maybe as he dipped his feet in the water that day, the truths of life became evident to him and he didn’t need to do another run to find himself anymore. Who knows?


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