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White Horse, running: New documentary tells the story of ‘free runner’ Caballo Blanco

"Run Free: The True Story of Caballo Blanco" is feature-length documentary about ultra-running legend Micah True. Better known as Caballo Blanco - the White Horse - Mr. True was the focal character of Christopher McDougall's 2009 best-selling book "Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen" about the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico.

“Run Free: The True Story of Caballo Blanco” is feature-length documentary about ultra-running legend Micah True. Better known as Caballo Blanco – the White Horse – Mr. True was the focal character of Christopher McDougall’s 2009 best-selling book “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen” about the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico.

“Micah would throw a fit if he knew we were doing this.”

So says photographer and Orcutt resident Luis Escobar, one of the many people who knew the mysterious man known as Caballo Blanco, the White Horse.

Better known as Micah True, this vagabond “free runner” became the focus of a best-selling book about the sport of free running by Christopher McDougall, called “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.” The documentary that follows in its wake, “Run Free” is directed by Sterling Noren and screens Tuesday at Marjorie Luke Theatre.

The film explores what happened when success came to Mr. True and the sport he came to represent. It’s also the story of a 50-mile race through rugged north Mexican terrain, and how it grew from being a skill of the native Tarahumara people to a small race for seven enthusiasts, all the way to a sponsored event in which 700 people took part.

No spoilers here: The film opens with a radio news report that Mr. True’s body was found in 2012, not too long after his very successful run in the Copper Canyon, and just as it looked like fame might become a problem for this reclusive man people like Mr. Escobar called the “running hobo.”

The story then tracks back in time to 2006, and follows the first group of runners, writers and photographers to trek into the high Sierras to find Mr. True, and then compete with the native runners from the region. The Tarahumara fashion running shoes from recycled tires, and tie them to the feet with fabric, yet they last the distance. Among these people, Mr. True had found a spiritual home, and he began to spend a third of each year there. Just living there, occasionally interacting with the people but trying not to get too involved, earned Mr. True a reputation, the kind of mystery that ironically attracted a writer.

As the film continues it begins to ask questions about Mr. True’s past, a past he wanted to keep hidden. His life had included forays into boxing, and homelessness.

Mr. Escobar, whose work is featured in the film, along with his thoughts in interviews, would host Mr. True anytime he passed through the Central Coast. He was a “prickly” guy – “he was not warm and cuddly at all” he says – but once Mr. Escobar got past that, they would just hang out like regular guys.

“He loathed being in the spotlight, but that’s what fed him,” Mr. Escobar says. “It was weird to watch him transform into this international figure in the space of a few weeks (because of the book.)”

The film features many figures in the running community, including the far-out Barefoot Ted, ultra marathon runner Scott Jurek, Olaf Sorenson (who has some amusing scenes during the 50-mile race), and Maria Walton, who would become Mr. True’s girlfriend.

The film is part sports documentary about the Caballo Blanco ultramarathon, and part a musing on the nature of fame and the knowability of a man who kept things inside. Yet at the same time, Mr. True gave a lot of himself to a community that he perceived as untouched by commercialism. It makes for an intriguing 90 minutes.

“He had a message and running was just the vehicle he used to communicate it: Run Free,” says Mr. Escobar. “It meant live gently. One of the things he taught me, that whatever you have, if you can share it with other people, that’s the greatest thing you could do.”

A percentage of the film’s profits, including from DVD sales, will benefit Norawas de Rar Muri (Friends of the Running People).

“Run Free: The True Story of Caballo Blanco”
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Marjorie Luke Theatre, 721 E. Cota St.
Cost: $12-$15
Information: 884-4087, www.imathlete.com/events/runfree, www.runfreemovie.com

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