Local athlete runs Mexico’s Copper Canyon race
March 15, 2016
Poring over local endurance athlete Tyler Tomasello's social media accounts, it's easy to forget that you're looking at an acquaintance's Instragram and not a Buzzfeed article entitled, "Check Out All The Cool Places You Didn't Go To Last Month."
Tomasello, a sponsored ultra marathoner and race organizer for the Hideaway Trail Races in Winter Park, travelled to Mexico's Copper Canyon earlier this month to participate in one of the most famous ultra marathons in the world.
The Ultramaraton Caballo Blanco, formerly known as the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon, is an annual 50-mile footrace through the Copper Canyon of the Sierra Madre Occidental in the Mexican state of Chihuaha.
Author Christopher McDougall dubbed it "the greatest race the world has never seen" in his 2009 best seller Born to Run, the book that largely transported ultra running from the fringe of sport into its canon.
McDougall documented the race's inception, and his account is populated by a host of intriguing characters, from the Tarahumara, an ancient tribe of endurance runners that inhabits the Copper Canyon, to ultra runner Scott Jurek, most recently of Appalachian Trail speed record fame, to the elusive "Caballo Blanco," a peripatetic Gringo named Micah True for whom the race is now named.
True, who died in 2012, spent a great deal of time in Boulder. Tomasello met him through the ultra running community and, after getting a few emails from True encouraging him to run in his race, Tomasello made his first trip to Copper Canyon in 2011.
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He's since run the race five times, though it was cancelled in 2015 over concerns about nearby cartel violence.
Tomasello's journey started with a flight to Tucson, where he met with friends before driving down to Creel in Chihuahua.
From there, the group made its way down to Urique, where the race is held.
Concerns about violence this year dissuaded a lot of international competitors from attending, Tomasello said.
The smaller crowd seemed the set the locals at ease.
"This year, since there was such a small group of us, you would see normal life – how it is every day," Tomasello said. "You'd see a lot more smiles."
Though the presence of a few rifle-toting policemen hinted at Mexican society's most tragic afflictions, the drug violence some had feared was nowhere to be found.
On race day, competitors assembled at the starting line in downtown Urique.
The race draws a diverse milieu of gringos, Mexicans and Tarahumara runners sporting billowing, vividly colorful tunics.
"It's pretty cool because you can look at people's faces and no matter what culture or religion or ethnicity they are, you can see the nervousness and excitement and everything," Tomasello.
There's a short countdown in Spanish, and then a mad dash off the starting line.
"They know how to run, but they don't really know how to start a race, so everyone's running a 5k pace at the beginning of a 50 mile race," Tomasello said. "It's definitely chaotic."
From there, runners take a grueling but exhilarating tour of the canyon, replete with rolling hills, exhausting climbs and breathtaking views.
There's a sense of communal suffering that brings everyone closer together, Tomasello said.
Tomasello finished first among the international runners and 18th overall.
Upon crossing the finish line, the runners were greeted by cold beer, Mariachi music and general festivities.
Nationalities fall to the wayside as runners join in post-race revelry.
"It's just kind of surreal when I look back on it," Tomasello said. "You're doing interviews with the Chihuahua news, and you're taking pictures with the President of Urique."
The strong sense of community made the experience especially rewarding, Tomasello said.
"The local community – you felt like you were a part of it," Tomasello said. "You weren't just a spectator or going to a race. It was so much more to a race. It's the experience that leads up to it and the experience after that makes it what it is."
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-557-6010.
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