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Chapter 18
“YOU EVER HEARD of Caballo Blanco?”

After I got back from Mexico, I called Don Allison, the longtime editor of UltraRunningmagazine. Caballo had let slip two details about his past worth following up: he’d been a profighter of some kind, and he’d won a few ultraraces. Fighting is insanely difficult to fact-check,what with its tangled ganglion of disciplines and accrediting bodies, but in ultrarunning, all roadslead to Don Allison in Weymouth, Massachusetts. As the clearinghouse for every rumor, raceresult, and rising star in the sport, Don Allison knew everyone and everything, and that’s whatmade the first syllable out of his mouth doubly disappointing:


“I think he also goes by Micah True,” I said. “But I’m not sure if that’s really his name or hisdog’s.”


“Hello?” I said.

“Yeah, hang on,” Allison finally responded. “I was just looking for something. So is he for real?”

“You mean, is he serious?”

“No, is he real? Does he really exist?

“Yeah, he’s real. I found him down in Mexico.”

“Okay,” Allison said. “Then is he crazy?”

“No, he’s—” Now it was my turn to pause. “I don’t think so.”

“Because a guy by that name sent me a couple of articles. That’s what I was looking for. I got totell you, they were just unprintable.”

Now that’s saying something. UltraRunning is less like a magazine and more like those chattyfamily letters some people send instead of Christmas cards. Maybe 80 percent of every issue ismade up of lists of names and times, the results of races no one ever heard of in places few butultrarunners could ever find. Besides race reports, every issue has a few essays volunteered byrunners opining on their latest obsessions, like “Using the Scale to Determine Your OptimumHydration Needs” or “Headlamp and Flashlight Combinations.” Needless to say, you’ve got towork hard to earn a rejection slip from Ultra-Running, which made me afraid to even ask whatCaballo, isolated in his hut like the Unabomber, had manifestoed about.

“Was he, like, threatening or something?”

“Nah,” Allison said. “It just wasn’t about running. It was more like a lecture on brotherhood andkarma and greedy gringos.”

“Did it mention this race he’s planning?”

“Yeah, it talked about some race with the Tarahumara. But as far as I can see, he’s the only one init. Him, and about three Indians.”

Coach Joe Vigil had never heard of Caballo, either. I’d hoped that maybe they’d met on that epicday in Leadville, or later on down in the Barrancas. But right after the Leadville race, CoachVigil’s life had taken a sudden and dramatic turn. It started with a phone call: a young woman wason the line, asking if Coach Vigil could help her qualify for the Olympics. She’d been prettytalented in college, but she’d gotten so sick of running that she’d given it up and was thinking ofopening a bakery café instead. Unless Coach Vigil thought she should keep trying …?

Vigil is a master motivator, so he knew just what to say: Forget it. Go make mochaccinos. DeenaKastor (then Drossin) sounded like a sweet kid, but she had no business even thinking aboutworking with Vigil. She was a California beach girl who was used to running out her front doorand along the Santa Monica trails under a warm Pacific sun. What Vigil had going was realSpartan warrior stuff—a survival-of-the-fittest program that combined a killer workload with thefreezing, windswept Colorado mountains.

“I tried to discourage her because Alamosa is not a California town,” Vigil would later say. “It’s alittle secluded, it’s in the mountains, and it gets cold—sometimes thirty degrees below zero. Onlythe toughest people survive there in terms of running.” When Deena showed up anyway, Vigil waskind enough to reward her persistence by testing her basic fitness and training potential. Theresults did nothing to change Vigil’s mind: she was mediocre.

But the more Coach Vigil pushed her away, the more intrigued Deena became. Posted on the wallof Vigil’s office was a magic formula for fast running that, as far as Deena could tell, hadabsolutely nothing to do with running: it was stuff like “Practice abundance by giving back,” and“Improve personal relationships,” and “Show integrity to your value system.” Vigil’s dietaryadvice was just as bare of sports or science. His nutrition strategy for an Olympic marathonhopeful was this: “Eat as though you were a poor person.”

Vigil was building his own mini Tarahumara world. Until he could wrap up his commitments anddecamp to the Copper Canyons, he would do his best to re-create the Copper Canyons in Colorado.

If Deena even wanted to think about training under Vigil, she had better be ready to train like theTarahumara. That meant living lean and building her soul as much as her strength.

Deena got it, and couldn’t wait to start. Coach Vigil believed you had to become a strong personbefore you could become a strong runner. So how could she lose? Grudgingly, Coach Vigildecided to give her a chance. In 1996, he began putting her through his Tarahumara-tinged trainingsystem. Within a year, the aspiring baker was on her way to becoming one of the greatest distancerunners in American history.

She crushed the field to win the national cross-country championships, and went on to break theU.S. record in distances from three miles to the marathon. At the 2004 Athens Games, Deenaoutlasted the world-record holder, Paula Radcliffe, to win the bronze, the first Olympic medal foran American marathoner in twenty years. Ask Joe Vigil about Deena’s accomplishments, though,and near the top of the list will always be the Humanitarian Athlete of the Year award she won ............
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