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Chapter 30
Poetry, music, forests, oceans, solitude—they were whatdeveloped enormous spiritual strength. Icame to realizethat spirit, as much or more than physical conditioning,had to be stored up before arace.

—HERB ELLIOTT, Olympic champion and world-record holder in the mile who trained in barefeet, wrote poetry, and retired undefeatedOYE, OSO, a shopkeeper called, waving me inside.

Two days after we’d arrived in Urique, we were known everywhere by the spirit-animal nicknamesCaballo had given us. “Everywhere,” of course, meant about five hundred yards in every direction;Urique is a tiny, Lost World village sitting alone at the bottom of the canyon like a pebble at thebottom of a well. By the time we’d finished breakfast on our first morning, we’d already beenfolded into the local social life. An army squad encamped on the outskirts would salute Jenn asthey passed through on patrol, calling, “.Hola, Brujita!” Kids greeted Barefoot Ted with shouts of“Buenos días, Se.or Mono.” Good morning, Mr. Monkey.

“Hey, Bear,” the shopkeeper continued. “Do you know that Arnulfo has never been beaten? Doyou know he’s won the one-hundred-kilometer race three times in a row?”

No Kentucky Derby, presidential election, or celebrity murder trial has ever been handicapped aspassionately and personally as Caballo’s race was by the people of Urique. As a mining villagewhose best days were over more than a century ago, Urique had two things left to be proud of: itsbrutally tough landscape and its Tarahumara neighbors. Now, for the first time, a pack of exoticforeign runners had traveled all this way to test themselves against both, and it had exploded intomuch more than a race: for the people of Urique, it was the one chance in their lifetime to show theoutside world just what they were made of.

And even Caballo was surprised to find that his race had surpassed his hopes and was growing intothe Ultimate Fighting Competition of underground ultras. Over the past two days, Tarahumararunners had continued trickling in by ones and twos from all directions. When we awoke themorning after our hike from Batopilas, we saw a band of local Tarahumara traipsing down fromthe hills above the village. Caballo hadn’t even been sure the Urique Tarahumara still rananymore; he’d been afraid that, as in the tragic case of the Tarahumara of Yerbabuena, governmentupgrades to the dirt road had converted the Urique Tarahumara from runners into hitchhikers. Theycertainly looked like a people in transition; the Urique Tarahumara still carried wooden palia sticks(their version of the ball race was more like high-speed field hockey), but instead of traditionalwhite skirts and sandals, they wore running shorts and sneakers from the Catholic mission.

That same afternoon, Caballo was overjoyed to see a fifty-one-year-old named Herbolisto comejogging in from Chinivo, accompanied by Nacho, a forty-one-year-old champion from one ofHerbolisto’s neighboring settlements. As Caballo had feared, Herbolisto had been laid up with theflu. But he was one of Caballo’s oldest Tarahumara friends and hated the idea of missing the race,so as soon as he felt a little better, he grabbed a pinole bag and set off on the sixty-mile trip on hisown, stopping off on the way to invite Nacho along for the fun.

By the eve of Race Day, our numbers had tripled from eight to twenty-five. Up and down Urique’smain street, debate over who was now the true top seed was running hot: Was it Caballo Blanco,the wily old veteran who’d poached the secrets of both American and Tarahumara runners? Or theUrique Tarahumara, experts on the local trails who had hometown pride and support on their side?

Some money was riding on Billy Bonehead, the Young Wolf, whose surf-god physique drewadmiring stares whenever he went for a swim in the Urique River. But the heaviest street actionwas divided between the two stars: Arnulfo, king of the Copper Canyons, and El Venado, hismysterious foreign challenger.

“Sí, se.or,” I replied to the shopkeeper. “Arnulfo won a one-hundred-kilometer race in the canyonsthree times. But the Deer has won a one-hundred-mile race in the mountains seven times.”

“But it’s very hot down here,” the shopkeeper retorted. “The Tarahumara, they eat heat.”

“True. But the Deer won a one-hundred-thirty-five-mile race across a desert called Death Valley inthe middle of summer. No one has ever run it faster.”

“No one beats the Tarahumara,” the shopkeeper insisted.

“So I’ve heard. So who are you betting on?”

He shrugged. “The Deer.”

The Urique villagers had grown up in awe of the Tarahumara, but this tall gringo with the flashyorange shoes was unlike anyone they’d ever seen. It was eerie watching Scott run side by side withArnulfo; even though Scott had never seen the Tarahumara before and Arnulfo had never seen theoutside world, somehow these two men separated by two thousand years of culture had developedthe same running style. They’d approached their art from opposite ends of history, and metprecisely in the middle.

I first saw it up on Batopilas mountain, after we’d finally gotten to the top and the trail flattened asit circled the peak. Arnulfo took advantage of the plateau to open it up. Scott locked in beside him.

As the trail curled into the setting sun, the two of them vanished into the glare. For a few moments,I couldn’t tell them apart—they were two fiery silhouettes moving with identical rhythm andgrace.

“Got it!” Luis said, dropping back to show me the image in his digital camera. He’d sprinted aheadand wheeled around just in time to capture everything I’d come to understand about running overthe past two years. It wasn’t Arnulfo’s and Scott’s matching form so much as their matchingsmiles; they were both grinning with sheer muscular pleasure, like dolphins rocketing through thewaves. “This one is going to make me cry when I get back home,” Luis said. “It’s like gettingBabe Ruth and Mickey Mantle in the same shot.” If Arnulfo had an advantage, it wouldn’t be styleor spirit.

But I had another reason to put my money on Scott. During the last, hardest miles of the hike toUrique, he kept hanging back with me and I’d wondered why. He’d come all this way to see thebest runners in the world, so why was he wasting his time with one of the worst? Didn’t he resentme for holding everyone up? Seven hours of descending that mountain eventually gave me myanswer:

What Coach Joe Vigil sensed about character, what Dr. Bramble conjectured with hisanthropological models, Scott had been his entire life. The reason we race isn’t so much to beateach other, he understood, but to be with each other. Scott learned that before he had a choice,back when he was trailing Dusty and the boys through the Minnesota woods. He was no good andhad no reason to believe he ever would be, but the joy he got from running was the joy of addinghis power to the pack. Other runners try to disassociate from fatigue by blasting iPods or imaginingthe roar of the crowd in Olympic Stadium, but Scott had a simpler method: it’s e............
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