Tarahumara Marathon 11/23/03

By Mel Downs

I've wanted to take a jog with the Tarahumara's ever
since reading about them in our "Mexico on $10 a Day"
guidebook during our 30 day Trek to Mexico in 1978.
They live in the canyons that make up the Copper
Canyon and run against neighboring villages in teams
during festivals. They kick a wooden ball in front of
them as they run. They've come to the U.S. to run and
have won races like the Leadville, CO 100 miler.

Back in August when my brother Doyle was in Colorado
Springs to run the Pikes Peak Ascent with me, I
mentioned that we should go run a marathon with the
Tarahumaras. Punching in Tarahumara Marathon into an
internet search brought up CaballoBlanco.com, the
Website of Micah True. Noticing an offer to run with
the Tarahumaras on November 23rd brought my blood to
a boil since I'd planned to visit the Copper Canyon in
that timeframe anyway. The 'run' was listed as 27 - 29
miles with a 4,000-foot elevation gain plus another
2,000-foot gain/loss as you cross the 6,000-foot
elevation plateau.

Micah did a fantastic job communicating with me via
Email with all kinds of insight about the race and
logistics associated with it. When I realized that I'd
have to hike the course in reverse over a couple of
days prior to running the race, I started to worry. I
wasn't worried so much about completing the distance
but I wanted to finish in the 11-hour cut-off time and
make it into the 'Club Mas Loco' that Micah created
for those who successfully complete the race.

I drove to Creel (hub for most Copper Canyon visitors)
with my van, two buddies (Bryan Carson and Tom Petty),
and our three dirt-bikes on a trailer. The famous
Copper Canyon train runs through Creel. Our plan was
to leave the van in Creel and ride to Urique, on via
Tubares to Batopilas, and return to Creel with
exploration side-trips along the way.

Micah's plan was to meet in Urique (a cool village
that looks like it did at the turn of the century) on
Thursday at Noon for a runners meeting, then hike to
Los Alisos rancho to camp out. It's about 9 miles to
the rancho and about 1,000-foot elevation gain. Diego
(Doug Rhodes - MexicoHorse.com) showed up with one of
his guided horseback tours from his Rancho del Oso
near Cerocahui. His crew quickly got a
campfire/cooking fire going and started to prepare a
sumptuous meal for his clients (Bryan and Wendy from
Chicago). Meanwile, Caballo Blanco and I were hanging
out and visiting with Prospero and his wife Sabina in
their cozy kitchen with wood burning cookstove built
on adobe bricks and corn grinding stone (matate) next
to it mounted on adobe bricks as well. We slept under
the stars (Have you seen the Milky Way look like a
cloud across the sky?) and dreamed about crossing the
Sierra Madre.

Urique lies in it's own canyon and sits at about 1,800
foot elevation while Batopilas is about twenty miles
away (as the crow flies) and across the Sierra Madre
sitting in it's own canyon at about 1,800 feet
elevation. The plateau is about six miles across and
sits at 6,000 feet elevation. You gain/lose about
2,000 feet as you cross the plateau and wind in and
out and up and down in the side canyons.

Up, up, up we hiked as we headed for Batopilas. Soon
the rancho looked like a speck in the bottom of the
canyon. Hiking across the plateau was pleasant as we
passed by a few ranchos and walked on soft dirt trails
covered with pine needles. The trail up was extremely
rocky with 3 - 4 inch 'rollers' to twist ankles on.
Fantastic views opened up as we reached the Batopilas
side of the plateau and passed by the 'caseta' or
small sheter someone had built there. Now it was time
for 4,000 feet of downhill to the village of Cerro
Colorado. From there we followed the stream into the
Batopilas canyon and walked along the aqueduct built
by Alexander Shepard around 1880 when he built the
bueatiful Hacienda San Miguel to house his family,
workers, and process the huge amount of silver from
the local mines.

Batopilas looked great as we passed under the bridge
across the river and past the Hacienda. Caballo headed
for his house and I checked-in at the lovely Minas
Hotel just off the main plaza. I was ready for two
nights rest before starting the race at 7 AM on

Micah and I were sitting on the benches in front of
Mario's tienda (small store) on Saturday night
wondering if any Tarahumaras would show up for the
mandatory runners meeting. Sure enough, at 4:45 PM,
five Raramuri (Tarahumara word for runners) came
walking up the street. After a review of the race plan
by Micah, we sat together at Grandma Clarita's for a
great dinner.

Sunday - 7 AM - After a great breakfast at Grandma
Clarita's and a quick photo Op., we left the start
line in front of Micah's house and headed for Cerro
Colorado. It's around 9 miles to Cerro Colorado,
another 9 over the plateau to Los Alisos, and another
9 to Urique. For this race there were no course
markings and the only 'aid' station was at Los Alisos.
Prospero and his wife prepared some burritos, water,
Pinole (ground roasted corn, that you mix with water -
no Tarahumara would go into the mountains without it),
and fresh grapefruit, and when I arrived, I hung
around for a cup of coffee.

Caballo Blanco and the Tarahumaras ran away from me
before we got out of Batopilas. I was on my own for
the rest of the race. I was thankful I'd recorded a
track in my GPS on my way over and I referred to it
constantly during the race. The weather was quite hot
(around 80 degrees) climbing the plateau in the
morning and descending it in the afternoon. I ran when
I could and hiked when I had to. Carrying around 6
pounds in my hydration pack slowed me down a little. I
took about 3 eight minute shoe clean-out breaks and 2
fifteen minute lunch breaks along the way. Somehow I
managed to do a bit of a sprint the last couple of
blocks to the finish line in Urique and all the
Tarahumaras were there waiting along with Caballo and
other town people. It was great! I made it in to the
'Club Mas Loco' and earned my T-shirt. Wow!

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Grandma Tita's and
Micah handed out the generous cash awards to the
Tarahumara's. A really nice wrap-up to a great event.

Thanks again to Micah True for his great organization
of all the logistics for the run. Micah's hospitality
and contacts provided a truly wonderful experience.


1. Manuel Luna (39) 5:20 Gavilana
2. Martin (18) 5:25 Chinivo
3. Herbalisto (46) 5:49 Chinivo
4. Florencio (20) 5:50 Acorare
5. Maurilio (29) 5:51 Acorare
6. Caballo Blanco (50) 6:35 Colorado/Batopilas
7. Mel Downs (61) 9:59 Colorado

Runners meeting.jpg (40287 bytes)

Waiting to run.jpg (41654 bytes)

Trail at base of cliffs.jpg (28652 bytes)


Start.jpg (42236 bytes)


Rancho.jpg (40824 bytes)


Mountain trail.jpg (30699 bytes)

Overlook.jpg (33434 bytes)

Awards dinner.jpg (31228 bytes)


Sofia.jpg (30562 bytes)