Recognized internationally as the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon through author Chris McDougall’s book “Born to Run”, in honor and memory of Micah after his passing in 2012, the race was returned to the name by which it was always known in the Canyons, “Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco.”
The Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco is conducted by the Municipality of Urique with support by True Messages and long time ‘Mas Locos’, sponsors and supporters. The UMCB has an incredible and storied history and is considered one of Ultra Marathon Running’s must-do bucket list events. Started by Micah to introduce international athletes to the beauty of the Raramuri (Tarahumara) people, their great culture, and their magical lands, each year the event brings together endurance athletes from all over the planet to run together with over 800 Raramuri athletes.
In 2017 a Marathon distance (42K), and in 2019 a Half Marathon (21K) was added to the event options for those wanting to experience all the beauty of this cultural and running event but not quite ready for the 50 mile distance. Both the 42K and 21K are still incredibly challenging events with climbs and with what is typically a very warm day. With the new changes implemented in recent years, we have improved even further on what are surely some of the most scenic running events on the planet. Join in and be part of this magic. (Possible 10K for 2022!)
There is a reason this is considered one of the most challenging Ultramarathons on the planet. That now also applies to the Marathon and Half Marathon. While there are many miles ran on relatively flat dirt and gravel roads, the climbs can be challenging. However most everyone who has experienced the race will share, it is the heat and the exposure that provides the greatest challenge. During the first few hours the canyon has many shaded areas, but as the day and the kilometers wear on, the warmth of the sun will take effect. Much of the course after the sun reaches above the mountains is exposed and there is little or no shade to be found. While an average year may see temperatures reach the low to mid 80’s, it is not uncommon for them to hit the upper 90’s and more.
Unlike some of the early years, aid stations are now plentiful (every 2-4 miles), but do not allow this to interfere with your preparation. Even with frequent hydration stops you will want to carry significant water and calories to ensure you have access if needed.
The aid stations will all have bottled water. Most will include fruit (bananas and oranges and perhaps grapefruit). Some will also have electrolyte drinks and pinole (a heritage maize drink). Los Alisos will have the best grapefruits on the planet and maybe some hand patted bean tortillas.
The course is well marked with flags, painted rocks and tree markings – you should have no issues but do pay attention at turns.
You will be required to obtain a wristband at several locations and the start, please check the map when issued for these locations. The volunteers will be waiting to put them on your wrist, but do make sure to no miss.
The cutoff time is 6:00 PM to go out on the final ‘loop’ (out and back to Guadalupe). However, it is always at the race directors and medical support teams discretion to amend this on an individual basis. There is medical support on the course, please look for Cruz Roja (Red Cross) team to help direct you if you need attention.
The events of the Ultra Caballo Blanco take place in North Central Mexico in the state of Chihuahua in the remote Municipality of Urique. The amazingly scenic Urique village is at the bottom of one of the Barrancas del Cobre (or Copper Canyons) in the Sierra Tarahumara which is part of the Sierra Madre Occidental.
Created by Micah True the first Ultra Caballo Blanco was ran on 2003 and initiated as an act of Korima (the circle of sharing, and act of giving without expectation of return, what I have is yours). This tenet of love and caring remains today and in addition to supporting the cultural aspects of running an health and all the other wonderful results of the experience, it continues the tradition of providing vouchers awards for all Raramuri runners that are used for nutritional sustenance (maize flour, beans, rice, etc) for their families.
The event has continued to grow throughout the years. What started as one man’s dream and a few local Raramuri athletes, now annually attracts over 1200 endurance runners from over 20 countries. In addition, UMCB week also includes the ‘Caballitos Runs’. These age based races for younger runners take place on Saturday and are surely a highlight of the week. Over 800 young athletes compete for awards and prizes and just plain fun. In addition to helping continue the running traditions with the youth, the events also support the kids with a party, and donations from sponsors and the community to make for a day these young ones look forward to all year long. We ask that all of our UMCB runners join in and support the kids events and help continue this wonderful running tradition with the next generation!
We had a great time in 2022, and felt like we had done all we wanted and more. But when registration opened up for 2023, it seemed worth repeating. And … MORE
We had a great time in 2022, and felt like we had done all we wanted and more. But when registration opened up for 2023, it seemed worth repeating. And it was, to us.
Why go back? The beauty of the Barrancas Del Cobre. The warm hosting of the event by the community & Urique Municipality. The lack of anything like BTR Tshirts and shot glasses in tiendas (pop up vendors selling gear, but mostly Raramuri crafts). The scenery and challenge of the course – the uphill to Naranjo is all walking for me but worth it to see the views. And running with the Raramuri.
Race and be part of something bigger
The entire experience was an adventure. The race was the most difficult I have done primarily due to the elevation gain and the trail/road surface. The logistics of getting there … MORE
The entire experience was an adventure. The race was the most difficult I have done primarily due to the elevation gain and the trail/road surface. The logistics of getting there and back was immensely frustrating and challenging, nothing goes according to plan or schedule. MAKE SURE YOU WANT THIS TYPE CONSTANT ADJUSTMENT AND THINGS NOT GOING ACCORDING TO PLAN. It was loose rocks and dust making downhill challenging to keep from slipping and keep pace. 5000′ feet elevation gain, 27 miles. You run out and back from Urique 3 times in different directions. Water stops were perfect, more than needed, I drank 3x what I normally do. Temp in the morning was 40, high for the day 70, the sun was strong and no shade for the last 10~ miles. At each turnaround you get a wrist band to prove you made it. The volunteers were great, everything is in Spanish, know how to say the distance of your race. 90% of the people running appeared to be Tarahumara, another 5% from Mexico, and very few foreigners, only a handful from the US. There were NO porta potties anywhere…. so challenging at the start of the race and everyone just went to the side of the trail, no real ‘woods’ to hide in. Mama Tita’s was my favorite restaurant.. I highly recommend. Packet pick up was supposed to be from 2-5pm but started early and foreigners had their own special line, but this was not shared. If you don’t speak Spanish, go with someone, or find someone there to befriend, or it will be immensely more difficult. The shirt was decent, very unique and colorful, the medal was the same for all races and nondescript.
The race in the book Born To Run
The Ultra Caballo Blanco is the race Christopher McDougall wrote about in Born To Run. A marathon distance has been added, in addition to the original 50-mile race. "If you … MORE
The Ultra Caballo Blanco is the race Christopher McDougall wrote about in Born To Run. A marathon distance has been added, in addition to the original 50-mile race. “If you were looking for a beautiful and challenging route in one of the most remote and beautiful locations on the planet – you’ve succeeded”, to quote one long time ultra-runner. There is one road into Urique, about 25 miles of what we used to call a “logging road” back in the day – bulldozed and only infrequently a full 2 lanes, with some impressive drop offs and no guard rails. If two vehicles meet, one backs up to a where there is room to pass. Sometimes light planes use one of Urique’s larger streets as a runway but the way in and out is the road. And the paved road that the Urique road connects to is remote to begin with. That may be why the race still seems to resemble the one in the book.
It is hard to review this like a regular race in the US. The sign up is through ultrasignup.com, but it is more than just a race. Micah True started it to introduce international athletes to the beauty of the Raramuri (Tarahumara) people, their culture, and their magical lands. You may have heard of Korima – give without expectation of return – it’s not about monetary crap. The local town folk love race week. The town is alive with big city entertainment and many visitors. They are happy to have visitors, but also, they don’t need to have them.
There aren’t full published results yet but approximately 600-800 local Raramuri runners were expected along with about 300 National and International runners (Nationals were the majority of the 300).
The town seems to scale up to provide for the influx of people. Food and bottled water were plentiful in tiendas, there were pop up street vendors cooking gorditas over a metal sheet on a 55 gallon drum, and the few local restaurants never seemed to have a wait. Getting pesos in small denominations ahead of time was best, I don’t think there was a bank.
Packet pickup was the day before under a structure shading a basketball court area. There were two lines, probably split between those who have access to ultrasignup.com and those who don’t. It wasn’t apparent to me and others at first but I eventually figured it out and got my packet (the first line you see is the one for no access since it is much longer).
Both races started at 6:00 AM, a good balance between just enough light and giving maximum time on course with lower morning temperatures. Funny to have a race with parking not an issue. Everyone walks from where they spend the night – it’s a small town. Many Raramuri really do walk into town a day or two before and camp or sleep where there is some cover.
The marathon course is a Y shape like the original 50-mile course. The Y nexus is about a mile outside of Urique, the course leaves town, goes back thru town and then returns to the finish after a 6 mile out and back. The course is well marked and much of it is along the area road – bulldozed and rough. The one trail section is from just a little above the river crossing to about 200 ft below some of the impressive cliff faces overlooking town. It is rough and steep and beautiful. The high point and turnaround of that section is the small settlement of Naranjo and the return section is on the rough road that leads up there. It was a relief to run downhill on it.
Aid stations were very adequate. A couple ran out of water but I was in the back part of the pack. It really is best to carry what you need and refill at the stations that have water. The lack of water was entirely forgivable to me since some stations had pinole – roasted corn meal mixed with purified water. It was delicious, I had been wondering what it was like. Bananas and oranges and bottle water were the other offerings. Three stations put wrist bands on you since electronic mats were out of the question. All the volunteers I met were helpful and nice and quick to keep things moving. Red Cross staff were present at some for first aid. All in all, given the remote location, the aid stations were a 5 shoe effort.
What was the best or most unique aspect of the race? Running with the Raramuri. Many really still use sandals made with tire rubber and leather, and wear the vivid traditional clothes. Some, including Lorena of the wonderful Netflix special, were wearing shoes but sandals were numerous. And they really do run. You may already have heard this, the Raramuri were what could be perceived as shy in public, and with the language barrier, running together was the primary way of communication and seemed very sufficient.
Importance of swag kind of recedes in a race like this – everyone got a very nice tech shirt and matching muff, which many Raramuri runners wore on race day. The finisher’s medal is subdued but the ribbon is hard to beat since ‘Ultramarathon Caballo Blanco’ is in large print on it (I know the 50-miler is the real ultra but I wasn’t going to argue). You can tell, I had a great time, and if this type of event fits you, then it is well worth the effort getting there.