The True story: autopsy may be some time yet

It’s been less than a month since revered ultrarunner Micah True, 58. turned up dead in New Mexico’s Gila Forest. The death of Caballo Blanco – True’s nickname – caused an outpouring of grief in the running community, prompting tributes from both the likes of renowned ultra champion Scott Jurek and the everyday runner who admired True’s glowing spirit as much as his evident physical prowess.

The nagging question, though, is how did True die?  Despite the intense interest from the global running community, it’s unlikely an autopsy will be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

Formal reports into a death take eight to 12 weeks – or even longer – according to the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, the office responsible for the autopsy. The process involves talking to family members, witnesses and others, according to information on the office’s website.

To date, only his close friend, Christopher McDougall has addressed the subject. MacDougall profiled and made True the subject of his book, Born To Run. The three-time National Magazine Award winner and former war correspondent for Associated Press placed True prominently in his 2009 best-selling book, Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.

To a large degree, the book – and the descriptions of True and the Copper Canyon, where Mexico’s formidable runners the Tarahumara Indians lived and ran – sparked, or at least popularized, the barefoot running revolution.

Ironically – horribly – almost the same night McDougall tweeted that he was celebrating the book’s first anniversary on the New York Times’ bestseller list with a beer run, True went missing. A search ensued. McDougall, Jurek and others in the ultrarunning community – including Calgary geologist Simon Donato – converged at the Gila National Forest to search for their friend.

The frantic search  ended in the tragic discovery of True’s body, his feet in a creek., as detailed in McDougall’s Outside Online story.

In that piece, McDougall offered the first explanation as to how True might have died.  McDougall speculated that a tropical disease known as Chagas disease might have killed the runner. The infection “gradually weakens the heart,” McDougall wrote.

“Caballo had told me about weird fainting spells he’d had over the years, and not long ago he’d felt so listless and feverish that he thought he’d contracted West Nile. Both symptoms could indicate Chagas.”

And then McDougall second-guessed himself: “But just writing those words makes me feel pompous and stupid, because it’s exactly the kind of thing that would make that cut-the-crap grin creep across Caballo’s face.”

As much as the running community celebrates True, his achievements and legacy, it’s equally apparent that it will take the autopsy and explanation of the celebrated runner’s demise to bring closure to the tragedy.


About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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