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Ultra-marathoner died from heart disease

Associated Press Published: May 9, 2012

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A 12-mile run for Micah True was like an easy cruise. The ultra-marathon runner was used to tackling more than four times that distance over much more grueling terrain and under the hot Mexican sun.

His body became conditioned with many miles under his belt, years of training and a diet with few vices — aside from the occasional beer or scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Because he was in such superb shape, his death during a routine run through the Gila Wilderness of southwestern New Mexico in late March surprised his friends and fans.

It's been more than five weeks since his body was recovered. Medical examiners have done their autopsy and released the results, but friends are still left guessing whether genetics or something else is to blame for stopping the man known as "Caballo Blanco" in his tracks.

"It doesn't fit with him going on a two-hour run. It wasn't exceptionally hot. By a lot of ultra-marathoners' standards, it was pretty simple," said Scott Jurek, one of the top ultra-runners in the world who knew True and helped search for him. "I doubt he was running that hard. I think it was just a matter of timing."

An autopsy report released Tuesday by the Office of the Medical Investigator showed the 58-year-old runner had cardiomyopathy, a disease that results in the heart becoming enlarged.

While medical examiners couldn't point to the cause of the heart disease, they said True's left ventricle, the chamber of the heart that pumps oxygenated blood to the rest of the body, had become thick and was dilated. That can result in an irregular heartbeat during exertion.

For athletes who spend a lot of time on the trail, Jurek said it's not unusual for them to have larger left ventricles. He suggested that many ultra-marathoners developed the trait over years of conditioning their bodies to travel such vast distances.

A sport considered insane by some, ultra-runners will argue that the human body was made for running. It's what humans used to do to survive in the wild. But more than that, they say, it's about listening to their bodies, finding an inner peace and enjoying the scenery at the same time.

True boiled it down to having fun.

Remembered as a legend and an inspiration among runners, True, nicknamed "Caballo Blanco," was known for his big smile and infectious love of running.

He had been involved in ultra-marathons for years, but it wasn't until he became friends with the indigenous Tarahumara of Mexico that the direction of his life came into sharp focus. The Tarahumara are known for their extreme running prowess.

True spent much of the year living among the Tarahumara, or Raramuri, as they are also known. It was in the canyons where he got rid of his running shoes, put on a pair of sandals and learned to run the way the Tarahumara do — easy, light and smooth.

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