“Run Free”: The story of an ultramarathoner who was born to run, and never stopped

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“Run Free” has its Madison premiere on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Barrymore Theatre, 2090 Atwood Ave. Tickets are $12 in advance through barrymorelive.com and $15 at the door.

The alarm goes off before the sun goes up, and, begrudgingly, you haul yourself out of bed and into your workout clothes. While your neighbors are asleep, you hit the pavement for your morning run. It’s a pain, but once you get moving, you start to feel better.

Now imagine if the hard part wasn’t starting to run, but stopping.

That seems to sum up the life of ultra-runner Micah True, who became something of a folk hero among ultra-marathoners (as in 100 miles), known as Caballo Blanco (White Horse). A new documentary by Sterling Noren, “Run Free,” aims to capture the life and impact of True, and it has its Madison premiere Tuesday night at the Barrymore. While “Run Free” is of most interest to runners, and the film seems to fall under True’s sway more than it aims to captures all his facets, it’s still an interesting movie about an interesting guy.

True really came to prominence when he was featured in author Christopher McDougall’s book on ultra-running, “Born to Run.” In the movie, McDougall recounts how he tracked down True in a small Mexican village and tried to interview him. True was evasive, taciturn, even prickly.

Then True suggested they go for a run. And McDougall got a look at the true man on that dusty trail. True says in the film that he wants to run “easy, light and smooth,” and he has a carefree shuffle in his gait that doesn’t impact the ground so much as glide across it. When he’s running, he seems like he can go on forever, a smile on his face, more at peace with the world while moving across it than he ever was standing still on it.

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Noren’s film chronicles True’s life, and finds some interesting turns along the way — as a young man, True was a fierce boxer in Denver. (“I don’t want to talk about that,” True tells the camera, shutting down the camera with look that reveals that inner fire beneath his placid exterior.) As he grew older, True became less and less interested in civilization, running in the trails around Boulder, doing oddjobs in his old pickup truck to make ends meet.

Eventually, True became drawn to the Tarahumara people of Mexico, for whom running is a sacred tradition. True organized a 100-mile race in the region’s Copper Canyon, where ultra-marathoners from around the world like him would make a pilgrimage to the canyons, running along side the Tarahumara people. The race was a success — almost too much so for True’s liking; in one scene, as we see an elaborate opening ceremonies for the 2012 race, we see True sitting uncomfortably to one side. He didn’t like to run things; he liked to run.

When civilization came too close, True would take off on his own and run, far from anyone he knew. It was on one of those escapes that he died of natural causes in 2012, his body discovered several days later by his friends. How well they knew him — how well he let them know him — is open to debate, but “Run Free” makes the case that he made an impact. And it just might propel you to get up the next morning and try to be “easy, light and smooth” — whether you go out running or not.

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