17 September 2007

The Hopi Paatuwaqatsi Water is Life 50K Run

Well, Saturday AM came early on 15 September for Team SpadeFeet and Team Forest Rain. We got up at 0230hr and caravanned from Flagstaff to Walpi Village on the Hopi Reservation. We were running the

Hopi Paatuwaqatsi Water is Life Run

, and the race began at 0600hr. Image Credit: Connor Gifford.

Our caravan consisted of five very tired people. We had two three person relay teams for this event. Team Spade Feet consisted of me, Ethan Aumack and David Hartly. Team Forest Rain consisted of my girlfriend (Connor Gifford), Bruce Higgins and Tom Sisk. Dave was fortunate enough to spend the night on the Hopi Rez, so he was able to sleep in.

Looking toward First Mesa and Walpi as the sun rises on Hopi Land.

This race is ancient, and may very well be the first ultra running race in Arizona, and perhaps North America. This 30 mile run circumnavigates the three mesas which represent Hopi Land. This is a prayer run and race organizers emphasized this is not a run to win, but a run for life. Its purpose is to run to promote the health and continued flow of the springs upon which the Hopi rely for growing their crops. But in a larger sense, the race is to promote love and compassion and the recognition that water is life not just for the Hopi but for the Planet. The Hopi are intimately familiar with this fact. They understand the importance of respecting Mother Earth, and that sentiment was effectively conveyed throughout the day.

The run was epic! First we were able to watch the sun rise on Hopi Land. And once the race began, we were able to experience the stark beauty of the Hopi Reservation. There were sights to behold along each 10 mile leg – not to mention challenges such as running through deep sand and bouldering up and down First Mesa. The first leg consisted of running up and down hills of sand and through the ancient village of Walpi (the longest inhabited village in North America), the second leg consisted of running through MORE sand, hills and scenic views, and the third leg consisted of running up and down First Mesa twice and then ultimately ending at the bottom of First Mesa containing a Walpi satellite settlement. The race course in its entirety consisted of running by many of the sacred springs of Hopi Land. As part of this run, we were encouraged to stop by the flowing springs give thanks and honor the water that gives us life. For all Humans and All Organisms - water is life.

A view of Second Mesa.

Bruce and I were shuttled out to the second transition point at around 0700hr. It was already getting hot, and I continued to seek any shade available by laying under parked trucks. While I was laying there, in a relaxed quasi-meditative state, I was soaking it all in. In mid-September on Hopi Land, it is hot with little to no shade (save for what I could muster underneath a truck with several other runners) and the sun beats down on you relentlessly. Water keeps us alive in the desert without it we would not survive long. Water is life.

I throughly enjoyed my time with the Hopi People. I was honored to share this day with them. I learned we share a common thread -- the Hopi are a running culture, and I am a runner. While I awaited for Ethan, my team member running the second leg of the race, I was chatting with the Hopi and other runners about races, qualifying for marathons, what we eat to prepare for runs, where we run, how we train, etc. The camaraderie at the transition point was great, and I enjoyed my time there as I was trying to hide from the sun.

A random shot of runners and spectators directly after the ultra-runners started.

Around 1000hr, Ethan finally arrived, and it was time for me to run the third and final leg of the race. I was the lucky one on my team – I ran the hottest leg of the day. Despite this, it was absolutely beautiful. Hopi Land is a magnificent place, and I was honored and blessed to participate in this event. My leg of the run started by traversing up and down sandy hills and then climbing up onto First Mesa; as I was summiting the Mesa, I passed my first spring. The spring was replete with cattails and I stopped at the water source momentarily to give thanks and peer into the water. There were literally hundreds of bees and wasps at the waters edge. These critters were likely collecting water for their nests and hives. Water is life.

Once I was atop the mesa, I picked up my pace. I realized I would run faster on the flats and down hills and speed hike the up hills. By the time I crested the mesa, it was probably in the mid-80s and climbing, and once again…there was no shade! Granted this is a prayer run, but whenever you safety pin a bib on your shorts it becomes a race! I was mindful my entire time out there, and I stopped at each spring to give thanks. This being said, when I was on the trail, I was pushing myself all the way to the finish line.

Perhaps the most beautiful thing I encountered during this race was running the ancient trails along the mesa top. There was a foot path carved into the stone from generations of runners using this trail. I was actually on a trail which was carved into the limestone over hundreds, if not a thousand years, of use. I was most humbled by this experience. I also ran through carpets of broken pottery and several ancient Pueblos. As I was running along this ancient running trail, a raven joined me as the wind picked up. He soared on a thermal along the edge of the mesa and I ran along. Although he may not have known why we were running, I’m sure he knew where ever spring was on that mesa, and he knew, albeit perhaps only instinctively, that water is life.

An additional benefit of this race is its tranquility. During my entire run, I only encountered three people on the trail. I stopped to help two ultra-runners along the way. I gave one some salt tabs and water, and I helped another find his way back onto the trial. I also got dropped by one relay runner, who was far more conditioned than I for running in the heat. I did focus on him and declared him my “rabbit” -- he remained in my sights, and relatively close by up to the finish line.

Team SpadeFeet, Ethan Aumack, Dave Hartly and me (from left to right). Image Credit: Connor Gifford.

Once I reached the finish line, it took me about half an hour to cool down to where I could eat – but I really wanted food! The Hopi had prepared a massive traditional feast for everyone. So, once I had cooled down, I gorged myself on chile stew, beans and hominy, squash, watermelon and piki bread. I ate a lot of watermelon!

I’m still waiting to hear back from the race organizers, but I believe Team SpadeFeet placed either forth or fifth; however, I’m fairly certain we placed fourth. We had one problem during the race. Our first team member to run, Dave, got lost and ran and additional one to two miles. I reckon Dave wanted to put a more good running vibes on the trail for the springs! The running course can be quite confusing and Dave was one of many to get lost. So, we’re not holding it against him!

Team Forest Rain placed second in the three-person relay and finished first overall in mixed gender teams. Congratulations to Connor, Bruce and Tom!

Team Forest Rain at the Awards Ceremony, Bruce Higgins, race organizer Mr. Bucky Preston, Tom Sisk and Connor Gifford (from left to right).

Bringin' it on Home! Image Credit: Connor Gifford.

On this day, we did bring the rain. As I was running along First Mesa I could see the rain moving toward me from Second Mesa. Once I dropped down off the mesa and was running in 90+ degree heat, I was really praying for rain. Well...the rain didn't come until after I had crossed the finish line. First it rained lightly. Thereafter, the winds picked up and brought a sand storm that could choke a camel. The sand storm was intense, and I don’t recall being in a sand storm of this intensity before. After the winds abated, the rains did come, and we received a nice little reprieve from the heat. It was cloudy and rainy the rest of the afternoon. It was an excellent ending to a beautiful day.

Hopi Land is an amazing place. It was humbling to run ancient trails with these People, to share in their culture, and to honor and pray for that which is sacred. Water is life.

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