Paatuwaqatsi: Water is Life 50K

Last Friday, I returned to the Hopi Reservation for the second time to run the Water is Life 50K. Prior to last year, I had never visited this part of Arizona, even though I have lived here my entire life! It is a beautiful, mountainous drive that drops a bit in elevation as you hit the Mesas and high desert terrain. This land is untouched and so many of the ancient traditions of the Hopi people continue on here!  There are three Mesas with twelve villages that make up this region.  The oldest and most historic being Walpi, which is located on the First Mesa and has continually had inhabitants since 900 A.D.  It is well known since it does not have running water or electricity to this day!  The people that live there must go down off the Mesa to bring water back up for their daily needs.

Arriving at the Second Mesa, I picked up my race packet and decided to drive up the Second Mesa with my friend since we had some time to kill before the traditional spaghetti dinner. These Mesas rise up hundreds of feet out of landscape and offer the most amazing views of the land of the Hopi.

  IMG_7308IMG_7280IMG_7309This run was founded in 2003 by Bucky Preston, who is a well-known and accomplished runner who has run thousands of miles in the quest to preserve his people’s water and to get the word out of how important it is to the Hopi.  Also, by running on these ancient trails, it keeps them alive!  They are considered the “veins” of the villages and by utilizing them,  they remain open which will help bring in the clouds.  The following is a quote from the Water is Life website:

Bucky Preston stated: “This was something that I had always wanted to do for many years. We are forgetting our Hopi values. We are forgetting to help each other’s out. I want to see that effort return to our community. Putting Hopi life values and teaching at the forefront is the purpose of the run. Why are we taught to run early in the morning? Because running not only strengthens you physically, it strengthens you spiritually. A runner would take one of the many foot trails from the village in the early morning to a spring, take a drink from the spring and sprinkle himself with the cold water. This gave that person strength and provided healing for any ailments. Everything at Hopi involves water – Water is Life. Now, water is being abused and is depleting. In some places, it is gone and I want to bring awareness to the people.”

The Paatuwaqatsi Run is based on these cultural values to remind the Hopi community, and other cultures, of these teachings.  Both water and running enrich our lives and must not be taken for granted.  Both should be used for good health, happiness, and longevity! The Hopi had it right all along!

In addition to the ultra run, there is also a 4 mile and 10 mile run.  Many children and families take part in these runs and it is so inspiring to see their energy and enthusiasm! The 50K and 10 Mile Loop cover various types of high desert terrain, from open sand, hard rock surfaces, high mesa tops and riparian habitat.  When you look at this desert terrain, you can see why the Hopi have such an impressive running heritage!  It is tough to get around and the weather conditions can be harsh.

Last year was my first time attempting a 50K after running many marathons.  I was nervous and had heard that this course is a tough one due to the sandy trails and tough climbs up the First Mesa.  The night before the race it rained for hours and I got next to no sleep since I was sleeping in a tent which made the storm sound like a hurricane outside!!  Despite a lack of sleep, I was up and ready to go the next morning feeling more nervous than ever!  I was afraid that those few extra miles would completely wipe me out and that I would barely cross the finish line.  We started at sunrise and it was a beautiful morning!  We started running and everything felt great!  The ground was hardly wet or muddy, due to the fact that the sandy soil just soaked everything right up!

After a few miles, I passed a girl and then realized that I was now the first place female! That made me a little nervous and a little excited, too!  At mile 18 or so, there is a turn around and this confirmed that there were only men in front of me!!  This energized me and kept me going!! The runners running the other way congratulated me and so did the people at the aid stations.  This was turning out really cool!!

I finished 17th overall and was the first female finisher.  I was awarded with a beautiful Hopi blanket and lots of bragging rights!  Not bad for a first time 50K experience!

When I decided to return to the Hopi Water is Life Run, I felt motivated to try to repeat last year’s win and maybe even better my time!! However, if it was someone else’s day to take that first place female finisher spot, I was okay with that, too.  This year, I’ve been plagued with minor injuries and less training miles, so just to finish strong was my number one goal.

The night before the race…no rain.  Just a bright moon and a not so comfortable car to sleep in.  It wasn’t that bad, it just isn’t something I’m used to and I could hear everything as they began to prepare for the race in the early morning hours.  Again, I woke sleep deprived but ready to go!!  As the sun began to rise in the East, we were ready to run.  Within the first few miles, I took note of the sandier conditions.  It was feeling harder already and the extra push off from my toes was causing a little “hot spot” between my big toe and second toe which was not good!  It was really sandy!!

After about 6 miles, I could only see men in front of me….yeah!!  At about mile 14, after climbing a monster hill which was sand all the way up, I turned to see who was behind me and I could see what looked like another woman powering up the same hill!! Ugh!  That meant, I had to keep powering up the hills and swiftly running down them! She was consistent and a strong runner, so I had to focus on just keeping my lead!  Around mile 22, we climbed back up and over the Mesa which was killer!  It felt hot and I was feeling a bit nauseous!  Not a great combo!

What kept me going at that point?  The Hopi volunteers along the course!! They were amazing!  From high above me on the Mesa, I could hear them encouraging the runners on in their native Hopi language and also in English.  Telling us, telling me, to run “happy”, to run “strong” and to run “free”!  Their voices carried for what seemed like miles!  It was music to my ears and touched my soul!  At one point, I ascended a sandy little hill as I approached the Mesa and when I reached the top, I stopped to catch my breath and look ahead to see another bigger climb!  Feeling a little deflated, I heard someone yell out, “Keep Running!”.  Yes, he was talking to me and I picked up my little shuffling feet and continued onward!  His voice was so uplifting and encouraging, and at just the right time!

I could still see her behind me, but it was about the same distance so I knew I just had to keep doing what I was doing and not slow down.  It would have really bothered me to have a lead like that and then blow it late in the run.  Now, it felt hotter than ever and still more hills to climb!  It was time for my spirit to come in and carry me to the finish.  To just keep moving.  One step closer to the finish.   Soon, I could see the finish line off in the distance and that inspired me to pick up my feet and my pace and just get there!!

Crossing the finish line at any race is the best feeling!  Crossing it as the first female finisher for the second year in a row, even better than the best feeling!  I did it!  I was challenged by another female for about 16 miles and I didn’t break down or give in!! As soon as I finished, a little girl handed me a bottle of water and a Gatorade while two other women poured water over me, congratulated me, and thanked me in Hopi.  It felt so good…words cannot even describe the cool water running down the back of my neck and arms…aaah!  I did it and I was done…time to kick back and relax a little bit!




As each runner crossed the finish line, everyone clapped and cheered enthusiastically and every runner was “blessed” with the water, as well! I cheered for the woman who came in after me and we gave each other a big sweaty hug!  We knew that we had pushed each other all the way to the finish and both knew how hard we had worked through the tough, dry and hot conditions.   The men and women top finishers were awarded Hopi blankets, Hopi pottery, and fruit and vegetables that were harvested there on their land.  A beautiful tribute to the runners from the Hopi people.  A one of a kind award for the runners!

This is more than just a run! I truly feel like I was a part of something bigger than just a race.  Running on ancient foot trails that led the way for many before me.  In times that were peaceful and happy, and times when there was trouble on this land.  They still exist and this event has helped keep them alive.  Now that is something that cannot be said for other races.  I would encourage anyone reading this to look at their website and consider running it or volunteering next year!!


View from the Second Mesa near Polacca, AZ

Because running not only strengthens you physically, it strengthens you spiritually.

-Bucky Preston

In no way was I compensated by the Paatuwaqatsi Run to write this post.  As always, all opinions are my own. LS