ultramarathon through desert mesas pays homage to the Hopi People
of Northern Arizona and brings awareness to water preservation
courtesy of the Paatuwaqasti 50K Run and Relay
The Paatuwaqatsi 50K Run and Relay stands out in the list of
races included in the 2012 Trail Runner Trophy Series because it
is not a race, not really. It is a monument to community, heritage
and preservation. In the spirit of giving, it is a non-profit event,
operated entirely by volunteers, and hosted by the Hopi people in
Northern Arizona to celebrate the sustaining connection between
water and life in the way they have done for centuriesby running.
In a paper for the American Studies Association, Matthew Sakiestewa
Gilbert describes the Hopi as "a people who [place] running at the
center of their cultural identity." He wrote that "Hopi footraces
transcended the individualistic concepts of personal gain and self-accomplishment,"
held the cohesiveness of community and served to honor the entirety
of it. An ancient Hopi myth tells of a race between two tribes.
One runner prepared with miles and miles of independent training
while the other accepted protection against bad spirits in the form
of a magic powder from Spider Grandmother. "The Hopi runner who
chose to accept [this external guidance, who] did not rely entirely
on his physical abilities [won the race]. He listened to his elder,
he drew upon the strength of his culture, and he received power
from the spiritual world of his people."
The Paatuwaqatsi Run connects the village foot trails to seven
natural springs. The run's focus on water aligns with the ancient
belief that running brings rain. The Hopi people ran for practical
purposes as well, relying on their feet in hunting, inter-village
competition and transporting critical information in times of war.
The trails are seen as the veins of the village and thought to keep
the springs healthy. They open to the public for this event alone,
one day out of the year.
The run involves nearly 5000 feet of elevation change over trails
that range from soft, sandy singletrack to exposed slickrock mesas.
In addition to manning organized aid stations, villagers come out
to remote and distant locations all along to course, bringing buckets
of water to runners, cheering them on in native Hopi tongue.
Just before the start, there is a ceremonial blessing for the
runners, after which race director Bucky Preston stands at the line,
as he has each year since it's founding in 2003, and reminds competitors
that "this is not a race." The event's motto explains this philosophy:
"I run in reverence of all living things. In our prayers, may we
always remember that water is life." After five or six hours of
hoofing it through the Arizona heat, you'll seldom find a runner
who disagrees with this statement.
"Putting Hopi life values and teaching at the forefront is the
purpose of the run," said Preston, "[In older times] a runner would
take one of the many foot trails from the village in the early morning
to a spring, take a drink and sprinkle himself with the cold water.
... They received strength and were healed of any ailments. Everything
at Hopi involves waterwater is life. Now, water is being abused.
In some places, it is gone and I want to bring awareness to the
The event continues long after the runners have crossed the
finish line. Various speakers who work intimately with water usage
in their respective communities make appearances, and all participants
and volunteers are invited to a traditional Hopi meal. "The
generosity of the Hopi, hosting this race and making visitors like
myself welcome on their trails, is truly extraordinary. The material
poverty that many of them endure is evident to anyone who runs around
First Mesa, but this does not keep them from extending every kindness,
from the encouragement and gratitude of volunteers and spectators
all along the course, to the traditional meal served afterwards,"
says runner Andy Roth, a repeat participant. Awards come in the
form of handmade Hopi crafts.
Modern Hopi villages rely on crafts and tourism as there is
no industry. Meyer explains the struggle to maintain traditional
culture, "Sadly, many young people move away to cities to find work
and careers. Many villagers still have traditional gardens but it
is challenging due to lack of moisture
Some live in traditional
manner (no electricity or running water), but most live a life in
This one-day event includes speakers who share their knowledge and
work with water issues within their own communities. And whether
you run or not, everyone is invited eat a traditional Hopi meal
and become a part of the community who is concerned, better informed
and reminded about the importance of water in our lives. All the
work is done on a volunteer basis with no individuals compensated
for their time.