Running for Rain
A “prayer-run” ultramarathon through desert mesas pays homage to the Hopi People of Northern Arizona and brings awareness to water preservation
Photo 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 centuries—by 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.