“Just stand by the finish line. Keep the runners in the order when they come in. Sometimes they collapse, so be ready,” Joleen explained.
“Okay. Here comes the first runner. I’ll be ready for him,” I said.
It was mid-morning on a Saturday, and I offered to help at a cross-country running meet sponsored by Jemez Valley Schools. Two other gentlemen offered to assist at the finish line. We would funnel the runners to a table where their numbers would be taken to assist in calculating the team scores. Running cross country is an individual and team sport.
A dozen or so runners had finished when I turned to one of the other volunteers, “I’ve learned not to pat them on the back. My hand is covered in sweat.”
He laughed, “yeah. Just give them an air pat.”
Over 80% of the students at Jemez Valley are members of a Native American tribe—mostly Jemez and Zia Pueblo. The runner has a special place in Native culture and history. I speculate and share on some of the importance of running for Native Americans and for me as a once-runner, coach and teacher. It is a little hodge-podge of thoughts and connections
The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was sparked by runners going to each of the Pueblo with plans of the attack and knotted strings to count the days until the Pueblos would combine forces to overthrow the Spanish Colonization. This battle between the Pueblo peoples and the invading Spanish is the only documented case of an overthrow of a colonial force in the Americas. The Spanish would not return for 12 years and were very agreeable upon their return.
The new Head of the Department of the Interior, Deb Haaland, is a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and a marathoner herself. She knows the importance of running. She also has filled a great void in American politics for Native Americans. I’d love to hear her understanding of running among native people.
I have coached High School, Junior High, and Elementary cross-country teams. Most of my runners were Native American. As my coach from college taught me, I always worked on distance with runners first and then on the speed of running. I enjoyed much of my coaching and running years. I was always towards the end of the pack as a runner but found all runners given some degree of respect by spectators whether first or last in a race.
I once helped my brother who attempted an ultra-marathon. While he didn’t finish, he completed 50 miles, and, honestly, that was a real accomplishment. It was during this ultra-marathon I was able to witness the powerful running of several pirate (unofficial participation) Tarahumara runners from the Copper Canyon of Mexico. Steady and simply clad, these men were well ahead of the pack and ran in sandals with treads made from old tires. They were steady, solid, and simply did not tire.
I’ve often wondered about the straight roads going for hundreds of miles out of Chaco Canyon. The ruins of Chaco reflect a thriving widespread empire between the mid-9th and early 13th Centuries. Could these have been the paths of runners? Were they messengers much like the phenomenon documented for communication that orchestrated the Pueblo Revolt?
Paths are records archaeologists can ponder the purpose of. Running as a means of personal transportation and message relaying are well documented in historic records. Considering all, one can easily picture the runners and the paths as the links at the greatest speed of the time relaying ideas, words, goods, and self to those far away from home; certainly in the minds of those utilizing such means the “internet” of their time.
So, the skills of runners in a cross-country meet partake in a sport which may reach far back in time and space. Running whether fast or slow has always served a purpose and I am certain always will.