Shungopavi Village, Hopiland, USA
Don’t worry, be Hopi.
This was a special edition, the 100th anniversary of Louis Tewanima’s silver medal in the London Olympic Marathon. I made the long drive up from Phoenix the day before, arriving early evening at Second Mesa along with the rain. The village is a tiny maze of houses and cars, made more confusing to navigate by the merchant artisans and tourists who had rolled in for the festival weekend. I eventually located the community center by rolling down my window and asking passersby for directions 2 or 3 times.
Packet pickup was quick & painless, and they even gave me a refund for downgrading from 10K to 5K! It made me kind of sad because I had bib #1 for the 10K, but with my QL and my back in general being kind of a mess I thought it the wisest move. Dinner was a spaghetti and Korean food buffet with pie for dessert. During dinner we’re treated to a talk about Louis Tewanima’s career and the significance of running to Hopi religion & culture. (The race field is primarily Native American, and also very young.)
My hotel is just two miles down the road from Shungopavi. This time I easily find the ball field & start line by following the cars. The weather is beautiful and clear, the sky scrubbed by the night’s rain. Miss Hopi is there along with part of her court selling donuts & coffee, and a flute/drum trio is setting up under the awards tent.
The 10K starts at 7:00; apparently there are spotters along the route, because we soon get status announcements about the leading edge of the race, both real and humorous. (I certainly didn’t see any Starbucks along the way!) Ssome of us wander over to the edge of the mesa to see if we can catch a glimpse of the first runners as they loop back around below (we’re looking down at roughly the three-mile marker). The leader appears, and man he is way out in front! The next runner is a good 30 sec behind – these guys are fast! The announcers start to call for the 5Kers to line up, then they spot the first 10K finisher coming in, everyone cheers – but no, it’s just one of the 5K-ers, warming up.
And we’re off! The first part of the race is through the village, along rain-pocked hardpacked dirt road. I almost trip over one of the village dogs, who decided to join the crowd but has no runner’s etiquette. “Eskwale! Eskwale!” shout the spectators as we leave the village and make a turn to the left. My Garmin says that I’ve once more bolted from the gate in the excitement with a 8:00 pace, which I know I can’t maintain at this altitude (~6000 ft), so I slow down and let the youngsters pass me. Then we’re over the edge of the mesa, down a steep slope and into the trail portion of the race. This is quite challenging and fun, keeping your feet while the trail winds up and down, with the vast sweep of the mesa lands stretching away to the right. Everyone seems to be having a good time, even the occasional person taking a spill.
Around the halfway point I’m really starting to feel the altitude; my legs are saying “Go go go!” my lungs are saying “No no no!” and my back is saying “Uh guys, was this a good idea?” I do take a couple walk breaks in the final mile, and everyone walks on the stairclimb back up the side of the mesa. I crest the top at just about the same spot as everyone was standing earlier, looking down at the 10K leaders, and head down the chute to shouts of “Eskwale!”
After the 5K there’s a 2 miler and a 1 mile fun run. The latter even has some wheelchair racers – elders in regular wheelchairs being pushed by family – and some kids so tiny they look as if they’ve just started to get the hand of this running thing!
I’m wistfully coveting a medal – they’re a special 100th anniversary version this year – but not expecting one because of my horrible time of 36:06. I’m surprised and chuffed when they announce my name for 3rd place in women’s 50-59!
After hitting the hotel for a shower and a liedown to rest my back, I drive back to the village to try and find the plaza where the butterfly dancing is taking place this weekend. This time I get lost looking for the plaza and wind up at the community center, where the race volunteers kindly invite me in to have some more Korean food. And yes, I do finally locate the dance.
This was a small and really friendly race. I’d like to come back again when my back’s in better shape and also explore some of the surrounding area, the painted desert.