Native Runners

To begin our ‘Wellness in Native America’ project, we’re celebrating Native runners. Why start with running? We’ll be covering a number of wellness topics from traditional foods to the importance of ceremony, so beginning with an issue on running seemed to be a good way to ‘set the pace’ for this project. In addition, running demonstrates a form of wellness that has been an integral part of the culture, ceremony, and family life of many tribes and bands for thousands of years.

To explore this topic, we interviewed two Native runners to learn what motivates them to stay healthy, tips on nutrition, the importance of running during the early morning to welcome the rising sun, and what running means to their family and culture. We feel honored to share these stories and are inspired by the strong women featured in this issue.

Meet Kelly Concho-Hayes (Navajo/Acoma)

Kelly and her daughters, Nanabah Marie (5 years) and Lena Povi (1 year).

Tell us a little bit about yourself.   My name is  Kelly Concho-Hayes and I’m 33 years old. I am Navajo/Acoma (Red Running into Water clan born for the Acoma people, Child of the Turkey Clan).  I’m married to Jeremy Hayes (Nambe Pueblo) who has been in the Navy for the past 12 years.  We have two daughters, Nanabah Marie (5) and Lena Povi (1) (enrolled Nambe Pueblo). I am currently living in San Diego, CA, but originally from Tsayatoh, NM.  I’m currently the Native American Outreach Manager for Southern California for the American Diabetes Association.

Tell us how and when you decided to become a runner.   I come from a line of lifelong runners on both sides of my family.  My mom ran for Gallup High from 1971-1973.  My dad ran for Bishop Amat in Los Angeles from 1971-1974.  An Aunt run for Gallup High, as well.  An Uncle qualified for the Olympic trials in the marathon in 1981.  My grandfather also ran for Gallup High from 1948-1951.  So a love for running does flow through my veins and runs throughout the family.  As a young rez kid, I grew up going to races and helping my family with races.  When I got in trouble at home, I would literally run to my grandma’s house up the hill to avoid punishment from my parents which was about a mile a way.  I always knew I was going to be a runner, not because of my family’s running history, but that I truly love running and everything about it.

What’s your favorite thing about running? That it is never the same thing every day.  I make it a point to discover something new on my routes and on every run I go out for.

What does your running/fitness schedule look like?   Being that my husband is currently deployed, I depend on friends and family to get my runs in… an average week of running ranges from 35-40 miles.  Days that I run 5-7 miles, I take the girls with me because any more than 7 miles there are too many restroom breaks for Nanabah the oldest and the time of day usually 30-45 minutes before nap time for Lena the youngest so that means around 12pm that way when running Lena will fall asleep during the run and not get fussy.  On days that are more than 7 miles and/or speed workouts or tempo runs, I run about 5:00 am then one of neighbors comes to the house and crashes out on the couch while I run (to be with the girls) but I have to be back so she can get ready for work.  On Sundays (my long days), I leave the house about 3:45-4:00 am to do 14-17 milers, to be able to be done 6:30 am. Again, one of my neighbors comes to the house and crashes out on the couch.  I run super early because the girls are still sleeping and usually don’t wake up until about 6:45 am for the day.  I am thankful for my gracious friends and neighbors that sacrifice the comfort and warmth of their own bed for my couch.

Kelly and her daughters at SD Indian Days.

What keeps you motivated?   Prior to becoming a mother, I ran a lot for my family.  My mom’s parents were pretty much immobile during their older days.  On my runs, I made it a point to run by their porch to see   them every time I was home.  I can still see them sitting on the porch with my grandfather reading his WW2 books and my grandma swatting flies with the fly swatter.  Now I run for my girls.  They motivate me in every way.  I want to give them opportunities to see and experience what my love for running has done for me.

Do you have any advice or tips for beginning runners or people who are thinking about getting started?  For beginning runners, speed walk at first then add light jogs with gradual length build ups.  From my perspective as a running mother of two, a good running stroller is key.  I have two running strollers (single and double) with total miles logged in over 9,000 miles.  Patience is another key.  It is not easy pushing a stroller with two kids, so start off walking with the stroller and getting use to it.

Let’s talk food. What’s your favorite post-run snack or meal?    I am torn between two post-run snacks or meals… whole wheat toast with all natural peanut butter topped with sliced banana or a blueberry, raspberry, banana, dash of cinnamon, 3/4 cup of almond milk smoothie.

If you could run anywhere in the world, where would it be?    Right now, it would be home at Tsayatoh, New Mexico. Going out for a run and coming home to my dad’s posole stew and Acoma oven bread!  Not exactly your usual post run snack, but it sounds great to me!!

An update on Kelly’s running adventures:  I ran the Coronado Bay Bridge run here in San Diego on May 20th.  I placed 4th overall for the females with a time of 27:07 for four miles.  That was without the girls, but I used the girls in the stroller to train going up hills to simulate the incline of Coronado Bridge.

 Also, I ran the Rock and Roll San Diego Half Marathon on June 3rd.  Although, Nana brought a cold home from school and we all got the sick that week prior.  I ran congested (something I don’t recommend).  I finished 435th out of 15,000 plus runners and walkers with a time of 1:38.  The night prior to the run we were all in bed by 6:30 pm to be up by 2:30 am to drop off the girls by 3:30 am at a friends house, so that I could park and get shuttle to the finishline at Sea World  and to the start line at Balboa park by 6:15 am…PHEW!  That just got me tired typing that..LOL. While running, I even caught up with Maurice “Mo” Smith, he has known me since I was 14 years old! A short upcoming race is th MCRD (Marine Corps Recruting Depot) 5k on June 29th.  While still training to run the Long Beach Half Marathon October 7th.
Meet Theresa Clay (Navajo)

Theresa running in the Las Vegas Marathon.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.   Ya’at’eeh (Hello)!  My name is Theresa Clay a Navajo (Dine’) 45 year old woman from Fort Defiance, Arizona.  I currently reside and work in Albuquerque, New Mexico with the Indian Health Service Health Promotion Disease Prevention Program servicing 27 tribal areas.  I have a husband and three children who are all married and have blessed us with three beautiful grandchildren which include a set of twins.  My hobbies are to spend time with family and friends, go to movies, go on walks, dance, travel to new places and experience other cultures, read, and of course run for fun.

Tell us how and when you decided to become a runner.  I decided to become a runner when I realized I enjoyed the feeling and the benefits of running which started around the age of 14 although I mostly ran in my early age because my oldest brother encouraged me and taught me a few things about running, plus it is a Navajo tradition and came naturally.  Through the years I ran for fun and my health and later in life I got into running 5k’s, ½ marathons, and have ran a marathon.  Running is a tool that helps me stay balanced and focused in life.

What’s your favorite thing about running?  I love being outdoors especially welcoming the morning sun or an evening run to see the sun set.  I love the time it gives me to pray, think, focus, and enjoy life.

What does your running/fitness schedule look like?  My schedule varies depending on if I am training for a run such as a ½ or full marathon.  I usually run 4 – 6 miles early in the morning during the week prior to going to work and on the weekend I do a long run building up my miles unless I am not training then I go about 6 – 8 miles to maintain my fitness level.  I listen to my body and take the following day off after a long run as a day of rest and assist in muscle recuperation if needed.  I try to get and include warm ups and cool downs prior to and after running.  I also try to do one to two fast or tempo runs in a week.  I also complete about thirty minutes to a hour of walking during my lunch break or whenever I can fit it into my schedule on most days.

Theresa Clay at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon in 2010.

What keeps you motivated?    The joy of being active and moving every day.   I tend to get restless if I do not put my extra energy into running, walking, etc. I also have friends who enjoy running and we check up and encourage each other.

Do you have any advice or tips for beginning runners or  people who are thinking about getting started?    Yes! If they are interested… I would recommend they start off with small goals.  Such as start by walking, then walk/run a little at a time, and slowly build up their miles each week and listen to their body as it will let them know if they need more or less time.  It is important to include time to warm up and cool down so there are no injuries.  It is always helpful to have a running buddy although sometimes that does not always work out and could be a discouragement or distraction at times due to scheduling, so be sure to coordinate with your running buddies as time permits and try not to get discouraged if they are not available to meet your time to run.  Stay committed to a realistic schedule you can set for yourself.  If needed, work with your employer to come into work later so you can get up early to run prior to work as that is what I had to do to squeeze in the time as my day gets so busy and can be a challenge to fit in time to run after work due to family obligations or having to work late.  If you are not able to run in the morning why not try during lunch or after work whichever your schedule allows.  Set small and realistic goals such as training for a 5K and register early so you have time to train for the run.  Running is a tool that can help a person take pride in themselves and their culture.  Running can lead to better health, wellness and balance in their life so go ahead and give it a try!

Let’s talk food. What’s your favorite post-run snack or meal?   My favorite post run snack is usually lots of water, a banana, orange, or a green chili breakfast burrito.  Breakfast is usually what I have after a run since I run in the morning.  Such as oatmeal with fruit, toast, or a boiled egg.  Also a peanut butter sandwich or a warm healthy meal.

If you could run anywhere in the world, where would it be?  That is a tough question, although I would choose someplace green with a lot of wilderness trails as long as it is safe and a bear not chase me although that may help with my fast runsJ.  The only place that comes to mind is Washington State as I have never been there and I hear it is green and beautiful.

Here is a beautiful digital story on running that Theresa made with a tribute to her brother.

A very special thanks to Kelly Concho-Hayes and Theresa Clay
for sharing their stories.

Interested in starting a running project in your community?

  • Plan a screening and discussion of ‘Run to the East‘, an award winning documentary and inspiring story of three young runners from the Navajo Nation and Zia Pueblo. Watch the trailer here.
  • Check out ‘Wings of America‘ and get involved. The mission of Wings is to enhance the quality of life for American Indian youth. In partnership with Native communities, Wings uses running as a catalyst to empower American Indian and Alaskan Native youth to take pride in themselves and their cultural identity, leading to increased self esteem, health and wellness, leadership and hope, balance and harmony.
  • Find a race in your area at Running in the USA. Pick a race and create a small running or walking team. You can train together, raise money for a number of causes, or use it as an opportunity to demonstrate what your tribe is doing to improve health and wellness.

We’d love to hear your ideas about this project. Feel free to email with any ideas, questions, or recommendations.


4 responses to “Native Runners

  1. Pingback: Announcing "Wellness in Native America" Blog·

  2. Pingback: Messenger Runner « WriteRunner3·

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