Running

Starting out

Ha’a’aahjigo dighádídeeshwoł.

I will run to the east

K’ad dahdiishyeed.

I am starting to run

Hasht’e’í’ dideeshnííł yę́ę.

I need to get ready

It’s early. The eastern horizon still has a few twinkling stars hanging low. A faint brightening of the sky tells you it’s time to get up. And even in the deep winter, the birds will sing.

Chances are, your parents are already awake. You lay in your bed, cautiously aware of how quickly the sun seems to rise. If the sun is anywhere near breaking the horizon, you’re already too late; dad will drag you out of bed or mom will splash water in your face. Either way, you’re sure to make your bed before you’re out the door.

The horses have been let out, and your only instruction is to run behind them towards the east. You could be stark naked but at that moment you’re reacting to the fact that dad will be joining you on your run today, and he’s fast, and he won’t be having you lag behind. After a few moments of running, the only thing going through your mind is what the day will bring.

Over a few weeks, and in the following months, this routine becomes second-nature. Not only that, but missing the opportunity to run just seems wrong in some small way. After you finish your run back at the starting point, your mother has cooked breakfast and she makes sure you’re fed. It’s almost as if you’ve earned breakfast. In any case, you’re grateful.

There are a few things we know from Western medicine about health and survival. For one, pre-dawn is one of the coldest parts of the day – increasing the risk of freezing. Another is that running can cause your body to release chemicals called endorphins, which are helpful in managing stress (you go through a lot of mental stress in the act of running). And in Navajo world-views, stress can create a lasting imbalance, causing excessive worrying, anxiety, and more.

This is why both traditional and non-traditional Navajos still get up early and run – it’s practical.