What does “training” mean to you?

For contemporary runners, “training” has a narrow meaning.  Query a runner, and you’ll hear about weekly mileage, long runs, track work.  The media is full of training tips, like exercises to strengthen your hips or advice on how to swing your arms.  Researchers study how training effects aerobic capacity and running economy.  It’s all about speed and distance.

Could there be more to training than this?

That’s what I was wondering when one day I started reading about the Yurok Indians, for whom training (“hohkep”) involves not only running, but also battling the elements, overcoming fear, sweating, fasting, thirsting, going without sleep, and ultimately venturing into the wilderness in search of spiritual powers.  For the Yuroks, training is meant not only to strengthen the body, but also to clarify thinking and focus the will.  It’s a path to self-discipline, self-reliance, and the realization of life’s purpose.  Now I wanted to know, what could we learn from them?

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What does “training” mean to you?

The Long One

(This is a story from the Yurok Indians of Northern California.  It caught my attention because of its eerie, sad tone.  Please leave a comment if it impacts you, too)


It was at Espeu that he lived who owned the Long One.

He hunted constantly on the cliffs north of Espeu.  There he found it when it was little.  When he saw it, he thought, “It’s pretty.  I shall try to keep it.”  He wanted to see how large it would be when grown.   He brought it to the house and made a box for it and kept it.  At first he did not know what it was.

He was always hunting.  When he killed deer or elk, he fed a small piece of the meat to his pet.  When he came again, he always saw that it had grown.

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The Long One

Indian Running

Civilized man does not know his powers

— Georges Comte De Buffon, 1749

I recently read Peter Nabokov’s 1981 book, Indian Running:  Native American History and Tradition.  The book chronicles the 1980 Tricentennial Run, a 375-mile relay race across Arizona and New Mexico undertaken by teams of Pueblo Indians as a celebration of a 17th century rebellion against Spanish rule.  An anthropologist by profession, Nabokov weaves into the book a broader discussion of Native American running, including how they ran to communicate, fight, and hunt, as well as to enact myths and to create a bridge between themselves and the forces of the universe.

indian running

I read the book with great curiosity, wondering if people whose culture predated the spread of modern technology and sedentary lifestyle were indeed natural runners and if so, how their capabilities would compare to the those of modern runners.

My grandfather told me that Talking God comes around in the morning, knocks on the door, and says, “Get up, my grandchildren, it’s time to run, run for health and wealth.”

— Rex Lee Jim, Navajo Runner

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Indian Running