Thursday, March 30, 2023

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‘A real privilege’: Shiprock marathon in vote for Top 10 marathons


The famed Shiprock Marathon, the largest marathon in the Navajo Nation, is in the running to be voted one of the top 10 marathon races for the national magazine USAToday.

Runners from across the United States had voted for the top 20 best marathons in the country, with the Shiprock Marathon being the sole winning nomination from the state of New Mexico.

Right now, people can vote on the USAToday 10 best website for the top 10 best marathons until March 27. The winners will be announced April 7.

Currently, the Shiprock Marathon is in second place. The Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., is in first place, and in third is the Bank of America Chicago Race in Chicago, Illinois.

File photo
The participants of the kids’ Shiprock Marathon finish out the last mile of their 26-mile race in this file photo from April 2019.

NavajoYES, the organization responsible for the Shiprock Marathon, posted the link for the voting on its Facebook page and is encouraging people to vote.

Tom Riggenbach, director of NavajoYES, said it was exciting and an honor to have its marathon as a nominee for the Top 10 list.

“We are identified as one of the top 20, which is still pretty amazing,” Riggenbach said. “When you consider most of the other races that are on the list are events like Boston, New York, Marine Corps, and the Pikes Peak marathons, they are really iconic events in the country. So, it’s just an honor and a real privilege to be listed with all of those great races.”

Community-based events

Riggenbach believes along with the natural beauty of the Nation, another aspect that makes the marathon unique is the people. Many people work to make the event happen, from the NavajoYes volunteers to the aid station volunteers and the musicians providing entertainment. They also get a lot of support from different tribal programs like EMS, the Shiprock Fire Department, the Shiprock Chapter, and other organizations promoting health, making it a community-based event.

He also believes the picture posted on the voting site plays a part. Whereas most other images show groups of runners in towns, cities, or forests, the Shiprock Marathon shows only the New Mexican desert landscape and a single runner, Navajo YES staff member Rygie Bekay from Cove, Arizona. In Riggenbach’s opinion, this different picture draws more eyes than the other pictures of the nominees.

He also thinks the marathon adding new activities helps keep the race more exciting, like the kids running so that everyone can be involved and can further promote healthy living to kids.

Live music and cheering crowds also help motivate runners and add a more festive air to the races.

On average, the marathon would bring 800-1,000 runners in the half-marathon and 200 in the full marathon. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s race saw only a fraction of those numbers, but Riggenbach is confident they will build up participants back to pre-pandemic numbers.

This year will be the 40th anniversary of the marathon since its creation in 1983.

The marathon was started back then as a running event that brought the community together and grew from there. Since then, different entities have helped it to survive the years, the Navajo Health Promotion Program, Diné College, and individual groups, such as the Reevis Begay Foundation, which honors the late Reevis Begay by promoting Native health events.

Riggenbach encourages readers to continue exercising and strive to be healthy, the Nation took a heavy hit from the pandemic, but it shouldn’t keep people down.

Despite Shiprock being in second place right now, he is cautious that placement could change as the weeks continue, but he said it would be incredible if they make the top 10.

To him, getting on the Top 10 list could be NavajoYES’s way of honoring the Navajo Nation and its tradition of running and the many active groups promoting native fitness and wellness.

“I think a lot of people are looking at this as a way to really honor the nation and a lot of the history of wellness and fitness on the nation,” he said. “If we can help carry that torch forward, that’s pretty exciting. I look forward to seeing what’s going to happen in the next few weeks.”

About The Author

David Smith

David Smith is Tódích’íi’nii and born for Dziłt’aadí. He is from Chinle and studied at Northern Arizona University. He studied journalism and English for five years while working part-time for NAU’s NAZ Today and the Lumberjack newspaper. After graduating in 2020, he joined the Navajo Times as a sportswriter for two years before leaving in September 2022. Smith returned in February 2023.


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