Posted by: Shauna Farnell
Intimidated by trail running? Take some tips from Mirna Valerio
Believe it or not, some people are afraid to register for GoPro Mountain Games events because they are “difficult.” Author, trail runner and advocate for spreading health awareness Mirna Valerio has something to say about that.
“Have no expectations,” she said at the 2023 GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado. “That’s how I do anything really difficult. Make a concerted effort to enjoy the experience, even if it’s hard. Take pictures. Stop and breathe or slow down and breathe.”
The ultrarunner who etched a spot in the outdoor space with her blog, Fat Girl Running, The Mirnavator (as she is most commonly known), has been checking off difficult athletic endeavors since she was 13 years old.
One of several inspirational outdoor personalities speaking at the 2023 GoPro Mountain Games CoLab Creator stage, Valerio shared a story about going out for the field hockey team in high school. She recounted her struggles with the drills during the first painfully long practice. When her coach approached her, she was sure she was going to get kicked off the team. Instead, the coach pointed out that since she was still there and still trying, she must belong and that she should keep after it.
The message stuck with her. It’s the one she imparts to anyone who feels they’re struggling through a Mountain Games event or any other competition.
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‘We all belong’
While in town for the Mountain Games, the Brooklyn native signed up to run in the adidas Terrex 5K and 10K trail races. Over the last several years, she has completed numerous competitions that would be considered much more difficult, including TransRockies, the 120-mile stage trail run from Buena Vista to Beaver Creek. In the 2017 event, she completed 75 miles before altitude sickness took her out. The following year, she completed it. The achievement, like all of her other races, wasn’t just to prove to herself, a self-described “250-pound black woman,” that she could do it. Her aim was and is to become an example for others who might not fit the stereotype of an ultrarunner or believe they belong in such a space.
“We all belong in these races. That’s the message. We all belong,” she says. “You say, you do these elite things. You know … they’re not that elite. There’s some elite people that do these things, but there are more people that can do these things.”
She met another black woman who had witnessed her competing in TransRockies that first year.
“She came the next year and said, I saw Mirna doing this TransRockies thing, so I’m going to do it,” Valerio says. “The first year I did it, there were no black people. The second year, there were three black people. In 2019, I went out again. I had to pull out the first day because I was injured, but all of Harlem was there. Also, a lot of LatinX people, Asian people, a lot of diversity. The ripple effect is real. Representation is real.”
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Trail running tips
There are a handful of people of color that participate in the Mountain Games running races, or any of the festival’s competitions for that matter. For individuals who enjoy running but intimidated by the prospect of a steep, technical course at high elevation, she has some helpful tips.
“Know that your heart rate is going to be going crazy because there’s less oxygen. Don’t expect yourself to do the same kind of 5K you do at sea level or lower altitude,” she says.
What about the technique for going up the steep sections?
“Running up hills? No thanks,” she says. “When I do hill training, I do run up those hills to focus on my form, breathing and heart rate, but when I’m doing a race, unless it’s really rolling, I’m not running, I’m hiking,” she says. “If there’s a [time] cutoff, I might try to run some of the hills, but then my heart rate gets really crazy and it takes a long time to recover. So, the more you can keep your heart rate at a stable level, the better your experience is going to be. If you want to run hills, do it. You do you.”
Also, don’t forget to enjoy the scenery.
“You have all of these mountains around. They’re beautiful. Take some time to look at the mountains,” she says. “Smell the flowers. Or smell the dirt when you trip and fall. Don’t be afraid of falling. It’s a thing. It happens. I look down, I look up. Your brain memorizes a couple seconds of what it’s seeing, so you don’t have to continuously look down. The more you do trail running, the stronger your body is going to be.”
According to Valerio, signing up for a race is not about reaching a particular result. She is never afraid of finishing last, and has proudly done so on more than one occasion.
“The No. 1 thing is to enjoy the experience. Enjoy being outside in beautiful spaces. It’s going to be hard. There are parts that are going to suck. But you’re going to love it anyway.” she says. “No. 2, what’s important in what I do is that people see me in these races. They might change their perspectives on where they think they belong.”
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