hazel batrezchavez’s solo exhibition at La Chancla DIY space. Photo courtesy of hazel batrezchavez.

In March 1896, a woman, believed by many to be Stamata Revithi, unofficially ran the first men’s marathon course in Athens, Greece. According to a local paper, she finished “without any stops except a momentary rest to eat some oranges.” I imagine Revithi knew that the best food for her journey was obvious: the city’s oranges were satisfying and readily available.

I live in Albuquerque and have never been to Greece, and therefore haven’t seen or tasted the fruit of the trees that line the streets of Athens. But while running along the wooded trails in Cedar Crest and Tijeras, I have stopped to eat sections of the mandarins stashed in my pocket, those bite-sized juicy medallions offering a burst of flavor and energy to make my taste buds happy and keep my body moving.

Earlier this year, mandarins were my gateway snack to experimenting with eating real, ideally local, foods while running. The desire to do so surfaced during one of my ritualistic Sunday trail runs. I tore open a packet of flavored energy gel and took a swallow of the gooey substance, marketed as “easily digestible fuel.” As I watched the morning sun shining golden on the trail, trees, and surrounding meadow, I thought of the miles of meaningful connection to the land that lay ahead of me. Suddenly I felt utterly disconnected. Why, during times when I’m asking my body to perform at its best, purposefully situated in nature, was I relying on fake food? What could I be eating instead—not just during my runs but in preparation for and recovery from them—that helps me feel more connected to the place where I live and run? What are other runners in New Mexico eating?

To begin thinking through this topic, I contacted fellow Albuquerque runner Dinée Dorame, founder and host of the Grounded Podcast, for which she interviews Native and non-Native runners (and non-runners) about running, culture, land, and community.

“I feel like New Mexico is largely defined by our food,” she said. “It’s what people are talking about when they say we are at the intersection of many cultures. People tend to see [New Mexican food] in opposition to running, which can be discouraging as an athlete and runner. I feel like there is a stigma attached to many of the natural and culturally rich foods here: heavy carbs, cheese, and oils.” When Dorame moved to the East Coast to attend Yale, many of the people she met were eating foods that she wasn’t used to, and she found herself feeling lost without those foods she ate at home. “I didn’t understand how to properly find nutrition for myself as a runner in a new place or maintain my routine when [my] regional foods weren’t accessible,” she told me.

Back in Albuquerque during the pandemic, she began experimenting with new recipes and new ways to connect to food. She hired Starla Garcia, a registered dietitian, US Olympic Trials marathoner, and body and cultural diversity advocate, who helped her see how to embrace foods she was already drawn to regionally and culturally, and how to break down stigmas associated with those foods. Garcia, who is based in Texas, listed many foods from her own Mexican culture that were equally familiar to Dorame as a Navajo woman in New Mexico—tortillas, tamales, rice, and beans, to name a few.

Wings Endurance Camp participants and facilitators work together to refurbish the earthen hoghan of their host family in Monument Valley. Photo courtesy of Wings of America.

In the process, Dorame learned to trust her instincts. “As runners, we’re fed the story that we need gels, drinks, and powders, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” she said, explaining further that Garcia helped her reconnect with some of the traditional foods of Navajo culture. And, said Dorame, although it can be difficult to make those foods every day because she doesn’t always have access to the ingredients or the time to cook, going through the process of making and eating blue corn mush, for example, deepened her relationship with both food and running. Traditionally sprinkled with juniper ash, blue corn mush provides Dorame with pre-run calories and nutrients, including calcium, essential to bone and muscle health.

Talking with Dorame led me to consider the roots of place-based food connections (and disconnections). I reached out to the Albuquerque-based Wings of America, which offers American Indian youth development programs, including the Junior National Cross Country Championship and coaching clinics, inspired by the surrounding Native communities and their rich running histories. Along with the programs and camps comes the opportunity to educate young runners about their food choices.

“At the beginning of every summer, Running and Fitness Camp facilitators create presentation boards that help them talk to youth participants about competitive Native running history, precolonial ways of running, as well as Indigenous lifeways and food ways,” said executive director Dustin Quinn Martin. “Many of our great-grandparents grew up with the responsibility of collecting and growing enough food to help their family survive. This demanded a great deal of movement and endurance that also fostered many world-class runners. But life today doesn’t demand so much time on our feet, so we have to be more intentional about the ways we get our nutrients and move on a daily basis.”

Like Dorame, Martin cites blue corn as a traditional food that has connections to running. Cleo Otero, who owns Cleo’s Blue Corn Kitchen in Albuquerque, serves as the summer camp’s chef. Martin credits the Navajo/Hopi chef with providing a taste of traditional foods, such as piki bread, while also being practical about what’s available. Martin explained, “In general, we remind our youth that a lot of the things we enjoy eating, people just a few generations ago probably never had the opportunity to try in their lifetime. Or if they did, it was maybe once or twice, and it was a major luxury. That might seem great for us, but it’s also potentially hazardous because we have easy access to so many foods our ancestors didn’t.”

Also actively educating young New Mexico runners and their families is Running Medicine, a program of the Native Health Initiative with running groups at Acoma, Laguna, and Zuni Pueblos; at Algodones Elementary School; throughout downtown Albuquerque; and in the Rio Rancho area. Program manager Jessica Begay explained that Running Medicine’s CSA partnership with more than forty farms increases access to organic food for participating youth and their families. They learn what’s available seasonally, and the CSA shares often include information about and recipes for produce, such as radishes, that may not be as familiar as others. Begay said, “We are trying to teach youth how to eat to fuel the body for what it is that they want to do. That’s been a big part of the conversations we’ve been having during our youth running camp. When we talk about nutrition, it’s more about where are we getting our food from? How are we getting it? How do we prepare it?”

Running Medicine cooking class with Kids Cook! Photo courtesy of Running Medicine.

For Albuquerque artist hazel batrezchavez, food is not only where nutrition comes from but where culture lives. In 2022, batrezchavez illustrated this idea in running with relatives, a solo exhibition at La Chancla DIY space in the city’s Barelas neighborhood. The artworks in the show focused on the artist’s identity as a queer, first-generation, and displaced Salvadorean/Mexican runner and highlighted Indigenous communities that, as batrezchavez described, have always used running as a tool for transportation, communication, and gathering food.

“At that time [of the exhibition,] I was running with some individuals in the community and we were talking about this word ‘running’ that plays a role in our everyday lives, especially for individuals who are Black, Brown, or Indigenous, and others who are in the history of movement and running. I’m engaging in this action that many of my ancestors also engaged in,” said batrezchavez. “I realized that a lot of the foods I was using for fuel were ones that were grounded in my own history and where I come from, things like honey, chocolate, and coffee,” they said. “I was also thinking about these items being sourced from the earth, and then of running, of moving through space on the earth. I saw an intersection.”

The idea of intersections resonated with me, partly because of my own experience and partly because it seemed profoundly different from the language and marketing surrounding “fuel” in the mainstream running industry. Curious about the perspective of an ultrarunner with experience within that industry, I spoke with Santa Fe–based runner and author Katie Arnold about what she eats while training. Arnold was previously sponsored by one of the major energy gel companies, but today she tries to eat real food on her long, exploratory runs in the mountains. “If I have enough time to plan, I make little power balls with almond butter, dark chocolate, and coconut, and I freeze them. During my run, they turn into this big melted blob. But they’re still really delicious,” she said.

Making homemade snacks for oneself may seem easy enough, but for me the process is daunting, especially compared to the ease of tearing open a package. Sourcing locally prepared, ready-to-go food was a welcome opportunity for me to learn more about Taos Bakes. During the Questa-based business’s inception, cofounder Brooks Thostenson believed there needed to be something better on the “energy bar” market, both in terms of ingredients and overall experience. Based on my sampling of the products out there, gooey substances included, I have to agree. Taos Bakes, which self-manufactures their nutrition bars, nuts, and granola, and employs all local people, is one of the few companies making real food bars in New Mexico.

“Often people say, ‘Oh, I love the taste’ when what they really love is the experience,” said Thostenson. “It’s the branding that first hits you; it catches your eye. Then it’s the aroma and the texture. It’s also the moisture content. Especially when you’re running, the last thing you want to do is have to drink a gallon of water after you’ve eaten.” For me, Taos Bakes hits the mark for food on the run. Compared to some other brick-like bars I’ve eaten, theirs is a welcome alternative.

Dried apple slices from Montoya Orchard, bars from Taos Bakes, freeze-dried radishes and tomatoes from Backyard Farms, Del Valle Pecans, Ruthie’s Bagels, and red chile and apricot granola from Three Sisters Kitchen.
Photo by Stephanie Cameron.

Determined to find additional options, I spent time at some Albuquerque-area farmers markets, with my sights set on running-friendly foods, including those that might go unnoticed and others still that don’t involve single-use packaging. At the Corrales Growers’ Market, I selected honey from Tony’s Farm, which sells apple chips later in the season, and pickles from Farm 448, which makes dried tomatoes with herbs. The sodium and electrolytes in pickles aids in hydration and recovery, and the natural sugar in honey provides caloric energy. Each of these can be carried in reusable containers like small jars and squeeze bottles and stashed in a running pack or vest.

At the Downtown Growers’ Market in Albuquerque, I eyed the dried fruit at Montoya Orchard, tasted granola from Three Sisters Kitchen, and chatted with Nizhoni Farms about dehydrated vegetables, sampling their seasoned dried squash. After choosing fruit jams from Spice Jams NM, I headed over to stand in line at Sunday Bagels. The mobile but soon-to-be-brick-and-mortar business incorporates produce from Young Guns Chile, Vida Verde Farm, Chispas Farm, and Farm of Song. Dense with carbohydrates, nicely paired with a bit of the fruit jam I now had, and easily transported in a pocket of my running pack, the bagels would be great for the trail.

Knowing that locally grown fresh fruit is plentiful at the markets, I’d incorrectly assumed that I would find an abundance of dried apricots, peaches, and apples. But what I learned from farmers and other vendors surprised me. The additional time and labor needed to dry and package fruit, combined with the demand for fresh fruit, make it difficult for purveyors to offer dehydrated foods.

My conversations with these runners and food producers drove home the idea that sometimes local is defined by the proximity to your heart or connection to your past. Although my familial history is not connected to New Mexico, my present is defined by it. Learning more about how food plays important roles in movement on the land has taught me that my food choices, especially related to running, are powerful ways that I can engage with this place. Choosing real food, grown and prepared locally, instead of food replacements that are manufactured elsewhere, makes my movement here more meaningful. On recent runs, as complements to the local honey and bagels I packed, I sampled wild currants in the mountains and sumac berries in the bosque. As I write, I’m eagerly awaiting ripe prickly pear tunas and jujubes. And I’m looking forward to selectively foraging mushrooms, like Santa Fe–based runner, writer, and photographer Rickey Gates; to trying Siberian elm samaras, introduced to me by Albuquerque-based interdisciplinary artist, writer, and community herbalist Asha Canalos; and to (sustainably, of course) gathering New Mexico’s medicinal plants, for when, similar to Revithi, I need a little rejuvenation along the way.

Nancy Zastudil
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Nancy Zastudil is an editor, writer, and curator working toward equitable representation in and access to the arts. She has more than fifteen years of experience in arts administration, regularly edits artist books and exhibition catalogs, and has written for Arts and Culture Texas, Art Lies, Hyperallergic, Southwest Contemporary, and more. Zastudil holds an MA in curatorial practice from California College of the Arts and a BFA in painting and drawing from the Ohio State University.