Name: Marlinda Francisco
Hometown: Tucson, Arizona (originally from Tuba City, Arizona)
Occupation: Health education specialist
Time Running: Seven years
Reason for Running: To connect with my ancestors, family, community, self, and to raise awareness for the missing and murdered Indigenous People.
I started running about seven years ago. My uncle passed that year, so I thought running would be a good way for me to honor him. He was a loving and supportive pastor. Growing up, he always encouraged and motivated us. In 2017, some family members and I decided to do our first run in Shiprock, New Mexico, in his honor. That was my first half marathon. Ever since then, I made the commitment to continue to run in honor of him, my ancestors, and my well-being.
My mother is Navajo and my father is Tohono O’odham. I’m half and half. Where I come from, running is falling into the steps of our ancestors. My grandfather was a long-distance runner. Back then, that’s how we passed messages from one community to another. Where I put my footprints, that’s where my ancestors ran. Running is in our blood, it’s our Himdag—our culture. We run to the east before sunrise and we let the Creator know that we are awake with him. We run for those who can’t. I take the stories I hear from the elderly in the nation with me when I’m running, and I pray out there, asking our Creator to protect our land, to heal our bodies.
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I am a single mother of four. My children have always followed me to running events, and a few years ago, they started participating themselves. My three daughters started running cross country in high school, and my youngest son ran in elementary school a few years back. I always try to teach my kids why we run—for our ancestors, and their grandfather. I’m happy that they’re able to share this journey with me. In March, my mother, daughter, and son went with me to Monument Valley Ultra, where I ran my first 50K. They’ve seen that no matter the weather conditions, we still run. In our culture, that’s what we do.
Unfortunately diabetes runs on both sides of my family—I’ve lost some family members to it, and my mother is diabetic. It’s one of the reasons I started working as a health education specialist for the Healthy O’odham Promotion Program. We promote running events in our community. I want my community to understand that diabetes can be prevented. The Tohono O’odham Nation is the size of Connecticut, and our program is located in nine different areas across our Nation. We educate the communities about nutrition and diabetes and work with everyone from youth to the elderly. We have fitness classes at our wellness centers and host live running events from fun runs to marathons. Everything I learn and teach about fitness and wellness, I pass onto my mom and sisters.
I also run to raise awareness of the missing and murdered Indigenous People—as a way to honor these families, pray for them, and give strength to them. Tragically my aunt was murdered a few years ago—she was missing for about three weeks, and when they found her, it was something we did not want to hear. It’s a difficult subject to talk about, but my family is not the only one going through this. There are too many Indigenous families who have lost mothers, daughters, and sisters in our community. It’s hard to see so many cases out there, and not all of them are closed or solved.
The area where I run, on the Starr Pass Trail, is very beautiful and peaceful. I’m surrounded by the du:ag (mountains) and the ha:san (cactus). Every now and then, I’ll run into a family of deer, javelinas, tortoises, or coyotes. There can be snakes, and, once in a while, you can spot a mountain lion. I’ve always been taught that this is their home, too, and you can’t chase them away, but I’ve also been told to pay attention to who and what is around me on the reservation.
To stay safe when I go for a run, I let my family know where I’m going and how far, and I always carry protection. I also teach my daughters to be careful, call, and let me know where they will be running. Sometimes I’ll call my daughters while they’re running to check on them.
It’s a blessing to do what I'm able to do. I thought running a marathon was it for me, but knowing the strength I’ve had to keep going, I am now running ultras. This year, I ran the TransRockies Run in Colorado, a three-day stage run of 20, 13, and 24.5 miles each day. I loved it. It was amazing out there. I’ll be running my first 50-miler in December. My main goal was always to qualify for Boston. But right now, trail running has my heart. I’m planning to run a few more ultras, and then get back to road running and try for Boston.
Running has changed my life and helped me when I was stuck in a dark place and needed to find a way out. When I was hurting and couldn’t let my kids see me that way, running was my healing process. For me, lacing up my shoes changes everything—I become happier. Along the trails I run I’ve met many friends that have become family in the Indigenous community. We support, inspire, and motivate each other. Today my well-being is where I want it to be. I’m healthy, I’m here with my children, and I have a loving and supportive family and community. My prayers have been answered.
These three tips made my running journey a success:
1) Always listen to your body
2) Stay positive and have fun
Never think that you can’t run because you can. You don’t know what your body is capable of unless you go out there and do it. Have fun. Enjoy what you're doing.
3) Be patient
You don’t need to jump into a five or 10-mile run right away. Work your way up. Walk and jog, if you need to. One foot in front of the other. It’ll take time but the end will be worth it.
Marlinda’s Must-Have Gear:
→ Hoka Speedgoat 5
I don’t like shoes that feel heavy and these Hokas are very comfortable, bouncy, and light on the trails. They make my runs easier.
→ Nathan’s VaporHowe 2.0 4 Liter Women’s Race Vest
I’ve had this vest for about two years. It’s very comfortable and lightweight, and I love the stretchy pockets! As an ultrarunner, I’m able to carry extra gels and salt sticks on my long runs. I would recommend this to everyone.
→ Theragun Mini Massage Gun
The mini portable one is amazing! It’s the perfect size to travel with and it’s not very loud (I had it with me during the TransRockies Run in Colorado.) Great for recovery after long runs. It’s a must-have!
→ Goodr Sunglasses
The OGS polarized sunglasses are my favorites. I love every color and own about six different ones. I will not run without them. Sometimes I even carry an extra pair with me.
As newsletters editor, Pavlína Černá is the person behind all membership emails sent on behalf of Runner's World, Bicycling, and Popular Mechanics. When she doesn't edit, she writes; when she doesn't write, she reads or translates. In whatever time she has left, you can find her outside running, roller-skating, or riding to the beat of one of the many audiobooks on her TBL list.