Running through exhaust

Illinois cornfield and rural road - Photograph by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

On Friday of last week I went on a run that brought me to the middle of corn fields outside the city of Champaign, Illinois. As I plugged away on a country road, a large truck drove by and I got a mouth full of exhaust. This is one of my least favorite parts about running on rural roads.

But it reminded me of Hopis during the 1910s and 1920s who “ate exhaust” in many marathons that they competed in. It was not uncommon for newspaper reporters or race officials to drive their automobiles 10 or 15 feet in front of the lead runners.  Some runners were so overcome with exhaust that they quit.

Back out at Hopi, runners did not have to contend with automobile exhaust, but when they competed in events beyond the mesas, it became a serious issue for them to manage.

It’s difficult enough to run long distances with high heat and humidity, and sore legs and feet, but adding the heavy exhaust element to running must have seemed unbearable.

And yet the vast majority of Hopi runners pressed on to complete (and sometimes win) the marathons that they started.

For the runners, the exhaust was simply another obstacle for them to overcome. It was one more hurdle for them to navigate through when they ran beyond their homelands in northeastern Arizona.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

3 Responses to “Running through exhaust”


  1. 1 Phil K June 24, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Interesting account of historical Hopi experience. Today it would seem that whole planet is “running behind exhaust” as well and not really thinking about it as a true problem for our future.


  1. 1 Running on a track | Beyond the Mesas Trackback on March 20, 2013 at 11:30 pm

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© Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert and BEYOND THE MESAS, 2009-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert and BEYOND THE MESAS with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About the author

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert is enrolled with the Hopi Tribe from the village of Upper Moencopi in northeastern Arizona. He is an Associate Professor in the Department of History and a Dean's Fellow and Conrad Humanities Scholar in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Marathoner Louis Tewanima and the Continuity of Hopi Running, 1908-1912 (Western Historical Quarterly, Autumn 2012). Winner of Spur Award for Best Western Short Nonfiction, Western Writers of America (2013)

“Hopi Footraces and American Marathons, 1912-1930”, American Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 1, March Issue 2010 (Click image to download article)

Education beyond the Mesas: Hopi Students at Sherman Institute, 1902-1929 (University of Nebraska Press, 2010)

Education beyond the Mesas – Introduction (click image to download)

“‘The Hopi Followers’: Chief Tawaquaptewa and Hopi Student Advancement at Sherman Institute, 1906-1909”, Journal of American Indian Education, (Click image to download article)

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Constitution and Bylaws of the Hopi Tribe (With all amendments, click to download)

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