My name is Nakai Lake, a Navajo ultrarunner from Prescott, Arizona. I am from the Towering House clan, born for the Red House clan. My maternal grandpa is from the Red Running into the Water clan and my paternal grandpa is from the Bitter Water clan. Growing up, I would hear stories of how Navajos would run away from boarding schools. One in particular, was of a boy who fled from Leupp because he disliked the strict rules and he couldn’t express his heritage. From a Navajo tradition of waking up early and greeting the sun, the boy left in the night. Traveling by foot, he would avoid the Navajo police and school officials until he reached home. He would roughly run 100 miles over the course of three nights. These stories are what inspired me to run, to connect with my culture and who I am.
In sixth grade I began my journey as a runner when I joined track and cross country. I was not the fastest runner at all. I was that one guy that would finish last for their team but that didn't stop me from running. I didn't care how slow I was, I just did it because it was fun. Later that year I signed up for my first 10k, I later found out that some of my teammates were also signed up as well. I didn't know it yet but this race is what lead me to believe that I was born to run far, because for the first time I beat my whole team. As the years past I ran more 10K’s, and was actually getting faster. When I got to high school, I started to become competitive in racing and I didn't run anymore for the fun of it.
During that season, I experienced my first injury and couldn't run fast at all. One thing that I could do was run slowly, so I signed up for my first half marathon. I was the only runner from my team to attempt the Whiskey Row Half Marathon and I felt special for that. I felt even more special when I finished with a time of 1 hour and 46 minutes. After that race I was running for the fun of it again, and having an interest in trail running. I didn’t stop thinking of how amazing running is until cross country season came along and I start thinking in a competitive mind set.
In the beginning of the season I noticed that my shins were hurting. I didn’t think much of it as an issue because all I thought was how can I beat my PR. Later on though I had to stop running for a month because I found out that I have been running on a fractured bone. That month was horrible, I would see people running everywhere and I would be upset that I wasn't running. During that month, I found out when I run happy I don't get injuries, so when I got back into running at the end of my cross country season I focused on running happy again. It worked out too because I finished my season being the fifth runner on the varsity team and running the final race at the state meet.
After the season was over I began reading a book called “Born To Run” by Christopher McDougall. I learned about the Tarahumara, a tribe of runners that developed the superhuman ability to run for hundreds of miles at a time. Reading about these athletes’ ability to push their bodies beyond their limits inspired me to test myself, and I then signed up for a 30k and a 24 hour race that is part of the Around the Years event in Phoenix, AZ. The 30k I was flying by with a time of 2 hours 22 minutes and 7 seconds, also finishing 10th overall, but my 24 hour race was not what I expected. I was aiming for 100 miles, which I thought was reasonable, but I quickly realised that ultrarunning is a different race. I quit around 7 hours and did 34 miles but I wasn't upset because that was my farthest race, both distance and overall time. After that I started to research ultrarunning and I found out that it is more than just running. You also have to train your mind and physical body especially the stomach.
By now it is the beginning of a new year, 2014, and one thing that went into my mind was this is the year I will start my ultrarunning career. I started off by doing my hardest race yet the Black Canyon 100k. 62 miles of pure enjoyment I thought in the beginning until I got to mile 20. Right there I was extremely dehydrated and I threw up like 5 times and I only had 3 miles until the next aid station, which was also the first cut off time marker too. Some how I got up and ran to the aid station and by the time I got there the volunteers were telling me that I made the cut off time by a minute. In my mind I was thinking to myself “What? I made it!” and right there I told myself I can't give up now, so I ran for the rest of the time with pleasure that I didn't give up. I finished 3 minutes before the final cutoff time at the finish line and earned my first ever ultra-marathon buckle at the age of 15. This is one day before I turned 16.
After that experiences, every run I do now feel like nothing compared to that 100k. Three weeks later I was doing my first ever marathon, a week after that I did the Monument Valley 50k. I'm doing races that I never thought I could do. I'm currently preparing for Zion 50k followed by the Whiskey Row Marathon a month later and then another month later, I will be doing the San Diego Marathon. In July, I will be doing the San Francisco Marathon for pure enjoyment and to run across the San Francisco Bridge. Around October, I’m planning to do the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim challenge, and at the end of the year, I’m planning to do the Around the Years race again but this time enter the 48 hour run in Phoenix, AZ. I've learned throughout my running career that life can get hard and people will tell you “you can't do it”, but you have to get up and just do it. That is the Nike motto that inspires me every time I run now.