Runner and athlete Alvina Begay (Navajo) is and has always been, on the go. As a young girl grow ing up on the Navajo reservation, Begay followed in her father’s footsteps and ran. She continued to run within her college career and even trained to represent the U.S. in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. We chat with Begay about training for the 2016 Olympics, her hectic daily schedule, and how she feels about finally settling down after being on the go for so long.
NATIVE MAX: Where are you originally from?
ALVINA BEGAY: I was born and raised in Ganado, Arizona. I currently live and train in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Ganado, Arizona is a small town located at a high elevation. Has that at all impacted the way you run?
Ganado is a small town on the Navajo reservation. There are a lot of dirt roads and trails. There is also a lake that I love to run around. Ganado is located at 6,000 ft. in elevation. I didn’t notice anything about being at altitude until I went down to sea level to race. I felt great when I raced and my times were faster. When living and training at altitude, the body is deprived of oxygen. The body then builds more red blood cells to carry oxygen. At sea level, the body has extra oxygen carrying capacity because of the increased number of red blood cells. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in Ganado. Many runners look for a training location that has numerous dirt trails and is at altitude.
Who or what inspired you to run?
My dad inspired me to run and my mom encouraged me to dream big. It was the norm watching my dad train and race on weekends. I saw how hard he worked every day to run fast. It was good for me to see that because it showed me how hard I would have to work to accomplish my dreams.
My mom pushed my siblings and me to work hard and dream big. I remember as a young girl, my mom telling me that if I kept running, I would get my education paid for, travel the world, meet great people, etc. She also used tough love on my siblings and me when it came to completing college. She also taught us to stay true to our culture and to use Navajo teachings to get through the hard times.
What happened after you tried out for the Olympics?
I continued running. I had some injuries in 2013 and 2014. I wasn’t able to run very much when I was injured so I completed my Master’s degree and increased my working hours at Flagstaff Medical Center as a Registered Dietitian. Running is such a big part of my life that I get sad and depressed when I’m not able to run or exercise. Going back to school and working was a good distraction while my injuries were healing. I put my knowledge and skills as an RD on the back burner for several years while I was very focused on my running. I feel like it was a good use of my time while I was injured to use my knowledge as an RD to help people.
Alongside being a Registered Dietician, do you, coach, as well?
I do some online coaching with the Run S.M.A.R.T. Project. I coach runners all over the world. I like to keep busy.
What are your top fit tips?
-Eat breakfast every day
-Don’t go too long without eating. If you go too long without eating, you’re more likely to overeat and eat junk
-Unless you are exercising for >/= 90 min, you should not be drinking a sports drink. Sports drinks are high in sugar, sodium and other electrolytes. Blood sugar goes down and the body loses electrolytes through sweat when exercising >90 min. Sports drinks -brings blood sugar back up and replenishes electrolytes
What was the last time you ran in a race?
I ran the Louis Tewanima 10K Footrace in September. It was a 10K trail race on the Hopi reservation honoring and remembering 10K Olympic silver medalist Louis Tewanima.
Are you currently focused on anything, such as upcoming race or marathon?
I am currently focused on qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Trials in the Women’s Marathon.
Where do you see yourself in a few years?
I can see myself still running competitively and working at the hospital in a year. There are so many things I want to do in the next five years. I have thought about going back to school. I have also thought about settling down a bit. I’ve been on the go, go, go for as long as I can remember. I grew up on a ranch and had horses growing up. I’d love to get some land and a couple of horses.