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In early March, Mirna Valerio completed the Moab Run the Rockies Stage Race, Half Pint edition—three days of running totaling 33.1 miles and 2,670 feet of vertical gain. It wasn’t her biggest accomplishment by the numbers—not by a long shot— but a bit of a comeback.
It had been three years since her last long-distance running adventure, the 2020 Los Angeles Marathon. Since then, Valerio has dealt with injury and self doubt. In many ways, Moab was proof to herself that she’s back. But her real lesson is that bodies change—it’s easy to hang onto a race result, a PR, or a particular view of your “best” self, when in reality, we have many versions of what is best.
Before Valerio was sidelined, she had already completed 11 marathon distance races and 14 ultra-distance races. Running has been her constant for 15 years. Valerio ran and played field hockey in high school, but really got back into running in 2008, when she had a health scare. Here, she decided to revisit some of the activities she loved as a child. But with nagging knee pain from a torn meniscus after the LA Marathon, she decided to get surgery. And thus began a long road toward healing: regular physical therapy, intense rehab with experts in the gym, and lots of trying new ways to move while her knee healed. Along the way, she fell in love with about a dozen other activities to keep her motivated and feeling strong.
“My surgeon was amazing,” Valerio said. “I told him, this is my job, I’ve got to get back to running. And he said, ‘we’ll get you back to running.’” Valerio realized, years ago, that the running world needs her—it needs diversity, bigger bodies, and representation. He cleared Valerio to ride bikes, use a rowing machine, and pursue all kinds of other things before she could slowly start incorporating running again. “It took a long time for me to feel normal. I still don’t feel 100 percent like the runner I was before the injury, but I went out there and kept trying.” Valerio credits her coach, Mike Ehredt, with keeping her grounded. “My coach is incredible, he’s become kind of my life coach as well.”
Ehredt told Valerio to do something every day, even for just five or 10 minutes, to create a routine. That helped keep her mind off of what she couldn’t do and focus on what she could.
“I’d be in my head a lot, thinking, I’ll never be able to run like I ran before,” but she learned to observe that kind of thinking and not let it take over. “You can’t push negative thoughts completely out. I try to be an observer, to acknowledge that those things are going on. Like, this really sucks today. I feel really bad. And even, maybe I’m not ever going to be the runner that I was five years ago, or three years ago, but that’s OK. I’m in a new body. It’s part of who I am. It’s part of my fabric.”
Valerio then had further setbacks with plantar fasciitis, but she just kept working toward more mileage. “I got a cortisone shot in my foot and that made a huge difference,” she said “I was able to finally train again. I could go out for more than just a mile or two without intense pain in my foot.” All the while, she also continued to cross-train with skiing, hiking, yoga, and biking. Still, when she showed up in Moab in March, she wasn’t sure exactly what would happen.
New Tests, New Confidence
“I hadn’t tested myself at 10 miles yet.” So she gave herself grace, and decided to see how it went. “I told my coach I’ll probably be hiking most of it—I’ll run when I can.” But it went well. Really well. “The first day was 10 miles and it was a slog, but let me tell you how incredible I felt when I got to the finish line. I was like, I still got it. And I didn’t run most of it, but I ran a bunch of it.”
The second day was more emotional. “I sat in my car before we started, and the people who were doing the ‘full pint’ started a half hour before us, and I had the option of starting early but I didn’t. I wanted to see what my body could do. So I sat in my car and listened to all my hype music. I listened to Beyonce’s ‘Move’ and it just made me bawl.”
Once again, Valerio did it. She felt alive. “I felt so strong. I was mentally prepared, and I was the last to finish, but I had the best time.”
The final day of the stage race was, as expected, the toughest day. It was eight miles, but a grueling stage. “It was super mentally challenging; I had to use all of my mantras.” Coming into the finish, Valerio saw all of her TransRockies friends, “The finish was glorious.” Valerio has been part of the TransRockies runs since 2017, when they invited her to race with them. “They will always be part of my trail learning.”
Next Stop: Patagonia
With her renewed excitement for trail running, and the confidence that her body was back, Valerio headed almost immediately to her next trail adventure—in Patagonia. That invite came from Vacation Races, and it involved several days of trail running through some of the most epic scenery on the planet. “It was personally and professionally one of the best things I’ve ever done. To be running next to Monte Fitz Roy was just crazy.” Velerio could tell that her body was still working some things out from being back to running so much, but the scenery made the little aches and pains manageable. “You look up and see these incredible glacial lakes and waterfalls and volcanic expanses. And that makes it worth it.”
Valerio is endlessly grateful to her community and sponsors for the incredible opportunities to run, race, and experience the outdoors. It has all come after years and years of hard work on her part, to expand the running and outdoor industry’s view of an athlete and an outdoor adventurer. Everything Valerio does is in the name of getting more people to enjoy the outdoors, to move their bodies in ways that makes them feel good and strong and proud of themselves.
Among the many sponsors that Valerio already has, she recently signed on with Lululemon, and they’ve featured her on a series of billboards in major cities across the U.S. To see herself, several stories high, in her hometown of Brooklyn, New York, was surreal.
“I was there with my mom and my brother and we were looking at this four or five story image of me. Just me. We were taking pictures and acting the fool,” Valerio said. And she noticed two black men drive by in a car, and they yelled out the window, “Yo, is that you? Whoa! We got a local celebrity!” They stopped and talked to Valerio and her family. “They were crushing on me, and one said, ‘They finally remembered us.’ I will never forget that moment. Because that’s what this is all about—representation and not forgetting people, not excluding people, and meeting as many people as possible.”