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Diné runner the focus of PBS documentary episode studying how the body uses food as fuel

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Shaun Martin’s days are filled with at least one run.

It’s not only a way to stay fit and healthy; it’s been part of his life for so long.

Diné ultramarathon runner Shaun Martin is featured in the episode titled “Fuel,” which is part of the PBS program “Human: The World Within.” (Courtesy of Shaun Martin)

Martin is the athletic director at Chinle High School in Arizona. He is the focus of an episode in the six-part PBS series, “Human: The World Within.” The episode featuring Martin airs at 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 12, on New Mexico PBS, channel 5.1.

Martin was asked to participate in the episode because he’s a Navajo ultramarathon runner.

Producers wanted to understand the basics of how food actually becomes energy. Martin and the production crew traveled to Cortez, Colorado, in the winter.

Martin is not just a runner, though, he’s an ultramarathoner, which means the races he does are usually over 100 miles.

Viewers are able to learn about how running is a delicate balance between needing enough fuel to keep going, but not so much that you end up cramping.

Throughout the run, Martin refuels strategically to support his starving muscles. That way, he doesn’t hit the wall – the point when a runner’s energy reserves are completely dried up.

“Mega endurance athletes are all on a learning curve,” Martin says. “There’s no true way to nail that down. All we can do is work to have optimum performance. It’s taken me a lifetime to understand my body and it changes every time.”

Martin was contacted via email for the show.

Producers wanted someone in the Four Corners area, so they could follow on a day run, all while taking a look at food as fuel.

“At first, I thought it was odd,” he says of the pitch. “Then they said it was for PBS and being an educator, I jumped on board. I planned a trip to Colorado so they could film a long day of running.”

The day of filming, Martin was out running from sunrise to sunset.

“The trail was covered in snow and it was icy,’ he says. “We were originally planning for being out for three or four hours. I enjoyed it and it was really cold. I had never run in the area before.”

Martin was able to talk about the meals he prepares himself prior to running.

“They were opening up to this unique culture,” he says. “I got a chance to showcase the world of Indigenous foods. This is fuel that is centuries old. It’s also giving us Native Americans a platform to tell our story to a bigger audience.”

Martin is no stranger to the Land of Enchantment.

The Diné member is also a board member of Albuquerque-based Wings of America.

Wings of America is a nonprofit incorporating running initiatives to empower Native youth and their families and build healthy communities. The nonprofit recently moved its headquarters from Santa Fe to Albuquerque.

Martin often returns to the Pojoaque area to visit his wife’s family.

“It’s very humbling to associated with the project,” Martin says. “To be asked to be the voice of my community is a monumental. My voice and mind set have all been molded by my family and my extended family, as well as generations before me. My voice is just the catalyst. I’m still teaching and learning on a daily basis.”

Martin is hoping to make it back soon to Albuquerque with the organization.

“Whenever I’m in Albuquerque, the Sandias call me,” he says. “I want to be up there and see the world from a different perspective.”

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