Ultramarathoner Mirna Valerio on pushing past stereotypes: 'We may have this idea that a runner looks a certain way'

Ultramarathoner and Lululemon ambassador Mirna Valerio talks running and getting
Ultramarathoner and Lululemon ambassador Mirna Valerio talks running and getting "rid of the noise." (Photo: Courtesy photo; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

It’s Friday, on likely one of the last cold days of April, and ultramarathoner Mirna Valerio is ready to hit the slopes at Big Sky Resort in Montana. She’s only recently learned to ski this past winter and the powder beckons.

“We got nine inches of snow last night!” she says over our Zoom meet-up. Her newfound love of the sport has been well-documented on Instagram and frankly, in a climate of pandemic lockdowns and the subsequent home-to-grocery-store-cycle, seeing Valerio master the gentle incline of the bunny slopes is a breath of fresh air. Her joy is palpable and acts as a subtle reminder that we can all benefit from getting outside a little more.

More than an influencer, Valerio is a multi-hyphenate powerhouse: a motivational speaker, author, singer and runner who in March became a global ambassador for Lululemon, with a mission to make running more accessible and body-inclusive. Ahead, the mother to a 17-year-old son tells Yahoo Life about the power of learning something new and how singing is a "balm for my soul."

What does self-care mean to you?

I have not found the perfect “thing” that is self-care for me yet! I’ve been so busy and it’s been hard. Even during COVID, I’ve had the best work year I’ve ever had. Of course, that comes with drawbacks because I’ve been working non-stop. As a speaker, as an anti-racist educator, influencer and athlete — even with an injury — I’ve been working non-stop. But what I’ve found is that what I need to do regularly is to create music, to sing and read and write and to be home with my son. Even though he ignores me [laughs]! That is something that really carried me, especially as the anti-racism work was ramping up because of the summer that we had last year. I really needed to do that and every time I would [connect] with my voice teacher, we’d talk a little bit and I’d be able to sing. Not that it fixed everything, but it was a balm for my soul.

Now that I know you sing, is there a song that you listen to often before you run, or a tune that helps get you energized?

Since 2017, when I had my very first book tour appearance outside of Boston, I played Jill Scott’s “Golden.” I was in my room and I could not believe what I was about to do. I’m crying right now thinking about it. It was so huge for me!

That weekend I was also doing a big photo shoot for a commercial and I couldn’t believe my life. I was about to do a book signing and I had just spent a day shooting this commercial and this song came on my playlist. Every time I hear that song, I am filled with so much indescribable emotion. I feel all of my ancestors behind me lifting me up.

Valerio is working to make running for accessible and inclusive. (Photo: Lululemon)
Valerio is working to make running for accessible and inclusive. (Photo: Lululemon)

What advice do you have for someone who wants to become a runner?

The most important thing to do is to decide that you are a runner. A runner is someone who runs. We may have this idea that a runner looks a certain way; that they run a certain pace; that they run in certain areas; that they don’t run on a treadmill or they wear certain shoes. When we realize that is all what society has created and the messaging we’ve received, once we separate that from our natural human need to move it becomes easier to decide you’re a runner and to go outside or get on a treadmill and start running.

Do you have a personal mantra?

The mantra I use most often is "step over step." It’s from this Chinese folktale called "Tikki Tikki Tembo" [Valerio proceeds to sing the story’s namesake: Tikki Tikki Tembo-No Sa Rembo-Chari Bari Ruchi-Pip Peri Pembo]. This grandfather is going on a long journey with one of his grandsons because the other grandson is stuck in a well very far away and they have to take this long journey. And the little kid is getting tired, as kids do, and the grandfather says, "Step over step. Step over step, we will get there, but only by step over step." It’s rhythmic. It reminds you that it’s the little steps that add up to the big distances.

What advice do you have for someone who feels stagnant in their everyday life?

Do something new! Learn something new. Do something you’re curious about. When we lose curiosity, that’s when we become stagnant.

What lessons, if any, have you learned from the pandemic?

The biggest lesson is that there is a lot of stuff in life that does not serve us. There are a lot of people in life that do not serve us. And the more we get rid of those things, the more we push them very far away, the better we will be. I think a lot of people have learned that there are so many things that we do that aren’t for us. Get rid of the noise.

Besides running, what’s currently bringing you joy?

There are two things: watching my child become enamored of culinary arts, it’s beneficial to everybody! And it is so sweet. The other thing is writing. I’ve been working on a novel, which is a new genre for me. I’m a die-hard nonfiction writer, but I’ve taken on the challenge of writing a novel... And also reading. I’ve always been a voracious reader but I’ve kind of lost that in recent years.

What does it mean to unwind to you?

The best unwinding for me comes to me when I’m out on a trail out in nature. No matter what I’m doing. Whether I’m running or if I’m hiking or if I’ve just decided to go to the local park that happens to be in the woods. To stand there and breathe in the air, walking among nature, touching trees. That’s important to me to make connections with nature; to actually touch trees and smell flowers or to pick up the snow; to have a tactile relationship — it does something to the nervous system.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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