26.2 Miles. 42 Kilometers.
It was the best of runs, it was the worst of runs.
First, the struggle:
There was no blood and no diarrhea and not even any tears, but there was vomiting at multiple points and cramps so bad my feet were wrenched at odd angles and I hobbled as much as I ran. I weaved back and forth on the road. I don’t remember parts of the race.
I haven’t barfed in public since I was pregnant with twins 17 years ago but the streets of Hargeisa, the police in the follow vehicle, the vendors, the people sipping mid-morning tea, and poor, wonderful Dieter, a German runner who got me to the end, watched me hurl up all my hydration and all my energy fuel and all my electrolytes a few times during the Somaliland marathon.
And thank you, Dieter.
The possibilities of what happened are nearly endless, I’m trying not to focus too much on those, which range from dehydration to the emotional highs and lows of all that a visit to Somaliland means to me, and everything in between.
I felt more fit for this marathon than I’ve ever been, should have been a PR. But, alas. A strong race was not what I ran last week. I ran my personal worst. Still, I ran. And ran and ran and ran because, well, 42 kilometers.
And I took home second place!
The women’s marathon trophies got stolen, so I don’t have award evidence.
Still, second place!
That feels pretty cool.
Let’s just not talk about how many runners there were total.
Second fastest female marathoner in Somaliland (and not last, not this time). I’ll take it.
To pull me out of my vomit-cramp-disappointment, my husband said, “What was your goal?”
“To enjoy the experience,” I said.
“Did you?” he asked, already knowing the answer.
Oh man! Did I? I did so much that I have been using exclamation points in this post (if you want to know how I really feel about exclamation points, here you go). Yeah. This is getting serious now.
It was AMAZING. I know, capital letters. Before you know it, I’ll put an emoji in here and then what will the world be coming to?!
Truly, what an unforgettable week. Which leads to…
Second, the delight (which trumps beyond a doubt my feelings of wishing I had raced differently):
I think I’m ruined for any kind of regular road race now.
I joined up with the Untamed Borders marathon tour group for the week and met fascinating people from all over the world. We feasted, we toured, we took thousands of photographs.
I was surrounded on all sides by inspiring people – from the international runners and race organizers, to the family running the Gacmadheere Foundation for education, to the Somalis who welcomed us, to my own personal friends in the region.
I’ll be sharing more about all of that, including my own fears and the horrible flashes from the past that still sometimes haunt me, to the healing power of going back to our personal breaking places.
But – what about the race?
Besides my self-destructing body, I can barely imagine a better event. It was a profound honor to be part of it, served by those who organized and ran it, and supported by those who watched it.
8 years of university education funded (4 of those through you guys, Djibouti Jones readers)
205 runners (mostly in the 10k, I think about 20 in the marathon)
21 international runners
15 (maybe?) total women
8 (maybe?) local women
85+ degree heat
Long, really long, hills (in Djibouti City, speed bumps and craters in the road are about all that qualify as hills)
Fierce sun (my lips and face are falling off in flakes of dead, burned skin)
42 kilometers through Hargeisa, through the desert, into the depths of what I could ask of my body and (thankfully) back out again
For me, the heroes of this race were the nurses from Dr. Edna Aden’s hospital. I wouldn’t have made it without these men and women. When things started to get dark, I locked my eyes on the horizon, waiting for a sign of hope. Slowly, (too) slowly, their bright fuscia scarves and white lab coats would pierce the brown desert and I would find strength to keep running toward that light.
Every 3k along the route, they were immediately ready at the side of the road with trays full of water cups, watermelon, bananas, cookies, juice boxes with the straws in place, ready with buckets of water and sponges, ready with more water to dump over my head and down my back. They were smiling, every single time, and full of joy and words of encouragement.
They were out there in the fierce sun, heat, and dust longer than I was. I’m tearing up now, overcome by gratitude for their quick, joyful, and eager service in helping we runners accomplish our goals.
I’m so full of emotions and thoughts I can barely unscramble it all. For me, it was a week of returning, discovering, healing, conquering, stumbling, growing, overcoming.
The roller coaster of emotions took a toll. My mind and my legs, though not in too much pain thanks to how well I prepared, are utterly spent. By the time I left Somaliland Monday morning, after going even deeper into my past for a few extra days, I could barely complete a coherent sentence in any language.
I did it.
I ran the inaugural Somaliland Marathon, one of a handful of women. I hope and pray to be one small part of inspiring more women to discover their own strength, courage, fortitude, grit, delight, and community through sport.
That feels awesome.
That is an incredible privilege.
I can’t thank you all enough for encouraging me to do this, for supporting me and Somali students along the way, for believing that all things are possible.
Its been a long time since I started training back in October, I’ve logged hundreds of miles, sweat buckets, digested and barfed more GU than I care to calculate. Its been good.
Two final words, in conclusion: