Running Inspiration

I’m in the high miles, tired legs, growling stomach, ‘do I really need to run again today’, time of marathon training. And honestly? I’m kind of loving it. Yes, its hard to keep rolling out of bed at 5:00 a.m. But also, yes, I love hearing the call to prayer and the hundreds of voices that sound out in chorus from the three mosques that surround our house. All these men, seeking God in community, while I pull on my running clothes and get ready to pursue a crazy dream, in solitude, and essentially, alone. I will most likely not see another female running, unless she is inside the barbed wire fences of the French or American military bases. If I do see other, male, runners, they will most likely pass me, literally leaving me in their desert dust.

On the mornings when it is harder to get out of bed, when I wonder why the heck am I doing this, in this country, preparing for this race, asking people to fund this project…when my legs feel like bricks, when the miles tick by too slowly, when the funds come in at a trickle (you can help change that!!)…I need motivation.

This training is not being done with my sisters, urging my nephew along. I’m not training in shorts and a t-shirt. I’m not training in the woods or near green grass. I can’t rely on things like that to push me along.

Then I remember these kids from the blind school who came to the track to race, inspired by the Kenyan World Record holder for the visually impaired, Henry Wanyoike.

And I remember these girls, with Girls Run 2, the only all-girls running club in Djibouti, which also has the goal of keeping girls in school.

I don’t need reminders of why I’m doing this. I know why. I love running. I care about Somalis. I believe in the power of education. A Somali proverb says, “Aqoonta waa iftiin.” Knowledge is light. A Somali educator at the university where my husband first taught, told us one reason education is so powerful in Somaliland is that it keeps young people out of trouble. It keeps them motivated for their future. It gives them hope and purpose and goals. So, no I don’t need reminders for why I’m doing this.

I need motivation from books and podcasts, I need to feel like I’m not alone. I need to hear from other runners who talk about the pain in their legs but with the kind of awe and respect that sounds slightly nuts to non-runners. Reading books about runners surmounting ridiculous challenges and the love-hate that turns into joy-pride at the end of it.

Where do I turn in those moments?


It Takes a School by Jonathan Starr

About a school in Somaliland. Not running, but a school. Education. What this race is all about. I haven’t finished it yet, but so far, I love it.

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami (read it twice, listened to the audio book once, its in my ‘holds’ list from the Kindle library. again.)

“Its precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive – or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is not based on standards such as time or ranking but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself.”

And: “What exactly do I think about when I’m running? I don’t have a clue.” Right on.

The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike

I loved this. I had just read Running, a Love Story, which was okay, as is Rachel Toor’s Personal Record, a love affair with running. But these left me wanting more running. More history. Running is already fairly narcissistic, writing about it even more so. The Long Run provided exactly what I was looking for – a book structured around a woman becoming a runner but loaded with fascinating historical information and stories of women running throughout history.

My Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman

I enjoyed this for the unique aspect of the father-daughter relationship that Foreman focuses on. I’ve done a few runs with my kids, too, and it made me kinda teary in a few moments.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe

Fiction. Fiction! I know, I just don’t read much. But, voila. Fiction.

The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb

The quest to break the 4:00 mile. Amazing.

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by The Oatmeal

Light reading, silly. Helps me not take it all too seriously.

Run Fast. Eat Slow. by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky

Because, I’ll say it again, I peed in a port-a-potty next to the port-a-potty in which she peed. I peed faster. She ran faster.

The recipes in the cookbook? Awesome. The attitude behind the food? Love it.

Pre by Tom Jordan

About Steve Prefontaine, ‘America’s greatest running legend.’

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This is probably my favorite book, if forced to pick. Or at least in my top five. Running plays a minor role in the story but you can’t read it and not feel inspired to persevere.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (of course, right?!)

I tried my own barefoot experiment after reading this. Djibouti with heat so hot roads melt, streets littered with everything from condoms to syringes to shattered glass to thorns to camel poop, wasn’t such a great location for the experiment. It lasted for a few runs, then morphed into affecting my shoe choices. I now alternate between shoes with a low heel-to-toe differential and a more supportive shoe and for that, I’m grateful.

Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr.

Fiction. Again! What?! That’s right, the runner’s cult classic.

Runners World Magazine (including my own stories, pretty cool!)

And right now I’m reading The Way of the Runner by Adhanarand Finn, author of Running with the Kenyans. (another good book) Haven’t finished this new one yet.



Another Mother Runner

Ali On the Run

Personal Best

Sometimes I find it hard to relate with runners in the United States. They think women have totally overcome hecklers warning us our uterus will fall out if we keep running. They think an 80-degree days means it is too hot to run. They are terrified of coming in last (done it) or being the only person of their gender (been there). Maybe it is time to find (start?!) a global running podcast or website…what am I saying? I think I’ve fried my brain on too many long runs.

What inspires you to run? And run and run and run?

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Check out Djiboutilicious, my award-winning cookbook. If you are moving or traveling to Djibouti, you’ll love the information and tips in Welcome to Djibouti. And if you just want more Djibouti Jones, sign up for my monthly newsletter, Stories from the Horn.

(Click here to support my Somaliland Marathon and Education Fund)

Gift Ideas for Runners, 2017

Runners just need shoes, right? Technically, yes. Plus shorts, t-shirts, sports bras, socks, entrance fees, magazines, GU, vaseline, cheerleaders, good podcasts, headphones, armbands, water bottles, massages…need quickly becomes relative, but there are some items that are super awesome for runners, and that make each run less challenging.

What, specifically, might the runner in your life appreciate? Here are some ideas.


Once a Runner

I haven’t read this yet, but I should. I hear that every runner should. It has a sort of cult following among runners. I’ve read excerpts.

Run Fast. Eat Slow.

Shalane Flanagan (winner!! of the New York City Marathon, 2017) and Elyse Kopecky wrote this fantastic cookbook for runners. Delicious food, nothing complicated, all designed with the runner in mind. I’m a big fan of their Superhero Muffins and so many other recipes.

Run Gum

I heard about this on a podcast, in an interview with Nick Symmonds who created Run Gum.

TomTom Spark Watch

I got this last year for Christmas and I still absolutely love it. I use it every single day. I tore the band and the sent me a new one. It holds podcasts, music, does GPS for all my runs, is easily programmed to buzz during intervals or tempo training. You can read more of my thoughts on this watch here.


Gu, Nuun, gel blocks

Gus may feel slimy going down but they really do make a difference on long, sweaty runs. Gatorade gives me diarrhea, so I’m all about these other energy sources. I like Gu because it goes down easy, I like the blocks because they allow me to spread out my intake. Nuun are electrolyte tablets I add to my water when I get home after a sweaty run and they help kick start recovery. All of these things can also be done naturally, bananas, dates, chocolate milk, etc. And these processed items get kind of gross when during really, epic-long training. But they are easy to pack, store, and travel with. They make great stocking stuffers.


Bluetooth, like these, are amazing. No more getting tangled up in my cords.

Or, I love these for how they fit around my ears and don’t chafe and don’t cost a billion bucks.


Foam Roller

Essential for post workout recovery. I use mine on my hips, especially.

Hair Band

If you have wispy hair or short hair and want to keep it out of your face but don’t want bands that will slide off your head, check these out. They stay on, they look cute, and they are super affordable.

Non-rash causing sports bra

Why are we still talking about problems with sports bras? Even expensive ones? Who thought sports bras need to have big, fat, abrasive seams? I get rashes on my sternum, my shoulders, my chest, even my back. They chafe and bleed. Finally, I found a sports bra that doesn’t make me bleed. Still supportive (for the smaller-chested among us), still affordable, no more scarring.


Compression Socks

After a long run, the feeling of something gently squeezing my feet feels divine. These socks just plain feel good. They also help with recovery. But still, they just feel good. Your running friend’s feet will be happy.

Toe Nails

I asked my mom for these and while I thought moms were supposed to give their beloved children whatever we wanted, she didn’t. I don’t even think she tried. But then, she didn’t need to! I didn’t lose my toe nails after all. See, Asics changed the shoes I’ve used for over a decade. They shrank the toe box. Since I live way over here, about a 20-hour flight from a decent shoe store, I used to order and order the same ones. I can’t do that anymore (thanks a lot Asics). I took a risk on a new brand and I scored. I cut up my Asics to make room for my toes and when I logged too many miles in those shoes, I turned to my new Brooks Ghost. And I fell in love. So much room for my toes to wiggle and turn and not squash into each other! And my nails stopped bruising. I just might keep them. Thanks anyway, mom.

Not the cheapest shoes out there, I try to buy last season’s shoes and that usually shaves $40 off, which makes them excellent quality and a more affordable price.

Runners, what do you love to get or give for gifts?

*affiliate links included

Triathlon On a Budget

I raced my first triathlon in July. One of the best things about running is that its cheap. Races are expensive. Marathons cost up to $100 or more but even a local 5k is prohibitively expensive for my family and our budget. But running itself? All you need is a decent pair of shoes.

Triathlons on the other hand, require equipment. Shoes, swim caps, bikes. And those are the bare minimum.

Still, I wanted to do one race last summer while in the US and I chose a triathlon. After I paid the entrance fee, I had to scramble for the equipment.

My brother let me use his bike. I used my regular running shoes for everything, including the bike. I found a swim cap at the bottom of my parents’ swimming gear. I wore a sports bra and spandex shorts. No bike shorts, no wet suit, no racing bike. I spent zero money on my equipment.

This meant I showed up at the race with the only non-tri bike. The only one. No problem. While everyone else zipped past me, I sat up nearly straight and pedaled like crazy. I told myself this meant I was stronger and faster. Not that I was slower and burning out my legs for the upcoming run.

It also meant I didn’t have to change clothes or shoes. So while I probably lost about ten minutes on the bike, I saved about thirty seconds on the transitions. I simply threw on a tank top over the sports bra I swam in and took off.

It also meant I didn’t have shorts with bike pads. So yeah, after 12 miles, my butt hurt but it wasn’t too bad. For much longer of a bike distance, I would recommend a pair of bike shorts.

Overall, it was awesome. I loved the training variety, the fresh challenge, and doing it with my brother. I loved how even though people zipped past me on the bike, I flew by people on the run. I loved how I felt at the end, utterly spent and super strong.

Triathlon on a Budget

  1. Pick one race a year. Just one. A local one so there is no travel expense and no hotel expense. Make it a good one, a half marathon or full marathon, a triathlon, a race for a cause you support, a race you can do with someone you love to be with.
  2. Borrow equipment. Not shoes, you should buy your own shoes. Not sports bras, buy your own of those, too. Protect your body. But bikes, goggles, swim caps…ask around and see what someone might have for you. The bike might not be a racing bike, no problem. It will make you stronger. If someone lets you borrow a racing bike but only on race day, use a less expensive bike for your training. Again, no problem. This isn’t about winning, it is about participating.
  3. No fancy clothes. I wear sweat wicking running shirts but I buy them from the clearance rack. I can’t afford to care about fashion or style and, to be honest, when I run in Djibouti, the fact that heat and humidity turn me red and 100% soaked through my clothes (including my shoes) and the mere fact of running as a foreign woman render me such a spectacle already, there is no need to invest in fancy or good-looking clothes.
  4. No expensive fuel. If you are racing a shorter distance, you don’t need gels or gu or Gatorade and certainly not at $1.50 or more a pop. That doesn’t sound like a lot but if you are using them on a regular basis, it adds up. Eat a banana. Dates. A peanut butter sandwich. Drink water from the faucet.
  5. Buy last year’s shoes. Most shoes upgrade every year. Try to get an older pair. They will be $20-40 cheaper. See #3 for why fashion in racing gear is a waste of money.
  6. Regular watch. I have an awesome watch, a TomTom Spark. It was a gift from several people going in together last Christmas. But a nice watch isn’t necessary. If you can’t afford one, go without. No problem, there are timing mats all over most courses.

Go out and enjoy your race! Since you’re doing just one, make it count and have a wonderful day with family and friends (who can come support you because you’ve stayed local!)

p.s. As my kids will testify because they kept laughing at me when I checked out my body, there is nothing quite as cool as walking around with permanent markered black numbers on the upper arm and back of the calf. They mean: I am a triathlete. Aaaah, yeah.




The Whole30 in Africa: A Runner’s Journey

One reason the timing of my Whole30 worked well for me is that, as a runner, I was already planning an easy month. I had a weird knee niggle that started after an 11-mile run in the desert and was cutting back on mileage anyway. But I wanted to keep running enough that I would feel the effects of eating this way and be able to assess how my body was responding and what I needed, both during and after the Whole30.

I average 30-40 miles per week and cut back to 20. I replaced some of those miles with more weight lifting, yoga, and the occasional bike ride, so I was still pretty active.

How’d it go?

The Whole30 and Running

It was hard. I don’t mean emotionally hard, nothing really about the Whole30 was emotionally hard for me. I never found myself staring into the refrigerator, cussing, as some have confessed to. I never had to physically restrain myself from gobbling up a piece of toast or chugging soda. I didn’t lose my temper more than I normally do.

I mean it was physically hard.

I had all this energy. I wasn’t getting tired in the afternoons. I woke up for my morning runs before my alarm ever went off (we’re talking 5:30 a.m.). I don’t think I yawned once the entire month.


I was weak.

My muscles were so, incredibly, weak.

The entire first two weeks of running I couldn’t go more than two miles without being utterly exhausted in my legs. I would then walk a bit, run some more, walk, run, walk, run. It was discouraging.

I read forums and followed the advice to up my carbs. I ate bananas, potatoes, squash. I was already hungry all the time and so I just kept eating. And eating. And eating.

And I felt so weak.

By the fourth week, I felt a little better and managed a 5-mile run without walking. But having recently run for over two hours, this weakness was hard to face.

I also felt the weakness while lifting weights. I’m not a heavy-lifter but did notice how much harder it was to lift my normal amounts.

But, while it was discouraging, it was exactly what I wanted. Not the weakness, but this lesson. I entered this, like I wrote in the first post, to better understand how food affects my running. Not running in general, but mine. So this weakness fascinated me.

I could hardly wait to begin the introduction phase and to see what would happen to a run after I consumed a piece of whole grain bread.

I did wait and finally, the day for my gluten grain reintroduction rolled around.

I ate a piece of toast at breakfast and had a tortilla at lunch. Then in the late afternoon I ran for ninety minutes (the entire time my daughter was at soccer practice) and felt like a superhero. Not tired! Not walking! Not dragging to a stop at the end! Hurray for bread!

I don’t have issues with gluten, my gut is healthy as far as I know, so it was with great happiness that I realized I could not only eat bread but it would fuel me with all the energy I needed for longer runs. Bonus lesson: I don’t need to eat as much of it as I did and I can plan wisely in order to get this extra boost on the runs when I really need it. It isn’t magic, but seeing how bread impacted my run encouraged me to eat it with joy and intention.

Those last two words are key for me now when it comes to food. Not guilt, not calories, not gluten-free or dairy-free or vegetarian or any trending thing, not even Whole30 compliant.



More about that later…

Any runners out there who have tried the Whole30? What did you learn?

My other Whole30 posts:

Learning (again) to Cook

A Reluctant Food Post

What is the Whole30?

*image via Flickr

The Whole30 in Africa, a Reluctant Food Post

I finished the Whole30 last week.

Here’s the book about it:

I didn’t tell you I was doing it. To be honest, I was kind of embarrassed. I hate trendy things and I especially hate trendy foodie things. Even saying foodie makes me cringe. I have never jumped on a dietary bandwagon. My own cookbook, Djiboutilicious, is not Whole30 compliant. But maybe I should think about making a cookbook for living abroad that is…

Low carb

Low fat





Low sugar

Nothing white

Gluten free

The Whole30 in Africa

Yuck. Yuck. Yuck. Foodie trends reek of privilege, wealth, excess, obsession, and self-focus. Food has become religion for many, with morality directly associated with how, what, and where people eat. Words like clean, whole, pure, good, bad, dirty have come to be applied to food and the people who consume certain foods. This means food is used to condemn, elevate, divide, and judge and that is dangerous.

Americans especially, talk about food a lot. Like a lot a lot. Obsessively. And they seem to be in the control of whatever trendy food diet is all the current rage. People are unable to make their own decisions and are plagued by guilt, shame, and judgment. Or even fear. Fear of bananas. Or of potatoes. They feel righteous about kale salads and avocado smoothies. They obsess over fit bits and calorie counts and forget about pleasure, enjoyment, freedom.

Clearly, I have issues with food trends.

This is a great post on Salon that captures a lot of what I think about food trends: My Body Doesn’t Need a Cure.

I believe in all things in moderation and that God gave us all things, including sugar, for our pleasure, if we consume them wisely. So other than when I fast for personal, spiritual reasons, I don’t restrict my eating.

But, I love to read about nutrition and food and sports. I’m captivated by the idea that nutritionists don’t really know what they’re talking about. People still aren’t quite sure what a calorie is or how to measure it. They can’t agree on what is healthy or what is killing us. Everyone goes gluten free because that will make us thinner. Except we’re still getting fatter. No matter how much kale or avocados or organic foods we eat, we still eat too much of it. And this is interesting to me. What is it about food that drives us, Americans, on the whole, so wild with opinion and fads that radically swing from one extreme to the next and yet we continue to be less healthy?

I’m also personally interested in how diet affects my running. I’m getting older and I’ve never gotten much faster than I was my first year as a runner, aged 30. I attribute most of that to the impossible heat. I run in temperatures year-round in which most running advice columnists recommend runners just quit. When I run in Minnesota I feel improvement in weeks. In Djibouti, I just keep slogging it out.

Can’t control the temperature, can’t afford the only air conditioned workout club in the country ($300-400/month). Won’t pay to run indoors with a fan on a wobbly machine – hotter than outside – at cheaper clubs.

Can’t control my age.

Can control my diet. Never really tried. But, after finding myself continually clicking on links to stories about nutrition and running, I finally decided to try something for myself. I wasn’t sure what to do, didn’t want to adopt a life-long change, and wanted something clearly defined.

I picked the Whole30. Maybe because it is known as an ‘extreme paleo.’ Extreme appeals to me. If I’m going to run, I’ll run marathons. If I’m going to Africa, I’ll go to Somalia. If I’m having kids, I’ll have twins. If I’m trying a food trend, I’ll pick a hard one.

I started while in Kenya, an experiment. I thought, if I can do this for one day while traveling, I can do it no problem, for 29 more days at home. And so, I did.

Here’s another book about it:

How’d it go?

I had a lot to learn about cooking this way. Our meals are grain-dependent. We love spaghetti, lasagna, hamburgers, tacos, curry, pizza. Pasta, rice, and bread are every day foods for my family. So how could I cook without relying on these things? Especially when my family wasn’t joining me? I would have to cook things that I could eat and that they would want to eat. Sometimes this meant making two things, though they did, to their great dismay, give up homemade pizza for the month.

I’m going to break this down into a few posts. At first I wasn’t even going to write about it but I will, possibly because I am running out of other blogging ideas. I will, reluctantly, join the internet glut of food-related bloggers.

Why do I cringe at this? I’m honestly not sure. If you have insights into this strange reaction, please enlighten me.

Here are the topics I hope to cover in the coming weeks:



Attitude Toward Food


After the Whole30

For now, what can I tell you about the Whole30?

I felt great before I did it, great while I did it, and great now that I am off it and have reintroduced anything I want. So did I learn anything? Ya, sure, you betcha. Come back later to read more about it.

Have you done the Whole30? Especially, are you an expatriate who has done it? I’d love to hear about your experience.

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