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11 Ways Running is Like Learning a Foreign Language

Two accomplishments I feel rather proud of were accomplished in Africa. Here, I became a runner and here I learned a foreign language. Actually two: French and Somali. Both were incredibly hard and both changed the way I see the world. Amazingly, they have some things in common. Here are eleven ways that running is like learning a foreign language, in my case, Somali.

running and language

1. Its hard.

I thought I was going to die during my first mile-long run in Djibouti and I was already in relatively good shape from doing aerobics. At the end I put my hands on my knees and gasped. “People do this, like, for fun?!” Same with studying Somali. It was hard, required obscene amounts of time and strenuous effort.

2. Progress is slow and steady.

I added a few minutes to my runs each week and built endurance. A 5k turned into a 10k, turned into a half marathon, turned into three full marathons. But that took years. A grunted sentence in Somali, “Me like rice” turned into grammatically correct, multi-faceted sentences that include cultural knowledge as well as vocab, “I like rice that has been cooked on holidays and dyed pink and blue, with roasted lamb and hot sauce.”

3. There are pitfalls along the way.

Injuries, tripping over stones in the desert, getting lost while running in a new city. Mistakes in language usage that leaves one saying, “Do you want my husband?” instead of, “This is my husband.”

4. They change the way you see the world.

I now notice runners everywhere, I notice shoes. A guest leaves a pair of Asics by the door and I know she is a runner. I even know they are Asics. I see the world in terms of running trails and get to know new places while on my feet. Learning Somali has taught me new things about history and justice, camels and color and saying ‘Thank you,’ or not.

5.  They open up new communities.

I didn’t know people existed who use the word “bonk” in normal conversation or who eat Gu on purpose or who think nothing is wasted about four hours spent running solo or who don’t seem to want all their toenails. Not only have I met these people, I’ve become one of them. I didn’t know people who laughed back in their throat like Somalis or who could memorize entire poems and stories simply by listening or who would sweep and mop my house when I come back from time in the US simply because they cared about me. Now I call those people friends.

6. They are never done.

I can cross off a run for the day but I am never done being a runner. It is who I am now. I will never be fluent in Somali. I am now a Somali-language-learner.

7. They make you do embarrassing things.

Running in the hottest country in the world makes me sweat in unmentionable places. On the run things like farts, spit and other bodily fluids have been, um, encountered. Certain stories remain on the trail. Learning a language also brings up embarrassments. Giving speeches in broken Somali, being featured on YouTube under the title, “White Woman Speaks Somali!”, language mistakes (see #3).

8. They make you feel proud.

Not in a boastful, arrogant way. But they make you feel like you have accomplished something hard, worthwhile, satisfying. A marathon. The first novel read in the new language.

9. They draw strange looks from people.

Once at the end of a run in the hot season, a child saw me and was so frightened he tried to crawl onto the back of my guard, who was praying at the time. The kid screamed, “help me! help me!” When I asked the guard who the kid was he said, “I never met him before in my life.” When I speak Somali sometimes people have physically fallen to the ground in shock. Other times they simply stare. That happens a lot while I run, too.

10. They make muscles ache and make the muscles stronger.

My legs will never be the same. I’m no Paula Radcliffe but I think I’ve got some calf muscle that wasn’t there a decade ago. Don’t mess with my calves. Don’t mess with my uvula, either. Or whatever it is in my throat making those kh, q, c noises. The first few months speaking Somali made the back of my throat ache like my legs ached the first few weeks running.

11. They require support.

I needed the people who cheered me on during the marathons and other races, needed to see their faces and hear their cheers, needed to grab the Gu or the water bottle. I am so thankful they were there at the end, sometimes to literally catch me, that they were there while I trained. Biking alongside, taking care of the kids. I’ll never forget the chocolate-covered strawberries waiting for me at my front door when I got home from my first marathon, a surprise gift from my sister who lived states and states away. Learning language requires similar support, cheerleaders, encouragers, motivators. Maybe some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie deliveries. People who notice the minutest increments of progress and who honor that.

Runners? Language learners?

Anything else the two have in common?

Another Mother Runner Podcast

I am:

a mother

a runner

another mother runner

and…a running nerd.

By nerd, I mean I love all things running. I used to think: what is there to talk about? You wear shoes and you move your legs. Done.

Now? I get it. I read the shoe descriptions in Runners World magazine. I delight in every mile, in hearing people say about a race, “And I ran…and I finished…” and I want to hear all about the in between parts.

So talking to other mother runners was just plain delightful.

Here is the podcast episode, a bonus 45-minute length one, thanks to my wonderful mother (who is not a mother runner but she is a mother walker) who nominated me for mother of the month!

Have a listen, maybe on the run or after listen, lace up your shoes and hit the road/trail/treadmill.

 

Gifts for Runners, 2018

Shalane Flanagan’s second cookbook (link to the first one below) Run Fast, Cook Slow, Eat Slow I want this. And the first one. I read them both on my Kindle, from the library. And then my friend had a hard copy and they are gorgeous books. Highly recommended.

Kara Goucher’s book, Strong. Yup, want this one too. Kindle books are awesome, but hard copies are also awesome, especially for beautifully produced books.

Destination race or running retreat, like the Podium retreat with Kara Goucher.

Desert Runners movie (free on Amazon Prime). I watched this recently and loved it. Especially after my own desert marathon in Somalia which included tears and vomit, too. This is gorgeous documentary of some of the world’s most intense ultra marathons. Even better than gifting it only, consider offering to watch it with them.

Baby-sitting so they can get out the door

Flip belt. I bought this one after reading lots of reviews. So far, it worked fantastic. It can hold my phone if I need it, Gu, keys, even large hotel keys for when I travel. It doesn’t slide around on my waist.

Garmin Vivoactive Watch


I used to wear a TomTom Spark but the battery quick charging and they stopped making the same model. But, when I was gifted the watch for Christmas, I also was gifted insurance. I used that insurance, got a full refund and put it toward this watch(!). I love the watch – GPS, music, heart rate, all kinds of activities including swimming and biking, and so much more. If you do get this, I highly recommend the insurance, at least if you live in a harsh place or use it a lot, like I do.

*For even more ideas, check out the list from 2017

*Runners World also has some great gift ideas, all for under $30

*includes affiliate links

By |December 17th, 2018|Categories: Running|Tags: , , |0 Comments

20 Questions with Jordan Wylie

Oooo boy, if there is one thing I need to work on, it is interviews and podcasts and thinking on my feet.

I did it again. (Here’s my interview with the New York Times for the Modern Love podcast and here is my interview with the World Citizen podcast)

Check out the podcast episode Jordan Wylie and I recorded while in Somaliland. I don’t know what makes me more nervous – toeing the line for a marathon or posting the link to this podcast. (You have to actually click the link and listen on soundcloud, I couldn’t get the embed code to work.)

So. Voila. My inner shy child is again on the air. The one who was so shy she never ordered pizza because that would require talking on the telephone to strangers. The one who didn’t purchase things in stores because that would require interacting with the person at the cash register – a stranger. The one who pees like six times before public speaking and who shakes during it and pees again right after it. Yeah, that’s the one you can now listen to, saying ridiculous things, with the incredible Jordan Wylie.

Enjoy.

For more about someone truly inspiring: check out more of Jordan’s podcasts here, his Running Dangerously campaign here, and his best-selling book Citadel, about fighting Somali piracy, here.

 

The Somaliland Marathon. Conquered.

26.2 Miles. 42 Kilometers.

The Race

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.

Sorry guys.

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:

Next year.