Running Barefoot, Dehydrated, and Naked. Or Not.

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Running Barefoot, Dehydrated, and Naked. Or Not.

I run with my iPhone. In an armband. With earphones. In Djibouti this makes me feel excessively wealthy.

running naked, barefoot, dehydrated

The armband Velcro melted off months ago so I twist it all around itself to keep it on. The earphones are missing the cushiony part on one side and only one earplug actually works. In Minnesota this might be thought of as suffering and when my ears start to burn and tingle and I can’t hear both sides of the music and the armband flaps off during intervals, I would lean toward agreeing. Or, if not suffering, at least it’s a frustration. Though, apparently, the two are less and less distinguishable among the middle class, the privileged poor.

I wear a Hydration Belt packed full with four bottles of water I freeze overnight and GU (vanilla flavored is the mildest, most palatable) and Chapstick and enough change for a taxi or a phone call or another bottle of water. In Djibouti this means I drink more water while running than some people drink in a day. I have more money in my running belt than some earn in a day.

The zippers rusted out on the pack so none of the pockets close. The Velcro salted over (thank you sweaty runs) and I have to continually retighten it to keep from losing the belt. I have to carry ice blocks because of the heat. In Minnesota this would be considered unreasonable. And I totally agree. Blocks of ice, flying sweat beads, rusty zippers. Argh.

I alternate between Asicsand Saucony shoes. I wear running pants and shirts and sports bras and socks that, even though I bought them on clearance and keep them until they literally fall apart, mean I spend more on my running clothes than most of the people I run by in the early mornings will spend on clothing for the year.

I struggle with this. Here I come, burning calories because I have more than enough to eat. Here I come, with the leisure time to spend running. Here I come, wearing my rich clothes. Here I come, with my fancy gadgets.

Am I not supopsed to run until everyone, everywhere, has the time, money, and energy to run? I don’t think that’s the right way to go. But still, running is an example of my privilege and wealth and sometimes I feel like I’m rubbing it in while I’m melting down on the streets.

What should I do? I can try to make wise choices about my clothes and shoes and gadgets. I can make them last as long as possible and can not be pressured to buy the latest model or fashion when there is nothing (drastically) wrong with the one I have. I can give my water bottle, still half-full, to the boy begging, when I realize I won’t need it all today.

I don’t plan on quitting running. I don’t plan on running barefoot (tried) or without water (tried) or naked (never tried). But I do think about the people I run by and pray for them. I smile at the kids and slap their hands, high-five style. I greet the older women, macooyo, grandmother. I cheer on the few other runners. I helped start the first ever girls running club in Djibouti. These things seem so trivial, so insignificant.


the girls racing last week in a village

I recognize the privilege it is to be able to run.

Is that enough? Are those the right things? Do you run in a developing country? How do you respond to these issues?


  1. richelle @ "our wright"-ing pad May 13, 2013 at 11:29 am - Reply

    so totally off topic, but yesterday i read a young adult fiction book called “the running dream,” and cried my way through it… if you like that sort of stuff, you should give it a gander.

    i can’t stand running – though i do and have, just not here. i was a swimmer and running was a thing we did to cross train and i’ve always hated it. finally found that if i ran barefoot, i don’t end up with shin splints and back pain, but that isn’t a very workable alternative here. finally bought those five fingered running shoes – but the sole isn’t enough if i step on some of the debris, etc. and then there’s the $100 pair of really ugly things i’m putting on my feet just so i can run, so… yep, i’ve also struggled with some of those same questions, most particularly the one about burning calories in a land where so many are starving. i don’t have a good answer and i don’t know what to do with the guild, so my compromise has been to do exercise videos in my bedroom… or walk on one of the closed compounds at night or early in the morning – when i can find the time.

    running is one of those things i’m not exactly looking forward to but will be glad to be able to do again without wondering what my neighbors are saying/thinking when we get back to the states.

    • Corrie May 13, 2013 at 12:38 pm - Reply

      Richelle – try a zero drop shoe for running – it is like running barefoot because their is not as much padding but does give you a bit more sole to help protect your feet while running. I ran in Vibram’s for 3.5 years and then switched to a trail zero drop shoe that I absolutely love – I also switched to running on trails as it is much easier on my body.

      Rachel – love your article. Puts running in perspective for those of us in the West.

      • Rachel Pieh Jones
        Rachel Pieh Jones May 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm - Reply

        Corrie, I’ve started running in Saucony Kinvara’s, much less heel drop and so lightweight, I love them. I alternate now with my Asics and my form has totally changed. What shoe do you use?

      • richelle @ "our wright"-ing pad May 14, 2013 at 8:59 am - Reply

        thanks for the suggestion, corrie – will check that out later this summer when we get back to the states.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones
      Rachel Pieh Jones May 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm - Reply

      I’ll have to look that book up, haven’t heard of it. Bummer that you hate running! Well, not really I guess. You can hate it if you want to. I used to, until I didn’t anymore!

      I wonder if something about running makes it feel more obvious – the economic disparity. Because I could work out indoors, like you mentioned, which is essentially the same – DVD, electricity, a/c, exercise clothes, but I don’t have to look the difference in the (literal) face while doing it. So I guess either way, I’d think about this stuff. And that extends to living too. I can eat ice cream in the house (well not really, it melts too fast) or I can eat it outside and somehow eating it outside makes me feel guiltier. I guess I need to keep in mind that God is always aware of my actions, and my heart. Hmmm. Somehow your words have gotten me thinking more Richelle about ways I might try to mask my abundance and then the lie I believe that this somehow makes the difference less true. Ouch.

      Thank you!

      • richelle @ "our wright"-ing pad May 14, 2013 at 9:27 am - Reply

        yeah – bummer especially since i still try and run even though i don’t like it. i guess most of us don’t like to do something that hurts – and until i started running barefoot, i always hurt after i run. not the good kind of hard workout hurt, either. put me in a pool and let me swim for hours, please.

        that’s a bit harder now with a family, and an old shoulder injury leaves me mostly stuck with a kick board. running is something you can step out your door and do. swimming isn’t like that. so i’m planning to start walking/running again when we get home – i used to run 5-6 miles at least 5 times a week… we’ll see what happens. i don’t mind it (running) as much barefoot… though it gets a little uncomfortable after November in Michigan (;-)). i will have to see if those recommended shoes help!

        i don’t know about you, but there’s so much about this expat life and living here that just screams at me about my own privilege and assumptions of entitlement… and then i go back to the states and it fades into a fuzzy memory and i still assume and often act as though i’m entitled to whatever i want. either way, i end up feeling guilty.

        seems like a constant struggle and wondering: what can i do to live with more integrity?

        • Rachel Pieh Jones
          Rachel Pieh Jones May 14, 2013 at 11:12 am - Reply

          Great question. I don’t have a good answer, working on it though. I’ve got an article coming out at Christianity Today this week or next that addresses some of that. I want to keep thinking and growing in it.

  2. Esther Aspling May 13, 2013 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    I don’t run in a developed country! But I love your ideas of using your things until they are falling apart.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones
      Rachel Pieh Jones May 13, 2013 at 2:07 pm - Reply

      Thanks Esther!

  3. Turner May 13, 2013 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    It definitely is a privilege, and a feeling we’ll just have to get over if we want to keep running. However, despite this, there are leisure runners in every country – have you talked to any local ones in Djibouti? What do they think about it?

    • Rachel Pieh Jones
      Rachel Pieh Jones May 13, 2013 at 2:11 pm - Reply

      That’s true Turner. And I’m not planning to stop! I do work with the local runners and they, as well as the people I pass on the street, are almost always positive. They often talk about wanting more people to run. And as the country develops, I have been seeing more and more runners – people with the time and energy for leisure activity. Some ask for running advice, many ask for used shoes, and some ask to come along. This is amazing, humbling, and inspiring to me – that Djiboutians are happy for me, or motivated by me, not begrudging.

  4. Norma May 13, 2013 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    I don’t run in a developing country either, but I do think on these things. I definitely have spent more money on running gear than anything else–although buying clothes for work outside a thrift store makes me panic a little. I try to imagine that things even out.

    And I know the money I spend on running clothes is money spent well, because I only buy things that I know will last. Aside from the few shirts I’ve been given at races, all of my other clothes are 3,4,5 years old. I’m now watching for things to be too worn to wear in public. (Or I would be trying that naked running. O_o)

    • Rachel Pieh Jones
      Rachel Pieh Jones May 13, 2013 at 2:12 pm - Reply

      One of the funniest Runner’s World articles I’ve read was about a naked race. I wish I could remember what edition it was in…but I don’t plan on signing up any time soon – look out for when the pants start to split at the seams or the shirts become sweat-see-through!

      • Norma May 13, 2013 at 5:06 pm - Reply

        I actually remember that article, now that you mention it. 🙂

  5. Nick May 13, 2013 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    I’m so glad to have found your site here in the last few months Rachel. I am hoping to live in your part of the world before long.

    I am also a beginning runner, so this article is interesting to me.

    You alluded to this but perhaps it could be said more pointedly: your running keeps you out in the neighborhood instead of staying in your compound/house/courtyard.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones
      Rachel Pieh Jones May 13, 2013 at 4:41 pm - Reply

      Welcome (soon) to this part of the world Nick. Yes – great way to say it more clearly. That’s what I love about running, even when it comes along with the difficulties – getting out there.

  6. Rocky May 13, 2013 at 5:13 pm - Reply

    Just got turned on to your blog…wish I would have found it sooner.

    I run in the Kinvara Trail shoes…they are perfect for Djibouti. Low to ground to keep your ankle from turning on the uneven unpaved or poorly paved roads and hard but flexible rubber soles to protect from rocks and other debris.

    You should take comfort in the fact you are bothered by the circumstances–I would be worried if you weren’t.
    Sympathy and knowing what to be thankful for is important. Accepting that you can’t save everyone is hard.

    Fiid Wanagsan

    • Rachel Pieh Jones
      Rachel Pieh Jones May 14, 2013 at 4:39 am - Reply

      Welcome to the blog Rocky. I hadn’t thought about trail shoes here, but I can see how they would be great. I do love the Kinvaras, just started using them this year. Thanks for your encouragement.

  7. Michelle Tebbe May 13, 2013 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your challenging thoughts. I have thought of the same things in my head, but never verbalized them (and I don’t run in a third-world country, either, although I know I would think of many of the same things if I did!). Thanks for your encouragement!

  8. Hope May 15, 2013 at 10:49 am - Reply

    I love to run. Many, MANY years ago, before kids, I did a marathon. Last year, while state side I did a 10K with my sister. I have to say. I envy you.

    I can’t run here.

    I can’t get over it. All those things you talked about. I can’t get get past those things enough to make it worth it. I don’t want to the “the white lady who runs” when people see my in the market or driving down the road.

    I LOVE to follow you because you’re free. More free than me. I’m proud of you for your ability to GET IT (the poverty thing), to THINK ABOUT IT and FEEL IT and then just be who you are. This is what makes you a special and unique voice. Many people don’t get it. You do. Thank you. Run for me. Because I’m too hot, too tired, too proud, too modest, too many things to enjoy running in Africa.

    I love this, “Somehow your words have gotten me thinking more Richelle about ways I might try to mask my abundance and then the lie I believe that this somehow makes the difference less true. Ouch.”

    I think that’s what I do. I don’t run because I’m too uncomfortable with my abundance. I would rather not live in the place where the mirror is in front of my face. It’s so hard. Then, I go back to the US and POP- I can run again. I don’t feel rich, I feel normal. This is hard stuff. Deep stuff. He is working on my heart.
    Thank you.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones
      Rachel Pieh Jones May 15, 2013 at 11:18 am - Reply

      Hope, what an honest, hard comment. Thanks for writing it. I do feel inspired to think deeply about all this, maybe to write about it more in the future, and especially after reading your words.

      • Tamie May 21, 2013 at 6:09 pm - Reply

        Rachel, I’d love you to explore this more as well.

        I exercise indoors with the curtains drawn. Partly I prefer aerobics to running but modesty, wealth and not freaking out our house mama are part of the equation too.

        I hadn’t thought about it as a way to pretend economic disparity doesn’t exist before. It’s a tricky one, though, isn’t it? Contextualisation often depends on living at a standard different to what you can afford – that’s not necessarily disingenuous, is it?

        • Rachel Pieh Jones
          Rachel Pieh Jones May 21, 2013 at 6:30 pm - Reply

          I’m thinking/drafting/planning. It helps to hear what others do in this area. It IS tricky, and nuanced, and unique to situations/individuals. More to come, insha Allah! Really appreciate your thoughts.

      • Jolyn July 18, 2016 at 12:16 am - Reply

        It’s imtiarpeve that more people make this exact point.

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  9. Cameron King May 18, 2013 at 12:23 am - Reply

    Wow, what a real post! Thought provoking and haunting. Thank you for giving a voice to so many of our thoughts and emotions.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones
      Rachel Pieh Jones May 18, 2013 at 5:11 am - Reply

      Thanks Cameron.

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  11. […] privilege and learning to engage with my local community. The piece brings together thoughts from Running Barefoot, Naked, and Dehydrated and When Rich Westerners Don’t Know They Are Being Rich Westerners and continues the […]

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