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?

Books

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.

 

Podcasts

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)

Djibouti’s Artists

I wrote for a couple of books last year and didn’t get to see the actual books for months and months. But now, I have them in hand and am happy to share them with you.

I wrote the introduction to an art book and have one (my first) published photograph in the other.

Here are the books and where you can find them.

Imago Mundi, the Luciano Benetton Collection. Art that breaks the isolation: Contemporary artists from Djibouti, Central African Republic, and Chad

The book is a gorgeous, hardcover collection of paintings from these African nations, with translation in English, French, and Italian. I was asked to write the introduction for Djibouti’s artists, one of the biggest honors I’ve felt so far in my writing work.

My intro is titled Djiboutian Paintings: Revealing What Is Hidden and it is based on the line by Rumi, in Story Water,

Water, stories, the body,

All the things we do, are mediums

That hide and show what’s hidden

The book brings together art and artists, who usually work in isolation here, and cumulative effect is one of beauty, depth, and hope.

This book is available from the Frabica store in Italy, here.

Other books from the collection are available on Amazon, like this one featuring artists from Senegal.

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And here’s the book with my photo in it.

En Verden Af Fodbold, by Pelle Mortensen

This is a compilation of incredible football (soccer) photographs from all over the world, including one from Djibouti, one of the few photos showing girls playing football.

The photos are so much fun, kids and adults enjoying play in front of the Eiffel Tower, in Marakesh, barefoot, on beaches, Mogadishu, mountains, schools…

The captions are not translated into English, but the book still makes a fabulous coffee table book for football lovers anywhere.

You can purchase a copy here.

It isn’t available on Amazon but if you only buy stuff from this one behemoth and are inspired to purchase a book like En verden af fodbold, here’s another football (soccer) photography book: Magnum Soccer.

The Bookshelf: New(ish) Books about Somalia

A Man of Good Hope by Jonny Steinberg

This is the story of a Somali man who fled the civil war as a child and ended up in South Africa. From the book’s Amazon page:

“Throughout, A Man of Good Hope is a complex, affecting, ultimately hopeful portrait of Asad’s search for salvation, suffused with dreams and desires and a need to leave something permanent on this earth.”

The Mayor of Mogadishu: A Story of Chaos and Redemption in the Ruins of Somalia by Andrew Harding

This is a book about, clearly, the mayor of Mogadishu. I actually met this man at a conference several years ago, while I was working as a translator and sat at his table. I can only imagine what his life looks like in these devastating days after the awful bomb a few weeks ago.

From the Amazon page:

“The Mayor of Mogadishu is a rare an insider’s account of Somalia’s unraveling, and an intimate portrayal of one family’s extraordinary journey.”

Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus: Immigrant Incorporation in New Destinations by Stefanie Chambers

This book compares the lives and adjustments of the Somali communities in Minnesota and in Ohio. As a native Minnesotan, I’ll give you a spoiler: they are more integrated in MN than in Ohio. This is most recently evident in the election of Ilhan Omar to legislature. This book is more academic than the others on this list, but it is well-researched and both informative and challenging.

From Somalia to Snow: How Central Minnesota Became Home to Somalis by Hudda Ibrahim

Speaking of Somalis in Minnesota, how did they come to settle here? I remember going out with young Somali girls when we lived in Minneapolis and my friends wore high heels and thin dresses even in the middle of January, while I stomped around in boots and fluffy winter coats.

I have not had the chance to read this book yet, but am glad to see Somali women producing their own works about their experiences and community in the US.

An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusuf Omar by Reinhard Kleist

This graphic story follows the journey of Somali Olympian Samia Yusuf Omar, from Mogadishu to the London Olympic games, across North Africa, and into the sea as she attempts to cross to Europe. Samia is seeking a better life, where she can run and live free. The book highlights the plight of so many refugees trying to cross into Europe.

I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Samia for Running Times and Runners World in 2008, both in Ethiopia and in Djibouti.

What have you been reading lately?

If you are living outside your home country, do you read books by and about the people you now live among? If you don’t – you should!

other Bookshelf posts about Somalia:

Me Against My Brother

About Somalia, by Somalis

*photo by Matt Erickson

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The Bookshelf: Light and Dark

Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Brown Taylor

Oh my. This book has been breathing life into my days over the past week. As Taylor writes about darkness, both physical and metaphorical, I paused several times to reread, to think, to gasp.

“John’s answer (John here is St. John of the Cross, who wrote The Dark Night of the Soul) is not simple but in the simplest possible terms, he says that the dark night is God’s best gift to you, intended for your liberation. It is about freeing you from your ideas about God, your fears about God, your attachment to all the benefits you have been promised for believing in God, your devotion to the spiritual practices that are supposed to make you feel closer to God, your dedication to doing and believing all the right things about God, your positive and negative evaluations of yourself as a believer in God, your tactics for manipulating God, and your sure cures for doubting God.”

Radical Runaway by Amy and Jonathon Hollingsworth

A young radical comes back from Africa confused, disillusioned, and looking for hope.
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Everything David Grann writes is gold. Gold. This is the incredible true story of one of the former richest per capita groups of people on the planet, a tribe of Native Americans, who were ruthlessly picked off one by one, sometimes by those closest to them, as people stole their fortune.

Tables in the Wilderness by Preston Yancey

A young man processes through faith struggles.

The Not-Quite States of America by Doug Mack

A hilarious and instructive journey through the areas that are, well, not-quite states.

Making Your Creative Mark by Eric Maisel

For anyone who fancies themselves a creator. Music, paintings, stories…Eric has tough love and insightful advice. I highlighted lines on nearly every single page.

Begin Again: Collected Poems by Grace Paley

Beautiful poetry, of course. Its Grace Paley.

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The Course of Love

I’ve been reading a novel. I read, and finish, about one novel per year, so the fact that I am in the homestretch and will most likely finish this one is about the highest praise I can give.

It isn’t a gripping narrative, it isn’t dramatic, it isn’t a page-turner. But it is thoughtful, insightful, incisive, and contrary. I don’t agree with all of it and other parts of it, I feel like the author has entered my life and taken out a slice to place on paper. It hardly even counts as a novel as it is equally a kind of commentary on the nature of love, marriage, and longevity. Maybe it is cheating and I’m due up for another novel before the end of the year.

Here it is and here is one of many quotes I highlighted.

The Course of Love: A Novel, by Alain de Botton

“At the heart of sulk lies a confusing mixture of intense anger and an equally intense desire not to communicate what one is angry about. The sulker both desperately needs the other person to understand and yet remains utterly committed to doing nothing to help them do so. The very need to explain forms the kernel of the insult: if the partner requires an explanation, he or she is clearly not worth of one. We should add that it is a privilege to be the recipient of a sulk: it means the other person respects and trusts us enough to think we should understand their unspoken hurt. It is one of the odder gifts of love.”

Reviewed in the New York Times

Any absolute must-be-read recommendations? As in, novels that your spouse or best friend has to read or you will die because you need to talk about it so badly?