These are Your Feet on Marathon Training

(in the name of ‘telling it like it is,’ this post includes gross and rather embarrassing phtoos)

I fell during my first long run of the training season for the Somaliland Marathon.


I fell.

Like face to the dirt, skidding on my hands and knees.

I do know how to walk. I even know how to run.

But there are rocks and holes and garbage piles and animal carcasses and all kinds of things to avoid. Sometimes, I just can’t avoid them. Or am too tired to. I tend to fall once a year. I’m, like, a super dorky athlete. I even fall off bikes.

Here are my knee scars to prove it.

I was mostly mad that I ripped my new pants, and a little embarrassed. Still wear ’em. Not gonna buy a new pair just because of a little hole. That’s not the kind of life we’re living.

It took a long time to heal and now there is a lovely pink scar.

It matches nicely with the one on the other knee, from my 2016 fall.

And here are my toes. I’ve actually never lost a nail before while marathon-training, or for any reason. But this time I think I’m about to lose four.

It ain’t pretty.

Unless pretty means strong.

I prefer toes that can go the miles to toes that don’t disgust.

And some blisters. I don’t get tons of blisters either, but once in a while. The heat is a factor. Soggy socks, I mean like chorking socks (a word that means the sound your shoes make when full of water, or in my case sweat), socks that can be wrung out and shoes that can be tipped over and spilled out, tend to contribute to blisters.

I won’t show you the blisters because you’re probably already grossed out enough.

These are my kind of feet.

Which is a good thing because these are my feet.

I’ll keep ’em. Even if I can’t keep the nails.

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.

Good Things, the Sixth. December 2017.

Taking note of one good, beautiful, hope-filled thing each day of the month.

1 my children dwarfed by whale sharks

2 the lingering burn of a long, off-road training run

3 wind that nearly knocks me off the rim of a volcano

4 kayaking at sunrise, sea turtles floating in water like kites

5 babies immobilized by life jackets

6 card games with teenagers

7 fried eggs

8 thumbs up from a Somali elder with a prayer cap, shawl, and walking stick, in the desert on my 20-mile run

9 Djibouti-style Christmas cookies. Camels and whale sharks

10 my daughter in her happy-place, singing French songs

11 editing a piece for a dreamed-of publication

12 the Bawadi mall opening

13 pancakes with honey, walnuts, and blueberries

14 my daughter playing street soccer with a Djiboutian friend

15 power cut at the mall, we might be developing but some things never change

16 henna, late-night wedding parties, dancing with old friends

17 Santa Claus made out of raw meat

18 French cheese tasting

19 teenagers taking the ferry, alone

20 International school potlucks. Yummy.

21 homemade bagels

22 a baby birthday party

23 Christmas shopping as a family, hiding gifts, sneaking around aisles, walking around with boxes under our shirts

24 the last ‘guaranteed’ Christmas Eve dinner with my twins in Djibouti

25 not-family family

26 PADI certified, diving around a sunken ship

27 senior photos, with goats

(picture by Jessica Gardner)

28 my daughter, first non-Djiboutian to be recruited to join a national football (soccer) team

29 second 20-mile run, fueled by sunrise, GU, bananas, cocoa-date balls, and podcasts

30 second Christmas surprises (like books!), carried across the globe

31 going to bed early after rowdy family games, dreaming of a new year

Gifts for Third Culture Kids

Third Culture Kids have the world at their fingertips. They hike volcanoes, watch wildebeest migrations, don’t need language apps because they actually know several. Plus, they probably live far away from a lot of the people who love them and want to give them a gift. So what are some good gift ideas for the Third Culture Kids in your life?

Between Worlds

By Marilyn Gardner and also, Passages through Pakistan

Dreams from My Father

By Barack Obama, a fellow Third Culture Kid, not too shabby of a fellow TCK companion.

Books for younger TCKs

Esperanza Rising 8-12 years old

The Turtle of Oman 6-12 years old

B at Home 8-12 years old

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match 4-8 years old

My Name is Yoon 4-8 years old

Homesick 8-12 years old

Persepolis a graphic novel, teens

I Hate English! ages 4+

My mom has created paper books that tell a familiar story, like Snow White, but include my kids’ names. She has also made them CDs with music that inserts their names. These make great gifts, the kids love to hear themselves in the songs and the stories and they feel like Grandma is telling them the story herself.

Record a Story Books, like this one:

Awesome Luggage Tags

After 20+ hours of travel, every suitcase starts to look the same. Help TCKs find their own bag and distinguish themselves with something like this:

Portable Battery Charger

Portable Power Adapter

Noise Canceling Headphones

My TCKs don’t have these, so I’m not offering a product review, I’ve heard these are pretty amazing. Just sayin’ TCKs probably wouldn’t be opposed to using headphones to cancel out some of the cross cultural noise they encounter.

A Local Experience

There is always another restaurant to try or trail to hike, a cultural event to participate in, or a regional sports game to catch. Find out what your TCK loves and see if you can gift them a local experience.

Their Favorite American (or passport country) Candy

If forced to choose based on taste preference, my kids would probably go for the gum and muesli cereals they have grown up on here. But there is still something special about those brightly colored candy boxes of Nerds or Smarties that rings of “treat!” My TCKs love getting surprise packages with American goodies inside.

A Commitment to Take Them Shopping

Next time they return to their home country, take them shopping for clothes or shoes, so they have something new and culturally ‘cool.’ Or, if they have Amazon Prime (I promise I don’t hate you, I’m just a little jealous), send them something the kids their same age in your country love.

TCKs, ATCKs, parents of TCKs, what other gifts would you suggest?

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