In the book The Ultimate Runne r, Rachel Jones shares a memorable race experience of The Grand Bara. Her story was intriguing to us and we wanted to learn more about her. Here is more about Rachel and her running life:
Why did I start running? My friend described a 15k race in the middle of the Grand Bara, one of the flattest deserts on earth. She said the starting gun was actually a set of French fighter jets doing a low flyover just as the sun rose over a mountain range. I didn’t want to miss that and started training. I kept running because it is something I can start and finish. I know when I’m done and I know what I have accomplished. I live in Djibouti and most of my life and work is intangible. Language study, non-governmental aid work is never done – the poor are always poor, the sick are always sick. We work to alleviate it but the difficulties are overwhelming. Running is something I am able to keep track of, something I can feel successful in, even if it is just for the fact of completing a run in 115 degree heat or shaving five seconds off my time. Best Running Advice? Enjoy it. Running wisdom I wish I knew earlier? Don’t run through pain. Favorite tip I pass along? Just do it. Don’t be embarrassed about your time, how you look in tight pants or how hard you breathe.
Just put on a pair of shoes and see what happens.
Favorite running memory, run or race? This answer is a bit long, but funny. It is from my blog I left the house at 5:50 a.m. for a short jog before the kids woke up. I hadn’t gone more than a quarter kilometer when I saw a group of Djiboutian girls jogging toward me. We smiled and waved at one another, I was too shocked to say anything, and I passed them.
I have seen French men wearing too-short shorts, naked men, dead men, barking dogs, dead dogs, dead cats, dead crows, dead snakes, car accidents, dancing women, American soldiers showering homeless children with bags of peanut M and M’s, sky divers, fluorescent purple sunsets, body parts, toilet seat covers, condoms, fist fights, men urinating, men taking a dump, men taking a shower, men holding hands, men praying, six people on a bicycle, six people on a motorcycle…but I have never seen twenty-five obese Djiboutian girls jogging. I’ve never seen more than two at a time other than at the track.
I continued running straight ahead, then suddenly, without a second thought, turned around and sprinted to catch up with the group.
“Can I run with you?” I asked in Somali.
“Oui,” they answered in unison French, grinning.
“There aren’t many women who run, especially in this neighborhood,” I said, again in Somali.
They began asking me questions in French and I answered in Somali. They were out of breath but the pace was slow (about thirteen minutes miles).
We passed my house and I said, “Waa tan, xafadayda.” This is my house.”
“Allah!” the girl next to me cried. “You speak Somali!”
It only took them eight minutes to realize it.
From that moment on, I was a part of the group. They gave me a spot in the front, center, with three of the largest girls on either side. Their coach, Abdi, jogged on the outside. He motivated the stragglers and made sure cars and buses didn’t swerve too close to his team.
We ran about ten more minutes when I caught the blurred picture out of the corner of my eye of a sheep running at my side.
“How did a sheep get in here with us?” I asked.
“She’s ours,” Fadouma answered.
“No. This is Gilane and that is Lulla. They run with us every morning.”
“Don’t they get tired?”
“Oh no, we are so fat and slow they keep up just fine.”
The two sheep ran at my side. I had never dodged sheep legs and flouncing, fat sheep butts before on a run. I lay one hand on Gilane’s back and laughed out loud.
I was a surprise vision for the entire neighborhood. Most people were used to seeing me run alone by now but they had never seen a group of twenty-five Djiboutian girls and a white woman running down the street with two sheep.
Men hung out of bus windows and cars pulled up next to us to stop and stare. Truckers swerved and coach Abdi yelled at them to back off. They yelled back that they wanted to watch the spectacle.
I was also a surprise vision to the team itself – a married women with three children who was strong enough to not even be breathing heavily. As we talked, they were so engaged in our conversations coach Abdi tripped over a stone on the sidewalk and almost face-planted in the dirt. Five minutes later Fadouma did an actual face-plant on the sidewalk while talking with me about life in Somaliland. The rest of the team had to stop and take a laugh break while she brushed herself off, chattering the entire time.
Most of the girls were seriously overweight, which their thinner friends pointed out with great joy and acceptance.
“Look! Look how fat Fadouma is. But she can run!”
“We run slow so the fat girls can keep up.”
“The fat girls run in front so we don’t pass them.”
“You aren’t fat. I’m not too fat. She is really, really fat. See how she bounces?”
The heavier girls smiled and waved and laughed, there was no shame in their body sizes. They all knew they were beautiful. They all knew they were stronger than almost every other female in Djibouti because they were awake at 5:50 a.m. running in the street with courage and happiness.
My running dream? To hit a 24:00 5k and to be able to keep running as I get older.
What keeps me running? The desire to be healthy and to feel strong and the community I feel when talking with other runners. The way it connects me to the places I go – Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Minnesota, South Carolina, Texas, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, France. I see the countries with my eyes and feel them with my feet, I get unique glimpses as a runner that I wouldn’t get as a tourist or business traveler.
Runners can contact me on my blog www.trjonesfamily.blogspot.com or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org They can also read other articles I have written about running in Djibouti at www.runningtimes.com and search Djibouti.