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Date : 13th May, 2016
Time : 1h 01’ 55” (Time includes ‘conversation’ with armed soldier and various other mishaps)
Total distance run to date : 780 km
Somalia. What image does that conjure up for you? Piracy? Black Hawk Down? US strikes against al-Shabaab in Somalia (the newspaper headline on the morning of my trip )?
Fairly or otherwise, Somalia doesn’t have the safest reputation in the West. The Foreign Office website map of Somalia is a sea of red. In other words, they advise against all travel to Somalia.
I was discussing the general situation in North East Africa with Alex Denby before my trip and commented in passing that I supposed there was no chance of running in Somalia at this stage. He suggested I might consider Hargeisa in the Somaliland part of Somalia.
I had another look at the Foreign Office map. And sure enough there was a little circle of orange around Hargeisa – meaning that they were only advising against all non-essential travel.
Other people had also told me that Hargeisa should be fine so I wasn’t that worried about personal security as I flew in. I was, however , worried about the heat. I didn’t think I could handle another run like South Sudan.
As I set off on the road from the airport to central Hargeisa it didn’t seem too hot. I’d forgotten to put on my headband but there was a breeze and I wasn’t getting any sweat in my eyes. Overall, it was quite pleasant by the standard of my recent runs.
Hang on, that car went a bit close! And I could have sworn that van veered towards me!! And that car definitely swerved at me and made me jump off the road!!!
Just boys having a bit of fun with the mad foreigner no doubt – but after the third incident I decided to turn back to the airport. And realised why the run hadn’t been too bad. Because it had all been downhill – and some of it quite steep.
Going back up was much harder work and I had to stop to put my headband on. I must have paused my Garmin without realising because, when I next checked, the distance hadn’t moved on. I had lost half a kilometre.
I got back to the airport perimeter with my Garmin showing 7km when it should have read 7.5km. Never mind, who’s counting?
I AM !!! I’m counting every bloody metre because it’s hot, it’s uphill and I’m not feeling safe.
It was flatter in the airport grounds and I tried to concentrate on finishing the final 3 km. Which was all going fine, if slowly, when I realised that my Garmin had been stuck on 8.42 km for some time. Just what I needed – more unrecorded metres.
I reset the Garmin and got going again when a guard with a gun shouted at me. I have developed several techniques to survive these runs – and one of them is doing what I’m told by men with guns. Especially if they also look angry.
For reasons that weren’t entirely clear, he ordered me to leave the airport so I headed back out onto the main road for the final kilometre or so.
To break the monotony of running on the road, I turned off onto a side track. By now I was tired enough to have lost my concentration. I may even have been shuffling more than I was running. Sure enough, I tripped over a rock and fell flat on my face.
Bloody, bruised and possibly even a little bowed, I finished the run and headed back to the airport. Where my friend with the gun informed me that the airport was closed and that I couldn’t come in.
I couldn’t bear to even think about walking back into town so I forced myself to keep smiling and explained that I didn’t need to get into the terminal. I just needed to get out of the sun, clean up my cuts and rest in the outside waiting area. Please.
He didn’t understand a word I was saying.
I pointed to my cuts and begged a bit. And then a lot. Eventually, he relented and one of my worst ever runs finally came to a close.
Later I get chatting to one of the airport security guys – pictured above. We bonded over the fact that we’re both Spurs fans. He asked whether I liked his country and when I’d be coming back. I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth. So I just said that time was against me – I still have 128 runs to do.