I’d been training harder for this event than I thought possible. Indeed, I trained for this my whole life. This was not so much a test of my reservoirs of strength and focus, but more of a test of raw survival skills. A dwelling in this moment, in this world. That’s what I truly look for in a race, and my participation in this year’s Run Free Race took me to my very limits of awareness. Here is my race report for the Mogadishu Marathon 2013. I escaped with my life, but I paid a heavy price.
Well, my fantasy marathon in Somalia has ended. I am sort of disappointed at my time.
When the gun went off, the runners who had gathered quietly on that hot and windy morning took off with a cheer in a huge mass of legs and beeping of running watches – all but one, an American runner I’d been chatting with before the race. He was training for Western States 100, in town for a gun show I was working at. He heard about the race in Run Or Die magazine, decided to check the competition. He had a good chance to medal in the event. I can’t mention his name because his family are on vacation somewhere in the Chachagua rain forest and cannot be reached by phone. And when the gun went off, that guy’s head exploded like a water balloon, showering runners with chunky hot brains all over everywhere. Yuck! It was disgusting! Two more Americans went down. Time to hustle. That was no starting gun!
I ripped off my bib and ran right behind two Australians, taking cover in their pace groups. One of them told me to get the hell away. They were killing the Yanks. I tried to stay in the center of the pack, but they shoved me back out. I returned fire best I could. Up ahead, a loud explosion. We all ducked instinctively. My fast-twitch recruiting was doing well. At a turn-around up ahead at mile 3 and Aid Station 1, I saw a small plume of smoke rising. Word carried back – mine field at AS1 – everyone keep eyes peeled for anything odd.
An Ethiopian who’d pulled away at the starting line had stepped on a Claymore, got blown into the side of a bus, legs totally gone. The AS1 crew were likewise dead. Runners had to grab clips now scattered in the sand, slowing everyone down. It was ugly. I took the opportunity to snatch the dead Ethiopian runner’s shirt and threw it on over mine. It was small, but it would have to suffice. I was sure an official would notice – this meant I’d receive a DNF, officially, but at that point my race had become a personal challenge. My only hope of medalling would be if I were able to discard the shirt right before the finish line and shoot my way through the final stretch. It was risky. I got back out into the line of runners tracing the edge of the road, got my clips situated – threw two to the road, were not the right kind, such was the scramble for ammo at AS 1. As it turned out, finishing the race in another runner’s clothing was not against the rules. Whatever shirt I wore would honor that country. The runners moved through the heat, nerves crackling with apprehension, spreading out, maintaining a punishing pace.
I was running for my life in the most exciting and poorly organized marathon on earth. I had about another mile before I left the Mogadishu University campus area, then I was on my own. I pulled the American bib off my undershirt and threw it on a burning car some kids were playing with. I would finish Ethiopian, I decided. I checked my Garmin and saw I’d lost my GPS signal, but I had a contingency plan. Annoying, but not important.
My course was dependent upon my pacer/tour guide. I was going to rendezvous with him and fight my way through town to the finish, or die, as was tradition. At about 5.5 miles, running closer to W Jaale Siyaad, I saw Lembeke Frotsolivun, my pacer/tour guide waving me onto a side road off to my right when I was sure the course description instructed us to go left. The sun was beginning to shine rather strongly. He appeared to be nearly knee-deep in a stream bed glistening in the sand.
We made it about 3/4 of the way down the block, ranging from left to right making of ourselves harder targets, ducking behind overturned vehicles and piles of garbage, and those moments sometimes afforded me a bit of shade from the sun. I remember thinking – ducking and dodging – how unexpectedly fortunate. Unfortunately, horribly, I felt something punch me in the back of my left shoulder, then the rapport from the small arms fire. I fell forward, rolled, scrambled to my feet in incredible pain, and darted behind a house and then retreated into the yard, bullets zipping by me. Soaking up much of the fire strafing the course were the Zimbabweans who’d been drafting Lembeke and myself. I crawled behind a pile of cinder blocks. An old man in a wheelchair had a pistol aimed at Lembeke, fired, then died with a mouthful of hollow points I managed to feed him before he got a decent bead on my pacer. The old man fired, and the bullet struck Lembeke, who dropped like a stone and cried out. This was extremely unfortunate. I thought, oh, great, my pacer was dead. I knew I was going to have to dig deep. This was where I would learn what I was really made of.
My race plan was going down the tubes, but at least I was still pretty hydrated. I quickly pulled some gunpowder from my fanny pack, rubbed a bolus into the wound in my shoulder and lit it, sending a shower of molten sparks down my back. I nearly blacked out as the wound cauterized. I came to lying on the ground a moment later, thankfully with no blood in my drool. My lung was good. The race! Lembeke was shouting at me. Let’s go, let’s go! His left ear was clean shot away. He was shrieking. The side of his face and half his shirt painted red.
We headed down the road together. We were somewhere around Dugsiga Hoose, I knew, because we’d crossed W Jaale, but I wasn’t sure exactly where. Lem thanked me for saving his life, but for some reason, he looked ashamed. I guessed he was just upset that I’d rescued him, and maybe he thought of himself less of a man. I told him he wasn’t less of a man because I’d saved him. He chuckled and, crunching a couple of pain pills in his mouth, gave me two as well. He growled, “We’ll see who’s less of a man”. That’s the spirit! Up ahead we spied the next Aid Station station (AS2 I think), where some of the runners were receiving field dressing and oral sex. I felt that was entirely inappropriate. Was that what this sport had become here, a Runners Gone Wild? No wonder Nike backed out of sponsorship. Lem urged me to get my ammo and keep going, saying we had to hurry. I silently appreciated his focus and relatively good understanding of basic hygiene and STDs, and followed him through…I can’t exactly remember… through some neighborhood or another. Those pills, maybe, maybe they weren’t just pain killers. But I felt great, despite my wound – at AS3 techs injected me with horse blood serum from what looked like a Bell bicycle pump attached to an enema bag with a tube terminating in a sharpened bicycle spoke. I don’t remember feeling any pain as it went into my arm. I looked over and he was getting the same treatment. Someone went into my pocket and plucked out my wallet. A woman connected to the hand holding my license caressed my face and asked me if I was an organ donor. I grabbed her arm and we fought for the wallet. I told her I wouldn’t be giving her any money for sex. I blushed and Lem managed to laugh, loudly, too, then clapped his hand over his mouth, stifling great booming brays of mirth. I was able to get my wallet back, but got a nasty bite on my hand for the effort.
I had to stop many times to reload, and slaying a goat at Aid Station 4 was extremely time-consuming. Hallucinating badly. I urge Mogadishu event officials next year to supply sterile cudgels, or possibly some bottled water. I had to kill my goat supplement with a brick and drink its blood basically while running because I spent too much time fighting for my wallet, getting my bandages changed and having serum injected with bike pumps from all that shooting.
When I recollect the pattern of assault provided by the citizenry of Mogadishu, I conclude that most of the obstacles were in the middle of the race, much in the way a classic marathon has a slight elevation gain at its apex. That’s something you can’t get at any other race anywhere. Most of the gunfire, aside from the starting point, clustered around miles 7, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 17. I had bonked at mile 25 when a couple of blokes robbed of my left kidney and Garmin watch. “How much worth?” They kept asking me, and I told them “nanodollars, nanotechnology” which isn’t really a lie. Wham! Right over the head with something really hard.
I was lying on a metal table somewhere, and I was being injected with something like morphine. I only paid $1.26 for the watch at the airport. I was thinking back about the goat I’d thrown at the dogs at mile 16, aware that, in the absence of gunfire, the growls and barking of the dogs seemed much worse. And now, this silence enveloping me as I lay there on my side in the junkyard after the race, my ears ringing still, I realized things had gone pretty bad at around mile 25, with the finish line so close it was maddening. I didn’t hit the wall, I didn’t bonk. Someone hit me on the head. Someone bonked me!
I didn’t think we were on course, but I was hallucinating and didn’t care anymore. I just felt alive, firmly grounded in the moment. I was breathing well, up on my toes, keeping good form. I was sure he was wrong, but I was under fire, and losing ammo, so I thought to trust him. Hours passed. Big mistake. We ran a half mile, and Lem was now falling behind me, so I kept my pistol up and ready. I could see the final aid station (AS5) up ahead, then suddenly I felt something smash down on the back of my skull. And that, my friends, for some runners, would be the end of the challenge. But sometimes, it takes digging deeper to satisfy one’s soul. You surrender to the sheer immersion in the moment, and move as though carried by unknown forces.
I don’t remember crossing the finish line, but a fellow from the hotel next door to mine had filmed the first two runners coming in. I was the fellow seen in the video being dragged on the dirt road moments later by the motorcycle with a rope, apparently wrapped in a roll of carpet bound with more rope. Judges saw no reason for disqualification. I was not dead, so I was 3rd.
Needless to say, my recovery has been quite rough. There’s been no real need to celebrate. I might have lost the race, might have lost my right kidney, but I still had my two legs, and a left kidney. I’m in a small room, so I’m doing lots of core exercises. I need to concentrate on what I did right. Lem said he was able to pay off the thugs who had his family held ransom with the money he obtained from delivering me, and as a last farewell, he wished me luck and gave me my third place medal, hand cut and embossed “RFYLMM 2013: 3rd Place”. He begged for forgiveness, crying that he’d only sold me out so he could see his wife and kids alive and prostituting and dealing guns with the other people of his village. Sweet! I didn’t hold it against him. I would’ve done the same thing. I’d been harvested because of my rare blood type. But now, who was going to rescue me from my captors? Going for the gold, but I felt trapped in the Bronze Age.
My company has a zero tolerance for absenteeism, so I’m on my own, on the cheap, working my core, trying to get my strength back. I’d work my way back through the Monster Truck shows, do a Blue Angels benefit, and I’d be back with good gun sponsor. Yesterday my cellmate and I ate the new guy. I remind myself that this is what I’d come for, this was who I was, so make the best of it. I am keeping positive. I keep telling myself…I am not being mistreated, and “the hen-house has a purple rose”, I repeat “the hen-house has a purple rose”. Okay great, now please bring the money. Quickly, I feel, I feel dizzy.
EDIT: I got out! Seems the people at the Mareeb Harvest Centre assumed by my race jersey that I was from the Ethiopian team. Although not American, they had to meet quota and harvest my kidney or risk being demoted and shot, or shot and raped. Lucky for me they assumed I was a pacer/bodyguard for the guys from Addis Abeba. While the supervisor didn’t fall over himself apologizing – he was a nervous-looking fellow offering a clipboard and asking me to sign here and there with a shaky, proffered pen – he offered his sympathies for my kidney loss and, on behalf of the limited budget and staff of Mareeb, offered to take me by motorcycle back to the Hilton to join the Ethiopian training team and my coach in our VIP wing at the hotel. I declined the offer graciously, and said cheerfully that I’d “run there myself”. This elicited some delighted laughter from the supervisor. He looked kind of disappointed. He probably wanted to take me to another harvest center to take my other kidney, the wily rascal. I bribed him $100 and I was on my way. Good times. Happy running, everyone.