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Somaliland marathon

An aerial view of Hargeisa, the biggest city in Somaliland

Six miles into the race and the group of five Somalilanders, shadowing me from the start, has whittled itself to three and those three are starting to grow in confidence. As I step off the road to grab a water, the group attack in unison, upping their pace – well played sirs! I splutter, caught off-guard and unsure whether to respond or to run smoothly, so not to spill my water. It’s only 7:27 am, but the sun is beginning to smirk and soon he’ll be beaming. I jolt, breathing in the water before trying to regain my pace, but the chord between us has been cut and they, and the melee of film crew and security, drift out of reach. The next 20 miles could be very lonely.

I am running in the first Jubba Airlines Somaliland Marathon and while I am certainly not a national-level athlete, Somaliland is not technically a nation. Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 but has never been recognised by the United Nations or the African Union. Several countries have blocked Somaliland’s status, fearing it will embolden separatist claims within their own nation. Unable to receive loans or aid from organisations ranging from the IMF to UNESCO, it has still somehow prospered, living in relative harmony. Given Somalia’s almost constant civil wars since, it seems strange to punish Somaliland in this way: akin to punishing the sensible child in school for getting on with his homework, while the substitute teacher loses control of the class. So when someone mentioned I could race in a country that doesn’t exist – despite knowing the result would not qualify for Power of 10 – I couldn’t resist.

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