D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: running

On Running Well

A few weeks ago, I ran a half marathon. I didn’t do too badly, either (10:40 miles, for those who wonder about such things). 

If you had told me a few years ago that I would run for 13.1 miles, that I would run for over two hours straight, I would have just laughed and laughed. Me? The non-competitive, doughy, un-athletic girl who has never ran more than a single lap without wanting to die in her entire life? Um, I don’t think so. 

But then life happens. I had a baby five years ago and the only way to get some peace and quiet was to strap her into a stroller and walk briskly. I started breaking into a very slow form of jogging every now and again, and soon enough, I found I could run a mile. And then, slowly, slowly, I could run two. And I started to discover that there was this way to get out of the house and get into my head and benefit my body all at the same time. And best of all—it was free! Feet slowly pounding the pavement, I worked through my thoughts and saw patterns emerging or new puzzles forming or interesting ideas just wouldn’t wander away and I started to get to know myself a little bit better. The years of doing doing doing, of school and crappy jobs and getting married and then new motherhood had made me lose myself, a bit. Running became a way to reclaim a small space, just for me and my thoughts. Although it didn’t feel like the prayer I was used to, it also became a way to notice what God was up to, all around me.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that right around the time I started running, I started writing in earnest. 

Although I run consistently, I have never been fast, or terribly in shape, or very committed to schedules and training. So signing up to run a half marathon was scary for me. But the past year has taught me a lot about overcoming, about kicking anxiety to the curb, about not giving up and giving into fear. I found a half marathon that looked nice. Easy. There were many pictures on the website of overweight women dressed in pink tutus. The course was flat, along a gorgeous river. There was brunch at the end. This will be perfect I thought. A fantastic empowering experience, surrounded by others just like myself, with cinnamon rolls galore to eat at the end.

The training went ok. I slowly started to run farther than I thought I could. A few miles into my long runs, when I knew I had a few more miles to go, I would be tempted to quit. I would tell my legs you’ve got this. You’ve trained for this. You can do this. It was a little counseling sesh for me, each time. It felt pretty good. At the end, I would feel tired, but accomplished. Sometimes I would remind myself: hey, remember how you almost died but didn’t? How you barely could leave your room for months because you were so worried something bad would happen to your baby? How you stopped driving for awhile? Remember when you moved across the country, how you wrote a book, how you are always putting yourself in a position as an outsider among outsiders? I tried to remind myself of the good and the bad, to recognize how it all has affected me and yet—here I still am. Pounding my feet into the pavement. Expecting something different. Doing new, harder things than I would have thought possible. Hoping that it will work out. 

Leaning into faith, undergirded by showing up and putting in the work. There is a reason writers love to talk about running. The metaphors practically write themselves. 




I ran a half marathon a few weeks ago. I ran it with my friend Lindsey, who has also had her fair share of troubles and disappointments in her young life. It was a beautiful morning, slightly cold but sunny. I noticed, however, that everyone lining up at the starting gate seemed like actual, well, runners. Long, lean legs. Men with severe faces and aerodynamic sunglasses. Short shorts and energy gels and fanny packs and t-shirts declaring they had run entire marathons before. I started to feel nervous. Wasn’t this supposed to be a slow-lady-empowering-brunch race? We started running, and it became clear that no, it wasn’t. And so began the next 2.5 hours of my life of getting passed by people, feeling slower and stupider with every mile. Still, I trudged along, ticking the miles off in my head, listening to a blend of empowering pop music (“Magic” by b.o.b. and Hamilton featuring prominently), trying to be content within my limitations. I thought about running as a way to combat anxiety, as a way to show my five year old daughter that women are strong, as a way of creating more space for myself and my body in the world. But my the end of the race, these empowering thoughts had left me. I was too tired to keep running, but to walk the last mile or so would have taken forever. So I just went on.

At the finish line, my family was there—my husband and my two kids and my parents and my sister. They cheered for me and I got that last burst of speed and made it across. I sat down in the grass and thought about throwing up. I did not feel empowered. I did not feel proud of my accomplishments. I felt happy to see my family, but overall I just felt very tired, and like nothing much at all had changed. I was still chubby, still slightly sad, still anxious about things both big and small.  I thought: I’m still just me.




I have only gone running a few times in the past 2 weeks. It doesn’t come easy. It feels like I have gone back to square one. But it has been sunny and I know it is good for me, so I go. Even though I don’t look like one, I am a runner. Even though I’m not very fast, I can run a long ways. Even though I never expected this for my life, I have two kids and live surrounded on all sides by immigrants and people experiencing poverty, I teach English to people to try and help make their lives better in any small way I can, I wrote a book and soon it will be going out into the world for good and for ill. My life keeps changing, I keep being surrounded by the saddest stories I have ever heard and yet am asked to imagine miracles taking place. “Holding on grimly,” writes Walter Brueggmann, “is an act of atheism.” Ol’ Brueggie is right. Both letting go and taking wild leaps of faith seem to characterize myself these days.

A few months ago I got an email asking if I would like to come and be a part of a writing conference, they were asking me if I would like to speak about something in relation to faith and writing. It seemed so ludicrous to me. Did they know that I slept on a mattress on the floor, that we didn’t have enough money to buy curtains, that I woke up sad most days and unable to do much more than keep everyone in my immediate family alive and clothed and fed? I said yes, but inside felt fraudulent. I never imagined these extremes for myself. I never realized what a hard thing it would be to bounce between being microscopically small in real life, and in plumping myself up big to send words out to a bigger audience. If you had told me, years ago, how mundane and hard real life would be, punctuated occasionally by big grand adventures, I would have stared at you, uncomprehendingly. 

Now, all I can do is laugh and laugh. And that, in its own way, feels like a gift I have not earned.




 We can do hard things is a sort of mantra I hear tossed out a lot, usually towards and from women, urging us to be strong, to overcome, to empower. It’s the type of sentiment I assumed would carry me through running a stupidly long distance, a sentiment I have clung to in hospitals and waiting rooms, in the dark cold hours of a sleepless morning, the dull hopeless moments of the sun setting down on another night. 

Did I do a hard thing, when I ran that half marathon? I talked about it with my friend Lindsey later. We ran a race, that was all. We did it, we felt really sore afterwards, I’m not sure either of us are going to do it again. Lindsey said something that stuck with me. I’ve done a lot of hard things in my life she said. And running that race wasn’t one of them

When the past few years of your life have been hard, perhaps running along a river with a bunch of other (privileged) people who could afford to pay the entrance fee, had the time to train, bought new shoes with adequate arch support isn’t the most telling indicator of your spiritual and emotional health. It was a thing I did, and now it is over. I learned a few things, like that I am much more competitive than I give myself credit for. That when I do something, I want to do it well. That I can change, and be different, than who I thought I would be at 32. I am a teensy bit driven. I am a teensy bit ambitious. I got mad when all of those other runners passed me, when I thought I would just be thrilled to the point of tears at even making it across the finish line.

 But here’s the other thing I learned: I didn’t feel the glow of empowerment overwhelm me at the end, I wasn’t overcome with my own resilience, I didn’t glory in the pride of my accomplishment. Because deep down I knew I could do it. I had kicked my anxiety to the curb a long time ago, and now I am just in the business of managing it. Of course I did a hard thing. I, like so many in our world, so many who live next door to me, live a hard life. And yet we keep showing up for it, day after day after day.











PSSSST if you are at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids this week, PLEASE say hi to me! I will be the one with short, very fake blonde hair wearing serious I AM A WRITER glasses (Warby Parks, naturally). I will be doing a session on Thursday at 4:30PM with Chris Hoke and Dennis Covington on “Portraiture and Power: On Representing the Lives of Others.” I perceive this session to be very interesting and chock-full of questions! I am also very pleased it will be moderated by the one and only Jeff Chu. 


I’ll also be on a Saturday AM panel (bright and EARLY at 8:30) with a bunch of the greats (John Wilson, Rachel Marie Stone, Chris Smith, and Richard Kauffman) talking about “The Art and Craft of the Book Review.” If you come to this one I will know you love me bc it is so dang early.


Looking forward to seeing at least a few of you there!












Authentic Mobility: Guest Post by Rachel Pieh Jones

*****Quick plug: I wrote something on the Trayvon Martin case for Out of Ur. You can find that article here.******



Rachel Pieh Jones has shared her astounding thoughts in this space before, and I was thrilled when she agreed to tackle this subject. Her post resonated so much with me, because I too find myself in so many seemingly contradictory spaces--and I am learning to love them all. Rachel continually inspires me with her commitment to celebrating her life (while not white-washing it either). I call her the "Katherine Boo" of Djibouti, since this is one lady who has definitely earned her facts. If you are anything like me (and even if you aren't) I am positive you will find this piece to be both relatable and encouraging. 



Authentic Mobility: Guest Post by Rachel Pieh Jones

I haven’t thought much about downward mobility but I have thought a lot about moving toward need.

Not just moving toward need but moving toward need and bringing comfort, attention, and affection. Bringing Jesus, dignity, and relationship. And not just bringing these things to deliver, but bearing them in my skin and in my soul and receiving them back.

I don’t view need in purely economic terms, but also in community and spiritual terms. A wealthy, childless widow. A toddler begging on the street corner. A man searching for peace in Islam, then Buddhism, then pot. My own vulnerability and loneliness.

I spent last Wednesday with two other expatriates in a Djiboutian village. We visited fifteen members of the Girls Run 2 club I helped to start in 2008. Eighteen of us, plus more than a dozen neighborhood children, sat in an unlit cement room, and talked about running and school and family responsibilities.

Some of the girls have electricity, none have running water. Some have at least one permanent structure to call part of their home, some have walls made of sticks and flattened powdered milk cans and t-shirts. All of them are required by club rules to be in school. Most of them come from large families where the emphasis is on survival and hard labor – hauling water, scrubbing clothes, herding sheep, walking four miles to school, there is little time for affection or personal attention.

After all the girls arrived, after we kissed hands and cheeks, and after I had asked each of them about their running events and best times, about their dreams for their future, their favorite subjects in school, and what their mothers thought about them running, we walked to the car.

The Land Cruiser was heavy with thirty twenty-pound boxes of rice, with additional nutrients, from Feed My Starving Children. Each member of the club received one box and the extra were left at the stadium for when they needed more.

Then I drove the two hours home to Djibouti City and read an email about my upcoming family reunion this Christmas in Disney World.

And I cried.

I cried for the confusion and the contradiction in it. I cried for the joy I felt sitting in the dark room with the running team and for the joy I felt thinking about Christmas with my entire family, including a newly adopted niece I have never met. I wept for the joy in the conversation with the other expats in the car on the drive, about prayer and comfort and brokenness and Jesus.

I need God to show me how to live in this life of authentic engagement with girls in the depths of poverty, girls with strength and dignity, girls who crave and thrive on physical touch and individual attention, and at the same time how to live in a life of Land Cruisers and Disney World with my beloved family.

I think the way to live this life is to live like Jesus, to be always on the move toward need. My own and others’.

The girls in that village needed food. But they also needed to talk about school and their training. They needed to be told they are precious. They needed to hold my hand while they talked about mentally unstable fathers and dead babies. I needed to hear them laugh and I needed to watch them care for their siblings and their parents and each other. I needed to hear them defend their fellow runner who has never been to school before and can’t write her own name yet. I needed to know their names and their unique stories, unique personalities. And so we moved toward one another, meeting in our need-places.

My family needs to be together. We have said goodbye and been separated so many times over the years. My parents need to draw their four children from the four corners of the earth to celebrate who we are and to delight in each other for a week. I need to hold my new niece and hear my nephew explain Lacrosse to this clueless aunt. I need to hear how God is moving in my brother. I need to watch my children tackle their grandparents. And so we move toward one another, meeting in our need-places.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to go to Disney World with my family. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to sit in the cement room with the team. And I would be lying if I hid one side of this life from the other, that feels disingenuous. But this, this moving toward need with the confused-crying and the releasing-joy of it, feels like authenticity.

It feels like authentic mobility. Not necessarily downward or upward, possibly both. I move both ways in my Djibouti life and while it feels like a split down my middle some days, on most days it feels true and honest.

Sometimes moving toward need means bringing rice to hungry families and accepting a chilled Coke from them. Sometimes it means going to Disney World and accepting the gift of family. Sometimes it means bringing my own brokenness into the conversation and accepting the step of someone moving toward me, bearing Jesus in the soul and in the skin.




downward1Doesn't she just look like the coolest/nicest War Photographer ever? Rachel can be found here: Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones







For more in the Downward Mobility series, click here.

War Photographer: Melissa Gutierrez

I just recently discovered Melissa Gutierrez, and boy do I like her. In fact, the "About Me" section of her blog reads like one of the most elegant soliloquies on what it means to help others. Here's a little tidbit, in her own words:

I’m one of those young suburban twenty-somethings, so I’m in this process of what I think is “growing up,” and I often think that that’s unique (since I’m the only one on the planet who seems to be mysteriously changing, of course), and that I’m entitled to some amount of sarcastic little quip-complaints about it. It’s totally valid, sure, but I keep boring myself. And if there’s one thing I have learned in creative writing graduate school it’s that if you’re boring yourself, you’re boring everybody else. And boring everybody else doesn’t get you very far if you’re trying to love other people all the time. Because love is exciting, people.

 She has one foot in academia and one foot solidly in the world; Melissa is bringing the kingdom with her wherever she has her pen and paper.  Thank you, Melissa, for bringing it here today. Ya'll can go check out her blog here


The Storm in the Streets

I’ll tell you right away that I’m a different sort of War Photographer. My front lines are actually way in the back, and you know what, we have cushions and catering back here. I’m in graduate school studying English—I’m making a living off of talking about fairy tales, and I take classes in a place called the “Poetry Center.” Let me tell you, we’re not on anybody’s terror-target lists.

That doesn’t mean it’s not a battle. When it comes to sharing hard stories that aren’t our own, writers are the best there is. The walk-a-mile-in-her-shoes thing is our business, empathy and point-of-view our trade. They would give us bows and arrows (or at least millions and millions of dollars) if we weren’t so moody, or so frail. But we are, and they don’t, so we end up lurking around in corners, watching everybody else and reading everything we can get our paws on.

This past winter, I got my paws on my dad’s copy of Runner’s World magazine, in the upstairs bathroom magazine stack. Usually this is where I learn about the top ten energy-boosting foods or the best way to build to a 5-K while I relieve myself after a heavy Christmas dinner—but what I found in the January 2013 issue this time worked up my insides in a different way.

Last November, the New York City Marathon was canceled in light of Hurricane Sandy (which “ended” officially just six days before the scheduled race). So this January, Runner’s World ran (pun, yes, haha—do you think they’re bored of that at their office yet?) this twelve-page spread: a “2012 NYC Marathon Special Report” covering controversial questions surrounding the marathon and its cancellation, everything from “Should the Marathon Have Been Run?” to “Does Running Have a Blue-Collar Problem?” (spoiler alert: yes) to “Can the Race Make Peace with Staten Island?” These are all really good questions. I can tell they’re good because after they’ve been asked, I still have more.

Like, for example: how can Runner’s World print this article right after (we’re talking directly after; not even an ad separates the two) the 14-page cover story, a month-by-month guide entitled “New Year, New You!” involving subheadings like “Spring-Clean Your Gear” and “Rediscover Your Mojo”?

The easy answer is this: by putting it all into InDesign and printing 600,000+ copies and sending them all to homes and stores and newsstands. The hard answer is: “I don’t know.”

I don’t know why I keep being surprised that we ultimately care about ourselves first and most, that “New Year, New You!” takes up the entire front page but “After the Storm” gets relegated to the bottom corner, near the mailing label and the barcode. I do know that it ultimately doesn’t matter. Runner’s World has been around the block—they know what works and they know how to make and sell a good magazine. They’re not in trouble, here, for putting an underwear-y runner girl on the cover of their magazine; in fact, they’re actually pretty smart for sneaking in a bulk of humanitarian content in the pages underneath her lean, long, healthy flesh.

That Runner’s World asks these questions and opens this discussion in not just in a normal, runnerly-reflective way (i.e. the monthly “I’m A Runner” column on the last page) adds further complication. A particular tension brews in the post-Sandy conversation between NYC marathoners and NYC natives, because both groups are especially experienced in handling hard things. Runners are equipped with this cool metaphor for life: they understand what it means to really push through pain and reach a finish line. And New Yorkers? They had 9/11, and now this wet cold mess. There are different kinds of pain, sometimes bigger kinds, sometimes kinds so much more immediate. With so many of us in such a small space, how can we come to know which pains take preference and precedence?

This was the question for NYC, and it’s a question for the world. At first it seems silly to compare running 26.2 miles for fun to something like the Israeli-Palestine conflict—until you remember that the guy that the marathon was named after was fighting in a war. And what is war but a storm of hearts and grit and bodies? I’ll make the stretch and compare the Sandy/NYC Marathon outrage to the Jews and PLO, though, because the reason that an article like “The Storm (And Everything After)” is happening at all is because two very different people share a space. This twelve-page spread in Runner’s World is about, ultimately, the actual streets of NYC—the pavement and the asphalt and every inch of land beneath—and the question of what to do when the feet that walk upon that territory disagree.

In that sense it’s appropriate to start another war, to put “The Storm” article right next to “New Year, New You!”: to make these ideas share a space. This encourages me because the people receiving this information are obviously in good enough standing (money-wise and health-wise, as I’m assuming the sort of demographic that would buy a running magazine is) to actually do something about something like Hurricane Sandy. What better place to put an article like this than with an audience that understands the power of moving and making physical improvements?

So I guess it makes some sense to put the Stormy Un-Marathon article after the Make Yourself Better one. When you take care of yourself, you can better take care of other people. Or, you can take care of other people while you’re taking care of yourself, and vice versa. Which is what, I learned as I read page 76 of the January 2013 Runner’s World in the bathroom on Christmas day, some of the NYC un-marathoners actually did.

In the sub-section “Were All Marathoners Self-Absorbed?”, Amby Burfoot (winner of the ’68 Boston Marathon and RW editor) doesn’t get around to answering his title question. Instead he talks about ways that the runners—who’d already booked tickets to and hotels in NYC from places all over America and the world—decided to use their stay now that the run had been called off: “Many were able to put their well-trained muscles and pent-up energy to good use, removing heavy, damaged furniture and wet debris from devastated homes,” he writes. This, I think, is brilliant. What do you do in a high-tension space? How do you respond to pain? How do you help make space for healing? Use what you are and what you have for others.

So for the NYC un-runners, their able-bodied bodies. And Runner’s World, the pages of their magazine. And me, my pen and laptop keyboard. But no matter how much I write, or how much anybody runs, or how many pages of articles like this RW publishes, the conflicts and the questions will never ever cease. This is earth and it is spinning: there is always weather, and there are always different kinds of people trying to take shelter in the same small space. The storms will keep on coming—but there will always be an eye, so long as there are lots of other “I”s trying to care about themselves and others. So long as there is us here trying to share.

War Photographers is a series on how we share the hard stories (that might not necessarily be our own). Look for more installments every Thursday for the foreseeable future!


Hey! A post about running! I know it is everyone's favorite, right? Here is the deal: Yesterday, I ran 9.3 miles. Much of it uphill (for the Portlanders, I ran up to OHSU and back! No joke). In the freezing cold. In the rain.

It is like the opposite of what I normally do. I love me some comfort: reading books on a couch with a cozy blanket, drinking a french press while listening to french music, dreamily pinning crafts I will never actually tackle on my computer. I am about as non-competitive as a person can get. I have never been athletic. I have never even liked being outdoors all that much.

Enter the last year. A year where being a wife/mom/teacher/writer/sister/daughter/friend seemed to have me floundering for my own time. Running was the only way to get 30-40 minutes alone with my own thoughts (and God, too). I ran out of anger, frustration, disappointment, tiredness, and stress. And it totally worked.

That is the only reason I can come up with for how I found myself exercising consistently for the first time since I was 12. I needed it. I have been running outside now for a year. I went from jogging for 2-3 minutes to running for and hour and a half.

This 15k was a birthday present to myself. As me and my friend J started the long run up to OHSU somewhere in mile 4, I started listening to Vesuvius by Sufjan (warning: cheesy moment alert). And I felt like this was a literal mountain/volcano that I needed to conquer. Everything all those athletic people had been spouting for all those years was finally making sense. Work hard, believe in yourselves, don't give up. I needed to conquer my mountain.

And I did. I was thrilled to find my time was a minute behind the average finish. I am average! I had never before felt so happy to hear those words. And I probably won't be happy to hear them in any context besides physical strength.

The race itself was no cakewalk, and I would not describe it as fun (although, I have been rather poor at training). There were 30,000 people there, which I did not understand until we were packed like cattle into the starting gate and almost had a panic attack. Have you ever run with thousands of people? It is super weird. I couldn't have stopped even if I wanted to. Also, it was freezing cold (they forecasted snow) and started raining several miles into it. By the end, I was soaking wet from the rain. It took me an hour to realize just how bone-deep cold I was, mostly because my friends pointed out my lips were blue. And they stayed that way until I took a nice, long bath.

It was a good start to my 28th year. A good reminder to challenge myself, to push myself, and then to allow the satisfaction of completion. Running is so tangible. And sometimes, that is just what you need.

March comes in like a lion.

It always feels like there is so much going on, but right now it seems especially true. We are in the weirdest place of knowing that God has something big and good and new in store for us. We just don't know exactly what that is. He keeps telling us how he wants us to live our lives (seek justice, love others, give and give and give) but he doesn't tell us the what or the where or the when. Just the why, for now. Sometimes it is enough. But usually I just want to ask all sorts of questions.

It is not good for my ego, my pride, to not have a plan in place. I want to boast, to explain, to solve the world's problems. I hear whispers like maybe I am not broken enough, maybe I am still too busy talking and not listening, maybe God really does want me to focus on love. Without it, I am a clangiest of gongs.

On Friday, I lost one of my jobs. Which is sad for me, but sadder still for all the under-served literacy students. Last Monday, the baby started walking for reals (almost 19 months now, but we will take it!) I had a slumber party with my lovely Somali girls, full of heartbreaking talks and shared confidences, and laughing and cartoons and brownies. In the next week or two, I am going to be teaching a class at Reed (for one hour, I shall say I was a Reed professor), I will turn 28, I will run my first race (a 15k).


It is all so, so up in the air that God must be behind it all. I am taking comfort in that fact, because it means He is near. And it means He is wanting to use us. I pray for the ears to listen, the hands and feet to obey.



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