Ethiopia – the birthplace of running – from the barefoot runner Abile Bekila to modern day legends such as Haile Gebrelsalassie and Kennisa Bekele, Ethiopia has produced some of the greatest distance running athletes to have ever graced the roads, track and grass of the world. So here I am in that very land, looking for that extra something which will hopefully help me to follow in the footsteps of this countries sons and daughters.
My “mission” for the next 3.5weeks is to live the life of an Ethiopian athlete, which basically means live, sleep and breathe running! So its train like an Ethiopian, live like and Ethiopian, eat like and Ethiopian!!
Step 1: Train like an Ethiopian. This started on Wednesday morning, after spending 13 hours on Tuesday travelling half way across the world to get here, with an easy 40mins. I stayed at Richards for my first night so off I set UP the hill to the “park”. This isn’t a park as we would know it. Nothing as luxurious as Bushy Park, Lobley Hill or even Barnes Park come to think of it! No, instead a derelict piece of wasteland grassed over with a few goats and cows thrown in for good measure! Think knocked down council estate turfed over with grass and you should get the picture!! At least here the locals use the area to good effect i.e. for exercise, namely running, rather than for a drink den or for burning out stolen cars like they would at home!
I was literally gob smacked at the amount of people running around at 7am! I’m talking literally 100’s. I was feeling quite good in myself and happy with my 8min miles but my face must’ve been telling a different story as I got a lot of shouts of “keep moving”!! I have since found out that this is the park where the national cross country championships are held annually – it gets my seal of approval as a cross country course!. Forget the mud and mountains of Parliament Hills and take a leaf out of the Ethiopians book – flat + firm – not that I am doing anymore major cross countries but if British courses were like this I may be tempted!!
Step 2: Live like an Ethiopian. So, into the camp for stage 2 to begin. There are around 10 other athletes currently staying here plus myself and Susie (Bush). The Ethiopian athletes range in ability from the Olympic men’s marathon bronze medalist (2008) through to female 2.40 marathoners. I would name a few but I don’t want to owe too much money to Morag for name dropping!! Plus I’m not yet sure of all their names!! I think I’ll just call some of them Fred and Bertie!!
The accommodation is very basic to say the least! Our “room” has 3 beds in and that’s all – not even a bedside table or some draws – I am literally living out of my bag for the next 3.5weeks!!
The lives and routine of the athletes is very simple – 5.30am rise, 5.45am on the bus to training, run, back home, lunch, sleep, massage, run, dinner, sleep, repeat!! After just two days of lying around in our room I broke out and went into Bole (town) to use the gym – its training so its not cheating!!.
The gym is fantastic. Loads of free weights and all of the latest Technogym machines. I’d tell you who owns its but Morag might still be reading!! (Clue: I mentioned him right at the beginning!)
Going to into town is an adventure in itself!! To get there requires two “buses”. Nothing like our Stagecoach or Arriva buses at home. More Scooby Doo mystery van!! These buses pick up and drop off anywhere along the road and cost a pricely 1.25 birr per ride (16 birr = 1 pound). I have already found that my very limited, non existent really, Amharic coupled with my lovely mackem accent makes me totally incomprehensible over here!! But at one point trying to get a bus to Maganga the “conductor” thought I was wanting to go to Mexico!! I eventually got to where I wanted to be after a young lad took me by the hand and showed my to the bus I needed!! Just like they would in Sunderland!! Haha!!
In Bole and on your way there, you get a true sense of Ethiopia. One second there is poverty, the next there is luxury. I have never been anywhere else where you would get shacks intermingled in a street full of luxury villas!! For me the sight of young adults strolling along Bole Road (Ethiopia equivalent to Oxford Street) wearing designer clothes and chatting on iPhones and other latest models, whilst passing by bunches of young children begging, really sums up the city to me. That and the fact that everyone runs!!
Step 3: eat like an Ethiopian. I think this is going to be the hardest part of it!!
Indura – a crepe looking bread type food which is very hard to describe in both look and the taste. I have some photos so when I get home will be able to add them to show you all. Justina (Helsop) best described the taste as fizzy! It is definitely an acquired taste and thankfully I do like it – bet that has surprised you mam?!
Indura is served with ‘sauces’ usually a crushed lentil, runny pease pudding type thing, a spicy lentil chilli and potatoes and carrots. I have enjoyed what I have had so far but after eating it three times a day for the last 3 days I am looking forward to a change!! They eat at 12.30 and 7.30 every day – not a minute before, not a minute after. They do have bananas and bread after training but apart from that nothing else. Thankfully I have some snacks with me and I have found the snacks isle at the supermarket!!
So for the runnery people reading so far I have done the following training: Wednesday easy 5, Thursday: easy 8 and easy 6, Friday: easy 10k plus gym (this blog only covers Wednesday – Friday).
3 things I have learnt so far: 1) when Ethiopians say they are running easy, they mean easy – 9 min miles is the norm!! 2) When Gete (Sorry Morag!) shouts, everyone moves. 3) EVERYONE runs in Ethiopia. Take care. Speak soon TTFN!!