4 Dec

This Is Africa

Great Ethiopian RunAfter claiming the prestigious Great Club Challenge prize, Stockport Harriers enjoyed a trip of a lifetime to Ethiopia. Here, club member Charlie Batho tells us a little more about their incredible experience. 

Ethiopian’s treat any runner (fast or slow) like the British treat Premier League footballers, New Zealanders treat their All Blacks and Norwegians treat their skiers – with God like status.  Our 6.30am training runs saw us passing children on the way to school, impeccably dressed, waving ferociously at you, wanting to give you a high five and always with a big smile on their faces.  Sometimes the young children would run along with you on the scorched deep red dusty ground in flip-flops for 1-2 km’s – such a friendly, hospitable and welcoming country. 

The first 24 hours of arriving in Addis Ababa read like a who’s who of world running.  Julia Bleasdale, who was staying at the same high altitude training camp as us (Yaya Resort), took us for an early morning training run with Alistair Brownlee. Later that afternoon we met Kenenisa Bekele at his 400m track and jogged five laps with him.  We met Haile Gebrselassie on a daily basis who, as you’d expect, never stopped smiling once. 

HaileTraining (2,700m) and racing (2,500m) at altitude was much harder than I had anticipated: I had to run about one minute per mile slower than I would have back home for the same amount of effort required.  This also translated into a slower race pace on the day of the 10k which, again, was almost exactly one minute slower than back home.  It's therefore little wonder why the Kenyans and Ethiopians have dominated middle and long distance running for so long when they have such a key advantage of living and training at this type of altitude.

The adult 10k race on Sunday was something quite different to what I’ve ever experienced before.  Let’s identify the few things that it had in common with the Great Run UK format – kilometre markers, bands on various street corners, a shower station (hose pipe) at 6km, the race being won by an Ethiopian or Kenyan.  But that is where the similarities stopped.

Firstly, the pre-race brochure had two start times and dates; the conventional 9am time and also 3.00 since locals also tell the time of day by the number of hours passed since sunrise (always being 6am as it is close to the Equator).  All 37,000 runners start in one wave on the same street at the same time unlike the Orange, White, Green and Pink wave staggered start times in the UK spread over 1½ hours – it was almost a stampede like running with the bulls at Pamplona, Spain!

The third difference; everyone wears the same brightly coloured Great Run t-shirt since it is their only entry requirement into the “start pen” (aka passing armed guards half a mile up the road).  There is no timing chip or race number (except for the elites) and consequently no finishers’ race results.  Fourthly, where were the mobile porta-loos?  There were absolutely none that I could see at the start and at the finish there were only two for women and two for men.  The absence at a large road race in the UK would surely unsettle a lot of runners. Finally, the Addis Ababa course could best be described as undulating, at worst hilly and when combined with altitude made the 10k much slower than you’d expect.  Yet the winning elite time was still 29.20.

Stockport HarriersOn the run people sang, walked, one person cycled, a couple were seen having a meal at a restaurant part way round in their race t-shirts.  At one point, when a local song came onto the loud speakers, every participant on that street at that time stopped what they were doing and burst into spontaneous dance.  It was, quite simply, a run like no other that I’ve ever experienced, and I’d encourage anyone to try the Great Ethiopian Run.