The days of twelve hours – 6am to 6pm – of solid sunshine are a distant memory here. It feels like it’s been raining forever here. The rest bite we were expecting between the mini rainy season and the main event never materialised, and we’ve had a solid downpour every day since early June.
Because of where we live, the only real options for running are in the forests surrounding Kotebe; steeply sloping hillsides covered in eucalyptus trees. As such, the classic British approach of ‘just getting on with it’ doesn’t really work. You can’t run up a mudslide.
For three months of the year, then, most Ethiopian runners go from running twice a day to just running once. Rainy season offers a natural lull in their training which is probably quite important for recovery. The first few times I woke up to rain hammering off my roof I texted my friend next door: ‘are we running?’ His response was ‘of course not, go to sleep.’
Ah, the luxury of sleeping past 6am! The problem with this, though, is that, as one of the runners put it, ‘the rain messes everything up. You don’t know when it will stop so you never know when to eat. You spend your whole day wondering when to run.’ This is something most people can probably relate to. We all have days when we think, ‘oh, I’ll go later on’. I’ve ended up running straight after big meals a few times because of getting this wrong, or not eating until 3pm and feeling lightheaded on a ninety minute run.
I think I’ve written this before, but the mud at this time of year is incredibly difficult to run on. You end up dragging your feet over the ground, your shoes three times their normal weight. When I run with my friend it’s a little better; he’s been running in these forests for years so he knows where the comparatively dry ground is. He has also mastered the art of scuffing the layer of mud off the bottom of his shoes mid-stride without tripping himself up, a skill I’ve been trying to master and which will hopefully come in handy in Scottish cross-country races.
As I write this it is (finally) starting to brighten up, and the forest is drying out. If anyone is planning a training trip to Ethiopia, my advice would be to between October and December: the sun shines constantly without the heat of the subsequent months.
Michael Crawley is one of our sponsored athletes, and focuses primarily on the roads. He is also an ESRC-funded PhD student at Edinburgh University, studying the culture of long-distance running in Ethiopia. Over the next few months he will be living and training in Ethiopia, and learning one of the main languages used there, Amharic. He will be writing about his experiences of training in various locations around the city with different groups of athletes, and about trying to turn himself into a better runner in the process.