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By Oliver on

BLOG: The year ahead starting in Ethiopia

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2015 was a strange year for me. I had the best year of results I’ve ever had, but didn’t finish a race beyond April the 19th, despite completing a really hard training block in preparation for the World 50km in Doha. In a way, all that training feels wasted, as I wasn’t able to race whilst I was back in the UK – the floods in the Ribble Valley put an end to my intention to at least get a 10km in before the year was up.

I have, at least, managed to return to Ethiopia in better shape than I was in back in September though, when I was just getting back into shape after a summer of injury, and this time I feel like I have a better idea of both how to train here and how to approach racing when I get back to sea-level.

The most important thing I learnt was that I need a bit more rest up here than I do at sea-level: your body is under more strain at this altitude, so I’m taking a full rest day once a week. This is something all of the athletes in the group I train with do; why on earth I thought that I, as the only non altitude native, could get away with training hard every day is beyond me. I’m hoping this, combined with regular massage (infinitely more affordable than in the UK; at 50 birr it costs less than $3) I will be able to stay healthy and avoid overtraining.

Doha taught me an important lesson about giving myself a bit of time to acclimatise to being back at sea-level, so I have planned a mini race program for April and May accordingly. My coach thinks that lack of races is going to be my biggest challenge when I’m trying to prepare for my trips back to sea-level to race, so I’m going to jump into some races whilst I’m here both as training and to get the competitive juices flowing again (albeit whilst getting pummelled by most of the field!)

Our coach here, Meseret, tells me that Ethiopians use races as training all the time. ‘For example,’ he says, ‘if they are training for 10km they will go to the half marathon in Sebeta in February, they will push for 10km and then they will get out.’ This explains the frantic speed of the start of races here; many of the runners who are at the front at the beginning aren’t intending to finish. I watched the Addis Ababa city 10,000m races, and several runners had already dropped out 7 laps into the race.

I went to pick up a number for the International Cross Country race on Sunday from the Ethiopian Athletics Federation yesterday, and was told that I should be at Jan Meda (the horse racing track where the race takes place) at 6am for an 11.30am start in order to register. ‘How many people will be running?’ I asked a fellow runner who was registering at the same time. ‘700 maybe,’ he told me. ‘This is the International Cross Country, so each club can only enter the good ones.’ I’ve got a feeling it could be a tough first race outing of 2015!

My number for Sunday's race
My number for Sunday’s race

WATCH :Video Ethiopia xc

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.

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