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.
On Wednesday morning at 5am I will fly to Doha for the World 50km Championships, to run further than I ever have before against some of the best runners in the world.
I had a really good week of training back in the UK – the abundant oxygen more than making up for the wind and the rain – and managed a 45km run and a decent run at race pace. The 45km run, which I did up and down hills on country lanes around Taunton, reminded me that in a run that long you’re bound to go through a few ups and downs (and not just the hills). As my coach says, ‘in longer races you’re bound to have a bad patch at some point, you just need to have the confidence that it will pass.’
The photo above was taken on my last long run with the group from Moyo Sports Management, and shows how beautiful running can be here. I’d only been back from the UK for a few days but it was still the best long run I’ve done here: luckily my red blood cells obviously take a while to die! I think running can both increase and decrease your appreciation of places like this. Our run was out and back, and on the way out there was nothing I would rather have been doing in this environment than running. I chatted to the little kids who ran alongside us for a few seconds, responding to their shouts of ‘China, China!’ – the only foreigners they see are the Chinese workers building the roads – by politely correcting them with ‘China aydellum, Inglizawi nan’. We were heading gradually downhill though, and my Ethiopian friend said, matter of factly, ‘on the way home we will suffer together’. I hardly noticed the scenery on the way back, and found the constant shouts of ‘China, China’ far less endearing, as all of my attention was concentrated on getting up the hills.
Your body does forget what it’s like to run up here quite quickly. On the first morning I got back I set off at the pace I’d been running at sea-level, only to find my legs become heavy almost immediately; it felt like I was breathing through a pillow. The runners refer to places around Addis Ababa by the names of races they remind them of: a hilly dirt road in Sululta is called ‘Chicago’ and one of the forests around Entoto is called ‘Boston’ (‘because it’s very, very cold’ I’m told). There is no ‘Doha,’ but I’ve been trying to run a bit later in the mornings and a bit earlier in the afternoons, when the temperature is a little higher, in the hope that Doha won’t feel too hot. I was sitting in the sun yesterday afternoon, when it was about 25 degrees, and told Benoit, who I live with, that I was ‘acclimatising’. ‘No,’ he said, ‘you’re sunbathing.’
My coach likes to say that a marathon is made up of ‘the first ten miles, the second ten miles and the third ten miles,’ so I suppose for Friday’s 50km it will be what will feel like the ‘fourth ten miles’ that will determine how well the race goes. I’m hoping that the early stages of the race will feel relatively easy with my return to sea-level and that I’ll feel good when the real racing starts, and I’m determined to stick to my own plan pace wise for the first 30km and not underestimate the last 8km. As a friend of mine said, some people will go out at marathon pace and think, ‘it’s just another few kilometers,’ but I know how far a few kilometers can feel: I learned that from the 39km point at Manchester.
Wish me luck!
For more information on the race see link http://www.iau-ultramarathon.org/