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.
‘Once upon a time, you will run 2.10, you know. If you stay in Ethiopia for one year, it’s possible for you. All you need is lots of easy endurance.’
Three weeks into my trip here Tsedat* made this rather startling claim as we sat stretching after training in the forest. Given that he’s told me, with a totally straight face and a glint in his eye, that his goal is to break Kenenisa Bekele’s 5,000m world record, I decide to take his assessment of my potential with a pinch of salt, but it’s nice to have training partners who believe in you!
Easy endurance. I can’t think of a more appropriate oxymoron to describe training up here. The pace, certainly, is easy – especially in the forest, where we weave in and out of tree stumps, duck under branches and skip over rocks and tree roots, always running up or downhill or an a camber – but it is also exhausting. The forest here sits between 2,600m and 2,800m, and even a relatively gentle pace catches up with you pretty quickly.
After a patient first week, as I waited for my red blood cells to multiply, I’ve settled into a routine of training in the forest most days and traveling further afield on Mondays and Fridays to train with a group of athletes represented by a friend of mine (Moyo Sports Management). The runners here believe strongly in variety, and in training in different ‘air conditions’ and on an array of different surfaces, which means traveling out of Addis in various directions in the team bus.
The location of choice for a long run is Sendafa, where a wide ‘coroconch’ dirt road stretches over 50km through farmland. On an undulating first long run I ran 30km and only saw two vehicles apart from our bus, which roared up every 5km or so with water and encouragement. It’s a fantastic road to train on, with the only drawback of the vista of rolling farmland to either side being the fact that you can see all the hills coming a long way off!
I’ve been selected to run for Great Britain at the World 50km Championships in Doha, so I’m now a little over a week into an eight-week build-up which focuses on one (sometimes very) long run a week and a longish run at race pace in Sebata, which is a mere 2,200m above sea-level and therefore a slightly more forgiving environment to run fast in. If I can run a decent way at race pace there, the theory goes, it will feel very easy in Doha, at least for a while.
As Tsedat assures me, ‘if you train well here, you can be successful anywhere.’
*name changed to protect identity.