Run every day in Ethiopia part III

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.

‘When you say you will run 50km, everyone gets amazed. 50km does not exist in Ethiopia,’ my friend (Mesgebe) tells me. That, I suppose, is quite reassuring. Hopefully it doesn’t exist in Kenya, either, in which case I have a much better chance of a good finish in Doha. When people ask me what I’m training for I tell them ‘Amsa kilometer’ (50km). ‘Asr amist kilometer’ (15km) they correct me. ‘Aydellum, amsa kilometer’ I insist’. This usually elicits raised eyebrows and shaken heads. ‘That is heavy’ people tell me.

Luckily, the forgiving and varied surface of the forest here means I can run a lot of miles without risking getting injured, and my longer runs on dirt roads and asphalt are slowly getting better. I managed to run 30km at 6:24 / mile at 2,600m the other day, which the internet assures me is worth 28 seconds per mile. If that’s the case that would be a decent run at this stage. Perhaps one of the reasons people dream so big here is because it is difficult to know how your fitness at this altitude will translate at sea level. One runner I spoke to last week told me he thought he was capable of running 25.32 for 10,000m ‘outside’ Ethiopia!

Track sessions can gather up to 200 people
Track sessions can gather up to 200 people

Most of the runners here ‘just run’; they don’t have any other work. Training is a very time consuming process, so that’s just as well. In the afternoons, one of the athletes I run with a lot walks for forty minutes to get to the forest where we train, in order to run for thirty. Given that he performs a complex array of arm relaxation exercises and stretches after training, his round trip is around two and a half hours for a thirty minute run. On Monday I spent seven hours either traveling to training or running: there’s no ‘just getting out the door’ for a run here.

Given the myth of the ‘barefoot’ Ethiopian runner, it might surprise some people to know that there is a thriving running shoe market here. I took the photo below in a second-hand running shoe shop, where trainers sell for around 900 birr (about £30). The demand is clearly pretty high – you can pick up a new pair for that in the sale in the UK.

The second-hand running shoe shop
The second-hand running shoe shop

Below is a sample week of training here. It sounds like quite a lot of running time wise – at sea-level I’d be covering 110 miles a week at least in the time I spend running here – but a lot of the forest running is quite slow because of the terrain and altitude. The track session was on the track below, with about 200 other runners:

A week’s training:

Monday: 2 hours ‘easy’ in the forest, running for time and not worrying about speed.

Tuesday: AM 1 hour PM 40 minutes.

Wednesday: AM Track session on the dirt track pictured. 3 x 3km, 2km, 1km all with one lap jog recovery at race pace or faster. PM 30 minutes easy

Thursday: 1 hour easy (tired)

Friday: 30km on the road in Sendafa, 1 hour 58. Pretty hard, Sendafa is high!

Saturday: AM 1 hour 10 in the forest. PM 30 minutes easy.

Sunday: AM 1 hour 15 PM 30 minutes.

 

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