What is like to run in Ethiopia the home of long distance running? For a start there are hundreds of runners all criss-crossing through the trees at 7am or even much earlier. Every one of these athletes believes they can break onto the world stage and become professional athletes. Here in Ethiopia, running is seen as a way out of poverty and millions of people are willing to give up everything to achieve that dream. The country’s biggest role models are the famous runners, from Haile, Meseret Defar to Tirunesh Dibaba. There is also very much a culture of either you run or you work and doing both is super unusual. Before I came to Ethiopia I was working in a shop working 8:30am to 6pm five days a week and running on top of that. Here that just wouldn’t happen. I mean you have to take a nap, right…? Suffices to say that our Program is trying to change the mind-set regarding running and working.
But yeah, we wanted to share what a typical training week here at Yaya Girls looks like:
They run twice a day every day apart from Sundays when they take a full days rest. Their hard sessions are done on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday first thing in the morning with a training group that is based and coached by the Yaya Village Hotel. Each week the sessions usually include short intervals or hills, long tempo runs and longer intervals. There is a 15km road race coming up so they have been doing one hour-long tempo runs in recent weeks. I have been giving these a miss, as it seems crazy to attempt to run fast for so long when my races are usually over in 20 minutes. The remaining days are easy runs of about an hour in length in the morning. In the afternoon they run for about 25 minutes followed by their long drill routine, which is a sight in its own right. Occasionally, once or twice every two weeks, they go to the gym instead of their afternoon run. Most western athletes will be doing some sort of gym work at least twice a week. They do not see the gym as an important part of their training schedule but hopefully we can change that.
The actual running here is very different and took some getting used to. Everyone always runs in a straight line following the person in front whereas at home you would normally run next to each other. This means that you cannot clearly see where you are going so it is your duty to point out any potential hazards to the person behind. Such as the numerous tree stumps or holes that litter the fields. I have still managed to fall numerous times by tripping over a stone I did not see until it was too late. The girls seem to have no such problems.
Running in circles is seemingly what you do here. They weave in and out of the trees constantly changing direction. This might be to increase the distance but the end result is that I am completely disorientated with no idea how to get back. For me part of the attraction to running has always been that you can be alone with your thoughts and mull things over. Sadly I cannot do this here as I have to be completely alert or I may end up tripping over a fallen branch or worse running straight into a tree. I enjoy occasionally breaking out on my own for a solo run to be able to get that peace of mind.
Easy runs start slowly and then gradually get faster so that by the end you are, at least I am, exhausted. Running drills (high knees, heel flicks etc) are carried out before and after every hard session and after every easy run. They are very different here with lots of waving of the arms. They are always done completely in sync with the other runners so the end result looks like a complicated dance routine. I don’t know if they are better than the ones I do at home but they certainly require a lot of coordination. The first few times I did them I was completely baffled.
I can really see why Ethiopia does so well in distance running. There are just so many incredibly fast and dedicated athletes that all want to reach the top. It is amazing to run here and experience the many differences between the UK running culture. It will be an extremely sad day when I leave and return to the world were being a runner is in the minority and not the majority.