Last week I was fortunate enough to take part in the 15th staging of the Great Ethiopian Run in the amazing city of Addis Ababa.
We travelled with several colleagues and a number of guests and prize winners - even arriving into Addis airport at 6AM after an overnight flight there was a real sense of excitement amongst the group.
Our party included the running club Tyne Bridge Harriers, winners of the Great Run Club Challenge and a team from Mindshare UK, who won the team marathon relay event at the Great Newham London Run, along with Great Run staff and three members of the events team, who were last in Addis over twelve years ago, when they assisted the local team on the ground with developing the event over the first few years.
Addis Ababa is an exciting and ever changing city, so we wanted to make sure our guests got to experience a real taste of life there. We would highly recommend the Addis Eats food tour and visiting one of the city’s many “cultural houses” where you can enjoy an evenings entertainment and some traditional dancing (and yes I did take part - but no images are available!).
Saturday morning, like our events in the UK, was all about the kids - around 5000 children of all ages and abilities took part in the children’s races. We had taken a number of small items to distribute, including neon shoelaces, we were glad we did when I spotted a young lad with a pair of trainers, but no laces. I went over to help him put them on and as I finished tying them I realized he had a tear in his eye, he was so happy with those laces! Hopefully he had a great run and his trainers stayed on his feet.
Next up ... race day. My day-to-day role in the Operations department of the Great Run Company involves organizing and ordering all the things we need to keep the events running smoothly, (some of my less generous colleagues would suggest it’s all barrier and toilets!) so it’s always strange being on the other side of the event and getting to participate - as opposed to getting up at 5am to install the event kit before everyone turns up!
I for one was feeling slightly nervous leading up to the big day. Despite running London Marathon earlier in the year, it's fair to say over a busy event season training for this event had fell by the wayside. I knew that a run at altitude and in the heat wouldn't be anywhere near a PB for me.
As we approached the start area at 8am, with still one hour until until the race got underway, I couldn't believe how many people were already lining up. It’s fair to say Ethiopians are very enthusiastic about this event, so much so that there was a solid line of army personnel just holding people back as they jostled to get started.
A more exuberant start you will never see, and as the soldiers sprinted to the sides, a tide of 40,000 runners in green and yellow t-shirts set off down the highway. We watched the first few hundred jog by and jumped in to join the party. I started with my Great Run colleagues Philippa and John, we had decided to take it steady, stick together and enjoy the atmosphere. The race is like a giant street party, with local bands at every km, more dancing than running and the ever present and totally good natured chants of what sounded like “souza” from the runners, directed at locals in bars, which we learnt meant something like alcholics/lazy (ironically some of the patrons were runners taking a pit stop!).
Chanting is big in Ethiopia so we took the opportunity to teach the locals one of our own and invoked the spirit of the Great North Run with a good old fashioned oggy oggy oggy ...... Oi! Oi! Oi!
It was a 10k of just taking it steady and enjoying it. It’s hard to put into words what an uplifting experience it is, but the pictures go some way to showing the true scale of this amazing event - and it’s one I would recommend any runner to take part in at least once.
After the run (and a pint of chilled local St George beer) we went up to the Hilltop Restaurant for the post event party, hosted by international running legend Haile Gebrselassie and the team from Great Ethiopian Run. This was a special year for the event as it was celebrating its 15th Birthday as well as a welcome return to the Meskel Square start area following 3 years in a different location due to major works.
The team at Great Ethiopian Run have done a incredible job in organising this amazing event. The numbers of overseas runners are ever increasing and this year over 600 entrants from all over the world took part - a number that just keeps going up each year.
So what are you waiting for? The 2016 event is on Sunday 20th November – hopefully we’ll see you there!
We flew to Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines and stayed at the Hilton Addis Ababa, find out more about the event here, and visit our travel partners Nirvana Europe for help in booking your Ethiopian experience.