By Philippa Morrow.


Last week I was lucky enough to be part of a team from Great Run, travelling to Addis Ababa to take part in Africa’s biggest running event, the Great Ethiopian Run. We joined 40,000 participants on the streets of Ethiopia’s capital city on Sunday morning for an incomparable celebration of their favourite sport – running.


Our links with the event go back to its inception in 2000 – when international running legend and Ethiopia’s most famous athlete, Haile Gebrselassie and keen runner and ex-pat, Abi Mansfield, envisaged the idea of staging the country's first mass participation run. 


They contacted the founder of Great Run, Brendan Foster for advice and the UK based Great Run team, inspired by the idea, were resolved to get involved.


Our operations team were instrumental in the first three stagings, regularly travelling to Ethiopia to share their expertise with the team on the ground in order to continue to grow and develop the event. We’re now one of the main sponsors and keen to promote the event to runners in the UK and around the world. We were joined by the winners of our Great Run Club Challenge (supported by England Athletics) Stockport Harriers as well as journalists covering the event for UK outlets.


Having taken part last year, I had a good idea of what to expect, but for the first timers it was an inevitable culture shock - completely unlike any race they have ever experienced in the UK.


First things first, if your sole motivation for doing events is a new PB, this is not the race for you - you won’t even be given an official time. Outside of the (seriously competitive) elite field, the event is about something much bigger and more important than individual achievements; it’s a unique collective experience that will leave you feeling joyful long after the endorphins have worn off.     


In place of a race number, all runners are given a bright race t-shirt in one of the three colours of the country’s flag; green, yellow or as was the case this year, a striking red, giving you an immediate feeling of solidarity with your fellow runners. Travelling through the city, walking towards the start area, you begin to spot more and more people dressed just like you until you’re pretty much surrounded by a sea of red all moving in the same direction.   


That’s not to say there’s no room for individuality, lots of people opt to thoroughly customise their outfits and glittery face/body paint of varying designs is practically mandatory. This combined with the ever present music and excited anticipation of the crowd gives you the impression you might have stumbled upon an early morning rave, rather than a 10k road race.  


The start line is pretty chaotic as the crowd jostles for prime position under the gantry, with the local Addis police force fighting a losing (but mostly good natured) battle to keep runners behind the line until the official gun goes off.


We started after the first few hundred runners had already set off. Running down a long highway that leads toward the city, with the sight of the race stretching out in front and behind you, is undoubtedly one of the most memorable parts of the day.


Local runners are keen to engage with visitors as much as possible so you will inevitably be stopped for a chat to find out ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Are you enjoying yourself?’ ‘What you think of Addis?’ All of which can get a bit tricky when you’re jogging up some pretty steep hills at a nose bleed-inducing altitude of 2,300 m above sea level. Luckily there are plenty of opportunities to catch your breath...


Music and dancing feature prominently, the PA systems and bands along the course result in a fair few pinch points as everyone stops for a mid-race dance break.  Whatever your level of ability (that goes for running and dancing) I suggest you go with the flow and get involved, you’ll regret it if you don’t!


The final stretch of the race is a taxing uphill climb, by which point you’ll find most of your fellow runners have turned into walkers, although when the 9k marker appears everyone seems to find something left in their legs and goes for the big sprint finish – so don’t get left behind.


This year’s winners were local athletes Azmeraw Bekele and Wude Ayalew, both former winners of the race, their times were among the slowest in the race’s history (30:11.1 for Bekele and 34:03.4 for Ayalew) but this was was expected given the tough nature of this year's new course, including three steep climbs in the race’s final 4km


With long standing links with the UK and Ireland the race has long attracted foreign runners, but the numbers of overseas entrants are definitely growing, this year there was even a guest appearance from Olympic Triathlon Champion Alistair Brownlee.


If there is one event that should be on your bucket list, this is it, a reminder of the power of sport and what it can achieve, not only for individuals, but for communities and even whole countries.   


We celebrated completing the event in the best style imaginable, a party at the house of the main man himself, Haile Gebrselassie.  Which included the surreal sight of some of the world’s best athletes, coaches and some very excited club runners from Stockport getting down to everything from traditional Ethiopian music to ABBA – quite possibly due the fact our generous host is also the face of Johnnie Walker whiskey.  


Addis is a very accessible and affordable city, with regular flights from the UK available on Ethiopian Airlines.   For more info on taking part in the Great Ethiopian Run in 2015 speak to our travel partners Nirvana for advice.