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,
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.