Running and Ethiopia are two words that naturally fit together, like steak and chips, you can’t have one without the other. Haile Gebrselassie’s is a face (and brand) you see everywhere, on the Bole Road an Adidas store gleams like an anomaly amongst the other, slightly less shiny shops, and there’s always a bill board in Meskel Square advertising the next event by the Great Ethiopian Run organisers.
So what is it about running and Ethiopia that means you see runners at 5.30am on the Ring Road, at Meskel Square doing switchbacks by 6am and at Jan Meda for the rest of the day?
There have been a few studies conducted into the Ethiopian long distance running phenomenon, with some focussing on Bekoji town, 170km from Addis, where long-distance champions Kenenisa Bekele, Derartu Tulu, Fatuma Roba, and Tirunesh Dibaba all hail from. Others concentrate on a genetic predisposition to running, and many more are determined that a combination of high haemoglobin, living at high altitudes, and the desire for success are factors that lead to Ethiopia creating many of the world’s long-distance champions.
Whatever it is, it leads to many international elite runners coming to spend their ‘downtime’ in Ethiopia, training ahead of the next season, making the most of the altitude, climate and excellent trail running opportunities provided by the Rift Valley.
In Ethiopia, so many of the people you see running in Addis are elite, yet you have no idea when you’re running beside them; you’re just all part of the same wonderful crowd, putting one foot in front of the other, to cross the finish line.
If you’re keen to get involved in running in (and around) Addis, there are a couple of fun, informal and friendly clubs that are easy to drop in on:
- Addis Ababa Hash House Harriers – This self-professed ‘drinking club with a running problem’ meet every Saturday at 2pm in the Hilton Car Park, before going on an expedition in the hills of Addis – just be sure to make no plans afterwards as the beers come out after the run and the group are amazingly sociable and good fun!
- Wednesday Project Addis Ababa – This is a free running group meeting every Wednesday morning at 6.30am in Meskel Square for a 45 minute workout.
If you’re more of a solo runner, Meskel Square is a great place to fit in early morning miles by running switchbacks, or running in Jan Meda, the Entoto Hills and behind the British Embassy are all good fun, although be warned, the latter two are pretty much all uphill!
There are a few regular organised runs each year in and around Addis including:
- January: Wenchi Lake Trail (Between Weliso and Ambo)
- March: Womens 5k (Addis)
- May: Haile marathon (Hawassa) Hoping to resume soon
- June: Dasani Road Race (formerly Coca-Cola Road Race Series) (Addis)
- August: Abijatta-Shalla Lakes National Park (Lagano)
- November: Great Ethiopian Run – 10k (Addis)
And Yaya Village in Sululta is an altitude training camp just 11km from Addis, with guides to take you on trail runs (if arranged), sports massages, a gym and nearby international standard running track.