Thanks to our captain’s runner of the year, Gemma Bettoney-Bramhall, who took on the incredible challenge of going to the Great Ethiopan Run and raising over £1700 for charity, she did this solo, funded herself, and travelled 24 hours to do it – You can still sponsor Gemma here.
Ethiopia is a country of contradictions. On the approach to land I flew between mountains, over the top of deep ravines, saw lush green expanses of forest followed by mud flats.
Bole airport is a no go area for western women so the hotel arranged a private car to collect me. The journey to the hotel was an interesting one, I don’t think anyone had passed their driving test nor owned a road worthy car. I was relieved to get to the hotel in one piece!
As we pulled into the hotel compound the car was checked by the Ethiopian army for bombs before being allowed to drive through the barriers. All my baggage was scanned and I had to walk through airport style scanners before being allowed into the hotel reception. The Ethiopian army were stationed around the hotel compound with machine guns. The threat level in Ethiopia was severe due to intelligence that Al Shabaab were going to target a mass participation event in Ethiopia, many countries had put out a travel advisory of ‘do not travel’ (I didn’t tell the family that before I left).
Of the 40,000 runners just 700 were from overseas (roughly a ¼ of those were female) so the Great Run company organised a pre-race party for night before. This is where I got to meet the legendary Haile Gebrselassie who was due to compete the next day in his last international race before retiring. All the overseas running travelled in groups or with charities with the exception of myself, luckily this afforded me the opportunity of going on stage to meet and have a chat with Haile on my own, he was a lovely chap! Despite being alone, runners are a friendly bunch and I spent much of the evening with Mark and Sarah from Exeter Running Club watching the traditional Ethiopian entertainment.
Race day ….I went down to breakfast where I met John from Anwick running club, he was with a group of 40 runners and much to my relief asked if I would like to walk down to the start with them.
On arriving at Meskal Square, all participants had a full body frisk before being allowed into the start area. The army lined the streets and stood on the roof tops providing security. There was a carnival like atmosphere in the square, groups of young men doing press-up competitions as warm-ups, others doing traditional Ethiopian dancing. Some had running kit, some wore denim shorts and flip flops!! I had heard reports about the army using batons on runners to control the crowd before the start so I ensured I was a long way down the field. One piece of advice I was given just before the gun was to make sure I ran in the middle of the road although I wasn’t sure why.
9am. 33 degrees Celsius. 7,650 feet above sea level. The race began ….slowly. Due to the sheer volume of people all I could manage was a jog, going through the first kilometre in a staggeringly slow 11 minutes!! The field started to thin out after but became slowed and congested on the numerous uphill sections which did not help the pace! Unfortunately my garmin lost signal at kilometre 2 and with no chip timing available any chance of recording an accurate time went out the window. All participants were made to wear thick cotton t-shirts for the race (as proof of entry) which made it evener hotter and didn’t go down very well with someone like me who likes to wear as few clothes as possible whilst running, thankfully I still wore my zebra shorts!!
Every kilometre on the course an Ethiopian band played and lots of runners slowed down for this, some stopped entirely to dance and consequently blocked the course. In addition I was stopped dozens of times on the run to have pictures with the other Africa runners. The site of a western woman on the course proved somewhat a novelty; I think I probably set the Ethiopian record for being in the most ‘selfies’ in a day
By now I realised this was less a race and more a carnival and an experience to embrace. I soon realised why I had been advised to run in the middle of the roads when I almost fell down a huge hole in the gutter, the drainage system comprises just large holes big enough to fit people down!
Much to my amusement the race ‘showers’ at kilometre 7 was basically a chap at the side of the road waving a hosepipe around, you had to stand in front of him to be hosed down (I skipped that bit!). The water stations were like some sort of riot scene with volunteers standing on trucks throwing bottles of water out into the crowds of runners that had stopped for a drink.
The last section was the toughest, by this point I had had a couple of nose bleeds due to the exertion in reduced oxygen levels at altitude. The last section featured an energy sapping hill before dropping back into Meskal square and a wide finish straight where I actually managed a sprint. At no point during the race could I run at a sustained race pace due to the volume of participants and narrowness of the course.
Despite this undoubtedly being my slowest 10k of all time I was still focused on putting in a decent effort and was therefore delighted to receive my ‘green’ medal which denoted I had finished in the top third of the field. Thoroughly exhausted and with medal in hand I joined the celebrations in the square before heading back to the hotel for the post race party. And if there is one thing we all no…runners know how to party!!
The Great Ethiopian Run was an incredible experience. Hopefully next time I go there will be a few Pop’s in tow!!