The long one

The long one
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Make or break day, I figured. After missing a couple of long runs, and with the scheduled 20milers becoming a 15 and an 18 out here, I really needed to get to 20 today. Mentally, if possibly not physically. I think overall I’m busking the marathon slightly, relying on having enough miles in my legs from the last year or so such that a slight gap in my long run is covered. But I had to get to 20.

I got to bed early last night, and set the alarm on the phone for 3.30-this being the phone that’s on British time still. Oddly, despite it being 7.30 on the phone (10.30 here) it said the alarm was set for 7 hours from now, not 8. I put it down to general confusion over time zones and went to sleep. At 6.30 it was still dark so I decided stuff it, I’ll go a bit later. Setting the alarm again I woke up at 7.30, checking the time by my watch and set off 15 minutes later. There was a group of chunky locals in the gym, but the breakfast room wasn’t open, and it is supposed to start at 7. Luckily they let me in so I could pick up a second bottle of water to leave by the fence while running.

I made it to satellite field, which was full of locals playing football, blues v reds (Liverpool and Chelsea kits, possibly not the latest), greens v yellows and so on. Two miles there, four 3+ mile loops, two miles back and though I’d slowed, I made it to camp with more than 18 miles down, allowing me to plod slowly round the 1k trail twice to finish off. Job done, I limped over for breakfast, hoping that they’d still serve at 10.55, with no one else in sight.

Breakfast, no problem, and as it arrived the Danes were setting off for their long run. A bit late, I thought, though it wasn’t as hot as the day before.

I finished up quickly and went back to the room. Only while browsing the web on the iPad did I spot it wasn’t yet 11. I think with my watch being on Moscow time, it had switched to their summer time, and lost an hour. So I’d actually achieved my original plan, to go out around 7, and be back before breakfast ended at 10 (though they serve till later).

Twit. I’ve gone for Eastern European time now, which should do for the rest of the trip. Rest of the day passed with food, lounging and more food, then topped off with some Wii sports with the Danes. An easy day tomorrow, one more big week and I’m done.

Summary: 3:02:52, 32.23k. Biggest week status; uncertain, but 66.36 miles is up there. Book, Double Comfort Safari Club, McCall-Smith.


Anatomy of a run

Anatomy of a run
West Shewa, Ethiopia

West Shewa, Ethiopia

After four tough days, and building to my largest mileage week ever-ahead even of last year’s longest, when I slotted two long runs into one week-I had Friday and Saturday booked as quiet days, with the tentative idea of fitting in a quicker 5k on Saturday, as parkrun has never interfered with a Sunday long run.

Friday was very gentle, if sad as Rejean and Chris both left. I couldn’t quite understand why I was that sad at first, as I was perfectly happy on my own for the first few days, but we’ve had nearly three weeks to bond since then. I’d grown used to us all rolling in to breakfast to swap running tales, or to dinner at different times. I sat in reception while they said their goodbyes, so as to catch them at the last and once they’d gone the evening receptionist-who’d been in the minibus that collected me from the airport and therefore the first to greet me-wanted to make sure I was okay. He was also concerned that I got enough social time-had I been to Bole, did I like dancing, and so on. “Don’t be alone” was his final instruction, there’s a motto.

Today dawned with more bright sunshine. Last weekend’s cooler weather and storms are just a memory, with cloudless skies and a high of 27 all this week. I’ll have to get up early for my long run tomorrow, or I’ll be in real trouble.

Not having slept so well last night, I postponed my run to the evening and just went for breakfast. I seem to have a sleep window around 10, but if I miss it then I’m awake till after 12. After a day of food, chatting with the Great Danes, reading and a snooze, I finally got out at 5.30, for what proved to be the ├╝ber-Ethiopian run:

I’m in my kit, racing flats on for a change, and I stroll up the drive to the exit. It’s what people seem to do, as though running round camp is rude. The old security guard is on the gate, albeit in his plain clothes disguise, and gives me the usual thumbs up. The on duty security guard is throwing a stone at one last rangy cow to ged it orf moi land, while the rest of the herd mooch out into the road. I have 10 seconds of chicken with one cow on the path before letting it win.

Crossing the road I break into a run. This is always the moment of truth-how are my legs? Good, as it turns out, really good, and I stay on the road for 300m so as not to spoil it by tripping on a rock. As I believe the young folk call it.

I turn off the road onto a mud track. The sunny days have totally removed the stormy puddles that were in the way. Two very young girls are walking towards me, the second waving, with a “hello, welcome”. I run on, diving into the trees to see if I can find the main track to satellite field. The small mosque next to the primary school is broadcasting its usual Sunday call to prayer, which sounds to me like old school horse racing commentary.

The first mile, without my pushing, is 7.32. Cheered, I run through the trees like a rugby back avoiding he opposition-left, right, surge, left, right. Hitting the main track the Danish 800m and 10k champions pass with a wave, while just behind them an older local is keeping pace, fully dressed, and gives me a toothy wave.

Second mile is 7.52. This is good! I skirt the ploughed field next to the satellite installation, and the guards there grin as I pass. I only need another mile in the field to make it a 5, so do a small loop, coming back up the hill to jog through the 10, 20 and 50% finished houses that stand like a ww2 diorama. Back on the track again and two even smaller children, perhaps brother and sister, run toward me. The boy’s first, with arms outstretched. I consider picking him up, but the run’s going too well and I settle for a mid-five, with the same for his sister. She turns and follows, answering my “good running” with a stream of Amharic, then dropping off with a last exhortation of encouragement. Off to my right now is the second football game I’ve seen, and a redundant goalkeeper waves, with my answering wave and thumbs up getting another “hello, welcome!” I’ve not had one before, today the world is full of them. Third mile is under 8, and I resolve that they all will be, as the Olympic 1500 champion jogs past, raising eyebrows in recognition. He’s a bit cooler than the others. A local family walk past. Some people greet, some wait to be greeted, and a wave gets a chorus of smiles and a shout of encouragement. Suleiman, who missed the Olympics but is in shape and looking good for the worlds, grins as he jogs by. He trains with Makhloufi, but would only be human if he hadn’t mentally painted a target on his back. His pb is quicker, I think.

One last grin at a local gets a friendly “hi” and I’m on to the road again. I push it just a little to keep the pace up, finishing the run on the camp track-ooh, you can race on me any time-with a 7.30 mile. I walk round the trail for 5 minutes with some lunges and gate-openers (as lovely physio calls them), while a couple of Yaya girls watch, wondering what on earth I’m doing.

That was almost as quick, without pushing, as the tempo run on Thursday, when I definitely was. If this points to a general increase in fitness, then it has timed itself well. Now *that* was a lovely run in every way possible.

Postscript: I finish with a bath, typing this as I luxuriate. Done with today’s entry, I dip my head to soak as I reach out to put the iPod on the closed loo seat. Only it’s not closed. I manage to close my fingers almost as they open, and soggypod2013 is over before it has begun.

Quote “You cannot be absolutely dumb when you live with a person unless you are an inhabitant of the North of England or the State of Maine.” Ford, The Good Soldier.

Summary: Friday 20:26, 3.98k, Saturday 38:52, 8.15k; books, Anna Karenina, The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford.

Just another day in the sun

Just another day in the sun
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Today has been a day of two runs, a plough through Anna Karenina (lucky Anna) though still not to finish, and moving from group to group, chatting, in probably the most sociable day I’ve had here. We haven’t even just talked running, ranging from that to the EU, the metric system and the wisdom of throwing small children around.

Julia left this morning, and Chris and Rejean leave tomorrow evening, so my comfortable group will be no more for Saturday breakfast. Andreas has been joined by a couple of Danish friends who seem as down to earth as the other runners so I’ll not be short of company. Today we had a couple of other Brits join us, though just for the day: Charlotte is working for Oxfam in Addis and elsewhere, and her friend Liz is staying for the running and other experiences. A pity she’s not staying up here more, as she’s about my pace, though as she’s also running London we’ll see who takes bragging rights there.

As for the running, today was good. I was very tired in the morning, and not at all sure that 1m jog, 5m brisk and 1m jog was possible, but it was. I looped back on myself a few times to keep it relatively flat, and was rewarded with some 7.xx m/miles. 5 of them, in fact. After an afternoon of chatting and reading I slotted in my planned second run, and that felt good enough that I tried the 800m time trial afterwards, with a 3.15 not showing any improvement over the first one I did, but it was relatively easy and on top of a tough week. I suspect I would be better off had I started running twice a day last week, but I’m not entirely sure it was possible. Certainly I ought now to see if I can push the pace a bit, and it would be good mentally if that equated to quicker times next week, though it’s more important to keep the effort level up during what are probably my two biggest mileage weeks. Finish those in one piece and I really might be in good shape. Though everything is relative. I was in the gym stretching and doing some physio-prescribed one-legged hip bridges and feeling fairly fit when I realised that the Danish 10k champion next to me wasn’t just rolling his leg on the big inflatable ball, he was in fact doing the same exercise as me, only with the ball showing what control he had. Not a great description but trust me, pretty cool stuff.

Quote: (talking about suicide) “some people need to get a life”.

Summary: 57:44, 11.47k, 27:33, 5.30k.

Chairs and flowers in the garden
Chairs and flowers in the garden.

Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa
West Shewa, Ethiopia

West Shewa, Ethiopia

Today was the day. Camp minibus booked (stop it) and the three boys headed into the capital. Course, Chris worked there for 6 weeks, and Rejean used to head in once a week until the hecticness did for him, but for me this was a fairly big deal.

Plan was to have not too much of a plan and for me at least, to just enjoy being immersed in a big city. The bus stopped to pick up a couple of the Yaya girls, a group of 12 or so who are supported by the charitable bit of the camp, and they fed us pineapple until we were dropped off at the National Museum/ This, we assumed, was the big museum of Addis, but in reality it was four fairly small floors. They’ve majored on the big African boast, that it is the source of humanity, and the basement is full of fossils showing the development of humanity. Or some stones placed there by a prankster God, as Bill Hicks would put it to a Creationist. The artwork on the first floor was interesting, and then up top were some artifacts from tribal history. Interesting, but not quite the history of the nation we might have expected.

From there we wandered the streets looking for the Ethnological Museum and found a modern art gallery for a quick break. Flowers and that. Eventually we realised that the museum was inside the university campus, so we pretended to be students and walked in. Our cover lasted about three seconds, as the security guard asked what we were looking for, but “Ethnological museum” was the correct password and we were pointed on. The museum is based, as is a small library, in emperor Haile Selassie’s old palace. Billed by Chris’ guidebook as the greatest display in Africa we were slightly underwhelmed, though there was more of a national history here than at the National Museum. Highlights for me were the emperor and his wife’s bedrooms – lavish perhaps in 1960 but, to their credit not gilded or wildly decorated. On a pull out display were Ethiopian stamps and currency through the ages, including a set of four stamps of Gebreselassie, “World Athletics Superstar”. Quite.

We’d run before we went into town, so were all fairly tired and hungry by now, so hopped in a taxi to head to a restaurant Rejean knew. Most, if not all, taxis are old ladas, and on this one the steering was more a suggestion than an instruction, though we made it okay, via a mix of brand new roads and small dirt tracks. Just one crazy man waving his hands in the middle of the road, and that may be typical, too.

None of us knew what the menu meant, but we ordered and had a huge pile of food, all to be wrapped – by hand – in pieces of injera, or bready pancake, torn off a roll. It’s a very good communcal activity, as although we’d ordered individually, we received one large silver dish, with a base of injera, onto which each dish was divided in front of each of us. Apparently the done thing for proper friends is to feed each other, too, but we decided that we might have bonded but we’re not yet that close. One beer each and on to the next stop, described by Rejean as “a container with a door” that served the best coffee he’d ever had.

We found it, and his description was perfect – just a door in the street, and that door to a container that had been dropped there. Narrow, it had stools up each side, and we took our places. Rejean had also been promised some coffee beans would be waiting for him, but the owner wasn’t there and the friendly local who translated for us didn’t quite understand initially. For me, though, there was the more immediate question – here, in the home of coffee, does a non coffee drinker refuse to partake in the ceremony?

Of course not. I’m sure you can count my coffee experiences on one hand, maybe two if you add accidental coffee creams (that is not a euphemism) and, even more significantly, this may be the first time I’ve had a whole cup. Black coffee, no sugar, let’s do this properly. And I can see how you can learn to appreciate it but there’s no Addisian conversion to report – still no coffee for me, thanks.

Although there are buses, there aren’t that many, and public transport is mostly made up of minibuses that run different routes. We hopped in one to get to Piasa (sp?) for some shopping, and I can see why the minibuses are seen as crowded and hot. Also, cheap – I handed over a 10 birr note (28 birr/gbp) and got 6 and change back for a 20 minute ride. Piasa was a whirl of people, tiny stalls and tiny crammed shops. I was happy just wandering the streets and soaking up the atmosphere, walking off a hefty lunch, while Chris picked up a watch and Rejean an Ethiopian (running) vest. We’d talked about drinking but I can now spot a pro runner by the brain whirr that happens after one drink, along the lines of “hmm, got a session tomorrow” and with hard running at 7.30am in mind, we caught a taxi back in time for dinner and to say goodbye to Julia.

With Rejean and Chris leaving tomorrow it almost feels like my holiday should be ending too, seeing as I’ve eaten with them for most meals over the last couple of weeks, but the Danish group are friendly, and people are always coming and going. There’s an older English couple here, too, who seem friendly with the coaches but I’m sure they’re not runners. It may just be that Abdi (former 1500 world champ, it’s worth always pointing out) is so friendly that he takes everyone under his wing. It feels a much more chatty place than when I first arrived, and I guess that’s partly because there are most people here, but also that those who are here have got to know each other, and mostly team up at mealtimes. If I pick another book as long as Anna Karenina I might be glad of a couple of solo meals to make better progress, but otherwise I’ll pick a table once the native English speakers have gone.

Summary: 1:32:12, 16.22km. Museums 3, Taxis 2, Minibuses 1.

Ciao bello

Ciao bello
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Sunset from my window, over grass with trees and prairie behind

Another sunny day dawned, and with 10 hours of sleep in the bank I woke up more tired than I had any right to. Yesterday’s hilly run was obviously not quite a recovery run, but today called for hill reps, so hill reps it was. I decided to head up the same hill as yesterday and use my friend, the cobbly road. The mile uphill was tougher, even, than yesterday’s, but I picked a start point that gave me a slightly uphill start with a steepening hill bite at the end.

That turned out to be ideal. With about 220m of slight incline I was able to attack, hit a pace and make it to 0.4km on the garmin for every 2minute rep. Slightly disappointingly, when I looked later three of them were 397m, but in the grand scheme of things that’s not so bad. Possibly I didn’t put quite enough in, as on the last couple I was able to hit 420 and 430m, but the usual breathlessness made it hard throughout. With each run up then jog down half a mile, this was a long session, but at least the mile back to camp was a lovely downhill yomp.

Since I’d run three miles on cobbly without seeing a living soul yesterday, I decided this route, as well as perfect for my hill attack, wsa a suitable place to try some topless running. As soon as I took off my top, a jeep came hurtling along the road, shortly followed by a local who gave me a nice wave. The highlight was spotting an elderly runner, who turned out to be Italian – that I could tell partly from his all-blue outfit, but mostly because he greeted me with “Ciao Bello”.

The latest arrival stopped for a chat about routes. Dai – if I got that right – is, as you’ve by now guessed, an Israeli, and a fellow non-elite athlete. He is a part-time coach, though, and used to be a full time pro, so I’ll not be challenging him any time soon. When I mentioned feeling off the pace on a forum, someone asked if I was on the wrong running camp, but it’s just great living the life. At breakfast yesterday Chris and I were catching up on the racing history of Andreas, the Dane, who is a European medallist and Olympian. Wandering in to breakfast behind him was Abdi, who was 1500 World Champ in 1987, beating the Brits, while the Olympic 1500m champ was larking about with a waitress. I missed Haile on Sunday, though I seem to be the only person who hasn’t met him, so perhaps I can put “yet” at the end of that with tentative confidence. Talk at lunch today was all about the Bekele brothers racing round the track, albeit not quite at racing weight.

Quote of the day: “it was only in Russia that men of fifty thought themselves old, and that in France… a man of forty is un jeune homme.” Anna Karenina

Summary: 1:37:29, 15.92km.

A long and winding road

A long and winding road
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

That leads to, well, I don’t know where, exactly. That was today’s run. After my big fat run/walk/collapse on Saturday, I ended up having an unplanned rest day on Sunday so resolved to do something a bit tougher than a 5mile recovery run today.

I again set off into the hills on the far side of the road, which makes for a route that turns immediately uphill. Every night I wonder whether the following day is going to see me finally bash out some quick miles, and I’d been confident last night. In reality, the phrase that fits is “it doesn’t take much”, which is what we say in relation to hills slowing you down here, and sure enough I plodded up the hill, turned onto a dirt track and plodded up that, too.

Hitting the cobbled road to nowhere I was determined to turn right and stay on it, where last time I had turned off as soon as it swung downhill. The road itself is an oddity; cobbled, with attractive semi circles of cobbles radiating out, it must have taken hours and hours of labour, not to mention millions of small stones, yet is unused where I ran. It doesn’t seem to follow or join the main road, either, though perhaps that was its function, with the newer road a bigger engineering project. More research needed.

At any rate, I ran down the hill. And down, and down. After a mile I found the first building, but couldn’t tell what it was for. Another half mile and the vista opened up, with scenery dropping away to my right and kids playing football in the sun. Civilisation, with houses lining the road, some with the walls and gates that I think marks a family of substance. The road was dropping away even more steeply now and I figured that after an initial 10m/m then an 8 and low 7, it was time to take my punishment and run the near two miles directly uphill.

Need I say it was tough? A new personal all-run slowest mile, with the first being 12 minutes! Eventually I reached the top, back to where I joined the road and carried on, wondering whether the cobbles would join the main road. No, it seemed. I’d lost my bearings totally (nothing new there), but as cobbly road was still heading gently-praise be-up and the main road is down, I think it must be swinging round a mountain. Next run that way, I’ll find out. I’m not sure I’m brave enough to take on the long down, long up again, though a little voice inside wonders whether gunning it might net my fastest ever mile to go with the slowest.

Top of camp, looking South
Top of camp, looking South.

Meanwhile the camp has calmed down after the usual rush over the weekend. Locals head here for lunch, and some for breakfast, which gives us the chance to see some less wiry and fit Ethiopians. Honorary Brit of the day went to the chunky father of two who I spotted finishing his second beer at 9.30. Guests come and go, and we now have a Danish Olympian. There was a Swiss family that Chris and I got to know, sadly on their last night. Turns out they were fit though not international runners, but both working for medecin sans frontieres, with Ethiopia just a convenient middle ground for them to meet up while one is working in Haiti and the other in Sudan. Even the non runners are impressive.

Phrase of the day: “he looked as fresh as a big glossy green Dutch cucumber”.

Summary: 1:18:57, 13.51km. Finished ‘Running with the Kenyans’.

Yaya garden, horse being led on the dirt track
Yaya garden, horse being led on the dirt track.


A serious grind

A serious grind
West Shewa, Ethiopia

West Shewa, Ethiopia

Running, eh, bloody hell?! Just as I thought I was getting to grips with this altitude lark, along comes the long run. I thought I could slow down and do the miles. I had ‘running to time’ rather than distance as a backup. And so I set off. In fact I delayed setting off. At 7 I could see the weather was overcast, and figured on it staying that way like yesterday, then at 9 I noticed the wifi (the only thing here that is a little expensive, and I’m sure just having it is a luxury, so that’s not a complaint) was on free vend, so I took the chance to check email and the like.

I eventually got going just before 10 and headed for the satellite field. It’s two miles away, from 3-5 miles round depending on what you do so seemed a reasonable bet for some laps without too much thought about route. I saw Chris coming back the other way, so at least he could be reassured I wasn’t dead, after I spent yesterday afternoon watching films, ended up going to dinner late and missing everyone. I dropped my water bottle and solitary gel by a fence after 2 miles or so and set out on a loop. First loop, fine, stopped for water after 6 miles. On the second loop I headed out of the field, so as to avoid having to do 4 lots of 3-4 mile laps. At the end of a track through fields was a group of workers who stopped what they were doing to cheer me on and then (I think) made the signal for “we’re going to eat; join us?” when they spotted me turning back the way I came. It probably barely needs pointing out, but people out working in a field on Saturday have nothing, but the generosity of spirit is phenomenal. Coming back along the field I was into a headwind and started to slow down.

Mentally I was in a reasonable state, not checking the watch other than when the miles bleeped, but it was getting tougher through 9 and 10 miles. I wanted to get back to the water at 2 hours, so when I got there at 1:51, had to head into the cattle field and back to make up time. Stopping – coming to a standstill for several minutes – for water was necessary, but possibly not a great idea. After two hours of slog, to get going again I needed a mental shove. I managed it, but was now for the first time going over 10 m/m. The miles ticked painfully past, and I left the field with 16 miles on the clock. I made it to 17 but then, without consciously thinking about it, started walking. Almost an out of body experience, as I looked down to see my legs walking, my brain worked out what was going on and figured “yep, fair enough, that is about the same pace”. I’ve wanted to walk before when running, but rarely felt like I really needed to. After 5 minutes I broke into a jog, but this was much slower than a walk. At least a normal walk – by now my hamstrings and back-of-knees were hurting, I moved into to an even slower walk than before, and I was in as much pain moving as I can remember. Just like a marathon going wrong, in fact, and I certainly remember a couple of those. If I’m allowed to start the excuses now, yesterday I had slight stomach cramps and during the run I noticed my swallowing was a bit noisy, as if I had a sore throat. We’ll see tomorrow if that comes to anything, or whether it just points to a little dehydration.

The stroll back to YaYa was painful and slow, and I stopped once on the track for a sit down. Once onto the road the gatehouse is in sight, but I again had to stop, though was at least distracted by a local grinning, asking where I was from and almost cheering when he heard England – “Britannia!?” Just wonderful. I managed to get up after he’d caught his minibus and crossed the road, but again flaked out 100m from the gate! After that rest I limped to my room, ignoring the Brit/Canuck axis who were having lunch, in favour of a low pressure shower and some compression tights. That was, once I’d got in. My card key refused to work-some kind of AI deciding this was a runner’s room and I no longer qualified. I wandered to reception but couldn’t stand there waiting and had to slump in a sofa! By the time I got to lunch I felt better and was seeing the funny side. Distracted by talk of military exploits I even cheered up a bit and when we did talk running, Rejean was kind enough to talk about his bad long run two weeks ago which was similar. At least in the “I can’t do this” feeling, I’m sure his slow struggling run is still 7m/m, given that a good one is under 6.

Summary: 3:09:51, 29.59km. Slowest runs ever: 1. Friendly Ethiopians: Legion. Books: none, piling through Anna Karenina and may be gone some time. Shoes: very muddy after lots of rain last night. Head: slightly red from exposure.

Phrase of the day: “old, purplish, stringy cocks were all they had for roasting and boiling”.


Under an African cloud

Under an African cloud
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

A cloudy day, with an early storm and a rest from exercise. I still had a sunny breakfast, and a conversation about running, so duty done. Chris and I managed to have a conversation without any generation gaps. We have had plenty. Talking about what was on the kindle a Philip J. Dick novel: the inspiration for several films, including Bladerunner. Chris only knows the word in conjunction with Pistorius. An advert for a film comes on, we’re both watching – oh yes, it’s Total Recall. Chris has never seen it, but then I’m not quite sure he was born then, being only 24. Talking about maths education last night I had (I’m not sure why) to admit that although I took maths GCSE, it was the very first year possible. But if this is my midlife crisis, then getting used to comparing university experiences when one person is thinking of last month and I’m going back 20 years is quite therapeutic.

Phrase of the day: “ice-devouring sex tornado”.

Empty room at Yaya village
Empty room at Yaya village.

Tempo day

Tempo day
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Thursday means tempo running, in the Runner’s World marathon schedule. My legs were tired, and the arrival of a noisy neighbour, who had the TV on loud at 3 in the morning, meant I hadn’t had the best sleep. But I managed to throw myself out of bed at 8.30, stretch out tired legs and get out for 9.

Julia and Chris had joined Jama’s group for some mile reps in the satellite field early on and I headed the same way, accidentally timing it to avoid any chance of my plodding round the field while they tore round. Groups of runners were wandering back and there was another large group nearer the field hanging around by their cars, obviously done for the day. I hit the field with two miles in my legs and still wasn’t in any shape to try to speed up, so ran round the edge of the field, communing with the cows. I passed a large group of footballers training and a quick look at their faces told me they were from the Ethiopian Coffee People’s team*. Finally my legs responded and I managed three miles a little more quickly, if unspectacular relative to sea level. I’m hoping I’m a min/min and a half slower here, in which case I’m in great shape.

Leaving the field I picked up the usual running peloton of small children, who seemed happy enough to take me to the edge of the field and then wave me off, even without the cry of “money!”

I skipped breakfast in favour of an early lunch. It was cooler then, enough that I put long trousers on and wondered if the storms had heralded colder weather, but by the time I’d polished off a fruit salad I was baking in sun that stayed with us all afternoon, enough that I stayed out with Of Mice and Men and a crossword**, long enough to get slightly burnt and skip my usual nap. No naps at all today, maybe I can still go a whole day without one.

Summary: 1:17:49, 14.62km. Diamond league athletes embarrassed by: 0. Books: Of Mice and Men, Echo Burning, Lee Child.

*or it might have been painted on the side of their bus. Given that I once walked past a closed-off coach at King’s Cross full of footballers in kit and didn’t recognise them as West Ham, perhaps that’s more likely.

** f***, if you’re interested.


Run, chat, sleep

Run, chat, sleep
West Shewa, Ethiopia

West Shewa, Ethiopia

In a nutshell, that sums up today. I headed for a new area, left out of camp, across the road and straight up the hill. I could see other runners in a field to my left, so avoided them, not needing the humbling experience of being left behind that was more or less guaranteed. After a slowing climb – my typical pace uphill here seems to be around 10m/m – I hit a cobbled road that was only slightly uphill, and at least looked like I was keeping it together when three African runners came past the other way, with the usual encouragements. At a fork I chose the track going up rather than the road going down, and climbed and climbed. I’m not sure I hit the very top, but the sense of stillness and total quiet in the forest was quite something. Really it deserves a long walk up there to enjoy it properly, which I might pencil in for Friday, assuming Chris’ desire to have a night out in Addis on a ‘session’ day (so as to be tired on the day after a session, not when it was due) hasn’t happened on Thursday. I’m not sure that I would have believed you had you told me that I would be using the phrase “session” only to do with running, with a straight face. I’m not sure what we’ll call a drinking night instead – an aberration, perhaps.

I managed to get nicely lost in the trees, and as I walked up hill, beating my way through the trees (okay, pushing through – it was a goat track, so passable, but with trees hanging over at goat height) I spotted an animal scooting through the undergrowth up ahead. We joke about hyenas, and I just hoped i wasn’t about to have to joke with one, in the hope that its laughter would distract it for long enough for me to escape. Nothing came of it, though, and I let the GPS point me home. 2.75km that way, though it took a good 5km to navigate round various small ravines (some, admittedly, only really deserving of the word ‘ravine’ if you’re a lego person, but it’s the word I’ve got in my head now), eventually finding a stony track to head down to road level, completing the run with a jaunt through a local high street, surrounded by Ethiopians. These are people who live opposite the camp, so are not exactly startled by a white runner appearing amongst them, but I still had a small boy join me for 100m, and a couple of waves.

Got back about 10, and joined Julia for breakfast. Three meals are included, along with water, and fresh juice, so far either mango or papaya, in the morning. The choice is mostly egg-based at breakfast, then for lunch and dinner there’s soup to start, and anything from pasta to curry, grilled fish, chicken and pizza. The latter is cooked in a separate brick oven, outside the main building. The place is in a continual state of flux, and this week they’ve erected a shelter outside the pizza place where before there was just a patio. One of the gardens has been dug up, I’m still not sure why, and another stretch of dirt has been seeded ready to add to the swathes of greenery at which we can eat.

All that remains after an early workout is a shower, not normally the cause of any controversy, but there’s a member of staff who now can’t look me in the eye after seeing a…well, add your own description there. I was in the shower, heard my room door close softly and figured someone had entered, heard the shower and left. Oh no she hadn’t, and got more than she’d bargained for through the open bathroom door.

Her English isn’t great, but I think she understood the “no problem!” I gave her later when fully clothed. As I write it’s 4.30, so it’s raining, but I’m only due for a gym session later so am not sitting here wondering when is a good time to get out, unlike the last couple of days.

Summary: 1:22:14, 12.9km, climb: big(gish). Staff scared: 1, Book: You did what? Fawcett.

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