Last run, last bike

Last run, last bike
West Shewa, Ethiopia

West Shewa, Ethiopia


Oh what feeling is this, electricity flows like the very first kiss. Actually not so much electricity, today’s run was more sloth powered. But it’s done, and the rest of the day will contain some lounging, maybe a walk and one last turn on the exercise bike. I’m ready for home now, and particularly for the chocolate that is waiting for me there. And a pint of brown beer, mmm.

Best hold those thoughts, I’ve still got 15 hours till the flight takes off, let alone lands. I’ve got some old running shoes to give to coach Abdi later, and given that you can only take 200 birr out of the country, I only need about 200 for food today and have 900 left, I can also give my favourite staff a bonus. 100 birr is the cost of the most expensive pizza here, 8 birr will get you a ride into town, 150 will get you a meal in a decent restaurant in town. I suspect that’s beyond the ordinary local, so I think 100 will be enough to make them feel appreciated, though it’s not that much overall, and especially when you consider I’ve been here for five weeks. The exchange rate at the camp is 28 birr to the pound, for context.

For lunch, seeing as I’m paying and since it is very close I went to the hotel nearby-Hunde resort. There are several athletes staying there, including a Belgian I have met briefly. He was outside with friends, so we went through the usual handshakes all round. I knew the hotel was cheaper to stay in, something like 7dollars a night, and that stretches to the food, too. 45 birr, or under £2, for spaghetti and a coke. It’s a bit more bare bones, as you might expect, without the gardens at Yaya, but a good base for training, track and trails in easy reach. There’s also a bar right next door, and I’m sufficiently unused to being a full time runner that for a mo I figured none of the others had spotted it, seeing as no one had mentioned it. No, not that, twit, just that they, in general, just don’t drink. If I come back for another stay here I’ll run a sweepstake on how many takers my ‘evening in the bar’ excursion garners.

A little later, and I’m at the airport. Plenty early, as we left at 9.30 so the Swedish dude who also leaves tonight could catch his midnight flight. No traffic lights in Addis, so occasionally a crossroads will snarl up, which happened to us and added 10 mins or so. That added to prior experience made the Swede a little nervous because in January the line waiting to go through security to get into the airport was way long, but he needn’t have worried on two counts-one, there was no queue to get in, and two, his flight was already boarding. 24hour clock misreads win again! He’s aiming to qualify for Moscow. If he makes it and I bump into him, I don’t think I’ll trust his information about when to go and spectate…

Summary: 59:17, 9.68km, 30m bike.

Afternoon running

Afternoon running
West Shewa, Ethiopia

West Shewa, Ethiopia


Yesterday’s run went pretty well, but left me with pain in the front of the knee. It does seem to be moving all the way round, so perhaps like an astronaut slingshotting round the moon it’ll go all the way round and then bugger off. I’m an optimist.

Today’s session was supposed to be 12x400m, 6miles in total. I put in a relatively gentle hour on the exercise bike this morning, then headed out late, just before 6. I’d definitely be running in the twilight and it turned out to be raining, too. Probably a good way to reacquaint myself with European conditions. Instead of the session I jogged round the camp track until I felt comfortable then put in an effort on each uphill section of the lap. So 5 or 6x 250m uphill instead, but it felt fairly good. Shorter reps here tend to be okay, as the altitude (more accurately I suppose, the lack of oxygen in your body) doesn’t catch up with you until you’re a few hundred metres in. That said, even a mile or so does leave you feeling generally tired out and done in, and recovering on the run doesn’t really happen, it’s just that the body will respond if you push. All in all it takes a bit of mental strength, more than I have found, though I am hopeful that at shorter distances I’ll now feel more comfortable whilst pushing myself, as I’ll be going at a much greater pace, able to hold it better on the grounds that nothing feels as bad as a jog uphill out here.

Quote: “il faut manger pour vivre, et non pas vivre pour manger (one must eat to live, not live to eat)” I’m not sure the chunky obsessives in Masterchef Australia, which seems to be off screen only when My Kitchen Rules comes on, would agree.

…”That’s the French saying, and mangering is as necessary to me as it is to a Frenchman. Or more so.” Bleak House.

Summary: 60m bike, 45:50, 9.06k.

Physiology

Physiology
West Shewa, Ethiopia

West Shewa, Ethiopia


So, nearly five weeks in, here’s my top five ‘things’ about altitude training. I hate, with a passion, univeralisation, where individuals describe their own experience as if it is what everyone feels, but I’m going to do it anyway.

1. You will run much more slowly and the slightest bump will feel like a proper hill

2. Even after a few weeks here, you’ll still find yourself short of breath from time to time. Whilst sitting

3. Recovery is slower, dehydration worse

4. Your heart rate is elevated at all times-mine is about 80 straight after getting out of bed, reckon it is under 60 at home-but doesn’t reach so high as it would normally*

5.. The feeling when finally you hit a pace makes all of the above worthwhile. Though it is probably a transient feeling.

Not that I’ve run yet today, though it is only half two. Last night I was still off food so skipped dinner and generally messed with my system, sleeping in the afternoon then staying up till half one at night when The Empire Struck Back, which helped keep me up till after 4, so I generally got very little sleep. Today I feel much better, make of that what you will (that I was already feeling much better so not eating or sleeping last night didn’t do too much harm would seem sensible). Managed breakfast and then finally got myself over to the primary school on the other side of the road. The Yaya website mentions it, and that pencils, notebooks etc are gratefully received, so I had dutifully patronised Ware stationers before I came out and then lazily not managed to walk across the road until now. A quick wander in, greeted by a couple of smiling but slightly bemused children and I was shown to the director’s office, interrupted his meeting like a true big-footed Westerner and handed over the loot. Easiest good feeling in the world.

I finished the last of Niall Ferguson’s Reith lectures on the bike and then moving to some hand washing gave me a nice moment of pondering public versus private provision and whether the words “I’m a historian” should really give you carte blanche to treat anecdote as data and wilfully conflate subjects all whilst wringing out my pants. Another first.

Quote: “natural flavour could be anything that isn’t man-made. Cat urine could be a natural flavour.”

Summary: 40m bike, 45:11, 9.18k. Book: You Might be a Zombie, Cracked.com. Answer to question I didn’t mean to ask, can you escape David ‘Bloody’ Mercer out here, via Dubai Sports? No.

*Dr Chris’ theory is that it’s a muscle like any other, so with less oxygen it just can’t work as hard.

Dancing in the restaurant

Dancing in the restaurant
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


In January, Joseph (the owner) arranged for the Yaya gang to head to a restaurant in town and the memory of food and Ethiopian dance was good enough that Morten suggested we do it again. Just the Danes and I went down. I was feeling fairly unwell again but figured I could make it through a few hours. Worst bit first, the journey back was a stomach cramping yuck, though at least that meant I made sure to be distracted by the view of Addis’ lights, which is pretty fine once you’re up the hill, and it made any putative danger from the dark road seem unimportant.

The restaurant itself had a quick security search on the way in, though they weren’t checking for a complete lack of coordination so we all got in. Each setting had a small table and chairs all round-given most cuisine is rolled up in the pancake-like bread and eaten with the fingers, having food at waist height is no impediment. Andreas and I had different dishes that were both essentially smoked meat. My stomach coped. Meantime the band played and four singers came out in rotation, with dancers joining in some songs. And they moved through the audience, making sure we realised that dancing with shoulders whilst bobbing the head is much harder than it looked.

Morten had booked our trip back for 10, so we missed the full on-stage dance-off experience, but got a flavour for the whole thing. We left bemoaning our lack of national dance – Morris Dancing just doesn’t have the same mix of kinetic energy, suggestiveness and costume changes.

Summary: 30m bike, 35m bike. Food cravings, slim to none.

Missing out

Missing out
West Shewa, Ethiopia

West Shewa, Ethiopia


Just one more long run. That’s all I’m after. Im not completely confident it’ll happen. Woke up this morning and still had a lingering taste of food in my mouth, which is a bad sign-usually the precursor to a sick day. Today was nothing too serious, it just suggests this stomach bug isn’t quite going to let me go. And when I got up in the night the knee was still playing up, though the back is getting better, with some pain moving round to the front. Which is where it has been most of the year.

So different to last year, when I felt bulletproof and could pretty much train as I wanted, long and short runs were all fine, even enjoyable. At the mo I don’t want to start running for fear of what will hurt first. At breakfast I found everyone else had been on the hill, which is probably a session I could handle, too-at least in that you can’t exactly be lapped on a hill. Abdi was telling tales of how to find good food, though his best story was of joining a queue for a full restaurant and only halfway along finding out that everyone was there for baklava. And it wasn’t all that good when it came. An imperfect method.

Summary: bike 30mins, grumbles 4. Book: Xenocide, Scott-Card.

The lorry moves occasionally
The lorry moves occasionally.

Under a week

Under a week to go. And in a running sense, at least, I’m resting, which is not really the idea. Knee hurts, that’s that, and in any case my stomach is a little uncertain of itself which makes me not want to head too far from camp without a plan for emergency stops. Not the big week I was hoping for. I felt that with one more solid week behind me, the marathon would be a realistic prospect, without that week I’m not sure. Whether that’s just a mental thing, or a pragmatic approach because I’ve already missed a couple of long runs I can’t tell, but this definitely feels more like the build up to Paris five or so years ago than to London last year.

Paris did not go well five or so years ago.

Backup plan is to have a bash at Kingston parkrun on the 13th then see how I feel after that. At least if he slight feeling of nausea has gone by then that would be a big improvement.

Quote: “is anything fundamentally unknowable?” “No.” Brian Cox

Summary: 70m bike, 30m bike.

Yaya staff

Yaya staff
West Shewa, Ethiopia

West Shewa, Ethiopia


Training camps vary. One of the many points of comparison for the elite athletes here is other camps, and what they offer. So Rejean is a refugee from Florida, where his training partners tend to go-and Canadian marathoning is in good shape, with a couple of 2:10ers at the front. He and Julia were both talking about , in the States. Colleagues of Andreas and Morten have spent time in Iran, of all places, and Andreas was in Sierra Nevada before the Olympics last year.

But I can talk about this one. The staff are friendly, if a little obsessed with the ticket system. Although reception check if you are full board, suggesting it is possible to stay here without all meals, all the athletes are here for the lot. You’re allowed three bottles of water a day, along with a mango juice at breakfast and some hot drinks. Breakfast is pretty much unlimited in quantity, albeit from a limited and mostly eggbound selection. Omelettes or other egg sit next to French toast, pancakes and waffles. Lunch and dinner come from the same menu, salad or soup to start, then pasta, pizza, curry, stir fry or grilled chicken or fish. Fairly varied, but paling after a few weeks. Garlic is popular, which is part of how I can tell if my stomach is about to revolt, as I can still taste lunch at dinner and beyond. Other drinks are extra, and everything bar breakfast has to be signed for-we think to show the staff are honest more than for any other reason, but of course we are then billed for extra. It makes the restaurant more a canteen with service than a restaurant, as the question “would you like anything else?” isn’t asked. Why would you want extra?

Charmingly, they only need a couple of goes to get your name, which most of us are asked to write down to make sure-and that’s between the lot of them, so they must be comparing notes-and then you are Mr John, Miss Julia and so on for the duration. That also appears on the slips you sign, for good measure. Knowing his name did prompt Biruk, who seems senior but may just have senior style grumpiness and a better waistcoat, to tell Andreas that it was just like “that man in Norway, that nutter who killed people on the island”, and comment on him for a while, which was entertaining.

The village has created a lot of jobs, a fleet of gardeners as the grass needs lots of attention to keep weeds off, three to cover reception, a couple of managers, trainer, cooks and at least 8 waiting staff. Many live in Addis rather than locally, but I guess jobs are much prized and so go to whoever has the best English rather than who is closest. Not that anyone is fluent, but they all have more than is immediately apparent-one of the waitresses has been very quiet, then over the last couple of days was checking whether I’d been at breakfast, then today laughing, I think, that I was always sitting outside to eat. I’m English, I said, this is warm.

And it is. Storms are back with us. Heard one in the distance yesterday, today’s made for some heavy rain for 30min or so.

Training, pah. I’m either paying for the reps yesterday, or for the second run-just as I thought I might be able to step up not just training twice but making both a run, even if the second was short. Back of my left leg had seized up, which might write off tomorrow, too. Perhaps if I can fit in one more long run at the weekend then I’ll be ready regardless, but it does detract from the idea of having two big weeks out here.

Whatever the truth of that, I’m booked on the parkrun Poland trip scheduled for the week after the marathon, and nothing short of complete bodily meltdown can spoil that.

Summary: 29, 5k, ow. The God Delusion, Dawkins, a War of Gifts, Scott Card, Worth Dying For, Child.

Intervals of gasping

Intervals of gasping
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


Today’s workout was yesterday’s interval session. It’s a curious one, in that RW reckons that it’s 9 miles-1 miles jog, 8x800m, 1min interval, then 1mile jog. Which doesn’t add up in the slightest. Luckily, satellite field is 2m away, so turn those 1s into 2s and we’re away. Also turn the 1 min rest into 2.5; although I wasn’t at the pace I would hope to hit at sea level, I was gasping for breath at the end of each 800. In each case, what felt like a few seconds turned out to have been over 30, as once I’d recovered my faculties enough to think of it, I’d glance idly at the watch to see how much walking (another break from sea level, I’d jog the recovery there) time I had left only to find it was 1:5x or less.

I woke up groggy and struggled to get going, distracting myself with CSI Las Vegas. Somewhere before 11 I wandered out, passing pretty much everyone on their way back from breakfast. I got going once onto the road, and 2 miles was about right to warm me up. The fence at the bottom of the field is about 750m long so just about right. I still couldn’t resist looking at my watch, which wasn’t really the point, especially as the reps got tougher and I was disappointed when thinking I’d done 400m and it was only 300. The Ethiopian people’s coffee team were out training again, and I got some “… … White man” shouts, one bloke came over to shake hands and I got a banana skin-no comedy fall-from the coach window as they drove out. Whoever threw it was on the far side to me, so i’ll never know if it was meant for me, but I like to think they were aware of the irony of a black footballer throwing a banana (skin) at a white man, and that somewhere some cosmic football karma-irony is being slightly equalised.

The even numbered reps were into a headwind, and I’m about to let myself see the numbers.

3:13, 3:18, 3:06, 3:22, 3:11, 3:23, 3:12, 3:31.

Not brilliant, though you can certainly see the wind factor on 2, 4, 6 & 8 (who do we appreciate). The coach Bert Yasso gives his name to Yasso 800s; 10 reps gives a surprisingly accurate guesstimate of your marathon time, always assuming you’ve done the long runs etc; those are not too bad, I’m hoping, for an altitude workout, much as I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be running a 3:20 marathon at altitude. Interestingly, though, Adharanand Finn, who wrote running with the Kenyans, managed a 3:20 marathon in Kenya off the back of his training, before a 2:55 at New York, and I’d be overjoyed with those numbers (if a little confused at how I’d got to New York) especially as he then went on to a 35m 10k and 1:19 hm. He also had 6 months at altitude, mind.

Summary: 1:19:22, 14.42km, pm 21:08, 4.19km Craving for chocolate: strong. Books: Screwjack, Hunter S Thompson, Persuader, Child.

Open sky, big birds swooping
Open sky, big birds swooping.

Miss Polly

Miss Polly
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


Had a dolly, so I’ve heard. And that was one sick dolly, list of transgressions as long as your arm. For my part, I just had some conventional sickness, which was unpleasant and made for a morning in bed rather than at the track. That’s he second time since I’ve been here, though this time was without the stomach cramps I had around the same time as Rejean was ill. Maybe I’ll get out for a run later, though I don’t feel very athletic. The bonus of being at a training camp, though, is that one slim person in shorts walking to lunch looks much like another, so possibly in the eyes of the large group of visitors here for lunch my disguise is still in place.

Yesterday was also a lazy day, after a long run, and I got out for one short run in the morning and left it at that. The Danes are good company, telling me all about their team mates and relations with the media-tricky in a country without widespread athletic success, and where their best medal hope is a long jumper with a propensity to foul. And then foul again.

Quote: “when two opposite points of view are expressed with equal force, the truth does not necessarily lie midway between them”. The God Delusion.

Summary: 22:07, 4.08k. 30m bike. Time in smallest room: 1hr Books: Without Fail, Child, I Am The Messenger, Zusak.

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.

 

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