Yesterday I wen…
Yesterday I went running in the most severe storm I’ve ever seen. The belg rains seemed to have finished, so I thought that the dark clouds could only be holding the remnants of what the rainy season had to offer. When people warned me on my way out that ‘rain is coming’ I assured them that I did most of my training in Scotland and had therefore had plenty of experience of rain. What I lacked experience of, though, was running in rain that turns the whole road into a river to the extent where all the traffic has to stop. I managed to keep going for about twenty-five minutes, past people sheltering in buildings and shouting encouragement. ‘Izo ambessa’ is definitely my favourite form of encouragement – it means ‘keep going, lion.’ When the rain turned into hailstones so big I thought they were going to leave bruises – and which prevented me from seeing where I was going – I decided that enough was enough, and managed to shelter in the tin house of one of the construction site guards. We sat shivering and watching the storm for about twenty minutes as hailstones pinballed through the door, commenting on the severity of the storm in English and Amharic and agreeing with each other in spite of not being entirely sure what the other was saying, until it abated enough for me to get home. I hope the rainy season disappears for good soon, because storms like this also have a tendency to cut off the electricity for a couple of days. I’m back to playing the game of danger treadmill in the evenings, when I run for about forty-five minutes hoping a power cut isn’t going to send me flying!
The sky before I went running. Perhaps I should have realised a storm was coming…
On Tuesday morning we trained in Sululta, a flat grassy plain where lots of the top athletes run, and we chatted to a big group of runners when they’d finished their session. One of the things I’ve noticed is that apart from the very top runners, everyone here runs in old racing flats, donated from runners abroad. If you go to running shops here, you realise that all of the new shoes have been sold to the shop by athletes who get them from agents or shoe companies. A lot of them are even signed by the runners, and the clothing is sold in terms of which year it came out and which athlete it was sent to. The runners here are able to run in shoes that were designed to be lightweight and not particularly supportive in the first place, and which have then been worn by someone else until what little cushioning they had has disappeared, without seeming to ever get injured. I imagine this would probably be of interest to ‘bare-foot running’ enthusiasts in England. For the uninitiated, there has been a theory going round for the last couple of years (mainly due to a book called ‘Born to Run’ by a Men’s Health journalist) which says that running in plush, cushioned running shoes causes injuries by stopping the foot from working naturally and encouraging people to strike the ground with their heel.
A typical pair of trainers in Bekoji, which have become a lot more ‘minimal’ than when they started! For anyone in Edinburgh, I’m going to be collecting up used running shoes in Run 4 It and sending them to Bekoji when I get back.
Most proponents of bare-foot running look to statistics about American distance runners back in the ‘70s, when everyone ran in similar shoes to those worn by Ethiopians now – low profile with little cushioning – and there were less injuries. What people fail to remember, though, is that – again like Ethiopia today – people who ran were all runners, in the sense that they took running seriously and trained hard. If you look at results from races back then you notice that there were far fewer participants, but that in a 10-mile race there wouldn’t be many people running slower than 60 minutes. More cushioned shoes came as a response to people who weren’t necessarily particularly athletic, or who weighed more than about 10 stone, starting to run in the ‘jogging boom’. You can say what you like about Nike, but they’re pretty good at reacting to the market. It takes a certain kind of runner to be able to run in extremely lightweight shoes. If you watch an Ethiopian run in Sululta in running shoes, and then watch a thirteen-stone Scot (as I’ve done many times) hobble along the canal in Edinburgh with an expensive pair of ‘minimal’ gloves on their feet, it’ll be pretty clear which one looks the most ‘natural.’
Hopefully over the next three days I’ll be watching a bit of the National Athletics Championships here, although it’s proving pretty difficult to find out when the events are actually taking place. Mersha coaches a few athletes who are running in the 10,000m, and he seems to think the race is on Saturday morning, but when we called the athletes themselves they didn’t know, and according to Binyem, who’s in charge of the Stadium, the race is scheduled for today. I can’t imagine preparing for a championship race (especially one which is likely to be won in 28 minutes at 2,400m above sea-level!) without knowing when the race is actually going to happen. I suppose the athletes’ lack of concern shows that they’re relaxed, at least. If I manage to actually get to the Stadium at the right time for a race, I’ll try to get some photos and videos up on the blog.
I think last week was the biggest training week, in terms of overall mileage, I’ve ever done. As most of the running here is off-road, and slightly slower than at sea level, it’s probably quite a good time to experiment with running slightly more volume, and so far I feel fine. As I’m only working three days a week I also get to sleep during the day quite a lot, which must help with coping with the training! I’ve got two weeks of training left now before I head to London to run the British 10km Championships. Gudisa and Mersha have started talking about the race a lot – I think they’re more excited about it than I am. My favourite piece of advice from Gudisa is ‘When you run the race, just remember that you will not die. So you have to run really very hard!’ Mersha is getting more and more obsessed with me recovering between training – he wants me to stop working for the last two weeks of my trip and to spend all of my time between training sessions asleep. He keeps repeating the mantra ‘no recovery, no improvement.’ He’s right, of course, but there are limits to how much rest you can deal with. When I told him I wanted to run as close to 30 minutes as possible, he took me aside and quietly told me that I ‘must’ run 29 minutes. He told me so solemnly I almost believed it was possible, if only to avoid his disappointment, although it seems a bit of a major jump from my previous best. My favourite prediction for what it’ll be like to race back at sea level, though, comes from an old Rasta from the community called ‘Jamaica’ in Shashemani, who I met in a café the other day. He reckoned that ‘when you go home, man, breathin’ gon’ be easy. You gon’ mash up that competition man.’ From Richard’s experience (he was here training with me at the beginning of the trip), the first race after going back wasn’t as good as the second, after another week at sea level. That would suit me fine, as I’d love to run really well at the Blaydon race on the 9th of June. There aren’t many races with accompanying songs that are sung by 50,000 people every Saturday. Last week’s training is below:
Sunday April 29th 14 miles easy.
Monday April 30th AM – 9 miles easy. PM – 5 miles steady.
Tuesday May 1st AM – 14 x 1 minute with 2 minutes recovery.
Wednesday May 2nd AM – 8.5 miles easy. PM – 6.5 miles steady. Felt really good.
Thursday May 3rd AM – 2 sets of 3 x 3 minutes in Sendafa, followed by 10 minutes of random sprinting. PM – 5.5 miles steady.
Friday May 4th AM – 7 miles easy. PM – 6 miles steady. Tired!
Saturday May 5th AM – 20 minutes of continuous hill sprints. PM – 6 miles steady.
Total – 93 miles.
Sendafa is a pretty popular place to sell milk – it is seen as an important ingredient for recovering from training, so most of the athletes will stop to buy some on their way home, and given Mersha’s obsession with me being well rested, I’m usually forced to drink at least a litre after each session.