mike runs away from home

A little boy becomes a little man.

This week I’m…

This week I’m going to try to bow to the pressure to write about something other than running for part of the post. As Brendan Foster put it, ‘sitting around waiting for your red blood cells to multiply isn’t the most fascinating pastime’ and I’m sure reading about altitude training can be less interesting than actually doing it!

Whilst I’ve been here I’ve been working for an NGO called the Climate Change Forum to get some experience in the sector before studying International Development next year. The work has been fairly varied so far – from redesigning parts of their branding and website to reading and summarising reports written in English. This aspect of the job has given me a preview of the density of some of the documents produced by the UN and the World Bank – I’ll have more of that to look forward to next year! I’ll hopefully be visiting a couple of their projects in more rural areas soon to take photos, and apparently I’m in charge of filming ‘Earth Day’ in mid-April. My Amharic is now at the level where I can confidently negotiate the three stages of public transport necessary to get to the office – a ‘Bajaj’ similar to the motorised rickshaws in India and two ‘taxis’, which are really minibuses that operate informally and leave whenever they’re full. These can be quite confusing as they are liable to change their route based on the consensus of those inside! I’m a regular in one of the cafés near work now, where they do a four shot macchiato for about 20p. I’ve been to major coffee producing countries before where they export all the good stuff and all you can get is Nescafe, so the café culture here has come as a welcome surprise.

This afternoon Gudisa and I went to the café down the road where the owner introduced us to a ‘famous Kenyan runner’. This turned out to be a miscommunication – he was Sudanese and not a runner, which was fairly apparent by his corpulent appearance – but rather Abubaker Kaki’s (1.42 for 800m, silver medallist in the 2011 World Championhips) coach. He chastised us for sitting down whilst we were ‘recovering’ from training, as apparently this puts undue strain on the hamstrings and we should have been at home lying down. I’m pretty certain I would go crazy if I spent the 21 hours a day I don’t spend training horizontal though! It does seem to be the way all of the club runners here live, however, as none of them have other jobs. They are paid around 1,000 birr a month by their teams, which is about £37 or roughly equivalent to the amount you can make breaking rocks at the roadside for nine hours a day. I know which job I’d rather do given the choice!

I’m more or less acclimatised now as far as I can tell. The conversion for altitude at 2,400m is supposed to be around 25 seconds per mile, and I did a 5 mile tempo run today in 27 minutes, which should equate to around 24.55 or approximately what I’d expect to run at sea level. We did the run about an hour away from the centre of town in Sabata, on a newly laid road that was perfect for running. Accordingly, there were at least 500 runners from another 20 teams there, which made it feel a bit like turning up for a race (and one where I’d almost certainly finish pretty close to the back!)


One of many groups flying past.

The photo below is of a coach talking to a group that includes Gebre Gebremariam and several other sub-60 minute half marathon runners. When he’d finished his little speech he got a round of applause from the athletes, who were sitting around him, cross-legged and in silence, like primary school children. I imagine there’d be plenty of coaches in the UK who’d gladly swap their group for his!



Finally, for the few people interested, here’s the training I’ve done in the past two weeks:

Sunday 11th – AM 8 miles steady. PM – 4 miles steady

Monday 12th – AM 7 miles steady. PM – 4 miles easy

Tuesday 13th – AM 16 miles, easy pace but incredibly tough on Entoto.

Wednesday 14th – AM  7 miles steady. PM – 4 miles steady

Thursday 15th – AM  Approx 3km (4 mins rec), 3 x 1km (2 mins rec) on unmeasured dirt track. PM – 4 miles easy

Friday 16th – AM  8 miles steady. PM – 4.5 miles steady

Saturday 17th – AM 12 x 40 second hill reps, jog recovery. Felt ok, repetitions sufficiently short not to be overly effected by altitude! PM – 4 miles easy

Total – 85 miles.

Sunday 18th  – AM 13.5 miles steady

Monday 19th – AM 8.5 miles steady. PM – Missed session to meet Haile!

Tuesday 20th – AM 8 x 1km on track (90 seconds recovery). PM – 6 miles steady

Wednesday 21st – AM 9 miles steady PM – 4 miles easy

Thursday 22nd – AM 11.5 miles acceleration run in forest. Felt good. PM – 4 miles easy

Friday 23rd – AM 8 miles easy. PM – 4 miles easy

Saturday 24th – AM 8km tempo run on the road in 27 mins. PM – 4 miles easy


Total – 90 miles.


Week One

Yesterday morning’s run was, without a doubt, the hardest I  have ever done. I should perhaps have taken better note of the warning signs before we started – the fact that the usually packed minibus was conspicuously empty (most of the other runners having decided to train alone), and the steadily rising road that we followed for the duration of the forty minute ride to the start point. The road at Entoto mountain starts at around 2,600m and rises to 3,200m, which is about the height at which you start to get a headache and, more worryingly in my case, to loose the circulation in your fingers. The coach, Mersha, told me at the start that the run would be ‘easy but hard’, which is exactly the kind of cryptic statement you’s prefer not to hear when you’ve just stepped off a mini-bus at six in the morning and taken your first look up a semi-dark mountain road.

After the first three kilometres I was feeling relatively confident, as the pace actually did feel easy. It increased steadily, though, and this combined with an uphill opening 11km to destroy my early enthusiasm and reduce the rest of the run to a struggle to finish. We are usually dropped off and picked up in different places, with no road access to the trails that we run on, which means there is no option but to complete the full distance of the run. In yesterday’s case this meant 25km of increasingly laboured running, but at least it will make long runs back home feel easy, and the views were stunning when I was able to appreciate them!

The view from the trail. I’d have taken some better photos if I was in a better state!

For anyone who is interested (and I’m aware that this will probably be a select few!) I am going to list each week’s training. Here is the first week:

Sunday 4th – AM 8 miles steady. PM 5 miles easy.

Monday 5th – AM 8 miles steady. PM 4 miles easy.

Tuesday 6th – AM 13 miles steady – very hard with the altitude.

Wednesday 7th – AM 8 miles steady. PM 4 miles easy.

Thursday 8th – AM 2.5 mile warm up, 15 x 300m on dirt track with 45 – 50 seconds recovery. Ran fairly cautiously as I was wary of the altitude. PM 4 miles steady.

Friday 9th – AM 7 miles steady. PM 4 miles easy.

Saturday 10th – AM 2.5 miles warm up, 15km measured tempo run in 54 minutes. Although the pace was not particularly fast, this still felt pretty hard at 2,400m. PM 4 miles easy.

Total – 89.5 miles.

Most of the steady and easy running that we do is in the forest near the flat, and consists of running zigzags through the trees with Gudisa, who seems to pick his route entirely at random and frequently doubles back on himself or changes pace. A few days ago on a designated ‘steady’ run he sped up gradually and kept increasing the pace up the hills until he could tell that I was struggling, when he turned around and said ‘some days I try to kill you ok?’ before resuming running at a gentler pace. We frequently have other runners joining us setting the pace for a while before disappearing off into the trees again. The element of play in training here is definitely one that lacks a bit in the UK, and helps to make the hours of running pass more quickly.

Some shoes. Thanks to Run 4 It for providing me with my trainers for the trip and to various Americans for sending Gudisa his.

In non-running related news, I have mastered the first order of Amharic characters, so can now read any consonant followed by an ‘a’. This means I can read about 1/7th of the sounds that make up the language. My week old vocabulary means that even when I can read the sounds, it doesn’t mean too much to me just yet, although I can recognise the words ‘coffee’ and ‘beer’ so I’m getting there…

I leave you with the latest in a series of photos of rural football pitches…

09/03/12 or 30/06/04

First of all, thanks to Tom for not only setting up this blog from Durham (the internet here probably wouldn’t have handled it), but also for inadvertently upgrading my iphone to one with better photographic capabilities.

I have now had 6 days in Addis and I’m just about getting used to the altitude and the various time differences. Ethiopia is three hours behind England but also seven years behind due to a calendar that includes a short thirteenth month (legitimising their claim to enjoying 13 months of sunshine a year). The clocks here are also, confusingly, about six hours fast, as most Ethiopians start measuring time at sunrise. It’s just as well we’re more or less on the equator or this would be almost impossible to keep track of. Luckily, so far nobody has seemed overly concerned by the time (apart from our coach, Mersha, who carries two stop watches with him wherever he goes. This has nothing to do with time zones – one watch is for the Ethiopians and one for the British). On ‘hard’ training days we are picked up at anything from 5.15 am to about 6.15am depending on the roads and the whereabouts of the other athletes to be training that day. I have so far had two of these days, on Tuesday and Thursday, and I’m pleased to report that I seem to have acclimatised about as well as could be expected in that time.

The other athletes in our group are mainly focusing on the half marathon and have PBs in the region of 64 minutes, all of which are set at altitudes of about 2,000m. Luckily I have our guide, Gudisa, who is happy to run with me, and another ‘farenji’, Richard, so I am not as completely left behind as I otherwise would have been.


At the track yesterday for my second day of ‘hard’ training.

I went for my first run on my own this morning in the forest near our flat. We’re living in an area called Ayat to the East of the city, which seems to be where most of the construction work is concentrated, and you have to weave your way through several building sites before reaching the forest, where the trails are fantastic. There must be hundreds of new blocks of flats and hotels being built here at the moment with the strange consequence that most people shout ‘China!’ at Richard and I when we run past. No prizes for guessing where all the money comes from to finance these projects, then.


Gudisa, our guide, drinking a coffee that he roasted, ground and brewed himself. This process takes over an hour but is well worth the effort.

That’ll do for a first post, I’ll try to put some more photos up as soon as possible…


today – running

and tomorrow – running mainly