First things first…
Luckily, the photo isn’t at a high enough resolution to read the respective speeds on the treadmill dials, but I think the relative amounts of blurring of our legs gives away the fact that he’s running a bit faster than I am!
Last time I met Haile, it was a slightly rushed affair, as we were trying to get vests signed without interrupting his training too much. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me to spend the £2 it costs to train in his gym, and actually train alongside him. Luckily, Anthony (the latest farenji visitor to the camp) suggested it, and I actually got to run alongside the great man for twenty minutes. I must thank modern technology for this, as I doubt I could have stayed with him (he was running at 19.7 km/h) for that long without our being on treadmills! I was a bit surprised that he didn’t run for longer, but then he is racing Patrick Makau at the weekend in Manchester, so perhaps he was saving himself for that. I think, in fact, that he spent less time in the gym than anyone else – after the treadmill he did a few weights, cycled for five minutes and marched out. I suspect his business interests occupy most of his time now, as he owns the whole of the six-storey building which houses the gym, is the sole importer of Hyundai cars to Ethiopia, and set up the first cinema in Addis amongst numerous other developments. He seems to be the exception to the rule that all the athletes here spend their time resting in between training sessions!
The Ethiopian National Stadium, venue for the National Championships.
Last weekend saw the Ethiopian National Championships, and we finally managed to find out the time of the 10,000m. Unfortunately, I forgot to apply my usual rule of adding two hours to any time you are told here, and both Anthony and I got pretty sunburned as a result. Whilst this was a minor irritation for us, it must have been a major one for the runners, who had to run in the heat of the day instead of the cool of the morning. It didn’t stop them taking off at breakneck speed though, and by the half way point there were more runners in the athletes’ tent than there were left on the track. Unlike in the UK, where people have an idea of what sort of time they will run and pace themselves accordingly in order to be able to finish, there is no shame in dropping out of a race here. The crowd is of the same opinion as the athletes – if you’re not going to win, you might as well stop. The race was eventually won in a shade over twenty-nine minutes, with a last lap of fifty-eight seconds, and those that had remained in the race (around twenty runners) all finished in less than thirty minutes. The fact that these included one athlete wearing a polo shirt, football shorts and a pair of pink sandals should probably have put those who failed to finish to shame!
The Olympic trials for Ethiopian 10,000m runners will be held in Hengelo, with the Kenyan trials at the Prefontaine Classic in America. Whilst there is a pre-trial trial in Kenya, to select those who will travel to the States, the winner of the Ethiopian National Championships probably won’t be able to compete in his Olympic trial. All of the well-established athletes – those with agents capable of sending them to big races at sea-level – are exempt from running the National Championships, so that it turns into a kind of B race (albeit with a winning time equivalent to a twenty-seven minute 10km at sea-level!) The fact that the National Champion doesn’t even get a chance to run in the Olympics here puts into perspective how difficult it is to make the Ethiopian team. Gudisa pointed out that most of those who competed in the race we watched could run what he calls the ‘farenji’ qualifying time, but that they don’t stand a chance with the more stringent ‘habesha’ (Ethiopian) times demanded by the federation here.
I’ve now got one week to go before I fly back to the UK. I’ll be training hard until Saturday, before having an easier week to get ready for the London 10km. I’ve had 11 weeks of good, consistent training, but I haven’t raced at all whilst I’ve been here. Hopefully an easier week will put a little bit of zip back into my legs, and I’ll be able to remember how to race back at home!