The Great Ethiopian Run 2014
By: Ben Dirs
“How on earth did we get here?!” I guarantee you’ll have this thought at least once. As you’re pounding the streets of rickety Addis Ababa. Although muddling might be more apt than pounding. The elite runners pound. Everybody else just muddles. A bit like Addis Ababa itself. Don’t expect to set any personal bests at the Great Ethiopian Run. Just enjoy the wonderful chaos.
It grabs you before you reach the start line, this wonderful chaos. About 35,000 people run the London Marathon. The Great Ethiopian Run attracts about 40,000. But while London is a modern metropolis, built for pounding, Addis Ababa is not. It is a city of potholes and bottle-necks. It is a city of steep, curving hills. It is the highest capital city in Africa. It is bloody hot. It might take you 20 minutes to reach the start line. Long enough to decide to muddle.
Long enough for the intrepid people of Orbis Ireland to be diluted by the greater throng. Fifty-odd infectiously enthusiastic Irish folk – plus a token Essex girl and an Essex bloke – subsumed by the infectious enthusiasm all around them.
From the top of a hill, you’ll have your breath taken away. By a writhing sea of humanity. From the bottom of a hill, you’ll have your breath taken away. By a lack of oxygen. Never mind. Just trot or walk. Take a moment to take it all in.
Attach yourself to a gang of locals, singing and dancing as they go. That will be five minutes well spent, five minutes of inspiration, until you get gobbled up again. Chat with some wide-eyed kids selling water. Have your photograph taken with a couple of locals painted blue. And spare a thought for those who decided to pound it, who got their heads down and missed it all.
From time to time you’ll spot a fellow tourist. You might be suffering with a stitch. You might feel dizzy. Your eyes might be stinging with sweat. But you’ll see enough to share a look. A look that says: “How on earth did we get here?!”
Strange to think that when some of the pounders have finished, thousands are still to pass the start line. But console yourself with the thought that however slowly you go, there are probably tens of thousands behind you, still muddling through. Not wanting the celebration to finish. For a celebration this is. Of what a rickety city and its people can do, despite the potholes and the bottle-necks.
If that sounds patronising, it wasn’t mean to. But when you only read about what Africa can’t do from afar, seeing up close what it can do is arresting. Addis Ababa does its run better than any city does its run. Despite the potholes and the bottle-necks, the poverty and the dirt, it is a city where things get done.
After more than an hour of muddling and zigzagging, of trying to find a way through, you would think seeing the 10km marker from the bottom of a hill would be a relief. But having struggled up that hill, dipped dramatically across the finish line and fought for a medal, you’ll reflect on how quickly it all went.
And you’ll spot a fellow tourist and share that look. A look that says: “How on earth did we get here?” But what wonderful chaos it is. I want to do it next year.”
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