Posted on 09th December 2015
The view of the start line of the Great Ethiopia Run must have looked very different to any other. Haile Gebrselassie, the hero of Ethiopian distance running, standing bare foot in the centre of Meskel Square and behind him 40,000 identical yellow and green t-shirts dancing and cheering, ready to go.
I was one of those 40,000 competitors, but unlike many others I was trying to get somewhere near to the front for the starters gun as I’d heard that this event, the largest mass participation event in Africa, was more of a carnival than a race. The local competitors outnumbered us internationals by 100 – 1 and had no intention of running it quickly but were determined to enjoying the party atmosphere for as long as they could. While I realised that I would not be breaking any records running, I was keen to try to at least run the race. So I wound my way through the masses to a starting point where I might have a chance of bagging one of those illusive green medals…the ones reserved for the first 14,000 home!
While many of us in our group had been inspired to enter the event because of our love of running, the real aim was to raise money for Vision Aid Overseas, during their 30th anniversary year. At the time of writing this, our 34 strong team had raised over £70,000 with still a month of fundraising to go.
We had a chance to see some of our money in action the day before the race as we travelled two hours south of the capital to Butajira where the Quiha Eye Hospital. The hospital not only provides surgery for cataract and trachoma, but also has optometrists refracting patients to provide spectacles for all the healthy eyes that cannot see simply due to poor vision. The peaceful, positive atmosphere of the hospital was one the local staff were extremely proud of and rightly so, and it acted as a reminder to me of the difference that Vision Aid Overseas makes to the people of Africa.
While an event like the Great Ethiopia Run was always going to be a very special race for me this was also a special year for the event. It was the 15th anniversary and the final race for its founder Gebrselassie. He had first started running as a child, barefoot, to get to school. The 10k race was the same distance that he ran each and every morning. After retiring earlier in the year from international running this was his final farewell. We had been lucky enough to meet him the previous night, and his enthusiasm for the race and his country was infectious.
The alarm went off at 6.30am on race day. Time for us all to have breakfast and rehydrate before piling onto the buses that would take us to the start line. I had imagined I might be a little nervous but after our training run a few days before had alleviated our fears about running at altitude and with the sun shining and the team so excited I couldn’t wait to get started. So with my face painted in Vision Aid Overseas and Ethiopia colours, and proudly sporting my yellow and green t-shirt I set about making my way through the crowd. And I am now a very proud owner of a green medal.