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A Bucket List Tick In Ethiopia

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Thursday 14th December 2017
Jane Hansom, Director of sport and destination PR agency, Sponge Marketing, recently rubbed shoulders with the likes of Haile Gebreselassie as she discovered why the Great Ethiopian Run is a race like no other on earth...
What started as an experiment in mass-participation running in a country famous for its champion athletes has today turned into Africa’s largest road race, attracting fun runners from all over the world to participate.
I had been in Addis Ababa earlier in the week for a conference on sport tourism hosted by the Ethiopian Tourism Organisation. The stubborn athlete in me took over as I realised that I couldn’t board the flight back to London without experiencing the Great Ethiopian Run - a 10k race - more like a festival - that has been inked on my running bucket list for as long as I have been a runner.

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More than 40,000 participants, many running for good causes including the race’s official campaign “I’m running for a child”, filled the streets of Ethiopia’s capital in this year’s 17th edition of the Great Ethiopian Run on the 26th November 2017. The sea of runners were all wearing the same symbolic green, yellow and red-coloured t-shirts that resembled Ethiopia’s national flag. 

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The start was deafening. Participants cheered, whistled and took selfie after selfie as they were waved off by race founder, Haile Gebreselassie, who stood alongside Meseret Defar, Vivian Cheruyiot and Lornah Kiplagat.
“I’d never experienced anything like it,” recalls Steve Smith who visited Ethiopia for the first time to take part in the run. “I’ll never forget the chants, cheers and booming sound systems around the course. Earlier in the week, I had run in the forests where the top athletes train – a treat in itself – but then to join thousands of others in this run completely blew my mind.”
Cariad Evans from Sheffield arrived in Addis three days before race weekend after spending a week in the north of Ethiopia where she was developing medical links with hospitals in Tigray. She described the race as, “the biggest street party ever. It was so much fun. We did very little running, but lots of dancing, taking selfies with locals and also enjoyed a giant water fight  halfway round!” 

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I personally think the run was fabulous - a completely different experience from any other race I’d done before. It’s hard to describe the noise and excitement, and the encouragement you get from other participants. Just for sheer fun and excitement, I’d recommend this race to anyone, including triathletes like myself who would usually steer clear of races that lack transitions.
At the race’s sharp end, Ethiopia’s elite athletes were chasing big prizes. First home in the men’s race in a time of 28:36 (not bad - given that the race takes place at 2,300m) was Solomon Berga who had finished 5th in the 2017 IAAF World Championship 5,000m. The women’s race came down to a sprint finish between world junior x-country bronze medallist Zeyneba Yimer and Girmawit Gebrezere, with Yimer just edging out her older rival in a time of 32:30, one of the fastest in the race’s history. Both male and female winners picked up prizes of 100,000 birr (just more than £2,715).
There were also two fatalities in this year’s race, the first time this had occurred since it was initiated back in 2001.
Reflecting on the race, Gebrselassie was proud of what the race has come to mean for his country yet at the same time concerned about how demand for places is getting larger every year. “We simply can’t take any more, the roads aren’t wide enough,” he said. “But it brings out the best in our people, and shows something very special to the rest of the world.” 
If you’re interested in taking part in Africa’s biggest road race in the home city of Haile Gebrselassie, please email richard@tadeletravel.com. The 2018 edition of the race takes place on Sunday 18 November 2018.

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