|The author (left) running with Haile Gebrselassie (front) in Ethiopia. Photo: Jenny Jurek|
Last month I had the thrill of traveling to Ethiopia for a unique cultural running adventure. When we weren’t busy volunteering at a camp to help improve eye health, helping to develop sustainable education practices, visiting schools, and learning how to cook traditional Ethiopian cuisine, we were running with some of the world’s best distance runners. My runs in the Tigray countryside and amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Addis Ababa provided insight as to what makes the Ethiopian running culture so special. And through it all there was one simple aspect that stood out: the runners of Ethiopia use their surroundings, whatever they may be.
Every day, as the call to morning prayer and mass could be heard echoing in the darkness of Addis Ababa, runners of all ages and abilities gathered at Meskel Square for exercise. The rows of an outdoor auditorium turned into a running labyrinth as adults and children ran the dirt maze, snaking their way down a row until they reached the end and moved up to the next level, repeating the process until they reach the top row, totaling 5 kilometers. Some people did dips and pull-ups on the scaffolding of the adjacent billboards; another group did sprints up the center aisle stone steps; still others used cement pillars for a calisthenic circuit routine.