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LRC Exclusive: American High-Schooler Nebiyu Osman Visits Ethiopia's Running Across Borders Training Camp - "Asphalt Day" - Entry #3

By Nebiyu Osman
September, 2009

Running Across Borders Visit  

During my visit to the training camp Running Across Borders, I kept a journal of my experiences with the camp, training, and just some cool things that I did related to running. I did a number of other things while there but this just kind of gives one an idea of what my experience was like in terms of training.  

Enjoy, and make sure you visit Ethiopia in the future, it was an awesome experience which went by much too quickly for me.

Entry #3


“Asphalt Day” 

Today I woke up at 5:20 to begin what would be a much longer trip than I had anticipated. Mersha had told me the day before that we would be heading to a place called Sendafa for training. Sendafa, one of the many famous training locations that Running Across Borders utilizes, is located just outside of Addis, only something like 20 miles away, but because of the condition of the roads, our drive took upwards of 45 minutes. The plan for the RAB athletes today: “Asphalt” training. When Mersha told me this I was puzzled; “Asphalt Day? You guys call a training session on the roads “Asphalt” training” To me, calling what was an average day Asphalt day (which had a a very negative connotation among the athletes) was odd. To me it was the equivalent of going for an hour-long drive to do a trail run haha.

I fully understood why there was so much emphasis placed on a day of training on a surface which I would do 95% of my training on at home, by the end of my stay in Ethiopia because of one simple fact; I did not run on the roads one time in thee weeks. The athletes hardly ran on the roads and it was the only thing that I ever heard them complain about. At Running Across Borders, there is a huge stress placed on the location of their training. For a speed training session, the athletes will go for a long drive to Nazaret where the altitude is much lower than that of Addis. For an easy/long run, coach Melaku will take them in the camp’s van for a steep climb up to Entoto, the highest point in Addis Ababa standing at about 3000 meters. Here at Entoto there is also a famed training location, only reserved for the bravest and toughest of athletes: “4000” where the name speaks for itself. Mersha told me as we drove up here once that “Every serious Ethiopian athlete, before descending to sea-level for competition, must first take something from Entoto. Before Olympics, before World Championships in Track and Cross Country, before the a big-city Marathon, you will find the likes of Kenenisa, Haile, Tirunesh, and Sileshi running on these hills”  

When Mersha and I finally arrived at Sendafa for training, the athletes from the camp arrived shortly after. As they poured trickled out of the Van carrying their backpacks I spotted Yared, an athlete that I had met two days before when I visited the camp itself. Yared noticed that I was wearing a Barcelona soccer jersey and we chatted about soccer for a bit. Yared knew much more about my favorite team than I did, and this did not surprise me because although Long Distance running is Ethiopia’s best sport, Soccer is still a religion. Mersha later came over and teased Yared about having broken English. I was actually impressed by Yared’s English! Most of the Athletes could speak decent English but were shy and worried that they would sound foolish. During their free time at the camp they had a teacher come in to give them lessons, but since most of them only had been taking lessons for one month or two months, they were not terribly confident at first! Luckily though they opened up quickly and we were able to communicate through the English that they knew and the Amharic that I knew (almost nothing).  

After we did some light stretching, a few groups formed and split up to do a warm-up for their asphalt training. Coach Melaku then called me over to give me my assignment; “I want you to do about 25 minutes today, at a very easy, steady pace. You will have Gudisa as your pacer so just stick with him. Also, PLEASE do not push it too much. If you can only run for 5 minutes while feeling comfortable, then that is enough. We are at a very high altitude today so you need to be careful as you are still adjusting. Ok?” 

Gudisa and I then began our run. We started out at a very pedestrian pace, if we were at sea-level I would have almost felt insulted! However, after about 5 minutes at this pace, which could have been around 8:30 to 9:00 per mile, I was winded! Now I am no German Fernandez, but I am a decent HS runner; I ran 15:52 for 5k xc as a junior and 8:59 for 3k. Despite my heavy breathing, I was able to talk to Gudisa a bit. It turned out that Gudisa was a 17 year old, just like me, and that he had run of 15:05 for 5k on the road at age 16, at altitude! I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was the same kid that I had read about on the RAB website. Gudisa’s story is a heartwrenching one as he was born into poverty, which intensified with the death of both his parents in a car accident two years prior to when I had met him. Gudisa and Yared were the first athletes to become a part of RAB. The two of them had moved to Addis Ababa with hopes of escaping poverty. The two of them lived together in a small shack in Addis. Gudisa determined that Yared had a better chance of becoming a professional athlete so Gudisa tried his best to support Yared so that Yared would be able to support him after being discovered and becoming a professional athlete. Because they had very little money, there was not enough food for them to train seriously. Gudisa would insist that Yared take the bigger portion since he was the better athlete. Because the food was so little, Yared needed more time to rest between training sessions. While Yared would try to get 10 hours of sleep a night to recover from his daily 2 hours of training, Gudisa would upturn the streets of Addis in search of small jobs to earn money for them to eat. Luckily Garret Ash and David Alcock decided to help these two boys and later many other athletes like them by starting the camp where they all live.

As we ran Gudisa reassured me “Nebiyu! If you can train with me every day like this, I will change you! You will be a different person when you return to America to race, I promise!” and Gudisa did not let me down. We ran steadily for the first 20 minutes and gradually increased the pace over the next 5 minutes. By the end we were really moving, and I felt awesome!    

## End Entry #3

Check back tomorrow on the LetsRun.com homepage for the next installment of Nebiyu's Addis adventure titled "RAB Rugby".

Entry #2


8000 feet 

Today was my first day of official training with the Running Across Borders Camp. We drove out to the Semin Hotel in Addis to pick up one of the other coaches of RAB, Mersha. I was also very pleased with Mersha, a young and energetic character. As we discussed different aspects of training, particular athletes, and athletics in general, it was evident that he was very passionate and that he enjoyed what he did. Mersha was a talented runner himself, running 4:01 for 1500 meters, at altitude, however injuries forced him to take a step back. Although he very much enjoyed coaching, he told me that he had been entertaining the thought of starting up again. As we approached a construction site in what is called The CMC, I was confused because Mersha asked for our driver to stop. When we got out Mersha explained to me that where I would train was about a 5 minute walk from the car. I vividly remember that walk to the trails because about two minutes in, my breathing was audible! I was only walking! This was the day that I learned to respect the true challenge that a high altitude-training venue poses for a distance runner. I began to worry, “how am I supposed to run here if I get winded walking to the training site!”

We reached a very plush green forest with narrow lines of worn grass, worn from running. As I looked around I spotted several athletes stretching, jogging, and sprinting about the forest. “Ok Nebiyu, you will do just 25 minutes today. Start out slow and only increase the pace for the last 5 minutes if you feel ok. If you are not feeling well even after just 5 minutes I will have you stop.” The RAB coaches were extremely educated about training athletes at high altitudes and were very cautious with me to ensure that they did not introduce me to difficult training before I acclimated. I really liked our training spot for the day as I was accustomed to training on the roads daily. Having varied terrain to run on was great for preparing for cross-country. Mersha told me not to go too far from him so that he could watch me run. By the end of the run, which felt more like 50 minutes, Mersha had me do some light stretching. Training here was very strange because my legs felt great but I was breathing so hard. Usually at home, it is my legs that slow me down due to lactic acid but here you can’t even get your legs moving fast enough to get sore because our breathing slows you down first. Also, my stomach was bothering me a bit. Mersha explained that this is a normal affect that the altitude has on people who are not acclimated to it. He reassured me that my stomach problems would cease within a few days (they did).

### End Entry #2

Read Entry #1 - Kenenisa Bekele - by clicking here.

About Nebiyu Osman
Nebiyu, 17, attends Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, PA where he trains as a distance runner. During his freshman year his dorm faculty resident learned he was of half-Kenyan, half-Ethiopian descent, and took an interest in him as a runner. This faculty member happened to be current LetsRun.com Employee #1 Emory Mort, who at the time was coaching winter and spring track at the school. After two dabbling years in track, Nebiyu (a soccer fan first and runner second) eventually found his true calling in running and switched to cross-country in 2008. In the summer of 2009 Nebiyu traveled with his parents to Ethiopia and was determined to find a training group to continue his preparations for his 2009 senior cross country season in the US.

A testament to his determination and optimism, Nebiyu found the Running Across Borders training group... and the rest was history. Luckily, it is now recorded history, as Neb wrote a series of journal entries to document the visit.

Because we found his journals and stories so inspiring, we at LetsRun.com will present you our readers with every journal entry from "Neb" as he experienced two weeks' training in Addis meeting the world's best runners and getting a taste for the high-altitude, soft surface, early morning, rugby-playing, fast-flying, barefoot running Ethiopian running scene.

Nebiyu left Ethiopia determined to help some of the people he met. He wants to spread the word about Running Across Borders. Learn more about this non-profit organization at runningacrossborders.org. We think the best page on the site is the "training camp" page. The organization, co-founded and co-directed by Garrett Ash and Malcolm Anderson, is particularly intriguing because it gives foreigners of any age the chance to travel to Ethiopia and train like Nebiyu did. You too can go train with the group, and the small boarding costs you pay help support the group. If you can't visit but want to donate, visit the site and help support the organization.

To watch Neb's first attempt at making a video that chronicles his travels, click here.





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