Where Your Dreams Become Reality
LRC Exclusive: American High-Schooler Nebiyu Osman Visits Ethiopia's Running Across Borders Training Camp - "RAB Rugby" - Entry #4
By Nebiyu Osman
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.
Today Mersha and I headed to Sululta for another training session with the other RAB athletes. The plan for the morning: “Rugby” (I just decided to call it rugby). Melaku called everyone together and told us to do a good 15 minute warm up and stretch. After he dismissed us to go do our warm up the group of some 30 athletes, split up into two distinct groups, both cheering and singing jubilantly. Not sure which to warm up with, I just tagged along with Gudisa, my pacer. It turned out that the one group was RAB, the camp I recently started training with and the other group was coach Melaku’s own club team.
The warm-up, which was a pedestrian 15 minutes for these athletes who were chanting and cheering, had me struggling to hold on to the back of the group, needless to say, lacking the breath to cheer! The pace of this “jog” kept increasing until I was breathing harder than I normally do in a xc race. Then Melaku blew his whistle to call us all to one of the playing fields. There were 3 or four 70-100 meter long soccer fields lined up next to one another lengthwise. The fields were not well maintained by any standard as there were these huge logs that jutted 20-30 yards into the field in random places, the soccer goals were logs jammed into the ground with narrow straight branches balanced atop acting as crossbars, the field was full of ditches, and it was muddy! As the two teams stormed the field to take their positions for the start, I had no idea what to expect. Coming from the USA, I was used to having my sport kind of taking a back seat to football, basketball, and baseball. Cross country and other Long Distance events were known, especially in high school to be the sports reserved for the uncoordinated, nerdy, weak, and generally unathletic kids who couldn’t play the sports that drew the big crowd. I learned how untrue this idea was on that field. Although I always thought of myself as a pretty good athlete in general, playing varsity soccer and other sports in the past, I found that even I, a distance runner, limited myself with some of these common misconceptions. As I watched the game early on to figure out the rules, I couldn’t help but think, “have these guys forgotten that they are distance runners? They’re tackling one another as if they’re 200lb football players! And running the ball like they’re wide receivers!”
I distinctly remember Mesfin, a RAB athlete and 1:02 marathoner, having the best game out there. This guy would steal the ball from an opponent while on defense, and within a matter of seconds would be halfway down the field stiff-arming opponents, vaulting over logs, and displaying his tremendous sprint speed. These guys, although they were having fun joking and laughing, were athletes, and whenever a loose ball presented itself they would undergo a transformation; the same killer instinct that pushes them to hit the tape first, overtakes them and they power down the field, plowing through their competition.
After a few minutes of what I thought was a great game, Coach Melaku came forth to show his athletes how to play the game correctly. Melaku dominated the field! I didn’t know at the time but when Melaku was younger he was a 400 meter runner in the oromo region, he showed us his speed on the field. Even the camp’s bus driver, Teddy, couldn’t resist a good game! As I figured out the rules along the way (there weren’t really any rules) I got more and more into it, occasionally making a drive down the sideline or making an assist. I forgot about the fact that this was a training session…well that is until the third quarter. By this point in the game, I was REALLY TIRED. My teammates (obviously) were still playing as if they had not been playing for the last half hour. This was the only time that these guys let on that they were distance runners. After the game I asked my coach if I would have an afternoon training session or not. He said that I wouldn’t and that I would need to rest up that night and to take the next day off. I worried that the coaches at the camp were going too easy on me because I couldn’t see why I would need so much after the game. Well, it turned out that I did need all that rest! I was sore for the next three days!
## End Entry #4
Check back tomorrow on the LetsRun.com homepage for the next installment of Nebiyu's Addis adventure titled "14:23".
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
About Nebiyu Osman
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.