Where Your Dreams Become Reality
LRC Exclusive: American High-Schooler Nebiyu Osman Visits Ethiopia's Running Across Borders Training Camp - "14:23" - Entry #5
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.
I had a real treat today as there was a big race at the National Stadium. One of the coolest things about the stadium is that one can watch most of the competetitions that they have for free. We just walked right in and sat down in the middle section of the stadium. The meet that day was the regional championship, a competition that spanned over four days. Runners from Oromia, Amhara, Addis, and other regions come together every year and duke it out in the National Stadium. We came in just in time to see Dinkinesh, one of the RAB athletes finish up a 10k race. Soon after her race was the 1500 meters, which had another RAB athlete competing, I believe it was either Daniel or Aman. He ran a smart race, placing fourth in the final. The 800 was insane. These guys were running sub 1:50, at 8000 feet, BAREFOOT!! I was amazed at how many of the runners competed barefoot. It didn’t matter what event it was, in the 100, the 400, the 10k, 70% of the athletes did not have shoes, these guys weren’t showing off, they couldn’t afford shoes. One of the races which was probably the most compelling was the men’s 5k final. In Ethiopia the 5000 meters is the premiere event in any meet, just as the 100 or the 1500 meters is in other parts of the world. This is mostly because Ethiopia’s most successful athletes have been 5k and 10k runners. Anyways, this was a highly anticipated event. Most of the athletes in these races were unknowns, undiscovered talents who needed sponsorships and proper coaching. Whenever this event comes around in Addis, all of the coaches are watching for a spark indicating talent. Sponsorship was nearly inevitability for the winner of any event, especially a 5k or 10k. As the runners toed the line, Mersha pointed out an athlete wearing Ethiopia’s green track singlet. “Fikre. He is a very strong athlete. I coached him for a while and he wanted to train with RAB. Unfortunately we didn’t have room for him at the time and he had not met the qualifying standards for the camp. Hopefully if he runs well now we can help him. He is such a nice person, his situation is very bad though, he has no money. He’s funny too. Whenever people ask him if he wants to be like Bekele he says sternly, no, I want to be better than him! He is mentally tough and hardworking, all he needs is consistent coaching and some pocket money.” Fikre had good position early on, sitting in third place and watching the leader. He was a bit restless though because the pace was very slow. He moved to the front and pushed the pace for a solid mile. With a mile to go a couple of the guys behind him made a surge to the front and pressed the pace for about 800 meters. Fikre was a bit drained from pushing the pace early on, but he was able to stay focused and hold on to the leaders. With 600 to go, Fikre was in third, and looking stronger than the other runners. As they reached the bell lap, the leaders maintained their pace for the first hundred. Then the guy in second pushed to make a long sprint from the backstretch to the tape. Then there was a spark. The stadium was buzzing. Fikre, who was sitting patiently in third down the backstretch made his move. Responding to the surge made by the second place runner, Fikre kicked it into high gear. With 200 to go, he was maybe 7 meters behind the leaders. By 150 he was in second and gaining on the first position runner. By the time the runners hit the homestretch everyone in the stadium was on their feet. The winner was be determined in the last ten meters of this long race as Fikre pulled a step ahead of his rival to bag the win, the money prize, the sponsorship. It was a very powerful thing to experience. Fikre was literally running for his life. While I celebrated this victory with Fikre and Mersha later on, it was rather bittersweet because I realized that although Fikre made it, a hundred, maybe a thousand others didn’t.
## End Entry #5
Check back tomorrow on the LetsRun.com homepage for the next installment of Nebiyu's Addis adventure titled "Gelete Burka's Easy Day".
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
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.