Where Your Dreams Become Reality
LRC Exclusive: American High-Schooler Nebiyu Osman Visits Ethiopia's Running Across Borders Training Camp
"Gelete Burka's EZ Day" - Entry #6
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.
Gelete Burka’s EZ day
What an awesome day. Mersha and I headed to Sululta for my morning run. As we got out of the car Mersha spotted Girma, a 13:30 5k runner and a good friend of Mersha who trains at RAB a few times a week, finishing up a training run. He and Mersha chatted in Amharic a bit and then Mersha turned to me and said “Do you want to meet Sileshi and Tirunesh?” “Uhmmm…Yes!” I replied. It turned out that Girma was a very good friend of Sileshi’s and that he even trained with him occasionally. Girma said that he would introduce me to them if I wanted! I was pretty pumped about this but what was even crazier was what happened right when we finished talking to Girma.
As Mersha and I headed towards the forest he explained what I would be doing for training. “Ok Nebiyu, today I want you to run 20 minutes very easy and then for the next 5 minutes pick up the pace, then for a cool do-“ Mersha then squinted as he tried to make something out ahead of us ”Look! It’s Gelete Burka!” . I looked to where he was pointing and could see a woman wearing a baby blue track jacket and black tights weaving through the Sululta forest! Mersha said that we could try to talk to her after her training was over. I jumped into my run and about five minutes into it I am coming to a clearing in the forest and Gelete Burka darts right by me, I couldn’t believe it! I bumped into her a again as I finished up my speed interval.
Later, after I did some stretching, Mersha and I headed back to the car to wait for Gelete. We weren’t alone though! A few days before when we were doing some stretches after a run there, a young shepherd no more than 5 years of age approached us. Mersha tried to talk to him but the boy couldn’t speak Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, he only spoke Oromia, his tribal language. The boy decided to take a quick break from tending to his sheep and cattle when he saw us stretching. He was hoping we would give him a few birr (Ethiopian currency) if he sang us one of his songs. This was probably the most adorable thing that I saw during my trip. Well he came to see us after our training sessions every time we went until today, and each day he would bring another friend with him. Today when we returned to the car there were ten little shepherds waiting to see us! They sang a beautiful Oromia song for us. There was one older girl with them, she spoke some Amharic and we learned that she was 13 years old. Mersha asked her, only half-jokingly, if she would like to run! The girl was very outgoing and said why not! As we talked to her more she explained that their school was not very good and that they did not have books to read or pencils to write with. We promised to come back with some school supplies for them the next time we came to train in sululta.
After we said goodbye to the kids Gelete and her pacer emerged from the forest and started stretching, 200 yards away from us. Mersha and I walked over and he asked if it was alright for me to get some pictures with her. She was very friendly and said that she had no problem with it. After we took a few pictures she resumed stretching and invited me to join. I was just amazed at how open and personable Gelete was; I am pretty sure she asked me more questions than I asked her! “Where are you from? How old are you? What event do you run?” I asked her about what her racing plans were for the next few months and she told me that her main focus was the 1500 in Berlin. I told her “Don’t worry, you should win easily.” And she just laughed shyly and said, “I hope so!” maintaining the same modest yet confident demeanor, which was characteristic of most the Ethiopian runners that I met. I asked her about where she normally trained and she said “sometimes here, at Entoto (I had been there 2 days earlier), CMC (the location of the RAB camp), and at Nazaret (where RAB does speedwork).” After we finished chatting with Gelete, I went back to the house and took my daily 2-hour-long nap.
## End Entry #6
Check back tomorrow on the LetsRun.com homepage for the next installment of Nebiyu's Addis adventure titled "Use Your Arms!!!".
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
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.