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Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Emperor of Long Distance

20121130-155024.jpgLast weekend, I had the wild fortune of meeting, listening to, and attending a party hosted by one of my living heroes: Haile Gebrselassie, arguably the greatest long-distance runner of all time. His lengthy and still flourishing career includes 27 world records, 2 Olympic gold medals and 4 World Champion titles. He’s racing the Fukuoka Marathon this Sunday and is hoping to become the first man to break 2:07 for the tenth time.

My connection to Haile sprouted from Yaya Village’s involvement with the Great Ethiopian Run, the largest road race in Africa that Haile has supported ever since he won the inaugural race in 2001. Dan, Xavi, Julia and I attended the GER press conference on Friday, which was emceed by Richard Nerurkar, Great Britain Olympian and former director of the GER. Haile won over the audience with his charm, poise and humor, and accepted the first copy of “Haile Gebrselassie – The Emperor of Long Distance.” The book is the product of nearly 50 years of visits to Ethiopia by Jiro Mochizuki, a Japanese photographer and journalist, and it will reach store shelves in February.20121130-141419.jpg20121130-141426.jpg

To conclude the press conference, Haile offered the following advice for the international runners participating in Sunday’s race:

On Saturday, Yaya Village co-hosted the GER Pasta Party for international runners and Haile was once again, quite understandably, the star of the show. He helped the mayor of Addis cut a cake celebrating Addis Ababa’s 125th birthday, presented some awards to GER partners and donors, made another humorous and inspiring speech, and posed for every single picture he was asked for. That man’s cheeks must be as strong as his legs for all the smiling he does!20121130-142801.jpg20121130-142808.jpg

Haile showed up to Meskel Square bright and early on Sunday to start the Great Ethiopian Run and to cheer on all 36,000 runners (plus quite a few sneaky race bandits). I fought a little sickness that morning, but still had a fun time moseying through the normally gridlocked streets of Addis, listening to some traditional Ethiopian bands, making a few friends along the way, and soaking up the spirited atmosphere (although I still can’t figure out why so many kids yelled “China!” at me). One of the Yaya Girls, Meseret, had a great performance and made us all so proud and excited to see what she can do with more training and experience!20121130-160429.jpg

Finally, my Haile interaction peaked on Sunday afternoon at the post-race party he hosted at his beautiful home overlooking Addis. Julia was nice enough to snag invites for Dan and I, and we weren’t about to turn down such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. (While I’d like to think that Haile parties will become a regular feature of my remaining time in Ethiopia, I have to be real with myself… ). Eating from his buffet, wandering around his house, gawking at his massive trophy cabinets, and meeting his slightly less speedy friends (although that’s not saying much) made for a pretty surreal experience.20121130-154838.jpg20121130-154844.jpg

And then this happened:

His dancing and running aside, I have the utmost respect and admiration for Haile Gebrselassie. Before last weekend, I knew that he was a remarkably gifted and hard-working athlete. But in the limited time I spent around him, I learned that he is also a gracious, humble and witty man who is the ideal ambassador for track and field. Haile’s passion for athletics is as deep as the Ethiopian running pool, yet he still manages to live a balanced life, dabbling in a number of business and charity ventures, making time for his precious family and idolatrous fans, and hosting some pretty hoppin parties. He makes me feel proud to be a runner, privileged to be a temporary Ethiopian, and inspired to live as deeply and earnestly as he does.

No offense, Mom and Dad, but if Haile offers to adopt me, I might have to accept. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but did you catch his smile in our picture?!

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

English Lessons with the Yaya Girls

I’ve been meaning to write a post about the English lessons that Dan and I have been giving the Yaya Girls, but Dan beat me to it. So thanks, Dan, for letting me snag your post from http://yayagirls.wordpress.com:

English teaching is perhaps the second most important aspect of the Yaya Girls Running Program after the running itself and certainly one of the most rewarding for everyone involved!

20121120-155020.jpgWe aim to provide 15 hours per week of tuition and the arrival of Becky Wade has made it very easy to hit that target. We have been following the guidelines of the Natural Way of Learning and aiming to teach two lessons per day. I have been teaching classroom style as we have realized that the most effective way of learning a new word is repetition and intense practice.

20121120-155001.jpgBecky had the idea to make flashcards with the girls which has gone down extremely well as they see it more as a relaxed time with their new friend! It is great to watch the girls smiling and concentrating on drawing and colouring while also developing a skill that has the potential to improve their opportunities.

20121120-155008.jpg20121120-155014.jpgIf the girls make it onto the international athletics scene a basic knowledge of English will be important for understanding pre-race information and giving interviews which could increase their marketability and chance of receiving sponsorship.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Julia Bleasdale: Olympic Runner and Newest Yaya Villager

I have a new running role model and she happens to be living just a couple rooms down from me. Julia Bleasdale, who recently finished 8th in the Olympic 5k and 10k for Great Britain, is staying at Yaya Village for 5-6 weeks and I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter, speedier or more inspiring person to spend so much of my time with.

Julia barged onto the international scene in 2011 when she made the Great Britain World Cross Country team- an achievement she achieved without a coach- and continues to turn heads with her remarkable progress on the track. She set personal records in both the 5k and 10k in the Olympic Games, running 15:02 and 30:55, and is looking to roll with that momentum in the upcoming international cross country season.

Julia’s breakthrough came at the right time, but her career has been anything but smooth or straightforward; she’s suffered a number of injuries and even took a 3-year break from the sport as a result. But her ability to turn setbacks into comebacks and to keep aiming higher makes Julia one of the toughest and hardest working athletes I know of, and I’m soaking up all of her advice and examples like a piece of injera with shiro. Fortunately, she’s extremely gracious, humble and open and doesn’t seem to mind all of my questions about her training and thoughts. I’ve snagged some great core, stretching and strength exercises, unusual but valuable training tips (like doing a bunch of hiking to acclimate to the altitude and strengthen your legs), some coaching on my hill running, and even some recipe ideas from her, and I can’t wait to see what else she’s got up her sleeve.

But just because she’s a phenomenal runner, don’t peg Julia as the single-minded, overly cautious distance runner we all know (no offense.. I’m guilty of that sometimes too!). She also happens to be one of the coolest and most adventuresome people I’ve come across and there’s no doubt that her personaly, ability to adapt, and love of a good challenge all play a role in her success. Julia comes from a fell running background, currently lives in the Surrey Hills, and prefers rough, high, mountainous running- making the Sululta area her ideal training grounds. She’s lived and trained in Ethiopia 3 times before and I can totally understand why she keeps coming back for more. Julia has also done quite a few extended mountain runs, carrying just a backpack, running during the daylight hours for a few days in a row, and sleeping in little huts along the way. He doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to convince my brother Matt into doing something like that with me next summer. Keep up that training!

Julia is also a great explorer and a bold navigator, trying out new trails and areas all the time, and has no problem going well out of her way to find a nice place to run. For example, for our long run with Dan last weekend, we caught a minibus to the bottom of Entoto, hiked up 50 minutes, stashed our warmups and water in a market stand, and spent the next hour and 45 minutes running up and around the mountain. The peak of Entoto is nearly 10,500 feet, making it the highest run I’ve done here and also offering some unbelievable views of Sululta, Addis, and the vast monutains surrounding us. Without Julia, I probably wouldn’t have braved such a trek. But thanks to her, I have a new favorite long run, more confidence to trail-blaze on my own, and an awesome training partner (for some runs, at least) who acts less like an Olympian and more like a local who runs for the pure joy of it.

I (like everone else at Yaya Village) am so pumped to have a new friend, mentor and inspiration in Julia and I feel privileged to get such an extended and personal look at her day-to-day routine. I look forward to many more long chats over meals, exciting new runs and social gym sessions, and to see what she churns out this spring and beyond.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Amesegenallo!

I know that Thanksgiving isn’t all about the food, but let’s be real… it’s definitely a big part! While turkey, mashed potatoes, and my mom’s killer pumpkin pie won’t be on the menu here tomorrow, I’m going to share the foods that will be, and that have become a regular and scrumptious fixture in my Ethiopian diet.

20121121-155219.jpgFirst of all, no meal in Ethiopia is complete without injera, a flatbread made of teff flour with the texture and appearance of a thin, spongy pancake. Both the white and brown varieties are great sources of iron, calcium, protein, and fiber- about as good as it gets in a single food and pretty perfect fuel for runners. In a typical meal, injera is either eaten with meat (like the picture above) or rolled out onto a big platter and then covered in one of the infinite takes on wat, or stew (chicken, beef, vegetable, lentil, etc.). Everyone partaking in the meal then crowds around the platter and, using right hands only, breaks off a piece of injera and uses it to mop up the stew. I love the communal aspect of eating here and I also appreciate the pre-meal hand-washing custom in most restaurants.

20121121-155310.jpgOne of my favorite dishes to eat with injera is shiro, a reddish stew made of ground chickpeas and often onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, and a popular local spice called berbere. It comes in 2 types- tegamino (plain) and bosena (beef). Both are delicious, but all 3 of the Yaya girls named bosena shiro as their very favorite food. The presentation of the shiro is almost my favorite part- it’s always served bubbling hot in a small cauldron, just waiting to be dumped on the injera and devoured.

20121121-155316.jpgAnother standard meal is called tibs, which is basically small pieces of cooked vegetables or meat (usually beef, goat or lamb). Tibs comes in a hot metal plate, often still cooking atop a small stove (like the picture above) and with peppers, onions, and other cooked vegetables. The dishes are good on their own, but I’ve become obsessed with a spice called mitmita (African birdseye chili peppers, cardamom, cloves, salt, and often other spices like cinnamon, cumin and ginger) that I douse on most things, shiro and tibs especially. I bought a big bag of mitmita in a market the other week so I’ll be able to bring a little taste of Ethiopia home for my family and friends.

20121121-155636.jpgUndoubtedly the most fun thing to order is firfir, which literally means “broken.” It’s small pieces of injera that are either broken up or rolled up and then cut, and soaked in sauces and spices. My favorite uses a tomato sauce and comes buried under a blanket of injera.

20121121-155415.jpgOne meal that I haven’t braved yet but that is a favorite among many Ethiopians, is kitfo, raw beef marinated in mitmita and spiced butter. I got to watch a traditional Tigray wedding reception at Yaya Village this weekend (which was awesome, but more on that later), and the butchers were arguably the most popular guys in attendance.

20121121-155423.jpgIf you’re ever in Ethiopia and unsure of what to order, I recommend you try one of the samplers that many restaurants offer. You get a little taste of many different dishes and can then decide which ones to go for the next time you’re out. You can’t really go wrong though, as long as you’re willing to experiment with some unfamiliar but delicious flavors, textures and combinations. (In other words, Luke, pack plenty of cereal and Poptarts if you ever make it out this way.)

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! My words are inadequate to express how much I love and appreciate all of you back home and all of you whom I’ve met and imposed upon in the past 4 months. No matter where you are in the world, and whether your culture even celebrates this holiday or not, I encourage you to take some time to enjoy your families and friends, let them know what they mean to you, and give your tastebuds a little wakeup call with something they don’t normally come across.

Amesegenallo! (thank you in Amharic)

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

30 Years Ago Tomorrow…

(give or take a few years), this world became infinitely more cheerful, spunky, loving, and fun. I wasn’t there to witness it, but I’m pretty sure the Earth broke out into cartwheels and somersaults the day little Suzi Wade was born.

Sure, sometimes she rolls with laughter at her own jokes, watches disturbingly weird YouTube videos, makes her adult children pose for Christmas card pictures, and is responsible for a major height deficit among one of us. But truly, my mom has one of the biggest hearts, best senses of humor, and most remarkable dedication to her family that this world has ever seen. And let’s be honest: It takes a legitimate angel to raise 4 babies under the age of 2 and then see them through their teenage years- especially when those kids raided our neighbors’ exotic fish pond, graffitied our bedroom walls with permanent markers, hid dead frogs in tin cans in our room, and took her car on a joyride without a license. (still too soon for jokes?)

You’d think that almost a full century of cumulative motherhood (Matt and Rachel are 25 and Luke and I are 23) would wear one woman out. But my mom continues to smother her husband and kids with love and support every single day, even when we’re thousands of miles apart, and shows no sign of slowing. She travels to all of my races that she possibly can; answers her kids’ phone calls with so much gusto you’d think we’d risen from the dead; shares my loves of tupperware, organization, documentaries and dinner parties; drove 30+ hours roundtrip and sat by my bed for 3 weeks straight when I had hip surgery; and gains a second shadow whenever I’m home.

I know this won’t compare to the year when we shopped for you at the Dollar Store (4 kids x $20 each = 80 useless trinkets), but I wanted to do something special for you on your big day since I’m not home to celebrate with you. So I recruited a few friends to wish you a Happy Birthday, Ethiopian-style:

Dan didn’t want to be left out of the festivities, and I have a feeling you might enjoy his dancing just as much as the pros:

Happy, Happy Birthday, Mom… I love you and miss you dearly and can’t wait to give you a big hug and see you give those dance moves a try in 8 months! (Sorry this post is a day early- internet access is hard to come by around here so I had to jump when it was hot)

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Forest Running in Ethiopia…

…where single-file lines, long pants, and tucked shoelaces aren’t just formalities.

Before my first run in Sululta, I was all excited to use what little language my new friends and I had in common to get to know them. So I was a little confused and disappointed when we darted into the forest in a single-file line- not exactly the most conducive formation for icebreaking chatter.20121112-143037.jpg20121112-143055.jpg

Moments later, however, I realized that there was a reason for the follow-the-leader format and that I’d be crazy not to comply. The forest that we often run in is littered with shrubs, trees, roots, ditches and rocks and the line leader decides how we will tackle it. The route is always serpentine, unpredictable, and seemingly blind to the few smooth paths that actually do exist. The others follow exactly in the leader’s footsteps, warning those behind them of impediments with an open hand to one side or a quick snap and pointed finger. Or a more direct statement that there are too many monkeys 5k away to do much running. Joseph told me that the forest’s rugged terrain contributes to Ethiopia’s success in cross-country and tactical track races, and I absolutely believe him. After only a few runs here, there’s no way my steeple, drafting, and shoulder-sitting skills haven’t improved by default.20121112-143101.jpg

Another different aspect of the training here relates to the way that Ethiopians warm up and cool down. After every run and often before hard workouts, they perform a series of loosening up exercises that involve lots of arm swinging and torso twisting. I’m so used to doing and seeing the standard A-skips, butt kicks, high knees and such that it’s refreshing and interesting to see good runners using different techniques to achieve the same goal: a warm and relaxed body. Here’s a little sample of one of their favorite drills: (And don’t mind my struggling friend bringing up the rear. He got it eventually!). (I know what you’re thinking: Is that the big guy from Elf? No, it’s not… it’s just Dan.)

Finally, if you ever run in Ethiopia, there’s one term you will surely hear: “Aizoh!” (for men) / “Aizosh!” (for women). It means “Be strong!” or “Chin up!” and is the way to encourage others to run hard or to check that they’re okay after a stumble. Needless to say, I’ve become all too familiar with that phrase in the past week and will consider it a success when I make it through a whole run without any checks on my well-being. I’ll have you know, though, that I’ve only actually fallen once, and I’m pretty sure that Meseret and Derartu hit the ground before I did to scoop me up and embrace me until I convinced them I was fine. Banchi doctored me up good when I got back and I felt just a little guilty for telling you that first aid kids are dorky, Mom (but not enough to wish I brought the elbow pads, stethoscope and collapsable crutches you tried to sneak into my suitcase).

Happy (and bumpy) trails to you all!20121112-143117.jpg20121112-143105.jpg(I repeat: Not the guy from Elf. Just Dan.)

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Yaya Village: Home Sweet Home!

Until recently, my fascination with East Africa has been distant and unsubstantiated. But since landing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last Thursday, the people and landscape of this country have captured my heart and filled it to capacity (not unlike the big blue taxi buses that speckle the streets of Addis and somehow turn 12 seats into benches for 20).
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It’s true that the poverty here is transparent- but no more so than the colors, life, and national pride that literally flood the streets. On my way from the airport to Sululta, just north of the capital, I sat back (very thankful to be a passenger) and surrendered to the magnetic chaos around me: gridlocked sidewalks, men yelling destinations out of open taxi doors, clusters of thatch-roof huts, bustling markets, and traffic-dodging donkeys lugging eucalyptus across town. It was exhilarating, disarming and beautiful, and I’m looking forward to contributing to the frenzy, even if for just a short period.20121105-140843.jpg

Around 40 minutes and one big sensory explosion later, I arrived at Yaya Village and so began my 2 month stay in running heaven. At 2,700 meters (nearly 9,000 feet) above sea level and with all the components of a self-sustaining village, Yaya is just about the most beautiful, well-conceived, and running-conducive place I can imagine. For training, the complex boasts a 1k dirt track, backdoor access to both flat and hilly trails, sports fields, and a gym and sauna. And for relaxing and socializing, it has a restaurant and bar, a slew of shaded huts and swinging chairs, a conference room, a horse trail, a rooftop patio, vibrant flowers and landscaping, and even a treehouse that’s in danger of becoming my new afternoon nap nook.
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In addition to serving as a high altitude training center for international athletes and a hotel for visitors of all kinds, Yaya Village is also a springboard for gender equality among female Ethiopians. Three years ago, rattled by the limited opportunities for Ethiopian women, an Ethiopian-born, Canadian-raised and -educated, and real-life superhero named Joseph Kibur followed his heart and transported his business expertise to his native country. With the support of Haile Gebrselassie (2-time Olympic Champion and 27-time World Record Holder), he set out to use long-distance running to bridge the oppressive gender gap.20121105-141233.jpg

The Yaya Girls program is still in its early stages of development- making it a really exciting time to be here- but the ultimate goal is to provide promising young female runners with structured training, accommodations, English lessons, and job skills so that they are prepared for professional running or a sustainable career at the very least. Girls earn the opportunity to live at Yaya by finishing near the front of designated races held 4 times a year, and then receive 3 months of sponsoship and, ideally, a lifetime of application of the skills they’ve gained here. In addition, Yaya provides opportunities to other locals, as Joseph employs as many people as possible (there are currently 65 staff members), lets local youth use the Yaya track for workouts, and is starting a public weekly long run from the village.20121105-141242.jpg

I’ve gotten to know the current Yaya Girls and my new training partners- Banchi, Meseret and Derartu- quite well already, and I can’t imagine more deserving or appreciative people to be the initial beneficiaries of this program. They’ve been taking me on breathtaking runs (literally- the altitude is no joke), squealing with glee at my attempts to speak Amharic, and offering to help me wash my clothes. They also invited me to my first coffee ceremony, a beautiful and sacred Ethiopian tradition that I’ll describe in another post.20121105-141341.jpg

I’m also thrilled to have Dan, a British runner who’s interning here for 6 months, to hang out with and show me the ropes. His experience is invaluable as he’s introduced me to the awesome staff, explained the difference between real Ethiopian time and international Ethiopian time (12 to them is 6am to us), and shared my first of many Ethiopian meals with me. We also get to hang out every week or so with Xavi and Eliza, 2 Americans who are also involved with Yaya Village. We went to a neat restaurant in Sululta last weekend and are planning to stay with them in Addis next weekend for some urban exploring.20121105-141347.jpg20121105-143343.jpg

So… 5 days in, and I’m already hooked. I have loads to share about Ethiopian forest running, wild taxi rides, and unique foods, among other things. I’ll update when I can and in the meantime, will continue acclimating to the elevation, soaking up the sun, and enjoying every moment in my delightful new home.

Check out http://www.yayavillage.com and http://www.yayagirls.wordpress.com for more information on where I am and where this awesome project is headed.
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Posted by on November 5, 2012 in Uncategorized