…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.
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.
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).