Gezahegne Abrea won gold in the marathon at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and I was incredibly excited to meet and run with him as well as experience Ethiopia for eight days!
You can read part one of our journey (Jerold got to come with me!!) HERE.
Now it's time for part two. When I left off, we were leaving the training area where many members of the Ethiopian National Team practice. I didn't run this first day, but got to meet Gezahegne and his wife Elfenesh (an extremely talented runner as well!) and join in with Gezahegne on his stretching routine.
There was so much to see on the way back to the hotel! This is one of many churches we saw...
Addis Ababa is a hugely populated city and at times we had to drive slowly to navigate our way though the streets...
It was eye opening for me to see how different life is here than in the US or Europe. I am thankful that I was able to experience and see a new culture.
This is Addis Ababa University! The coach told us that these students are very serious about their education...
The distance from Los Angeles to Addis Ababa is 9,089 miles... well, hello there palm tree - you remind me of home!
It was time for a tea break! Clearly I am still jet lagged by the look on my face (oy!)...
This is an example of regular people living and working in Addis (a storefront attached to someone's home)...
Later, we met up with Gezahegne and the coaches for lunch. Ethiopian food is really good and we thoroughly stuffed ourselves!
Later in the day, Jerold and I had another chance to stop for tea (I loved the Ethiopian tea. we brought home a few boxes - very rich and robust flavor, so good!).
After a great night's sleep at the Hilton in Addis (a big thank you to the Hilton for making our stay so enjoyable!), the next day was huge! I was finally going to go on a run with Gezahegne and his wife!
We brought gifts to say thank you for having us...
This time, we went to a new location where the Ethiopian National Team trains. I got in a little stretch while Gezahegne warmed up....
And then we were off and running through the beautiful Ethiopian trails in the early morning sunlight!
I remember my heart being so full - I couldn't believe it was really happening!! I mean how many times in your life do you get to go to Africa and privately run with the best runners in the world?! A runner's dream!!
I ran 6 incredible miles with the Gezehegne and Elfenesh before they went off to finish their long run (at an extremely fast pace!) and I finished up on my own.
Best run. EVER.
I remember it being so cold on that December morning and I never felt the need to switch to shorts. As I finished my run, I got another chance to see Ethiopian runners on their morning workout, bounding through the trails...
It is so beautiful, quiet and peaceful on these trails. Add in the altitude, and it really is the perfect place to run. What drives these runners? The chance at a much better life. They know if they train really, really hard and become the best, that they will have the opportunity to travel the world to compete in International races. If they start winning these races, the money will drastically change their life forever. Gezehegne told us that winning $50,000 in one of his first races provided a new home for his family and a whole new way of life. Incredible opportunities suddenly become their reality.
Life can change from this...
To owning your own cafe and so much more!!
Let's switch to Haile for a moment as the ultimate example of success in distance running. Haile Gebrselassie is the most decorated long distance runner of all time. 2 Olympic gold medals, 9 IAAF World titles, 15 official world records outdoors, and five indoor world records. He was also the first marathoner to run under 2:04, which he accomplished at the Berlin Marathon in 2008.
Haile has his own cafe (named Olympic Cafe. Love that!), a beautiful home and huge respect from his country and the entire world. He is also involved in the real estate and coffee industries and employs thousands of his countrymen.
Haile was so kind and we were thrilled to be able to meet him and hang out for a bit! His warm greeting to us? "Ahhh, you are the American runner who won the contest!! Welcome!"
After everything Haile has done for the running world, he is now retiring from competitive running.
Haile, you are really amazing and it was an honor to meet you, Gezahegne, Elfenesh and all of the incredible runners!
This wraps up part two of our Ethiopian running adventure, but there is still a lot more to share! Tune in next time as Jerold and I go for lunch with a table full of running greats, party at night with the runners, get on a plane and explore another part of Ethiopia, attend a cross country meet and more running with Gezahegne!!
Part three of my trip of a lifetime coming very soon!!
If you had one question to ask an Olympian, what would it be?
Have you ever been to an Ethiopian restaurant?
Happiness Is Running Life!