Ethiopia’s Annual Running Street Party

16th December 2016

The Great Ethiopian Run International 10km is a road race like no other. Held in November each year, this is a festive celebration of running, a fabulous “street party”, as one of the Olympians who took part this year described it. And at its heart is a name that anyone with a faint interest in running will know – Haile Gebrselassie.

Think Ethiopia, and think running. Think running, and you might well be visualising the smiling face of Ethiopia’s most famous athlete, Haile Gebrselassie. For more than two decades Haile’s smile – and his amazing athletic achievements – lit up our TV screens as he won world and Olympic titles and broke records.

Last year, after more than 24 years of international competition, Haile finally hung up his boots. His first race outside Ethiopia, and indeed his first ever trip on an aeroplane, had been as a member of Ethiopia’s national junior team to the World Cross Country Championships in Belgium in March 1991. For his farewell race he chose the Great Ethiopian Run 10km in his home city of Addis Ababa. He ran the last kilometre of the race in bare feet in memory of the father of Ethiopian distance running Abebe Bekila who, running in bare feet in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, became the first African athlete to win an Olympic marathon.

Haile has played a huge part in the success of the Great Ethiopian Run, an organisation he helped to create 15 years ago and which has brought mass-participation running to the Ethiopian public. At this year’s international 10km race in November, Haile was again at the centre of attention, playing host to international guests, giving interviews to the media and welcoming participants from abroad. He also took on his now customary role of starting the race, standing alongside a cast of famous Ethiopian athletes.

One of his guests this year was the South African runner Hendrick Ramaala who likened the Great Ethiopian Run 10km to a big running carnival. “They know how to organise a street party here,” was how Ramaala summed up his first experience of mass-participation running in Ethiopia. Another of his guests was the Chinese athlete Jin Yuan, who in her home town of Shanghai had competed in a race with 30,000 runners and in Addis ran amidst 40,000.

Haile’s advice to participants at this year’s race was noticeably different from the message he used at the race’s first edition back in 2001. “Don’t forget to dance at every kilometre!” he said, referring to the live bands positioned at every kilometre along the course route.

The people, the sense of fun and the carnival atmosphere make the Great Ethiopian Run so special, and so different from any other road race in the world. “I’m more than happy,” Haile said after this year’s event. “This race is bigger than I ever thought it would be, and better than I ever dreamt it could be,” was how he summed up his feelings, that famous smile lighting up his face.

Tadele Travel Director Richard Nerurkar has been involved in the Great Ethiopian Run since 2001. If you’re keen to include this iconic Ethiopian running event in your tour of Ethiopia, talk to us. 

Richard Nerurkar

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