Joe's East Africa Trip 2012

Bekoji, Ethiopia - Wednesday 10/31/2012

Back to 'the woods' for the early a.m. workout. This was the easy day of the week, so I thought I'd run with the group. Within seconds of starting the run, however, I found their concept of easy was far from what most of us understand as easy. Consider these elements of this 'easy' run:

  • The 60 min run is entirely on this small hill (maybe 300 meters wide and 100 meters high) with the slope of the hill around 15-20%.
  • The hill is densely forested with trees everywhere and often just a few feet from each other.
  • The roots of the trees are very exposed, very dense.

('The woods')

For these easy runs the group is divided into their event groups (men and women 2-400 meter runners, 8-1500 meters, 5k and 10k, half and full marathons). So there are about 10 groups of 20 or so runners each, all scattered about the woods. Each group has a leader and everyone in the group runs in a single-file line, with as little space as possible between runners. The leader then takes the group on an improvised route throughout the hill of trees where the following occurs:

  • The route will go up, down, diagonal, across the hill. Each new direction is normally very short (30-80 meters) and again this goes on for an hour!
  • The leader takes the group through a serpentine pattern around nearly every tree close by. A hair-pin turn around this tree, then 3 feet later a hair-pin turn around the next tree in the opposite direction, then 3 feet later a hair-pin turn, and on and on.
  • These turns are done right next to the tree, so you are twisting your body around the trunk of the trees to make the turn in time to stay with the group.
  • Since you are so close to the tree, you are running over very dense roots, all the time. Again you are running in a tight, single-file line, with the runner ahead of you just 1-2 feet away - you can touch their back easily. So you can not see the roots until a split second before your foot lands. The net result is your feet are moving very fast (around 200 steps/minute) and again, this goes on for an hour!
  • If there is a more clear section of forest on a flat or downhill then the leader, and thus the group, will sprint this section. So 30-80 meter sprints done every 2-3 minutes, with twisting, curling, dodging and weaving around trees and over roots in between - for an hour! This was athleticism, this was agility, this was speed, and this ... was their easy run.

I lasted for 20 minutes.

After the easy run, off to the track again to work with the RAB men (runners sponsored by Running Across Borders). We had the track all to ourselves today, the kids from yesterday now being in school. I recorded the men on video and we would look through the films individually the following day.

(Me and the RAB men - all of which ran 62-64 minutes in a half marathon recently, at 2700 meters altitude...)

Its worthy to note these runners were all running in second-hand shoes - donations from groups around the globe. They of course run in these shoes for a long time as it is all they have. This is common reality...

('Minimalist shoes' with no socks. Take a look at the shoe on the left foot!)

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