This past week Anne and I have spent traveling around Ethiopia to Addis, Arsella, and Hawassa. At each spot we would train with some super fast Ethiopians (ie: 1:04 half marathoners) and meet Olympians. On Friday we took a 5 hour bus ride to Hawassa- the race site. We stayed in the beautiful Haile Resort- bathrobes and slippers in the closet, a nice workout room with American machines, a grand piano, fast wifi, bathroooms in the hotel lobby, and an elevator- great for post race. Anne and I were in heaven.
On Saturday Anne and I ventured into town. We were offered a ride on the tour bus with a group of other tourists, but we decided to take a tuk tuk (small taxi 3 seater car.) It's only been about three weeks, but we already feel more comfortable around the Africans then the Americans. The driver had a good laugh at our bargaining skills, but we were succesful and even took turns driving the tuk tuk on our way to town- a bit scary at first! It's a good thing we went on our own, because the tour group showed up at the same store as us about twenty minutes later and the prices for things they were interested were raised quiet a bit from what we had paid.
Later that night we attended the "expo"/cultural fair and our names were announced as our bibs were handed to us by yet another famous Ethiopian runner. We enjoyed the cultural dancing and music that was performed for and I poorly attempted to learn how to dance like an Ethiopian. Fyi, it is a lot harder then it looks. Traditional Ethiopian food was provieded to us on a "plate" of bananna leaves. Anne tried what i thought was red sauce, but we later found out was raw meat- the pre-race food that Haile likes to eat. Despite a lot of worrying Anne luckily did not get sick before her first marathon. Later that night we attended the pasta party and enjoyed a pep talk and Q&A session with Haile himself.
RACE DAY! We had a 5am wake up call for race day. As we gathered up our belongings and headed to the lobby to catch our bus we ran into Haile and got a pre-race picture with him- what great luck!
We were then off to the start. The elite men and women went off and then Haile blew the horn for the mass start. The course was a two loop course with four out and back sections. It took me a few miles to adjust my breathing to the 7000 foot altitude and find a good pace to run without the help of pace groups or mile markers. The course was marked every 5K, but only in kilometers, which I am not used to. Thank God for my GPS watch that notified me each mile. For part of the course I was able to see the elites run during the out-and-back segments, which was pretty cool. The course was lined with Ethiopians cheering good job, bravo, and good, good repeatedly. The course was entirely on asphalt which was as nice change from the red, dirt, rocky village road I am used to. Although it was nice not to have to watch my footing so much you did have to watch out for the cows and sheep on the road. Warning, they don't always move! At the water stops we were given plastic pouches of 300cc water. It wasn't easy to get used to. I would poke a hole with my finger and get a spray of water in my face, which was fine, but everytime I would drink I would end up gulping too much at once and start choking. The Ethiopian chilcren would run next to me at the water stops hoping to be the lucky recipient of a bag with some water left in it.
At around the 13 mile mark I moved into first place for female non-elites and held that position until the finish. With about two miles left a motorcycle came up beside me and started talking to me. Aft first I ignored it as I was exhausted and figured it was a typical African boda driver. However, he kept talking to me and wouldn't leave my side. One of the men said, "we take you to the finish." Too exhausted to respond I just kind of nodded my head and gave him a look. He then said, "you do realize you are the champion." At that point it clicked. He was the motorcade. Wow, I thought, I've never had that before. The men escorted me to the finish showing me the way, honking the horn, and made sure no one and no animals blocked my path. They had tape at the finish that I broke and then cameras surrounded me taking pictures- it was pretty surreal. The smell of local food combined with a sip of Gatorade at the finish made me feel extremely queasy- thankfully I did not puke, that would not have made for a pretty picture! My time was 3:36- not my PR by a long shot, but given the heat, altitude, and some quality longer runs with the Ethiopans during race week I was happy. I became a celebrity for the day and was asked for a lot of pictures with people. Haile handed me my winner's trophy (cup) on a stage, which was pretty neat. Additionally, Anne finished her first marathon with a smile on her face. All in all, it was a great day. She doesn't know it yet, but I am on the look out for African marathon #2 now! :)