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Wenchi Lake Trail

Three weeks into my base training block in Ethiopia and I jumped at the opportunity to travel 150 kilometres west of Addis Ababa to discover the beauty of Wenchi Crater Lake.

The area is famed for its dramatic mountainous landscape, used partly as farmland and partly covered by natural forest. Just getting there was dramatic enough, straw roofed huts nestled on steep hillsides and surrounded by a vibrant patchwork of crop fields, eucalyptus forest and banana plantations.

The crater is an extinct volcano and contains a large (wait for it) lake, hot mineral springs and waterfalls. Approximately 4000 people live within the crater and many of them took to the Wenchi Lake Trail course to cheer on the passing runners!

It was a great day out, sharing my joy of the trail with the three hundred or so participants assembled. The course was relatively short but incredibly challenging, starting at 3300 metres elevation before descending steeply into the crater, looping around at the bottom and climbing back out. Off the back of a 100 mile week I will never forget the quadriceps burn I felt that day but high-five-ing the rows of local Ethiopian children on approaching the finish made it all so very worthwhile.

 

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Great Ethiopian Run

What a day!

I have witnessed the Great Ethiopian Run on three occasions now yet every time I am left amazed, inspired, speechless at the spectacle of Africa’s largest road race. A sea of colour, 40,000 runners in carnival atmosphere celebrating the joy of running as well as the strength and solidarity of the Ethiopian nation.

This time I choose not to compete, instead I left my warm bed at Yaya Village in the early hours and ran over the Entoto Mountain in to Addis Ababa. A stunning 25 kilometres of uphill, some scramble, and flowingly fast descent to finish off a big training week just shy of 100 miles.

There to greet me at the event finish area was Haile Gebreselassie, somewhat astonished by my choice of long run, and together with a large host of well know Ethiopian athletes and VIP guests we cheered in the leading runners as well as the mass of masses!

Stockport Harriers were the club chosen by Nova International to experience this year’s race and they did themselves proud. Not only in the event itself but also throughout the preceding days when I took them into the landscape surrounding Yaya Village to run the ‘Ethiopian way’. It was a pleasure to spend time with them and I hope the few days will help inspire them to future successes.

With the race done it was, of course, time to celebrate. The renown post-run gathering at Haile’s house was a time to relax, share stories and experiences as well as celebrate everything Ethiopian – food, drink, dance and all.

Congratulations to the Great Ethiopian Run team, may the event continue from strength to strength.

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The Greensand Marathon

Last weekend was special, I ran my first marathon!

What may come as a surprise is that I did not partake in Trionium’s Greensands Way Marathon for its 26.2 mile distance, but simply to share my joy of running and exploration of the Surrey Hills with others; runners, joggers, striders and spectators alike. Not to forget that I had recently brought some cowbells back from the French Alps and my parents were eager to try them out (apologies Surrey Hills residents).

I used to live in a hamlet tucked in the woodland of the ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and with direct access to the vast and varied running playground my evening run would involve the ascent of Leith Hill, the highest point in South East England, even in preparation for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Now, based in the leafy outskirts of London, I still regularly return to these hills, which lie close to my heart providing strength to the body and calm to the soul.

I was basically treating the event as a longer than usual, long run, intrigued to see how I would feel having only been easy running since returning to action following two months of injury. Last year’s winner, Ed Catmur, set out with good rhythm and relaxing into a steady state, where running motion becomes the natural state of being almost akin to breathing, I was able to enjoy the trail, the landscape, the banter with the marshals and supporters alike.

Starting in Dorking the course, exactly as stated, heads out and back along The Greensands Way taking in small paths, sandy byways, steep stepped sections and muddy trails whilst crossing stiles and meandering through gates. With 1170m of ascent over the distance it is far from flat, but you are well rewarded with vast and spectacular green panoramas over the Weald and South Downs.

The looped route enables great camaraderie between participants and after the halfway turn radiant smiles and yelps of encouragement lifted my spirit and legs.

Nearing the sandy descent towards Dorking I wanted to see if my legs could still flow after more than 20 miles of running, and they did. Taking the lead and extending it to almost 3 minutes, I cruised to the finish apart from walking up a few large steep steps (shhhh, don’t tell anybody).

At the finish there were carrots to be eaten (why?) and everyone milled around to support the incoming runners and exchange stories of their experience. Many wanted to hear about my run, I wanted to relive theirs, it was an uplifting energising gathering. Trionium have managed to establish an event, which tests the body in a stunning setting whilst maintaining real character and charm, thank you so much!

I almost forgot to mention, as I was not wearing a watch I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I had broken the course record and clocked 2:54:50 over the distance. Not too bad for a hilly long, long run, but that was never the focus.

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