Standing in a mass of green and yellow, it is easy to get caught up in an atmosphere that would have many believe you are at carnival, rather than about to take part in the biggest race in Africa.
On the day, there was anywhere between 38,000 and 40,000 of us, elbowing and jostling towards the start line, which at this stage, we were yet to even see. Filling every avenue into Meskel Square, the noise is less of a cheer, and more of a mass of horns, and a dull humming of music.
Having only arrived the previous morning in Addis Ababa, we had very little time to acclimatise to the 2,300m altitude. This, along with an overwhelming sense of excitement, and a caffeine-fuelled breakfast, left us feeling more prepared than ever for what was promised to be one of the best runs of our life. At 9am on the dot, we heard the starting horn, and felt the surge in the crowd move us forward a few paces.
Having run the London Marathon earlier this year, I am accustomed to the steady flow of runners at the start of any race. It may take you ages to get over the start line, but once you do, you know about it as 1,000 watches beep to signal timers being set. Here however, the runners seemed far more absorbed in cheering themselves and others over the start line, beckoning the start of the giant street party. Right from the offset it is refreshing to know that the participants are more excited to just soak up the atmosphere than set a new PB.
The first few kilometres are slow, but not painfully so. Due to the sheer volume of participants you find yourself preoccupied in taking photos and chatting to the locals who are showing off their dancing and spontaneous chanting skills, than you do about counting down the distance markers. Each kilometre is impressively lined with a band, performing live local music. The atmosphere is electric, and you find yourself unable to do anything but smile, and occasionally dance.
Of the 12-15 of us who started together, we soon realised we had lost all but 3 of the team. The Children from The Bravehearts charity we were supporting were merely a yellow blur in the distance, as they joined in the ongoing conga line streaming past us.
We stopped at several of the drinks stations along the roadside, and briefly caught the hose shower at the 5km mark, where locals threw bottled water to rehydrate the runners. It wasn’t until the first of the cities hills kicks in that the noise quietens slightly, and there becomes space to get into your stride.
Given the 25 degree heat and the 8,000ft altitude, I would usually be longing for that finish line to be in sight, but sadly it came way too soon for my liking. I may have been nearly 1 hour over my quickest 10km PB, but I have never quite witnessed such love in a race. Love for the sport, and of exercise, and most predominately, the love of spending it with all of your friends.
The only real competition on the day came on the final kilometre, when Jack and I thought the necessity to race to the finish. It may not have even been close to my personal best, but by far one of the best experiences of my life, and one I will be signing up for again.
Following (literally) in the footsteps of the great Ethiopian runners, it was a great experience to know we had just completely the same race as the great Haile Gebrselassie, who not only started the 15th Great Ethiopian Run, but we later learnt had just completely the race barefoot.