The Great Ethiopian Run is Africa’s biggest fun run. It’s colorful and chaotic, and there’s no better way to see the capital Addis Ababa

By Kate Carter |

Addis Ababa is not a city that naturally lends itself to running. The potholes are deep. The traffic is hectic. Street corners are makeshift markets. And throughout the city, buildings, roadways and train lines spring up almost overnight, like mushrooms. Yet here I am, one of 40,000 people, my face painted with the colors of the Ethiopian flag, laughing and dancing and jogging through the streets as part of the biggest race in Africa.

There are few phrases treated with such scorn in the running world as “fun run”. They are for beginners and are not worth traveling halfway around the world for. But if one event can reclaim the phrase, it’s the Great Ethiopian Run. Founded by Haile Gebrselassie, the greatest distance runner of all time and a national hero, it’s a 10km race through the heart of this bustling, fascinating city.

What strikes you first when you arrive in Addis is the unique light: a sunset-warm glow softened by a dust filter – regardless of the actual time of day. Navigating the streets requires nerves of steel – there only seem to be two sets of working traffic lights in the whole place, and drivers view even these as purely decorative. High above it all is the growing city’s ever-present scaffolding. Built from the most fragile-looking bamboo, it makes that famous picture of workers picnicking on a girder atop 30 Rockefeller Center look like a health and safety ad.

While trying to acclimatize to Addis’s thin air – the city sits at 2,400m – I embark on a culinary tour. The founders of Addis Eats, Eliza Richman and Xavier Curtis, walk me round some of Addis’s best eateries – many of the city’s gems are dressed in plain clothes. Restaurants that you’d walk past without a second glance turn out to be the best local spots. The food-to-walking ratio is heavily tilted on the side of gluttony and I scoff delicious curries mopped up with injera, the staple flatbread of Ethiopia made from teff grain. Most restaurants serve only one kind of this, but on the tour I learn that there are several, of different colors, each with a distinctive taste.

Walking off the food, I visit Holy Trinity Cathedral. If the outside is impressive, the inside is extraordinary. It seems built to catch and store that golden light – the haze formed from sunbeams slanting through the stained glass looks almost solid. The soundtrack to the scene is Ethiopian Orthodox chants, from lungs that apparently require no pause for breath.

In the countryside surrounding the rapidly growing city there is stunning scenery, too. Up in the hills is Entoto, a serene, sacred spot with monasteries, churches and the palace of Emperor Menelik II, the 19th-century founder of Addis. The lush mountainside is covered with eucalyptus trees. These are a major source of firewood and the roads are dotted with women carrying burdens so implausibly enormous you fear they’ll be driven into the ground by the weight of their loads.

Continue reading the story on The Guardian
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