On January 2015, the Meek School of Journalism and New Media sent ten students on a reporting trip to Ethiopia. These students compiled their stories and photographs into a depth report for the Meek School of Journalism. HottyToddy.com is featuring each story in the in-depth report once a week.

Land of Runners, by Logan Kirkland

As the soft sunrise lightly kisses Addis Ababa, the rhythm of breathing and shoes slapping the ground resonates throughout the city. Clusters of runners weave uphill, downhill.

Watching the runners train, I feel exhausted and intimidated. Steep hills and rough terrain on flat plains accompany the high altitude. For anyone not from Ethiopia, the difference in altitude — almost 8,000 feet above sea level —makes exercising and even walking difficult.

“Running, for Ethiopians, means a lot of things,” Ethiopian sports journalist Ato Fikir Yilkal says. “Ethiopia is a land of runners. You can see everybody running to win his life. Every runners’ story in Ethiopia is inspirational for the young, for the generation.”

Ethiopians developed the habit of running long distances when schools were located far away from where many people lived, Yilkal says. Children would run to school to get there more quickly. There is one story about a famous athlete who ran 20 kilometers (more than 12 miles) to and from school day.

“They want to escape what is behind in their life, and in their home,” Yilkal says. “If you consider the most successful Ethiopian distance runners, their life will tell you something.”

Ethiopia’s male and female long-distance runners are internationally celebrated. Among them are Abebe Bikila, who won an Olympic gold medal running barefoot in Rome in 1960. Tirunesh Dibaba has won three gold medals. Haile Gebrselassie is one of the greatest runners in history. In 2013 and 2015, Lelisa Desisa won the men’s Boston Marathon.

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