Trying to enter Addis Ababa’s Great Ethiopian Run

“It’s the biggest race in Africa. You have to run!” my colleague said. I had just arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city. In less than a week’s time, the Great Ethiopian Run was to take place.

The Great Ethiopian Run in 2011 taking over Addis Ababa’s streets. Photo courtesy of

I didn’t jump at the idea. It is a 10km road race through the crowded streets of Addis Ababa. And I’m not a road runner. Addis Ababa is also at 2,300 metres altitude, making racing hard on the old legs and lungs. But to make matters worse, 36,000 people were meant to be turning up. I can’t remember the last time I entered a race with more than 100 people.

I opted to go running with the local donkeys instead.

But I was in Ethiopia. And it was the running event of the year. So I asked around to see if there were any race t-shirts going, the official sign that you were allowed to run. It seemed like everyone I asked had a t-shirt at one stage… but had since given it away.

One of the fast Ethiopian lads waiting at the Hash Hold before sprinting on.

With less than 12 hours before the race start, I gave up on trying to get an entry. So instead I hooked up with the Addis Ababa Hash House Harriers to have a quick run around. I met them at the Hilton Hotel car park on Saturday afternoon, from where we car-pooled out to the western hills.

Great fun run on the forested slopes near Addis Ababa with the local resident hash.

It was a short and fast gallop around the forested slopes, the local Ethiopians charging ahead to find the marked trail. And with less than 10 of us on the rough trail run, I realized I had made the right choice in running with the hash in the hills instead of the 36,000 on Addis’ streets.

My friend, Wahid, from the Original Nairobi Hash House Harriers turns up in Addis Ababa.

And as is so typical with the worldwide hashing community, I bumped into someone I knew. Wahid used to hash in Nairobi when I lived there nearly 10 years ago. Now he lives in Addis Ababa and was happy to introduce me to his new hashing folks.

Want to hear more running tales from around the world? Check out my book, “Mud, Sweat and Tears” with stories from DRC, Laos, Rwanda, and Haiti.

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