Whether you are into running or not, you should consider registering for the Great Ethiopian Run (GER) at least once in life.

Taking place each November in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, the Great Ethiopian Run is more than just a race. It literally is a fantastic event, and easily the highlight of a trip to this beautiful African country. The combination of events leading to it, the incredible atmosphere, the welcoming locals, the cheering, the colors, the music, not to mention the actual challenge make it a fantastic experience.

Together with a small group of friends, I had the opportunity to run the last edition of the Great Ethiopian Run. You see, I am hardly a runner – if you have been following my blog for a while, you should know that I really am into swimming. I only started running after I decided to take part in the GER. I really enjoyed training (turns out I am also into running!) but even more so I enjoyed the race. So much so that I now run on a regular basis.

For those of you who are into running, and even for those who still aren’t, I have decided to put together this post to explain everything you need to know about the Great Ethiopian Run.

Continue reading to discover why you should join the GER even if you aren’t a running pro!

Great Ethiopian Run in Addis Ababa

A view of Addis Ababa from the terrace of Hyatt Hotel

15 Things You Should Know About The Great Ethiopian Run

It takes place in Addis Ababa

You should take this information with a grain of salt. Indeed, Addis Ababa is a city like no other. The Ethiopian capital isn’t exactly a city that calls for running. First of all, it is set at more than 2300 meters above sea level – with some of its suburbs at a whopping 3000 meters. This means that unless you were born in the highlands of Bolivia, you will need time to acclimatize to the altitude – meaning you should plan to travel to Addis Ababa at least 3 days before the Great Ethiopian Run takes place.

Traffic in the city is crazy – pictures thousands of cars, buses, trucks, motorbikes, horse pulled carriages, donkeys and what not dodging the potholes and the markets that sprout at just about any corner. You won’t be able to train in the streets, if that is what you are wondering. You will need to find a field, or better, get out altogether.

Yet, it all comes together for the Great Ethiopian Run.

Just make sure not to underestimate the altitude and the pollution factor when registering.

Running for women's right to equality

Running for women’s right to equality

It’s actually a fundraiser

I wish this aspect was marketed more, because I feel that if people knew what the GER is all about, even more would be eager to participate.

The Great Ethiopian Run was started in 2001 (November 2020 will see the 20th race edition) by Peter Middlebrook, a British economist, Richard Nerurkar, a British marathon Olympian and the legendary Haile Gebrselassie, an Ethiopian athlete who is the most successful distance runner of all time. It’s aim is to raise funds for those in need.

Each year, more than 1.5 million Birr (around $50000 USD) are raised in favor of disadvantaged categories – usually women and girls. The race’s motto for 2019 was “Girls Deserve To Be Equally Seen, Heard And Valued.”

It’s a 10 km race

The Great Ethiopian Run is first and foremost a 10 km race. But a peculiar one it is. Nobody is there to take timings – you won’t really know how long it took you to jog the 10 km unless you time yourself. You will mostly be racing against yourself and the altitude. There really are no winners, yet everyone gets a medal as soon as they cut the finish line.

GER crowd

This photo may give you an idea of how many people join the Great Ethiopian Run

But also a massive carnival

If you feel intimidated at the thought of running an international race, worry not! The Great Ethiopian Run isn’t just a race, but also a massive carnival. In fact, it is thought to be the biggest street party in Africa, and a fun one it is. Indeed, you don’t even have to run at all!

There are music, songs and dances; there are shower stations where you’ll be able to take a break from the heat; you will find water and – should you really want to party – even beer. The atmosphere is just incredible – so much so that the race will easily qualify as the highlight of your trip to Ethiopia.

More than 40000 participants register each year

The Great Ethiopian Run is one of the most widely participated running events in the world. Each year, the number of participants increases – in 2019, around 45000 people joined. In terms of the actual run, this means that unless you are in the very first batch of runners and / or you sprint to the front dodging the crowd, you will end up getting stuck every so often, and you will likely run much slower than your usual pace. But who cares about pace and timing when having so much fun?

GER

A group photo before the mayhem began!

The course is challenging but fun

The usual start and finish venue for the race is on a fourteen-lane highway in Meskel Square, located in the centre of the Addis Ababa. It’s a very large square, perfect for showcasing the event.

The course is somewhat challenging. There are quite a few uphill bits, with one of around 600 meters, that made the race all the more fun. Just embrace the race as it comes, pace yourself a bit slower than you’d normally run, and you’ll be in for a great time.

It’s incredibly well organized

I know what you are thinking – such a large scale event, in an African country, in an incredibly busy city. Surely organization will be somewhat lacking? Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Great Ethiopian Run is fantastically well organized, things run smoothly from the beginning to the end, and there are no delays in terms of the races and of the events that lead to it and those afterwards.

Even thanks to the work of volunteers

Around 500 volunteers each year help with the organization of the Great Ethiopian Run. Volunteers usually are university students, as well as members of groups and associations typically from Addis Ababa and the surrounding areas.

Training for the Great Ethiopian Run

Training at 3000 meters above sea level for the GER

Training for the Great Ethiopian Run is almost as fun as the race itself

If you want to take things seriously, you really should train for the race. I started running in my hometown, Cagliari, which is located at sea level, a few months before the race. My training peaked when I ran just outside Addis Ababa at 3000 meters above sea level, so that I could test my level or resistance and how I’d do at an altitude – it was no joke, let me tell you!

Even though running may not be your thing, you will quickly get the hang of it as the benefits – physical and even more so emotional – are immense!

Make sure you run a bit every other day, starting with a short distance and increasing the pace and the distance every time. Apps such as Runtastic can be downloaded for free on your smartphone and help you track your progress. Remember to stretch abundantly before and after running to avoid muscle pain, and to eat healthily and drink plenty of water after you run.

There are plenty of events leading to it

It’s not just about the race! International participants to the Great Ethiopian Run get to participate in a number of fun events, including a night out at a traditional local restaurant, with traditional music and dances; an open bus ride through the streets of Addis Ababa; and a Pasta Party at the Hyatt Hotel where there an auction to raise even more funds take place and which is hosted by British marathon Olympian Richard Nerurkar, and sees Haile Gebrselassie as the guest of honor.

And celebrations afterwards

Honestly, the race is enough of a celebration itself. But in case you want to have even more fun, you can join the reception lunch that takes place at the Hyatt Hotel Terrace after the race. You will have a chance to load on delicious food and to relax with other participants to the race.

Haile Gebrselassie

Finishing the race we got congratulations by the legendary Haile – photo courtesy of Margherita Ragg (The Crowded Planet)

You get to meet the legendary Haile Gebrselassie

This should be reason enough to make you want to register for the race. Haile Gebrselassie is the best long distance runner of all times, winner of two Olympic titles and four world championship. More than anything else, he is an incredibly genuine, friendly, humble person that welcomes all participants to the Great Ethiopian Run with his fun attitude and honest smile.

The best chances to meet Haile are at the Pasta Party, the night before the race. I was incredibly lucky to also meet him right after I finished the race: he hugged me to congratulate me for the result (I mean: surviving the race is a result, right?) and was happy to pose for a post race selfie. Not exactly your average VIP!

As well as other international running legends 

Attendees of the GER include international running superstars who go to show support for the cause. Among 2019 participants, there was Hellen Obiri, a Kenyan middle-distance runner who won the gold medal at London world championship in 2017 and defended the title and established a new world record during the 2019 championship in Doha.

Imagine my face when – the day we went training outside of Addis Ababa – I realized that Hellen Obiri would be training with us. I guess I don’t need to tell you that I only saw her at stretching time!

Children's race

One of the beautiful participants to the Children’s Race

There is a children’s race too

Taking place at the Ethiopian Youth Sport Academy the day before the GER, there is a children’s race too – which is about as well attended as the GER itself. The event has been sponsored by Plan International since 2008, and has since them adopted a new motto every year in favor of children’s rights (this year it was all about girls right to equality).

The children’s race is divided in category according to age, gender as well as various disabilities category. It’s a fun event to attend, that gives you an understanding of how much running is part of the culture of the country, and how felt the run and the fundraiser are locally.

Eating well is key to a good experience 

So says Haile Gebrselassie, who recommends a diet of easy to process carbs and lots of water as well as the occasional beer after some hard core training (I admit I had to tease him a bit to admit that beer is ok every now and then). Furthermore, carbs such as pasta are the best food to have to adjust to the altitude. That’s why on the night before the race there is a Pasta Party!

If you travel for food, make sure to read my posts about international cuisine:

GER

That’s how I felt after finishing the race!

How To Participate In The Great Ethiopian Run

How to register

In order to register for the race you need to visit the official website. Registration for 2020 have just opened and I encourage you to register as soon as possible, as only a limited number of international participants are allowed each year.

It costs £70 GBP (around $90 USD) for international participants to register, and with that you get a pack which includes the t-shirt you will have to wear during the race and invitations for the Pasta Party and the post-race reception. You will also get a pass for the VIP or VVIP area during the race.

Traveling to Ethiopia

Addis Ababa international airport is very well connected internationally, with flights to all European and African capitals and major cities, as well as direct or connecting flights to destinations in Asia or the Americas. Ethiopian Airlines usually has the best fairs.

Visa

You can get your tourist visa for Ethiopia on arrival or – alternatively – apply for it online and save time once you get there. You can obtain your visa here – it costs $50 plus $2 USD handling fee.

Acclimatizing

Addis Ababa is located at 2350 meters above sea level, much like the rest of Northern Ethiopia. Make sure to travel to Ethiopia at least a few days before the race to properly acclimatize to the altitude.

Where to stay and eat in Addis Ababa

There are a few good places to stay and eat in Addis Ababa. Here is a selection:

  • Yaya Village, in Sululta, is a plain but nice hotel outside of the city, from where you will have easy access to the forest for great training opportunities. There is an on site restaurant that serves very good food, and a small but nice pool. Internet only works (sparsely) in the reception area. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
  • Hyatt Regency Addis Ababa is one of the best hotels in town, and definitely the best located in terms of the race as it is right by Meskel Square, where the GER starts and ends. The hotel has a pool, a gym, a fantastic restaurant where you can enjoy Middle Eastern food. Rooms are spacious and cozy (if only a bit too warm). Wifi works well even in the rooms. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews

Visiting Ethiopia 

The Great Ethiopian Run and Addis Ababa are the perfect starting point for a longer trip to Ethiopia and you shouldn’t miss on the opportunity to visit this incredible country. The organization of the GER can help you put together a short itinerary.

Here are some posts that will help you plan your trip:

More readings about Africa

Are you planning a long term trip to Africa? Make sure to read my other posts:

Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Great Ethiopian Run and wish to thank them and Blogilicious for putting together a fantastic trip and for allowing me to have such an incredible experience. Needless to say, the views expressed remain my own. 

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Discover what you need to know about the Great Ethiopian Run - via @clautavani

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