Back in Seattle, we slurped up oxygen-rich air down at sea-level. Yet we’ve been led to believe in the benefits of sports training at higher elevation. Just imagine how amazing it will be to work out up in the Ethiopian highlands and then return to competition with the usually low-lying coastal elites. However, before we can get to the benefits, we need to deal with the costs.
How quickly can we acclimatize to exercising in Addis? After we all endured a challenging sporty weekend, not soon enough.
Warming up for tryouts at the ICS track.
Maya’s sports seasons while at ICS will be flipped around from the typical American timing. Soccer happens in the Spring. She’s strongly considering rugby in the Winter, which I can hardly wait to see. And for the Fall, she’s running track. Which means that tryouts started last Friday and continued over the weekend. Saturday morning’s early practice required 200-meter trials…which she described as insanely tough …and resulted in entirely normal wind-sucking recovery and slower-than-hoped-for times. But everyone tried a bit of everything. Keep your fingers crossed that she makes the varsity/traveling team, even if that means doing the high jump or throwing shot put (events that she took a shine to during tryouts). Maya’s Saturday track workout also included a 5K run around campus, to help everyone get re-introduced to the elevation. She was sore for the remainder of the weekend, but felt no shortage of pride for the effort required.
Sarah and I went to the gym across the street from our temporary apartment every day from last Sunday to Friday. That’s not bragging, just mental health maintenance. We squeezed in a quick hour+ on the various machines combined with some weights. More than anything, it gave us the false confidence that the elevation was no big whoop. 40 minutes on a treadmill while listening to podcasts will do that for a fella. Which also meant that when friends (Melissa and Jay Varma) asked if we were up for weekend challenges on another level of intensity, we jumped at the chance. As a result, today’s “jumping” is limited at best. Putting on shoes and getting up off the couch are challenging enough.
Getting HIIT instructions while getting soaked. (Photo credit to Melissa Varma)
Addis continues to experience its typical rainy season. It’s not monsoon-like. There are merely periods of rain mixed with sun and temps hovering around 70-degrees F (21-degrees C). An Ethiopian offered me the prediction that this year’s rains will last through mid-September. On Saturday morning, it nonetheless rained the hardest and steadiest that we’ve seen since arriving a week prior. Which also happened to coincide with a “high intensity interval training” (HIIT) butt-kicker class we took with a bunch of cheery ex-pats. The instructor (Ricardo Salcedo) tags his class “Fithiopia” and has a hardcore following. Sarah and I tried to pace ourselves, but HIIT classes do bring out the competitive spirit in most people. As a result, I have sore parts where I didn’t even remember having parts not long ago. Call me a sadist, but I can hardly wait to do Ricardo’s class again.
A rainy class portrait after our first “Fithiopia” effort. (Photo credit to Ricardo Salcedo)
Heading up Yeka’s trails.
Walking up the first stretch of Yeka
Sunday’s training activity presented both a real treat and a serious challenge for us. We ran up Yeka Hill just northeast of Addis with friends and their Ethiopian trainer (Mezgebu Alemu Molla). Since Sarah and I ran in the nearby Entoto hills with these same friends back in February, there have been incidents with Westerners being targeted while running up yonder. Although our friends already typically do so, a local guide and an accompanying dog have since become standard protections for these excursions out of Addis. With those protections in place, all that was left for us was the daunting challenge of reaching a peak of around 2900 meters (or 9500 feet). What started as any easy, steep walk soon became a gut-churning grind.
Our route featured slick trails that were rocky and muddy due to the runoff from the recent rains. Your eyes stay focused upon where to put your feet when you run up there. Which is probably good. Because it kept my mind off the fact that I felt ready to hurl on a few occasions.
Around halfway through our 4.5 mile route (around 7 km), we reached the epic rocky overlook toward the urban expanse of Addis. We all briefly marveled at the blue skies and lush green landscape before heading back down the winding path Mezgebu chose. The occasional cow or donkey or mislaid foot placement distracted from the challenge of simply getting back down to the trailhead. We all made it. And just like any race I’ve ever done before, the internal complaints evaporated as soon as time arose for cool down stretching. We will return to this and other trail runs just outside Addis. Maybe a bit more acclimated the next time. And the time after that. And…
The half-hearted smile of someone not even halfway through the day’s loop.
The view from the trailhead for running up into the green hills of Yeka.
No matter the short-term discomfort, we’re all in for continuing with the regular sportiness. It’s certainly no joke up here. But after a chatty walk around the track on ICS’s campus at a conversational pace, I’m already feeling ready to head back out there. Soon-ish. I’m not a maniac, after all. Ciao.