One day at the embassy my friend and I saw a notice for a triathlon being held in October! We decided to team up and each take one of the three events (swimming, biking, running). In the end, one person decided not to join, so we were left with two of us. Being that it’s hard to find a clean body of water anywhere near Addis, the event was held at Langano Lake, about 4 hours’ drive away. We drove up the night before with my friend from work, Endriyas, and his sister and her friend. Just getting there was its own adventure, between stuffing our boss’ mountain bike in the trunk of my friend’s little car, and trying to find our hotel in the complete darkness that enveloped the land by 8pm.
The next morning, Endriyas and I got up bright and early, and watched the sun rise over the lake as we had breakfast.
We met the other participants, roughly 30 other people, plus some of their family members who had come to watch. We then found out from the race organizers that it was, as far as they knew, Ethiopia’s first triathlon!! In a land respected the world over for its marathon runners, it felt so exciting to be part of what I’m sure will become a longstanding tradition!
First up was the swimming. This was just a “sprint” triathlon (i.e. short distances), so we first swam 750m (or about half a mile). This was the hardest of the two events for me, mostly because the waves make swimming in a lake much more difficult than a pool. You wouldn’t think the relatively small waves would really add up to much, but they did; you really had to be fighting them as well as pushing yourself forward through the water. I also had some trouble with my asthma and was trying to be careful of my shoulder, so it’s safe to say I didn’t complete that event very quickly at all. But I didn’t care; my main goal was to finish, which I did… at which point Endriyas hopped on the bike and took off for the 20km (12 mile) ride.
This is where things got interesting 🙂 . Me and some of the other athletes doing the race in teams, as well as athletes’ family members were sitting around waiting for the cyclists to come in. (Can I just say how sweet it was to see several little kids and their dad poised excitedly near the check point, craning their necks to see when their mom would come biking in?! Such a show of support…) So we were checking our watches, and a little confused why the leaders of the pack hadn’t shown up yet. Finally, maybe a half hour later than we’d expected, we see one of the lead athletes come running in – yes, running… alongside his bicycle! His front tire was completely flat. As he laid down in an exhausted heap, he explained that he’d gotten a flat, fixed it, only to get another a short time later. As more cyclists came in, we heard the same story. What had been their downfall? The acacia trees on the side of the dirt road! These rather neat-looking trees also sport some substantial, 2-inch long thorns, which had found their way into pretty much every cyclists’ tires! Everyone we saw, except 1 person (who didn’t initially realize his luck) had gotten at least one flat tire. Many were carrying repair kits but with enough thorns to go around, at some point they gave up trying to repair the flats and just ran the bikes in.
When poor Endriyas finally arrived, I began the 5k (3 mile) run. Unlike the swimming (which I hadn’t really properly trained for… what am I talking about, I didn’t at all train for haha), the running was smooth and quick for me. It was a bit hot, and very dry, but as a few of us trotted along the dirt road, under a gigantic blue sky, dodging herds of cows with huge horns and the children herding them, past the curious stares and encouraging cheers of kids… there was nowhere in the world I’d rather be.
We finished! Doggone tired but incredibly happy. The race’s atmosphere had that supportive intimacy that comes from a new event with just 30 people—everyone cheered each other on regardless of finishing time.
The final adventure of the day was getting back to Addis. There was a Baha’i holy day that afternoon that I really wanted to get back to… only trouble was, pretty much everyone else at the race was sticking around for another few hours to relax and enjoy themselves, and I needed to leave asap. Luckily, Endriyas saw a car leaving the parking lot, whistled them down, and when he learned they were going back to Addis, asked if they could give me a ride. It was an Ethiopian businessman and his driver. They were very kind, and after we reached the man’s home, he invited us in. Even though I told him I couldn’t stay long, because I had to get to this celebration, his wife had made a full meal for us! AND she had prepared buna, the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony used to welcome guests. Such hospitality!
After that lovely meal, I went home and in 15 minutes showered and changed gears, from sweaty tired runner-swimmer to fancy holy day clothing. What a day!