Ethiopian Blog: “I’ve already won” – training with the champions

Chris Harrington’s final Ethiopian Blog.

“I’ve won already”

As much as I was looking forward to going home I’ll miss Ethiopia, especially Yaya village where I’m staying – the ambience of the place, the staff & food etc. I’ll even miss when it’s, let’s say, 1 o’clock Irish time which in Ethiopia is 3 hours ahead. The Ethiopian people have another set of rules, however, it’s actually 6 hours back from the actual time so to them it would be 11am in the morning. It’s also the year 2007 on the Ethiopian calendar so everyone is 7 years younger than what they are – a woman’s dream.

It truly has been an experience of a lifetime. I had many a good adventure, like when I was going for a haircut on what was the equivalent of our St Patrick’s day. It was total chaos to me but a celebration to the people. I then went about getting a taxi back from the city. After haggling about payment we set upon our travels only for the taxi to get stuck in the crowds. I was stuck for a full hour in his cab in sweltering heat for him to find out there was another way to get me home and dodge the parade. And finally the taxi man’s car broke down on the hill home. I found out later that most taxis can’t make it to the village because of the hills being so steep.

On the running front there was a day I was out for a run with a British and out of nowhere a dog jumped up and bit her. Panic set in as she told me she had no rabies vaccinations. We had to rush her to hospital for fear the dog had rabies. It turned out she needed a special vaccine which her embassy didn’t have. The alternative was to get 14 piercings of their “vaccination” which is not recognised by the World health Organisation. This was not an option. There was only 3 places with right vaccine in the country and the Swedish embassy had it. So her embassy (UK) had to buy it from the Swedish embassy and subsequently the UK embassy had to give it to the Ethiopian authority which in turn had to give it to the right doctor to inject the medicine! At one stage it was looking like the athlete had to fly back to the UK for the procedure. Luckily that didn’t have to happen and the ordeal was over.

On the days when I just wanted to go for a run on my own, I would suddenly get a feeling of being followed – which I was. This happened me regularly. Some Ethiopian athlete will just follow you on your run. It was weird at first and when the initial fright wore off it was quite good.

With the trip coming to an end, I really wanted to meet the great Haile Gebreselassie – the ultimate distance runner! This wasn’t going to be easy. The man has 1,600 employees. I did my homework and hatched a plan. I finished my run very early and hitched 3 buses into his office which sits on the 8th floor of his building. Off I went. Finally after passing security and climbing all those stairs (I avoided the elevator for fear my plan would be foiled) was the next hurdle, the secretary! “Hi, I’m here to meet Haile, he’s expecting me,” I said. “Sorry but I can’t find your name and he’s in meetings all day. Will you go and I can call you when he’s free maybe next week” she replied “Thank you very much, but I’ll wait,” I told her. I don’t think anyone every said that they’d wait because her face dropped and what I thought looked like the panic button.

I was full sure security were on their way up to escort me out but who comes out the door, non other than Haile himself. I jumped up, to his amazement, and I introduced myself. Before I knew it, I was in his office. He said he had heard about me in his training camp and he loved my story. He still couldn’t get over I had 5 kids. We had a nice chat and I asked him for advice to which I’ll forever hold dear.

When I left he gave me his personal number and email. “Keep in contact,” he said to me. Well, I was only delighted to have made such a friend. The story’s not finished. I didn’t come empty handed to the great one. I brought him my very own prized Leevale AC jumper to keep and he loved it. There he was as happy as I was – Leevale AC’s newest honorary member. The 3 bus journey home was not a big deal. It could have been 10 buses to get home because I was beaming with the biggest smile the whole way back to camp.

Haile holding a Leevale AC jumper – Harrington's local club

Haile holding a Leevale AC jumper – Harrington’s local club

Ethiopian price guide

Just to give you some Prices, the money is Ethiopian Birr. I’ve converted it to $ for you.
Good haircut $2
Bad haircut $2 (yes, you have to be lucky)
Great Coffee $0.50
3 Buses to the city total $1.50
Taxi to the city $25
1kg of bananas $0.55
Shoe shine $0.25
Kit Kat chocolate bar $2.50
Sports massage $12

Training highlights – beating Mo and the world’s best

On this particular occasion down the training field where everyone runs I bumped into Mo Farah & 10 other top athletes with renowned distance running coach Jama Aden – “Coach Jama” as he’s known. He was a good guy and I got on well with him, like all the lads really. I ran up next to them, side by side. I shouted “marks, set, go,” and I ran off like a bullet. I beat the lot of them. Albeit only 200m, a race is a race True story!! My moment of glory!

Chris with Ayanleh Souleiman

Chris with Ayanleh Souleiman

Chris with Ryan Hall and Mo Farah

Chris with Ryan Hall and Mo Farah

Thumbs up with Abdi Abdirahman

Thumbs up with Abdi Abdirahman

Training here has been great (bar a few tight calves.) with a real professional set up, etc.! I’ve got a clearer vision of what needs to be done. It’s the same answer about life – a lot more hard work.

An Easy day in Ethiopia training

6.00am. Rise from sleep
6.30-7.30am Go for run (1hr) or Speed session session on the track or Tempo session.
7.30-8.00 stretch & foam roll
8.00-9.00 breakfast (see picture pancakes my favorite treat)
9.15am phone home
9.30-10.30 Sleep
11-12 gym core work
12.30-1.30pm lunch
2-3.00 sleep
4.30pm- 5.30pm 2nd run 40 minutes or more depending.
5.30-6.30pm gym work, stretch & foam roll
7.00-8.30 Dinner
9.00pm Phone home.
9.30pm Sleep.
This was an example of easy day. The tough days were cruel
Repeat for 31 days.



An Easy day training when home in Cork

5.05am- rise
5.25-6.25am Go Run
6.35-6.45 stretch & foam roll
7.00. Get Kids up for Breakfast & School make lunches & get kids ready for school
8.00 drop all the kids to each school
8.45am head to work (
1.15-2pm go to gym on my lunch break for prefab & rehab on my operated leg etc.
4.45/5.15pm Round up all the 5 kids
5.30- 7.00 make all the kids there dinner & help with their homework.
7.15 2nd run (3rd workout of the day) might be shorter or longer, depending on the day!
8.15 stretch & foam roll then recovery food, put kids to bed.
8.30-9.30pm Do paperwork & quotations for work.
9.30-10.15 spend time & chat with Claire about her day etc. she also works full time as well
10.30pm bed
Repeat, repeat, repeat.

I’m regularly training & having food with top international athletes, who would of thought. It’s one of the many reasons I love running. If you play golf or tennis etc, could you have breakfast or lunch and chill out with Mcilroy, or Roger Federer? Not a chance but with running you can.

Even when you toe the line to race, you’re in the same race with the best – racing together with men and women of all abilities, shapes and sizes! And everyone with different ambitions & goals. Running is one of those sports, even if you come last, you can still be classed as a winner. There’s really something for everyone. What other sport do you know that can give you that other than running?

Final thoughts

No matter what happens, if I don’t reach the sky with my goals and if it were to stop tomorrow, I still class myself a winner. My life has been transformed so positively through running. The people I’ve met that I now class as friends, places I’ve been, my club Leevale AC that I’m now heavily involved with through competing for as a senior athlete, club captain for 5 years, coaching middle distance athletes and my kids also competing for the club. My lifestyle is so much better through running. I’ve been educated through running how great life is and how much can be achieved. That’s success right there, regardless if I make it or not, I’ve won already! Now, you put on your trainers and feel the greatness. It’s there waiting for you. The road will always accept you.

Before drinking beer and overweight

Before drinking beer and overweight

After with the thumbs up and lean in Ethiopia

After with the thumbs up and lean in Ethiopia


A huge special thanks to my wife, Claire, and 5 kids. Your support has been never ending.

Thanks to Feidhlim Kelly and the rest of the team @ Jumping the Gun for posting the blogs. Only for Feidhlim telling me I should blog the experience, I probably wouldn’t have and this story would never have reached my friends and loved ones. Oh, and, ahem, for Feidhlim correcting a few spellings here & there. And finally for all of you who have read these blogs, appreciated them and thanked me for doing so, I really hoped I’ve provided some motivation.

I will leave you with this parting message:

So far I’ve achieved so many goals & will continue to achieve much more through my own beliefs, ambitions & desires. I’m living life, Regardless of who throws negativity at me, puts down my endeavors, whatever life will thrown at me. Like you, I too have had dark days in my life had dark days. I’ve lost, made mistakes, failed, got knocked down.., But, I rise, I learn from it, and I keep moving forward the best way I can…A person that can do such a thing is a winner right there. Now, let you go get it, whatever you Desire. If I can do it, so can you.

This Ethiopian Journey ends for me although a new one starts right Now…….

*Since returning to Ireland Chris has featured in the Evening Echo here and on the new Ray D’Arcy show here

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Feidhlim Kelly

Feidhlim Kelly

Con Houlihan once told me that tomorrow is now. In taking on this venture I’ve started to try and put his words into action.

I worked for Con from 2007 till his passing in 2012 taking down his copy and a whole lot more. I have a Con Houlihan section which will go in to more depth on that.

I’m a long-time contributor to the Irish Runner magazine and am also working for the Irish Examiner.

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