The history of the Great Ethiopian Run

July 2019

This November's Great Ethiopian Run will be the tenth Orbis has participated in, but the history of Africa's biggest road race goes back even further, to 2001...

Haile Gebrselassie and the first race

The first Great Ethiopian Run took place in Addis Ababa on 25th November 2001, when former Olympian and World Athletics Champion Haile Gebrselassie – founder of the event now credited as Africa's biggest road race – acted as the race starter, before jumping down from the podium to join the ten thousand participants. Given that he had secured his second Olympic title in the 10,000 metres just one year before, it is maybe not surprising that he also went on to win the first ever Great Ethiopian Run.

18 years on, Haile Gebrselassie remains the figurehead of the Great Ethiopian Run and, although he may be less likely to run it, he still acts as the race starter every year. Many of Ethiopia's talented runners have followed his lead in the meantime, powering through the streets of Addis Ababa to win first place and launch their running careers on an international stage. In fact, the Great Ethiopian Run has become known as a showcase for Ethiopian running talent, with recent winners Abe Gashahun and Foiteyn Tesfaye both going on to win international acclaim.

But isn't just the professionals who have taken the Great Ethiopian Run to heart. Within a few years, it was proving so popular that officials were able to start staging races in other parts of the country, and the original race in Addis Ababa has continued to go from strength to strength. From ten thousand participants in 2001 to the over 46,000 expected to take part this year, the Great Ethiopian Run is now a much-anticipated annual event that sees Ethiopia's capital turn into a race course like no other.

About the race

The format of the main race has changed little since its inception in 2001. It takes place every November – this year, the big day is Sunday 17th November – and the course is 10km long. A children's version of the race is staged the day before.

Once the elite runners have started their race, the mass participation event begins. The start point can seem a little chaotic as there are no waves or phased starts, but the enthusiasm of the crowd is enough to propel anyone forward. Times are only recorded for the elite runners, so if you are taking part and you want to keep a note of your own time it's best to establish a way of measuring that yourself.

Because Addis Ababa is 10,000ft above sea level, those not used to running at high altitude may find the experience challenging, but the Great Ethiopian Run is as much of an experience as it is a race. Many do not run the entire course – some walk, some dance, some take their time and stop off for refreshment along the way. However participants take part, they can be assured of one thing: the full support of the crowd. The Great Ethiopian Run is a celebration – and a particularly joyous one, at that.

Join Team Orbis

Fancy joining us? Sign up to be part of Team Orbis and not only will you get to take part in this incredible event, you can also join us on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to explore southern Ethiopia.

You'll experience some of the amazing scenery, history and culture of this wonderful country, as well as witnessing first hand the work we are doing with our partners – facilitating real change in communities where access to quality eye care is seriously limited.

Interested? You can find out more here, including full itinerary and fundraising information.