My friend Gape has always loved being active and in primary school participated in all kinds of sports, but especially enjoyed running which he has carried through to this day. He was a year behind me at High School and although we never interacted, I knew him as one of the crazy guys always running circles around the school’s dirt sports track alongside like-minded individuals including my friend Leruo and now-husband Ditiro. They ran in baggy cotton tees and their weekly 4K time trials were posted by Mr Wilson on the big Morula tree next to the track. I had no interest in running at the time but their dedication and discipline to the sport ignited a curiosity in me that I explored twenty years later. It is for this reason, I call them “The Originals”!
Gape has completed four marathons and countless half marathons, his favourite distance being the Half as “it’s long enough to challenge you but short enough not to wear you out too much.” Running is a great stress-reliever for him but it also challenges him both physically and mentally, and instils in him a discipline that he channels in all spheres of his life. One of his greatest strengths is how he actively supports, encourages and motivates runners at all levels and he was instrumental in getting me to my fastest-ever times for the 10K and 21K. A proud Gaborone Strider since 2013, he is often spotted in his Striders’ gear running the streets of Gaborone.
However, for a few weeks Gape has swapped the young metropolis that is Gaborone for Eritrea’s historic capital city Asmara, which is the world’s sixth highest capital in terms of altitude! I now hand over to him to share his running experience in Asmara.
I Run Asmara – Eritrea
A brisk October morning, 05:56, I head out for my long run. This is my first morning in Asmara and what better way to explore a new place than to go running. I cross the street to the right and in confusion cross back to the left. Traffic was behind me when I was on the right, so for safety reasons I crossed to the left to face oncoming traffic. They drive on the right in Asmara.
I head towards the Airport as this was the route my colleague had recommended and he said I’d come across other runners and walkers. Second moment of confusion happens when I get to the roundabout. I flick my head – left, right, left, right, unsure where traffic is coming from. But cars are not the biggest worry when running in Asmara. Instead, it is the steady stream of bicycles and electric-powered bikes you have to navigate. Intersections become “Watch the car, watch the bicycles”. Having negotiated the roundabout, I keep heading south, the air feels thinner. I check my Garmin watch and I’m at 8:32min/km with a heart rate of 142. I slow down, wanting to keep my heart rate below 142, but a bit bummed by the slow pace. Then I remember I’m at 2,350m above sea level. Asmara sits on the central highlands of Eritrea and there is a winding road that takes you from Asmara down to Massawa, the coastal town along the Red Sea.
Two kilometres into my run I come across an assortment of runners and walkers and at last I feel at home. I continue on the tree lined street. Along every major road, there is the same tree equally spaced along both sides, which looks pretty cool and when you get downtown, you are greeted by these huge palm trees lining the streets as well.
Asmara is indeed beautiful; around Asmara is even better. Many of the buildings in Asmara date back to the 1900s with an Italian architectural influence. In fact, in 2017 the city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its well-preserved modernist architecture. My next long run takes me past the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral, opened in 1922. The church is a staggering and impressive 2,500m long and 2,000m wide and around 52m high. Many of the buildings haven’t changed much since they were built – they’ve just accommodated the trees next to them which makes for such enjoyable running around Asmara.
Thank you Gape for sharing this historical part of the world with us. Aside from exploring new places myself, there’s nothing I love more than seeing a different city through the lens of others!
Have you been to Eritrea? Do you run at high altitude? What side of the road do you drive in your country?
I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their link up, Tuesday Topics. I’m also joining the Runner’s Roundup with Mile By Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, and Laura Norris Running! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners from around the world.