Course Information and Description

The Haile Gebrselassie Marathon, to be held on October 20, 2013 in Hawassa, Ethiopia, will be on a two-lap course. Each lap of the citywide course will be 13.1 miles. Half-marathoners and marathoners will start together at the convenient start/finish which is located two miles from the center of Hawassa, and within two miles of any of the race hotels.

Transportation will be provided to and from the start/finish to any hotel more than a kilometer away.

The 13.1-mile lap is almost entirely on well-paved asphalt roads within Hawassa, which is at an elevation of 5,500 feet or 1,700 meters. A small section of the course is on a smooth, dirt trail.

Hawassa is one of the flattest cities in Ethiopia and there are no major hills on the course. There are a few gradual uphill grades that lead from the shores of Lake Hawassa to the center of Hawassa.

Dealing With the Altitude

There’s no getting around the fact that the host race city of Hawassa is at an elevation of 1,700 meters. That’s slightly higher than Denver, but it’s not an extreme altitude for walking around or even a race. Even so, for a flatlander not accustomed to this altitude it will be a bit more difficult to run for one simple reason: There is less oxygen in the air at 5,600 feet than at sea level. The percentage of oxygen is the same, there’s just less of it. Since there’s less oxygen being sucked into your lungs while running, less oxygen is supplied to your working muscles, which means your heart will have to work harder to maintain your normal running pace. This translates to a 10-15 percent drop in running efficiency.

What does this mean to you? It means you must cut back on your normal marathon race pace by at least 30 seconds per mile. Of course, this varies according to the fitness of each runner and where each runner is from. Certainly, a runner from San Francisco or London will notice the altitude more than someone from Mexico City or Geneva, but it will effect every runner. You won’t be in Hawassa long enough before the marathon for your body to fully adapt to the altitude, but it will begin to compensate even in a week for the reduced oxygen. It takes about six weeks for your cardiovascular system to acclimate to altitude.

What can you do to compensate for the altitude? First, be cognizant of it and make certain you are fully hydrated at all times. (Higher altitude increases sweat evaporation, so you lose more water than normal.) Secondly, don’t be fooled by how you feel walking around Hawassa. The altitude isn’t extreme enough to have a drastic effect on daily activities, but it will on your running. You might not notice it on very slow training runs, but you will if you speed up to your normal training or race pace.

A word to the wise: Plan to run slightly slower than normal by maintaining a steady rhythm with regular breathing. You don’t have to breathe differently, but stay relaxed and keep your running or race pace fully under control. If you should feel yourself becoming out of breath, slow down even more (or walk) and shorten your stride.

Fortunately, the marathon course is not hilly, so chances are good that if you slow down and breathe normally, you’ll be fine. Try not to let yourself get into a situation where you are breathing heavily because once you are out of breath, it is harder to recover than at sea level. If you run relaxed and aren’t too ambitious about setting a personal record, you should do just fine.

Climate

The average temperature for Hawassa during October is 20 degrees celcius, or 68 degrees fahrenheit. The average maximum temperature during this time is 26 degrees celcius or 79 degrees fahrenheit and the average minimum is 12 degrees celcius or 54 degrees fahrenheit. On average, Hawassa has three days with precipitation during the month of October.

How to Prepare for Conditions in Ethiopia

Heat is a relative thing. What is perfect beach weather isn’t exactly ideal for a marathon. But while the temperatures in Ethiopia will be warm for the Hail Gebrselassie Marathon, they certainly won’t be extreme.

Point of fact: The temperatures in Hawassa in October for the marathon should be fine. The temperature at the start of the race should be in the mid-50s, warming up 10-15 degrees by the race's conclusion. Although predicting race conditions so far in advance is hardly a guarantee, the weather in Hawassa during the fall is predictably dry (very low humidity) and mild. Not bad, but still it might be a touch warm. But if you prepare for the warmth next summer, you should do just fine.

Anyone who has run a warm-weather race knows, humidity is our number one enemy. Luckily, that shouldn’t be an issue in Hawassa. For most of us who will be running in Ethiopia, we will just be coming out of our summer, during which time our bodies will have adapted well to the heat. Whether consciously or not, we acclimate to the heat and our bodies adjust to the unique stresses that heat places on us while running.

We do better in the heat in August and September than April or May, simply because our bodies have adapted to it. Heat acclimatization is a wonderful thing to talk about, but the only actual way the body adapts to the heat, is to train in the warmth of summer. If you live and train anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, you should be fine in Ethiopia. If you have lived and trained for the past six months in Argentina (where it’s winter), you might want to reconsider. Exercise scientists say it takes approximately two weeks of warm-weather running for the body to adapt and make the necessary physiological changes. So you should be well-prepared for the mild, dry weather in Hawassa.

As your body adapts during summer running, the mere act of running becomes easier as the body begins to cool itself more effectively. The most important changes that take place are to the heart, which pumps more blood with each stroke. With more blood being pumped near the surface of the skin, you’ll be able to get rid of more heat through your skin. As more blood is pumped to the skin surface, you’ll sweat more. Contrary to popular belief, sweating is a good thing because sweat is the body’s best way of cooling itself. Sweating is the key to keeping your body temperature at a safe level in Ethiopia. Certainly, not all warm weather is exactly the same.

The main difference is humidity. On a dry, hot day, more than 80 percent of your body heat is dissipated by the evaporation of sweat from your skin—good news for the HG marathoners. But on an extremely humid day, the sweat from your skin evaporates slower and is much less effective at cooling the body. That’s why running on a dry, hot day may feel easier than on a more humid, but cooler day.

But not everyone sweats in the same way. Some runners sweat a lot (which is good), but too much sweating sets them up for being more prone to becoming dehydrated, which is not good. Acclimating to the heat won’t have much of an effect on dehydration. The body can get used to running in the heat, but not to a loss of fluids. So, one of the keys to acclimating to the heat is to increase your fluid intake before, during, and after running.

One of the most common myths about warm-weather running is that drinking adequate amounts of fluid will keep you cooler. Sorry, it won’t lower your body temperature, but drinking enough will at least keep you properly hydrated and stave off dehydration.

When you begin your acclimation process in the summer for the Haile Gebrselassie Marathon, the key to adjusting to the heat is to do so gradually. Slowly increase the length and intensity of your runs in the heat, but only in short doses. Your first few runs in the heat should be very easy, short and stress-free. Going for a long, hard run won’t speed up your adaptation to the heat. Fortunately, you’ll have all summer to train for the marathon and by the time October rolls around in 2013, you should be ready for anything Mother Nature throws at you.

Here are some warm-weather running tips to keep in mind next summer:

1. Drink before, during and after every run. Drink at least 12-16 ounces of water or sports drink before you run to make certain you’re fully hydrated. This is critically important.

2. Before running, check the temperature and humidity to make sure it’s not excessively brutal. If it is over 85 degrees with a relative humidity of 75 percent or higher, go for a shorter run than planned. If it’s above 90-95 degrees and the humidity is over 85 percent, either run indoors on a treadmill, go for a walk, bike ride or a swim.

3. Check your weight every morning. If your weight has dropped significantly in the past day or two, you’re probably dehydrated. If so, drink enough water, juice or sports drink to bring it back up. (Water weighs 2 ½ pounds per quart.)

4. In your first few warm-weather runs, go easy. Don’t push the pace, length or intensity of the runs.

5. Never wear heavy clothes (such as a jacket, sweatshirt or tights) in warm weather. This is a common mistake. Some feel this will help you adapt more quickly to warm weather (or lose weight). It won’t work.

6. Wear as little as possible. The fewer clothes you wear while running, means less heat will be trapped close to the body. Wearing less also means the sweat can evaporate better and cool you off.

7. Recognize warning signs of heat exhaustion: headache, chills, tingling sensation on arms or back, pale, moist skin, rubbery legs, red skin and rapid pulse. If these symptoms are present and you feel weak, stop running immediately and get to a shaded, cool area. Better yet, get inside an air conditioned area or dunk yourself in a pool.

8. Don’t eat excessive amounts of salt. It won’t help.

9. Avoid alcohol immediately before and after running. If you want a post-run beer, make sure you drink at least 12-16 ounces of water or sports drink first.

10. Avoid running during the hottest time of the day. Earlier is usually better than later—even if the humidity is higher.

11. If possible, try to run on a shaded dirt trail or grassy field. Both are cooler surfaces than a road.