I have a new running role model and she happens to be living just a couple rooms down from me. Julia Bleasdale, who recently finished 8th in the Olympic 5k and 10k for Great Britain, is staying at Yaya Village for 5-6 weeks and I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter, speedier or more inspiring person to spend so much of my time with.
Julia barged onto the international scene in 2011 when she made the Great Britain World Cross Country team- an achievement she achieved without a coach- and continues to turn heads with her remarkable progress on the track. She set personal records in both the 5k and 10k in the Olympic Games, running 15:02 and 30:55, and is looking to roll with that momentum in the upcoming international cross country season.
Julia’s breakthrough came at the right time, but her career has been anything but smooth or straightforward; she’s suffered a number of injuries and even took a 3-year break from the sport as a result. But her ability to turn setbacks into comebacks and to keep aiming higher makes Julia one of the toughest and hardest working athletes I know of, and I’m soaking up all of her advice and examples like a piece of injera with shiro. Fortunately, she’s extremely gracious, humble and open and doesn’t seem to mind all of my questions about her training and thoughts. I’ve snagged some great core, stretching and strength exercises, unusual but valuable training tips (like doing a bunch of hiking to acclimate to the altitude and strengthen your legs), some coaching on my hill running, and even some recipe ideas from her, and I can’t wait to see what else she’s got up her sleeve.
But just because she’s a phenomenal runner, don’t peg Julia as the single-minded, overly cautious distance runner we all know (no offense.. I’m guilty of that sometimes too!). She also happens to be one of the coolest and most adventuresome people I’ve come across and there’s no doubt that her personaly, ability to adapt, and love of a good challenge all play a role in her success. Julia comes from a fell running background, currently lives in the Surrey Hills, and prefers rough, high, mountainous running- making the Sululta area her ideal training grounds. She’s lived and trained in Ethiopia 3 times before and I can totally understand why she keeps coming back for more. Julia has also done quite a few extended mountain runs, carrying just a backpack, running during the daylight hours for a few days in a row, and sleeping in little huts along the way. He doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to convince my brother Matt into doing something like that with me next summer. Keep up that training!
Julia is also a great explorer and a bold navigator, trying out new trails and areas all the time, and has no problem going well out of her way to find a nice place to run. For example, for our long run with Dan last weekend, we caught a minibus to the bottom of Entoto, hiked up 50 minutes, stashed our warmups and water in a market stand, and spent the next hour and 45 minutes running up and around the mountain. The peak of Entoto is nearly 10,500 feet, making it the highest run I’ve done here and also offering some unbelievable views of Sululta, Addis, and the vast monutains surrounding us. Without Julia, I probably wouldn’t have braved such a trek. But thanks to her, I have a new favorite long run, more confidence to trail-blaze on my own, and an awesome training partner (for some runs, at least) who acts less like an Olympian and more like a local who runs for the pure joy of it.
I (like everyone else at Yaya Village) am so pumped to have a new friend, mentor and inspiration in Julia and I feel privileged to get such an extended and personal look at her day-to-day routine. I look forward to many more long chats over meals, exciting new runs and social gym sessions, and to see what she churns out this spring and beyond.