Running On Om

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ROO #90: Mother Juice on Bringing Fresh Food to Boston

Will&Ellen2Ellen Fitzgerald is the cofounder of Mother Juice and Will Jackson is the manager of Mother Juice. Mother Juice is an organic juice, smoothie, and raw vegan eatery in Cambridge, MA that recently opened in September 2014.

In the episode, Ellen and Will discuss why they started Mother Juice from its beginnings as a food truck in Boston to the logistics of turning it into an actual storefront. They both reveal how they got into juicing: Ellen’s grandmother’s influence on her and Will trying to pursue his now girlfriend. Ellen and Will explain Mother Juice’s recipe and menu development and the challenges of starting a business. They reflect on who has inspired Mother Juice’s food philosophy. Ellen shares her perspective on why Boston has a surprisingly few amount of vegetarian/vegan eating spots. They discuss how Mother Juice is cultivating a community that is changing lives. Ellen provides insight on why people are afraid of food labeled as vegetarian and vegan and how Mother Juice is trying to overcome this. Lastly, they preview Mother Juice’s plans for 2015.

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ROO #89: Haile Gebrselassie on Never Giving Up

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Haile Gebrselassie is one of the greatest distance runners in history, a professional runner from Ethiopia, Olympian, world recorder holder in numerous events, including the former world record holder in the marathon, and now businessman and father.

In the episode, Haile tells the story of how he started running, from running the 10km to school and 10km home everyday to his first 1500 meter race at the age of 14. Haile reveals the reasons behind his favorite running distance. He discusses the importance of never giving up and the role this lesson played in his 2000 Sydney Olympics 10,000 meter race where he won the gold medal. Haile explains how running influences his outlook on business and the centrality of his faith in his life. He offers his perspective on why Ethiopian runners are among the best in the world and describes what his training looks like now. Haile reflects on how he balances his running, family, and businesses. Lastly, Haile shares who his biggest role model has been.

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Yaya Journal 9: Learning Languages on the Run

YayaJournal9We headed out for my final run, our second run of the day— an easy 40 minutes through farm fields and forest. In Ethiopian running culture, groups of runners run in a single line. I have never asked the exact reason for this, but would guess it is because the terrain can be narrow and unpredictable. There is also a system in which everyone points to the ground or snaps their fingers when crossing an uneven patch of land — alerting the person behind them to tread cautiously.

Despite running in a line formation, laughter and chatter provided the soundtrack for our run— often sounding like a game of telephone. Since this was my last run with the Yaya Girls, they let me set the route at the front of the line, leading the five women on my desired path. Within minutes of running through the first farm field, we dodged a herd of cows. As we had to jump around to avoid the impassive animals, one of the girls began to yell  “cow” in English, which caused an eruption of giggles from the rest of the line. That past week in English class, we had learned the names of farm animals and played a game of charades by impersonating different animals, calling out their sounds.

monkeyfamAfter the cows, we saw a dozen stunning horses— whites, browns, and pintos. The girls greeted the horses with boisterous declarations of “horse!” We then passed a groups of donkeys with water jugs on their backs, headed to the same water spot where the Yaya Girls typically fill their water containers.

From the farm fields, we crossed a road to the forest entrance. In the forest, the sound of the girls’ feet and relaxed breath filled my ears as we weaved around tree stumps. Another interesting observation of Ethiopian running culture is that instead of running in a straight line, people make mini loops around trees, due to the fact that the trails are often hard to differentiate and even, nonexistent.

Suddenly, one of the Girls yelled “tota!” At first, I thought that something was wrong, but when I turned back to look, they had stopped running and were pointing to a family of monkeys. We had not learned their name in English class yet, so I motioned to the girls and said, “monkey.” Similar to during class, the group responded by repeating the word “monkey.” We were then back on our way, running through the forest— students of language, running, and life.

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ROO #88: Julia Bleasdale on Running on Track and Trails

JUL_BLE052 copyJulia Bleasdale is a professional runner from Great Britain and Olympian.

In the episode, Julia tells her story of how she got into running from balancing her passions for running and music in her youth to running competitively at Cambridge University. She reveals the challenging transition to professional running and how she overcame injury. Julia reflects on her incredible experience running in her home country for the 2012 London Olympics and her racing strategy behind running both the 5k and 10k at the Olympics. She discusses what inspired her to first travel to run in Ethiopia, including advice for training at high altitude and her personal training philosophy. Julia shares her love of trails, from her recent trip to Italy to run with Salomon’s trail running team to a recap of her recent win at the Greensand Trail Marathon. She explains how to balance periods of rest and recovery in one’s training and offers her unique viewpoint on the pros and cons of not running with a watch. Julia explains her perspective on why Ethiopian runners are among the best in the world. Lastly, Julia previews what she is excited about in her progression to the 2016 Olympics.

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Yaya Journal 8: Will They Be Olympians?

OlympainsROO“Are they Olympic Material?”

I have received this question numerous times by curious friends. I reply with a muddled “no,” explaining that I am not diminishing the girl’s running abilities, but explain that is not the aim of the Yaya Girls Program.

The goal of the Yaya Girls Program is not to make olympians, but instead to focus on fostering the development of these young women in numerous other arenas. Let me describe the greater Ethiopian running culture in order to full explain why this is:

Before coming to Ethiopia, I did not realize how many people in Ethiopia are trying to pursue professional running. After a few morning runs in the forest, where I would typically see at least 300 hundred runners in a span of 45 minutes, it became clear to me that thousands of Ethiopian runners are striving to win races.

Running in Ethiopia is seen as a way out of poverty. Many runners are encouraged to drop out of school from a young age to focus on running, and are told by their coaches that they will be unable to reach their potential as runners unless they leave school and train full-time. Many of those who drop out, join running clubs — training in the morning, resting during the day, and training again in the afternoon. Some of these clubs provide the runners with small stipends, while others do not.

Many of those who pursue running come from low socio-economic backgrounds and believe that running will be a pathway to wealth. I have often wondered whether if given enough money to live comfortably for the long-term, would they still choose to continue training? Is running just a pathway to making money or do they truly love the sport? Are these questions even mutually exclusive?

I had the opportunity to do short interviews with the six current Yaya Girls and explore their backgrounds. I asked each girl about her running dreams. In their own words, each said something to the effect of “I want to win races and become rich.” I also asked many other Ethiopian friends who were pursuing professional running about their running goals and received similar answers.

Unquestionably, it is a beautiful thing to believe in your dreams, but there is also the reality of understanding one’s abilities within the context of the surrounding competitive environment. Only a handful of people from each country can be sent to the Olympics in any given event, and when thousands of runners pursue these few spots, almost all will be sadly left out, without a ticket to Rio.

What do these runners fall back on when they are poor, have little education, are unemployed and have no marketable skills or job prospects?

This is where the mission of the Yaya Girls Program comes in. We provide aspiring young female runners with an opportunity to grow and develop as more than just runners. At Yaya, the Girls study English, gender empowerment, and receive vocational training. They still train twice per day and take their running very seriously. However, instead of running being their only way out, it becomes a culturally accepted safe space where they can practice hard work and discipline, while continuing to chase their uncertain running dreams.

When the Yaya Girls graduate from the program, the hope is for them to leave with new skills and connections to get a well-paying job, allowing them to become financially stable, young adults. What is most important is that they leave the program empowered, strong, and able to support themselves, whether or not they continue to run.

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Yaya Journal 7: Altitude

YJ7AltitudeLiving and training at 8,858 ft is no joke! Before coming to Ethiopia, numerous people in the running community offered me advice for transitioning to and sustaining my training at such high altitude. Here is a list of some of my findings from my experience, along with the helpful tips that were offered to me:

  1. Start SLOW: Coach Roy Benson, co-founder of Green Mountain Running Camp and ROO Podcast interviewee, offered this advice when he knew I was headed to Ethiopia. He said, “Start so slow on a run you almost feel like you are walking.” Starting slow meant not worrying about my pace, but instead focusing on my internal compass which registered my perceived effort. Starting slow also meant reducing my mileage in order to allow my body to adapt to stressors of the new environment. Lastly, embodying slow can, at times, mean walking instead of running.
  2. Enjoy your ZZZs: At sea level, I usually find that 8 hours of sleep provides me with plenty of energy for the entire day. At altitude, I noticed I needed more sleep in order to feel like myself — around 9 or 10 hours. Also, I am not sure about the scientific reasons people have crazy dreams at high altitudes, but let me tell you, it is real thing!
  3. Increase your carbs: As a celiac vegan, eating in Ethiopia turned out to be very easy (read more about my experience with Ethiopian food in Yaya Journal 6). I found that my body needed more carbohydrates than at sea level, which meant more injera, potatoes, oatmeal, and rice at every meal. In addition, I ate a small snack before every morning run— my favorite pre-run bars were Picky Bars or Health Warrior Chia Bars. Usually around three quarters of the way through my runs, the altitude would really start to hit me, and my body felt empty and sluggish. Having a little treat before my morning run lessened the experience of having “lead legs.”
  4. Stride it out: At altitude, my easy running pace was slowed down significantly. In turn, my gait cycle and form were altered to adapt to this slower pace. Although I know I gained some “surface strength” from the challenging terrain, doing strides at least three times a week helped me remember proper running form and stay injury free.
  5. When in doubt, smile: I am not going to say that most runs at altitude were easy, and in fact, I had some of the most challenging runs of my life in Ethiopia. However, despite the hard runs, I would remind myself to smile while running. The simple act of smiling helped me remember to be grateful for running in a beautiful environment with a healthy and strong body. Stopping to take a trail selfie (see picture on the left) also helped lighten the mood, as passing farmers and other runners watched me, giggling at the foreigner girl in a trucker hat with a weird looking phone.

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ROO Video: Doubles A’s and B’s

After the Yaya Girls’ morning and afternoon runs, they would do running drills which they called “A’s and B’s” or “gymnastics” on the soccer field at the Yaya Village in Sululta, Ethiopia. To learn more about the Yaya Girls, visit

Music by Junip, “Walking Lightly”


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