Ethiopian distance runner Mestawet Tufa (© Victah Sailer)
Extraordinary things are expected of Ethiopia’s Mestawet Tufa as she prepares for the 2014 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, on 19 October.
However, that’s nothing new for this talented athlete.
As a relative novice, she won the 2007 All Africa Championships 10,000m title, an achievement that counts for a lot in her native country and which certainly caught the attention of the world’s media.
A year later she earned the silver medal at the 2008 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh and almost beat the 15km world record on the roads.
Now, just over a week away from her 31st birthday, she is seeking to fulfil her enormous marathon potential.
“I am so motivated (by my family),” she reveals. “I have seven brothers and two sisters and six of them are athletes in different events. I was inspired by seeing (Olympic champions) Derartu Tulu and Haile Gebrselassie running.
“I met them before because Derartu is my neighbour. I didn't see them on television but I heard about them on the radio. I wanted to be like them.”
Among her running siblings is 27-year-old Tigist Tufa, winner of the 2014 Ottawa Marathon in a course record time of 2:24:31.
“There is no rivalry between us,” she said of her younger sister. “I have a good relationship with her, but she lives in her own house in Addis Ababa.”
Although Mestawet has a personal best of ‘only’ 2:26:20 from last year’s Nagoya Marathon, where she made her debut, it seems that it’s just a matter of time before she knocks a chunk off that, hopefully, she says, in Toronto.
“I hope I can run my personal best and get a good result there,” she declared. “Yes all I can do is try my best. I don't have any information about Toronto."
Tufa is coached by famed Ethiopian coach Getaneh Tessema, the husband of Gete Wami.
On any given morning, just after sunrise, the group of nearly 100 athletes will meet in the village of Sendafa. It’s a 20-minute drive from the capital of Addis. The region lies at close to 9000 feet and is ideal for marathon training.
After a short warm up of three kilometres jogging led by the veteran coach, the group gathers to receive instructions for the workout. They then hammer out hard efforts of 10 minutes repeatedly with a short recovery, kicking up dust along the rural roads.
Children stop to admire them as they pass by, no doubt dreaming of one day following in their footsteps like Tufa did as a young girl.
The women and men are separated during the training sessions although the women have a male pacemaker to ensure they complete Tessema’s objectives.
Mestawet runs with a group that includes 2012 Olympic champion Tiki Gelana and Dinknesh Mekash, who came to Toronto a year ago but failed to finish the race.
Like many of her contemporaries, Tufa comes from the Arsi region of Ethiopia where her parents have a small shop. At least once a year she goes back to visit them.
Earlier this year, despite dreadfully hot and humid conditions, Tufa won the Yellow River Marathon in China setting a course record of 2:28:27. To travel all that way from Ethiopia and come up against an unsavoury climate was very disappointing, she admitted.
“I didn't expect these conditions but I can run in hot conditions,” she added, summarising her efforts after her third and most recent marathon.
As far back as 2009, she was racing competitively at the half marathon distance and finished fifth at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships that year so it is logical ask why she waited so long to move up to the classic distance.
She provides a good explanation.
“It’s because of my baby boy,” explained Tufa. “My baby boy was born on 17 January 2011. His name is Olyad Worku, so now he is three years and seven months old.”
Being a mother and a full-time athlete means she is grateful for the relaxation time she finds herself daily. That is filled with pastimes very quickly.
“I enjoy time with my family,” she says. “I like watching Ethiopian movies, especially drama movies, and I like swimming at Bole Rock in Addis Ababa. They have a swimming pool, gym and sauna there.”
Tufa knows she will face a strong women’s field in Toronto including Aliaksandra Duliba of Belarus, who has a personal best of 2:21:29. The latter has apparently targeted the Toronto course record of 2:22:43, which translates into a great opportunity for Tufa to lower her best time.
Paul Gains (organisers) for the IAAF