Tadesse Abraham: Running to Swiss Time

Summary: Eritrean distance runner Tadesse Abraham, 31, has lived for the last ten years in Switzerland, during which time he has made quite a name for himself on the international running scene. He won the 2013 Zürich marathon with a record-breaking time of 2:07:44 – thirty six seconds faster than Viktor Röthlin’s national record set in 2009. If as expected his application for Swiss citizenship in April is successful, he looks set to compete for his adopted country at the 2014 European Championships in Zürich in August. I emailed him recently to find out a bit more about him and his plans for the coming year.

INTERVIEW: Chris Godfrey

Tadesse, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Tell me, when did you first start running competitively and how did it come about?

I was a cyclist in Eritrea. After a minor accident in 1997, I started running and then in 2002 I ran in competitions. I did not have much equipment at the time and I remember that I had to run my first race in the old shoes of a good friend. That friend is still with me and I owe him a lot – he actually helped me to become a professional runner. The shoes by the way were three sizes too small and I ended the race with bloody toes – but I did win! That was the start.

Since you have been resident in Switzerland for 10 years and your wife is already Swiss, it seems very likely that you will qualify for Swiss citizenship in April this year.  As a political refugee from Eritrea, what does it mean to you to get a Swiss Pass?

It’s the moment I have been looking forward to for a long time! I have learned a lot about Switzerland during the past ten years and have grown to love this country more and more. It’s funny, my friends tell me that they have seen two sides to me now: not only the Eritrean joie de vivre, but also typical Swiss values like reliability and punctuality. It’s a good mix I think!

Assuming that your application is successful, you should qualify in time to represent Switzerland in the marathon at the 2014 European Championships in Zürich in August.   What are your plans leading up to this major event?

To compete for a medal at the European Championships is one of my major goals for 2014 and also one of my biggest dreams. My training for this event will start in the coming weeks. I will return to Ethiopia to train and will then run a half marathon in March and a marathon in April. Then, I will go back again to Ethiopia for the final preparations for the Championships in August.

The 2014 marathon course looks quite tactical and challenging, with an initial 2.195km loop in the city centre followed by four circuits of 10km, each with a steep climb from the river up to the ETH.  What do you think of the course – does it suit you?

I am already familiar with the course and I agree that it is a challenging one. The race itself will be tactical, that is what happens during big events like the European Championships or the Olympics. I like the course and, as the spectators will be able to see the athletes four times during the race, I am sure that it will provide a spectacle for them. I hope to see a lot of people around the course cheering for us!

What special training will you do to prepare yourself for Zürich 2014?

As I said, I will go back to Ethiopia to train in January and then probably again in June. I also plan to run a marathon in April and a half marathon earlier in March. But I don’t plan to change my training plan. I was successful with it in 2013, so I hope that it will also apply for 2014.

Many people are hoping that your occasional training partner Viktor Röthlin will be defending his 2010 European marathon title in August.  Who else do you see as your main rivals in this event?

I would be very happy to see Viktor defending his title and it would be a great finish for his career. However, I think there are more than ten athletes who will compete for the medals. Maybe more, as it will be a tactical race and not necessarily the fastest man will win.

Focus on Tadesse Abraham Feautured Image
Tadesse at the unconventional start of the GP Bern 2013 (Photo: Chris Godfrey)

You first won the Zürich marathon (on a different course) in 2009 and last year you won it for a second time with a PB and a new course record in 2:07:44 – an improvement of 36 seconds on Röthlin’s national record from 2009.  Do you think you are capable of achieving an even faster time in April?

 I know that I can still run faster! Winning in Zurich 2013 gave me the reassurance that I can do more. However, I have learned also that it’s not solely up to you, it’s a mix of different elements that need to be 100% right to run faster: you need pacemakers, a fast course, favorable weather conditions and sometimes also a little bit of luck. So in April, my primary goal is to win and not necessarily to beat the record.

Tadesse Abraham’s next events:

Lisbon Half-marathon 16th March 2014; GP Bern 10th May 2014; Zürich Marathon 6th April 2014

Tadesse Abraham’s PB’s:

Marathon 2:07:44; Half marathon 1:01:25; 15km 44:22; 10km (road) 28:27,9; 5000m 14:36,7

You recently took part in the Honolulu marathon and came seventh with a time of 2:21:51, just a week after winning the Basler Stadtlauf for the third year running.  However, in the Frankfurt marathon in October you didn’t finish, even though you were on course to achieve a top-ten place in a strong field with an estimated time of 2:09.  What exactly happened then and what did you learn from the experience?

 As I said before: on the day, everything needs to come together and in Frankfurt I was not able to deliver what I had planned. There were two or three things that were not right on that particular day and I decided to stop after 30km. I learned a lot from it. Also, at the time it didn’t make sense to finish the marathon, otherwise, I would not have been able to run in Honolulu a few weeks later.

 What other events are you intending to participate in this year?

 For 2014, the European Championships is my main goal.

 If you are successful in August, will you continue to support local Swiss running events?  Do you have any favourite events?

 Yes, of course. That has nothing to do with being successful in the Championships or not. I have lived in Switzerland for 10 years now and have fallen in love with these races. I am amazed how many people compete at events like the Corrida Bulloise, the Stadtlauf in Basel, the Cours de l’Escalade in Geneva and the Silvesterlauf in Zürich, as well as many others. There are thousands of runners and the organisation of the events with such numbers is always perfect – Swiss perfect!

Basler Stadtlauf 2013 featured
In 2013 Tadesse won the Basler Stadtlauf for the third year running (Photo: Chris Godfrey)

Can you briefly describe a typical day’s training?

It depends if I am in Ethiopia or in Switzerland. For example, in Ethiopia, we get up early – at 5 to 5:30. We then drive outside the city for about 1 hour to do our training session, either together with two or three friends or with a group of 20-30 runners. I often train with Yemane Tsegay (marathon 2:04:48) and Atsedu Abraha (half marathon 58:47).

 This can last for 2-3 hours and we do different types of training, like speed, endurance or interval training.

 Addis is about 2300m, and depending on where you train, you can go even higher, for instance, we  go often to Entoto, which is around 3000m.

 After the training, there we do some jogging, running school or stretching exercises. Then we drive back to Addis Abeba for a shower, sometimes a massage followed by breakfast or dinner, depending on the time. In the afternoon, there is time for relaxation, sometimes we go for a drink in the city. Finally, we go to sleep and then start again the next day.

 And in Switzerland?  I read that Viktor Röthlin was one of your training partners.

 I usually train alone in Geneva where I live. Yes, I join Viktor 1-2 times a year for a joint session in the Engadin.

 What rôle has the LC Uster played in your development as a top athlete?

 LC Uster is the athletics club which welcomed and integrated me into their group when I first arrived in Switzerland.  For me the club is a part of my family and that is why I am still very attached to it.

 Who else has supported you?

 I have been helped many people over the last years. This year, they got together and formed “Team Tadesse“. For me, they are a part of my family and are all very close friends. They support me whenever they can and I am very thankful for them. The same goes for my sponsors. Adidas has supported me for years by providing me with great equipment which has allowed me to run faster and faster. I would also like to mention Ochsner Sport, my main sponsor for 2014, and Sponser Sport Food.

 Finally, who has been your greatest inspiration?  Do you have any sporting heroes?

 Oh yes, I have a lot, but my biggest sporting hero has always been Paul Tergat.  For me, he was a very successful and disciplined athlete. I met him once in 2005 at the Grand Prix in Bern, after I won the race. He told me that he appreciated the strategy I had used and gave me morale and motivation for the future.

 Many thanks for answering my questions, Tadesse, and the best of luck with your plans for 2014!

For further information about Tadesse Abraham, including detailed racing results since 2004, see his website at www.tadesse-abraham.ch

© Chris Godfrey 2014


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4 thoughts on “Tadesse Abraham: Running to Swiss Time”

  1. Yes he will win the european championships 2014, because know to him he is training hard every day and displend for his work that is the main important things for marathon I hope he will the gold medal in the european champions for swizz
    good luck tadesse

    1. Thanks for the comment, Berihun. I agree that Tadesse is disciplined and trains very hard. Like you, I hope that he will win a medal at the European Championships 2014 in Zürich.

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