As part of being an ambassador for XMiles, I have been asked to do a monthly blog describing anything and everything from my running life. This being my first, I have decided to recall my last two trips to Kenya for altitude training and ideas that I learnt whilst being around some of the best athletes in the world.
Photo from Iten,Kenya with Wesley Korir
I have been lucky enough to visit Kenya and more specifically Iten twice in the last year. My first trip spanned around 6 weeks, from the end of November right up until the middle of January. It was a huge eye-opening experience for me, it was the first time I had travelled without any family members to, basically, sort everything out. So arriving in Iten at night, whilst it hammered down with rain, was far from a welcoming experience but I would never let it deter me from why I was there. Looking back at the training I accomplished then, it was a huge breakthrough in terms of the mileage I was able to cover but more surprisingly, it was done at such a relative slow pace. Almost all of my easy runs in the evening were done at 9minute/miling. Obviously, taking into account the altitude and the terrain, it would come out quicker at sea-level but it is something that I still take with me to this day. These runs would be done with a 28-low minute 10k Kenyan. I think that everyday you should be training at 100%, but in the sense that if it’s an easy run, it should be done at 100% easy to gain the maximum benefit from each day.
The first trip I also stayed at Lornah’s, more formally known as the High Altitude Training Centre. It is a great place to stay and certainly somewhere I would recommend for first-timers to the area due to its community feel. I met so many people there from people looking to complete their first Comrades marathon to Olympic Marathoners. The whole camp is designed for people to integrate, by eating together at meal times, relaxing in the lounge or going for easy runs as a group. There is a huge range of people there all with similar goals to improve their running, which makes it a great experience.
One thing that must be said about Iten is the hills. They’re everywhere. Big ones, little ones, some as big as your head. Whilst some complain it makes recovery runs too hard, I prefer to think that you’re teaching your body to deal with hills all the time thus asking it to see the hills as normal. Although you’d probably see this differently after your first run. The terrain itself is also conducive to staying injury free. Apart from the single main tarmac road that leads from Eldoret to Iten and who-knows-where beyond, its all a fine dirt. Unless its rained the night before, in which it turns into a sticky, clay-like substance that is all but impossible to run in without gaining a few extra pounds on your shoes. The whole area is special. The children are incredibly excited to see you, which is definitely a novelty (at first!). They normally even run alongside you for a while too.
My second trip, however, was strangely different. Still to this day, my coach and I are not really sure what happened but everything seem to take half the time it took the first time to click. Even after the first night my heart rate was like I was at sea-level. The 9minute/miling of the first trip was replaced with nearer 8s, whilst maintaining the same heart rate. Had I got fitter? Probably. But it was still a very strange feeling to not be struggling immediately on arrival like last time. The struggle soon came mind, but I was expecting it to be sooner. It was also nice to have a friend to accompany me on the second time, Jamie, as it made more comfortable to be around someone I had known for so long and generally, just share the experience with. We spent around 5 weeks, spanning from mid-October to mid-November. As to be expected with spending so much time around one another, there were times of frostiness but all in all, it was a hugely enjoyable experience with J and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back with him again (like we’re planning!). But it’s certainly something to consider should this blog give you the enthusiasm to go. Go with someone you know you won’t fall out with! Or at least that won’t completely piss you off. Particularly when you’re in the middle of a 90 mile week and feel like a walking zombie and even the sound of someone eating is annoying you. No doubt I was a right invalid to live with at, hopefully just, moments.
We stayed at Kerio View, so a different venue to the first trip for myself. It was, in general, a more hotel like experience in comparison to Lornah’s. If you wanted to just immerse yourself in training with no distractions other than food, you could. You probably wouldn’t need to speak to anyone. Luckily, however, J and I found people that were of a more sociable type. Sondre and Mussa soon became friends that we spent eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with; every day. A hugely rewarding experience to hear of their travels and racing exploits. Similar to Lornah’s, the discussions of running in the evening were great and of similar topics, in fact. The usual; mileage, doping, particularly because it had all been kicking off recently, and personal bests were all discussed in length and of course goals for the future.
Whilst you may think that going to Kenya is an eat, sleep and run experience, which it is for a lot of it. There are a few days which you can go and explore, and take in the country for what it is. Pretty damn great. A couple of meals I remember in particular would be Sanjeels Indian, with J, Sondre, Mussa, Owen, Bobbi, Ugandan Ben and his girlfriend (who’s name I can’t remember!) that was great fun and a good change away from the usual. We also ate at a pizza-place after watching the marathon on one of our last days before going home. Where we ate with J, Mussa, Amos, and few other Kenyans and Richard. We only met Richard in the last week or so but he became a great friend, showing us places in Iten and Eldoret that I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. He also brought back a fantastic banger in the form of Angels by Shaggy. A truly wonderful hit that just went off in the car, even after the 15th time. He was also kind enough to give me a Kenya jacket! I should also mention Amos who carried me through my first long run, when I was dropped like an unwanted tissue. The pace was rolling around the 6 minute/mile mark but it didn’t make me feel any better and the suffering on the climbs on the last few miles still haunts me. I wouldn’t change it for anything though.
Hopefully, if you made it all the way through, I have given you an insight into my trips to Kenya over the past year. I could write and write and write about more things that happened over the two trips but I wanted to try and make it as succinct as possible so not to completely bore everyone that even attempted to read it! Should you actually want more, which would be a huge shock, I made a video from my last trip;
I also did weekly updates whilst in Kenya on my personal blog - @ Running Dangerous
Thanks for reading.
David is part of the XMiles ambassadors team and represents Bournemouth AC. Keep up to date on his writing about his adventures.
Follow David on Twitter @longy5000 and Power of 10