Jambo (Hello) from Kenya! This will be my first in a series of blogs from my training camp in Iten, a small town at 2400m above sea level in the Rift Valley. Over the New Years break for the last six years I have previously trained at Falls Creek, but after sitting my final exams at Sydney University last month I decided to treat myself to somewhat of an adventure. For the next five weeks I will be basing myself at the great Lornah Kiplagat’s High Altitude Training Centre, which the locals simply call “Lornah’s place”.
Whilst the Kenyan-turned-dutch former world champion Lornah does have her own home here, Lornah’s place is essentially a hotel with all the basics (three meals a day, electricity, running water) plus a gym, pool and the recently unveiled 6-lane track.
Lornah, often referred as the “Queen of Iten”, is a true Matriarch of the community. She receives the highest level of respect, not only due to the dual Olympians numerous athletic achievements and subsequent accumulated wealth, but through her generosity within the community. Incidentally she employs numerous locals via her businesses and foundation.
Through our association with our esteemed hostess we were invited to Lornah’s neighbor’s party, for a 16-year-old Kalenjin boy who had completed his tribal initiation. The whole neighborhood was here with traditional Kalenjin singing and dancing, and a big feast! The locals were extremely welcoming and happy to have us in attendance. This day was to celebrate him becoming a man, for which he had to reject the notions of fear and pain. For a month the initiate group of boys, some as young as 7, are sent out into the bush naked and with only spears for selfdefense. The have to live off the land and find their own food and shelter. At the end of this month, a tribal elder circumcises the boys. During this ritual they are to show no sign of pain (verbally or by expression). If successful they return to their friends and family for a big party, but if they fail they are considered social outcasts and are rejected by the community. With all this behind him it really was a festive atmosphere. This initiation is most certainly one of the reasons my Kalenjin competitors (the tribe from which a very high proportion of elite distance runners come from) are so mentally tough. I have to accept on the start-line that these guys have gone through more physical pain than I ever have, and be prepared to push myself to these limits when I race if I want to be competitive against them.
Another aspect of the Kenyan runner’s mentality is their virtue of patience. These guys sure know how to hammer a run, but also know how to “jog” (read: practically walk) for a float in a fartlek session or in a warm up/cool down. Kenyan life teaches patience in itself, whether it be Eldoret traffic (Far worse than Sydney or Los Angeles peak hour!), 1 hour lines at the bank or 90 minute waits at restaurants. The majority of people in Sydney are in a rush and trying to fit the most they can into every day. Iten is most definitely a more laid back lifestyle and that is reflected in the athlete’s training.
There are a few other notable differences between living and training in Iten vs Sydney.
1. I’ve never had to dodge a heard of cows, sheep, or an oncoming tractor during a session around Centennial Park.
2. On my way to training I’ve never seen four cars simultaneously try to squeeze down a one-lane-one-way road and force each other onto the nature strip.
3. Never had to bargain a price for my washing with a man holding a machete.
4. I’ve definitely never seen anyone in Sydney cram five people onto one motorbike flying at full throttle with no helmets!
When actually at training here, to be honest I haven’t noticed physical differences compared to Falls Creek. The same goes here that my cardiovascular system certainly limits me from running faster as opposed to my muscular system down at sea level. I’m certainly hoping this block of “proper” altitude training (Falls Creek is only ~ 1650m above sea level) will pay dividends in the upcoming track season. The locals certainly don’t lack confidence that altitude is the key and that any mazungo (white man) that trains with them up here will run substantially quicker. All the locals have such a positive outlook on their athletic future; no one lacks confidence with all previous performances seemingly redundant up here. It really amuses me to see guys with PB’s of 14:30 for 5k (albeit at altitude and on a dirt track) keep pace with 2:05 marathoners in sessions.
It’s certainly an interesting lifestyle here, and I hope to continue to learn a lot about what makes the Kenyan distance runners who they are and relay the lessons through this blog.
Until next week!
AM 65mins PM 15 min core
AM 10 mile PM 40 mins
AM 90mins PM Gym session
AM Fartlek (8x 3mins off 1min jog) PM 40 mins
AM 60mins PM Gym session
AM fartlek (1-2-2-3-4-5-5-4-3-2-2-1 all off 1 min jog) PM 40 mins
AM 1hr 45 mins Rest