My primary event is the 3000m steeplechase. Kenya has won every men’s Olympic steeplechase for the last 30 years. In fact, if you take into account that Kenya boycotted the 1976 and 1980 Olympics, they have a perfect 10 out of 10 record in the event since 1968.
At the track on Tuesday I asked a prominent coach of Kenyan athletes what he thought the secret to the steeplechase is. His response “You need to be very strong between here (points to his hips) and here (points to his knees). You can do it in the weight room, but the best way is the hill.”
Funnily enough, my own coach asked me this week “Have you been getting any hills in there?” I put to him a more appropriate question, which might be “Are you getting any flats in?” A Google search will tell you the town of Iten was literally named after nearby “Hill Ten”, of Scottish explorer Joseph Thomson’s treks in 1883. I wonder how quick the old Scotsman would have been over the steeplechase?
I’m in the gym 2-3 times a week working on the other part of the equation. Typically I focus on exercises such as single leg standing hamstring curls, single leg dead lifts, single leg hip extensions, single leg squats and single leg Romanian dead lifts. My gym coach (Miles Downie from SUSF) and I have tried to make my strength work as functional a possible for running: one leg on the ground at a time. On top of this, I’ll also do 15 minutes worth of various core exercises.
In addition to the direct performance benefits, my time spent in the gym plays a big role in injury prevention. But I also find the crucial factors in preventing injury for the long distance runner is the global picture of total loading (mileage) and how you’re achieving that (intensity and mechanism). At one stage, about a third of all the westerners staying at Lornah’s place had some sort of injury. Most commonly it was to the Achilles tendon due to too quickly introducing very hilly runs into their program, and the particularly uneven surfaces throughout the routes. A common mistake people make in training camps is to just train too hard, too often and admittedly I’ve been a culprit of this in the past myself. I’ve learnt of the years its better to pick your fights more carefully and work consistently.
Last Sunday was a classic example of the overtraining mentality, what my coach calls “false bravado”. It was Mo Farah’s first long run in Iten and some of the guys were clearly excited. Mo was literally jogging at 3:30/kms, whilst countless casualties dropped out along the way. It was easy to see these guys were clearly overreaching in trying to keep up with the dual Olympic and World Champion. I found it refreshing to see that the current best of the best didn’t look like he was over doing it. Likewise on Tuesday it was pretty special to see Asbel Kiprop (world 1500m champion), Nixon Chebsba (3:29 1500m man), Augustine Choge (famous victor over Craig Mottram at the 2006 Commonwealth Games 5000m) and Mo all training simultaneously around the Camareen dirt track, and once again, not one of these guys looked like they were about to collapse on the dirt after their respective workouts.
Training alongside and learning directly from the best in the world here in Iten has been an invaluable experience. I’ve made some great friends here and am content with the consistency of my workload. I return to Australia mid next week and I’m eager to test myself down at sea level over the Australian athletics tour and see the hard work I’ve put in here pay off.
Asante sana (Thank you) for reading!
Yours in running,