Running trip experience in Kenya
Updated: Nov 30, 2022
Staying at the beautiful location of HATC (High Altitude Training Camp) hosted by RunningTrips.co.uk for the ‘Kenya Experience’ in Iten – that place just blew my mind. I could not believe this was the place where I would be staying for the next 2 weeks.
This has everything I love the most: nature, trails, passionate & inspiring runners, healthy & fresh food, highly skilled coaches, amazing amenities: swimming pool, sauna, gym… everything included! And the staff was lovely & always available & full of attention; almost feeling like a family away from home😊
We have been briefed on the first day that the first 2 days of running would need to be very easy which means at 30% of max effort. And they advised us to go for a massage after 2 days to make sure that our body recovers properly.
I met a group of passionate runners; each of them with a strong motivation to push their limits with all sorts of spectacular stories: John, a 70-year-old British man who ran 45 marathons since he started running at the age of 58. Yvette from Mexico, who has been diagnosed with a genetic disorder, found the energy to set up running goals for her physical & mental health to be able to participate in marathons again.
Cesar from Spain, who started running for charities for more than 10 years, currently for WaterAid which is a non-profit organisation that makes clean water and good hygiene normal for everyone everywhere. Therefore, he is now in a mission across the world to run 100 official marathons on seven continents including Antarctica to raise awareness and funds for WaterAid and help provide safe water and sanitation to those in need: https://www.runcesarrun.com
And many other passionate stories…
I loved the energy coming from that camp, the assistance & the amazing motivational discussions we had together.
Everyday we had a specific program usually following the default Kenyans running program: Mondays with easy runs, Tuesdays at the track, Wednesdays recovery runs, Thursdays Fartlek, Saturdays long runs & Sundays rest day.
Afternoons were usually filled with visits: the local school, non-profit organisation, city tour… or talks with athletes and coaches. Also, we had the chance to attend some core & conditioning sessions with one of our coaches (Richard) for 30 mins to build up on core & hip strength which are beneficial to improve running efficiency & prevent injuries.
I enjoyed the fact that everyone was free to decide if they wanted to join the run of the day or not all without any judgement.
As coach Richard was saying: “The only coach is your body”.
Also, each run was supervised with enough pacers so that everyone could have support and have someone to run with at their own pace. No one was left behind 😊
Not only we had running sessions, but had the chance to have talks with coaches, athletes, but also the incredible opportunity to run at the Eldoret Kipchoge stadium track with Eliud Kipchoge himself sharing the same lane! This man is incredibly humble & kind as he is approachable and looks sincerely happy to meet other runners. Everyone could access the track and train there; even had an emotional moment when seeing a young kid running with basic adidas shoes and following a group of international runners on the track – feeling like he was strongly motivated and animated by his personal goals.
In a nutshell, the overall Kenya Experience was top notch! I have absolutely loved the camaraderie of the past two weeks and I missed it already during my first few days back home. I am now so excited to train and come back stronger for the upcoming races.
Training methods of Kenyan distance runners
Iten is the most popular training camp among others. 90% of the runners training in Iten are not from here. As there are competitions among schools, the best runners can aspire to move to the best schools. Then they can compete in the regionals, nationals, or internationals championships. If a runner manages to be in the top 10 in the nationals, then he can get a chance to go to international group trainings.
How does the default training schedule of a Kenyan runner look like?
Monday = progressive (slow) run for about 10/12 km
Tuesday = Track Tuesdays (about 2km away warm up) = around 10km of track workout
Wednesday = Recovery run for about 1h
Thursday = Fartlek 1 or 2 or 3 min fast / 1 min slow
Friday = Recovery run 60min/ 75min
Saturday = 30k/25k in the forest most different after track (long run) – afternoon 6’40 / 7’00 to let the blood flow for body recovery
Sunday = rest day
Strength training consists of a whole-body workout around 3 times a week from 30min to 45min then at the end of a program bring it back to 30min. When getting closer to the race event, the focus is on speed. When preparing for a marathon, the longest run is usually 38k at race pace or 35k progressive & last 5k fast. How do they build up? They would start with:
Week 1 30k
Week 2 35k
Week 3 38k
Week 4 40k (3 weeks in the row)
Then following weeks lowering the distance to 25k/18k the week prior to the race day.
The key is to follow easy runs (at 6’40 min/km or 7’min/km pace) when it is supposed to be, otherwise you pay for it the next day. Do not try to follow someone who is faster than you so you can keep progressively thinking of a long-term plan.
Kenyans are strong because they have the winning mentality … if they fail, they just say next time they will win. What I learnt about Kenyans life: Kenyans are feeling blessed to have altitude to train & perform. Also, Iten town is full of vegetation and the temperature is ideal to train. What makes them strong: their active lifestyle as they are used to walking, carrying water on their head, and taking care of the cows…
Our coach Collins shared with us that he was living 5km away from school & was running to be able to arrive on time each morning, then came back for lunch and back to school again in the afternoon: a total of 20km a day! Kenyans develop strength while running or walking on hills; most of them don’t train in gyms.
They are mentally strong because they want to win! There is no option for failure, they attach a lot of importance to each race because this is their source of revenue & their only way out from poverty to buy some food for their family. Also, their ability to endure pain is great training for a sport like running where "pushing through pain" is so fundamental to success.
“No pain no gain”
They have the power to plan their program in the most disciplined manner: breakfast, warm up… when it becomes tougher during a race, they do not share their emotions, they just smile😊 (such as Kipchoge).
Some of the best middle and long distance running athletes in the world, including several Olympic gold medalists, and numerous world champions world record setters and elite marathoners followed their education at St Patrick’s School. The surrounding town of Iten, with a population of about 4,000, is said to host as many as 500 athletes, a high altitude training camp, and many people related to the sport.
Kenyans might be great in long distance runs but why don’t they do ultras? The risk of getting injured is too big to risk an end of career. Running is their way to earn money & they do not have the patience to run a longer distance than a marathon. They already push themselves to earn money & ultras are not giving enough compared to what they risk on the table.
Running history in Kenya
Kenya is an ancient British colony. There are different types of tribes within Kenya: the Kalenjins are the ones who run. They number around 5 million, making them a small minority, even in Kenya, yet they dominate most of the world's long-distance races. Runners are most of them driven to run to win prizes. For winning regional competitions, you can get soda & bread and that is already a big prize for them.
At School they have sports classes and students can choose the sport they want between: soccer, basketball & athletics. Saint Patrick’s school in Iten welcomes 16,000 students (national school) and is considered to be the best school in the country.
What contributes to the success of Kalenjin?
Built to run: the shape of their bodies (genetics): Kalenjin have particularly thin ankles and calves. This is particularly important in running because your leg is like a pendulum. The more weight you have farther away from your centre of gravity, the more difficult it is to swing.
Mentally strong: Kalenjin runner Kipchoge Keino defeated world-record holder Jim Ryun at the famous 1,500-metre upset in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. That day Keino not only won gold, but he also ushered in an era of Kenyan dominance. The amazing thing is that doctors had ordered Keino not to run the race at all. He'd been diagnosed with a gallbladder infection just a few days before. A gallbladder infection is incredibly painful. It hurts the most when you breathe hard when you're running. Keino not only won the race, but he also set the Olympic record.
Poverty level: Running is a shortcut to get money. Especially if they are not successful enough at school to pursue other studies.
Testimonial from 5k/10k/marathon elite athlete: Silvia Kibet
Silvia is the oldest sister family of 10 children, she is coached by Ian Caranova, sponsored by adidas.
She mentioned that only 20 years ago women started running in Kenya; it was formally not conformed to Kalenjins. She has 2h26 on her marathon record, 14’42 on the 5k distance & she won many medals across multiple races: 800m/3k/5k/10k/ marathons and travelled to many countries.
She is 38 and started running at the age of 13 – gave birth to 3 children with the oldest being 17. Silvia is the one who started with running in her family. Despite several breaks & giving birth she came back to the top winning even more medals. Also, she was the one bringing money to the family while the husband stays with the children to take care of the kids. She is also a business entrepreneur and decides to invest her money wisely. She is a true inspiration for all these women athletes who want to build a family at the same time as keeping her dreams & own personal goals in the scope. It gives hope and proves that everything is possible if the passion is still on!
Gathimba Edwards Foundation
It was an emotional moment visiting the great work of the Gathimba Edwards Foundation.
The foundation itself raises funds to help children in Kenya and their mothers and not only to have a roof over their head but to have a self-sustained community, have children go to school and help them come out from a bad situation they might be living in.