Tuesday is speed work day in Kenya too. And since it’s not raining, the track at Kamariny Stadium is packed with groups running intervals, practicing drills and chatting with their coaches.
Wilson Kipsang, winner of the 2012 London Marathon, isn’t doing speed work though. He’s still recovering from the race 10 days ago and opts instead to hit the gym at the High Altitude Training Centre where we’re staying, and where Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe come to train when they’re in Kenya. Wilson spends 20 minutes on the bike before doing 20 minutes of strengthening exercises that target his quads, glutes, shoulders and arms.
Coach Richard Mukche explains to us that elite runners often ‘disappear’ for a while before and after races they’re targeting because they don’t want to be distracted by other runners trying to find out what kind of shape they’re in. Less successful Kenyan runners are very open and happy to talk about their training. This is Wilson’s last workout before he does a disappearing act and leaves his home in Iten to train somewhere else for several days.
When Wilson is running, he trains at the track at Kamariny Stadium too. I head there after lunch to attempt for the first and last time to keep up with some Kenyan runners. I’ve been in Iten – at 2,400m – for four days now and I’m still finding the altitude hard to deal with. It should take around five days to acclimatise but that seems optimistic based on how I feel.
I’m introduced to David Kemboi who lives in a simple military barracks next to the track. He’s been running for 20 years, which is a long time by Kenyan standards, and now coaches army runners. Today he’s pacing a young athlete Doris Jerop around the track. They sprint 300m then walk the final 100m slowly to recover before setting off again. Doris is running each 300m in 49 seconds. I start every repeat with them but can only manage to keep up for 100m before I fall of the pace.
Doris is at the start of a six-month base-building programme and David hopes that one day she’ll become one of Kenya’s best 5,000m runners. We talk about the great form that all Kenyan runners have, and which so clearly lack, and he reassures me that it’s ok to run with a bit of a shuffle. He explains that Kenyans have such high knee lift and elegant strides because they’re used to picking their feet up quickly as youngsters when they stand on something sharp.
It might be a bit late for me to change my style, but I can try to train like a Kenyan when I return home to the UK tomorrow. I’ll be signing up for cross-country races, leaving the gadgets at home, paying more attention to rest, and running coach Jimmy Simba’s world-beating session interval session. And who knows, in 2013 maybe I’ll beat my marathon personal best. I don’t think the Kenyans need to start worrying any time soon though.