Kenya Training Diary: Day One

Runner's World heads to Kenya's Rift Valley to discover the training secrets of Kenyan runners

Chepkoilel Campus
Chepkoilel Campus

I’ve come to Iten, a small village overlooking the Great Rift Valley, to discover why Kenyan runners are so dominant right now. The benefits of training at altitude play their part – we’re at 2,400m, which means that walking upstairs causes the kind of wheezing you’d associate with a 4- a-day habit – but that can’t be the only reason that Kenyan runners cleaned up at the recent London Marathon. Mary Keitany was first lady winning in 2:18:37, with four other Kenyan women making up the top five. In the men’s race Wilson Kipsang finished in 2:04:37 ahead of Martin Lel for a Kenyan one two.

I’m staying at the High Altitude Training Centre (HATC) where Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe trained over the winter. Everything here is designed to make training as simple as possible. There are both Kenyan and international runners staying in the camp, which was founded by runner Lornah Kiplagat, who has already secured her place on the Kenyan team for this summer’s Olympic marathon.

It’s the rainy season in Kenya but the sky is clear this morning when the sun comes up around 6am. Runners have by the gates of the camp to train. They set off in small groups to tackle the first training run of the day. It might be a slow recovery run for 60 minutes, or hill repeats on the main road that slices through the village. Unlike Western runners, the Kenyans tend to train according to how they feel and not what it says on their schedule.

Coach Richard Mukche (marathon PB 2:15) who works at HATC, explains that Kenyans use a training schedule as a guide only, preferring to adapt every session to suit how they feel and even what’s going on outside. So at the moment, if it’s raining, they don’t run outside. The running tracks are slippery in the wet, and the Kenyans worry that they might catching a chill if they run in the rain, so they simply don’t bother. Instead they go to the gym or simply wait until the sun comes out.

After breakfast we drive to the Chepkoilel Campus to watch some middle-distance runners train on the red clay 400m track. I’m not sure what I was expecting to see, but it wasn’t young athletes dressed head to toe in the most up to date Nike and adidas kit. The big brands sponsor many of the most promising young athletes to stay in residential training camps in the area and kit them out. We watch them run lap after lap of 400m repeats before it starts to rain and everyone goes home for lunch.

Richard believes that the Kenyans’ dominance can also partly be explained by the fact that they don’t rely on fancy gadgets when they train. “Kenyans don’t use heart-rate monitors. They train according to how they feel,” he says. “If they feel good, they try to push their limits.” Watch any Kenyan in a race and you’ll see them lead from the front. This strategy is encouraged in training. On the track, five runners might run along in a line with the front-runner setting the pace and pushing everyone to keep up.  The goal is to go as fast as possible and if you fade, then at least you gave it your best effort.

Another big difference between Kenyan runners and the rest of us is that they take relaxing seriously. They place equal importance on resting and training, so an average day if you’re staying at the camp might look something like this:

6am run

7:30am breakfast

8am go back to sleep

Noon lunch

2pm second run of the day or weights in the gym

4pm rest

6:30pm dinner

9pm bed

From Monday to Saturday, this routine forms the backbone of the training schedule. Every Sunday is a day of complete rest. People wake up have breakfast then go to church and visit friends. It’s Sunday tomorrow but I’m not planning to rest. Richard has agreed to design a schedule so I can train like a Kenyan before my next marathon. Tune in tomorrow to see what Richard has in store for me…

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MdS Training Blog: The Final Countdown


 
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Good read some sessions. Great attitude. Running free , having a go.


Posted: 18/05/2012 at 06:15

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