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Final lessons from Kenya

By Darren O'Toole | In Fitness, Health, Marathon training, Outdoor | on December 21, 2018

So as I wait at Doha airport for my final flight home, it’s the ideal time to pen my thoughts and highlight the lessons learned from the whole Kenya experience.

Whilst it was a running joke with my clients that this trip was a jolly, it’s purpose was two-fold. Firstly, I wanted to learn how to apply training principals from the very best endurance runners to aid my clients, particularly those training for endurance races. Secondly, I wanted to make myself a better runner. This has followed 3 years of poorer endurance performances. It feels like the time to end this rot!

The Kenya Experience December group - Dynamic Fitness Training

Whilst I feel I have taken more than these 10 points, a list of 10 lessons works well for marketing spiel, so here goes:

1. High altitude makes running harder

An obvious observation but the thinner air does make it harder to get oxygenated blood to the muscles. The result of training at these altitudes is when you come back to sea level, your blood is oxygen-rich helping to push performances

2. Intensity

So much of my own running training has been wrong. When the Kenyans work hard, they really work hard. Intense training at very fast speeds. Essentially there is no substitute in marathon training. You need to be performing regularly in and around this pace, no matter how tough it feels.

Darren running in Kenya

3. Easy runs have a purpose

I always found the slow runs a bit pointless. However the Kenyans often go out for a secondary run in the afternoon at a super-slow (for them) speed. They use this as a chance to increase the weekly mileage and to also freshen up muscles for the coming days.

4. The importance of rest

The Kenyans take their rest seriously! They train 2-3 times per day and do very very little else. The less the better. If they can sleep, that’s even more desirable. How this fits into a full-time job will be difficult to manage, however, at times when I look to be busy doing something, there is a genuine skill in completely switching off and just resting.

5. Training in groups is vital

Most of my running training is solitary. However, training in groups and varying individuals and also some pacers was a game-changer! It makes you run faster because you think less about your exertions plus if it gets tough, you keep going to save face.

Darren running in Kenya

6. Elite runners are different to other athletes

The accessibility to some of the world’s greatest runners was insane. I did some core classes with Mary Keitany (female world record holder), we met Julien Wanders (European 10k record holder) and Wilson Kipsang (former world record holder). I was having coffee and on the table next to me was Erick Kiptanui (Berlin half marathon winner and strong chance he may break the world record at this distance). On a long run, I was passed by Gladys Cherono (Berlin marathon winner). Imagine that in other sports: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mo Salah all interacting with Sunday league footballers. No chance!

Mary Keitany and Darren O'Toole

Darren and Mary Keitany, world record holder in a women-only marathon.


Darren and Wilson Kipsang

Darren with Wilson Kipsang, former world record holder and twice winner of the London Marathon.

Darren and Julien Wanders

Darren with Julien Wanders, European 10,000m record holder (27:32)

Darren and Jamie Cooke

Darren with Jamie Cooke, current modern pentathlon world champion.

7. There is a racing weight

I’ve been conscious for a while that the vanity of lifting weights was probably contributing to my slower running. I’m currently sitting at my lightest for a good couple of years, but hearing Wilson Kipsang say that he likes to run at 62kg (he is currently 69kg) tells me the importance of dropping weight. Maybe not to his level but I will target 65kgs for Manchester in April.

8. Long runs to be implemented on alternate weeks

Quality endurance sessions on the other week instead. Something building towards 5x5km repeats at marathon pace. This change will freshen up my training schedule and will prepare me better for the big day.

As well as what has been discussed, there were numerous other lessons learned. The brutality of a good fartlek session, the impact of bad food on performance, the power of mindset and visualisation, plus the demands and impact of a strong core. However I’m going to use the last two points for a slightly different angle on lessons learned:

9. The importance of human connectivity

For two weeks I was surrounded by a great group of like-minded people. We trained together, joked and bantered. We supported each other. We ate and chatted. We shared ideas, thoughts and opinions. It’s how life should be. Nowadays due to work, social media etc. we are used to booking in social interactions 2-3 months in advance. That’s crazy! We are humans who are designed for interaction.

10. Internet access

I was in a cafe in Doha today and was struggling to get onto the Wifi when the waiter came over and took my phone to log me on. ‘No wifi, no life’ he joked. But the last two weeks taught me that not being on the Internet was healthy. Nobody died, no fires, no business calamities, and to top it all off West Ham have won 4 games in a row since I have been away. It seems they didn’t need me checking Twitter every 11 seconds for updates after all! Sure, I did work when away, but working smarter was key. Limited water and you’ll adjust your drinking. The same with Internet access.

As a final thought on this long blog post, this was a trip I wanted to make for a long time. Going to an unfamiliar continent with a completely random group, leaving my wife and my work was daunting. However, quite frankly, it was brilliant! I miss it already. Perhaps if anything gets taken from this whole blog, if you’ve been putting anything off, unsure whether it will be what you hoped it would be, well then take the plunge!

The trip was organised through The Kenya Experience staying in Iten, Kenya at the High Altitude Training Centre. For any running enthusiasts out there, of all abilities, I couldn’t recommend the trip highly enough. If in doubt, book it, and be thankful that you did!


Read more…

Home of Champions: part one

Darren’s personal experience after one week at Iten, Home of Champions. Read about the training so far, itinerary, food and his initial impressions of this high altitude training camp for runners.


Home of Champions: part two

Week two in Iten, Kenya. Read about Darren’s personal experience about the training with Kenyans, hiking, famous Kenyan fartlek Thursday and more.

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