Sunday was rest day. By rest, this meant a 4am start for safari day. Having been stopped for speeding enroute to Lake Nakuru and our bus breaking down when returning, this truly was a ‘Kenyan Experience’. Alas our sightings of lions or leopards didn’t materialise however multiple zebras, giraffes, water buffaloes, rhinos and baboons were the order of the day.
Then week 2 began. We were gently broken into the running in week 1. This allowed us to acclimatise to the thinner air and the increasing mileage. Week 2 was more about quality work. It began with a 1 hour ‘progressive run’. By this it means, doing the first 30mins at a comfortable pace and speeding up during the second half. A popular Kenyan running method. Having enjoyed a rest day, as a group we pushed hard on this run producing a pretty decent distance across the hour.
A couple of the week’s afternoon sessions were spent on an ‘easy’ run of 5-6km at a comfortable pace. Other days involved Timo Limo’s pretty brutal hour of core. As a hint, it starts with four minutes worth of plank and into 6 minutes of abs work, before he declares: ‘now we will start!’.
Tuesday was track Tuesday. Instead of the dirt track at Tambach (which had become a mudbath following some overnight downpours) we headed instead to Lornah Kiplagat’s tartan track. Lornah herself turned up at the camp midway through the week and I’m sure would have been immensely impressed by our 15x400m session. It’s probably very rare for these Kenyans to see 400m repeats performed so slowly! However repeats of 85-90s were a real lactic acid inducing blitz.
A gentle 3 hour hike to the waterfall was the afternoon’s activity. Or ‘Waterfall-gate’ as it will affectionately be known by me going forward. The rain had made aspects of the journey pretty tricky and inappropriate footwear hadn’t helped my cause. However, the absolute legend that is Willy Songok who has looked after us from Day 1, was aiding our progress. Unfortunately one aid was to get me to hang briefly from a solid branch. A branch which snapped in my hand, sending me falling arse-over-tit down a steep hill to the waterfall. Fortunately Niall, a caring campmate from Galway was on hand with his phone to catch the moment in all its glory. The return to the High Altitude Training Centre in Iten also saw a few of us come across our first snake sighting.
Back to safer territory, Wednesday was a run through the simply brilliant Singore Forest. It was like being a child again. A very tired child following 13km of incredibly arduous hills and terrain but a child nonetheless. Throwing ourselves down steep hills, avoiding logs, feet soaked from waterlogged grass, hills which were a nightmare to walk up let alone run, it was brilliant.
Then onto the fantastical ‘Fartlek Thursday’. The mythical day which Kenyan running is so renowned for. They chose this day to do their 3:1 ratio. The nightmare scenario for us muzungos (white, foreigners!). This meant 3 minutes of fast paced running followed by 1 min slow jogging as recovery. Our coach gave us the advice of just doing 1:1 as this would be too much. He was right, but I had to at least give the first one a bash. Before setting off the leader gave a small speech in Swahili. A laugh amongst the Kenyans as they turned and looked at us. We were the butt of the joke it appeared. The first minute was the easy one. Brilliant, I thought, as I kept up nicely. Then the sound that will haunt me for a while. A hundred Kenyan watches beeping simultaneously. The three minutes was underway. I clung on for all I had, in front of some, behind many. The longest three minutes. Until the watches all beeped again. Relax. I’d survived. But in no time, the beeps were going and I wasn’t. Spent from the first one, I aborted trying to keep up and went into our coach’s plan: 1:1. We finished the same route and full credit to my roommate, Billy, who was the first white man home and this had embarrassed many of the Kenyans that he passed to drop out in shame – that’s no joke!
Friday morning was an easy run. A much needed one after one of the most brutal sports massages I have ever received. Leading into Saturday’s final run of 12.5km before flying out of Kenya. It has been a rapid and amazing fortnight. One I wanted to do for a long time and one which I am delighted I have done.
In the third and final blog about Iten, I will be discussing lessons learned and our meetings with top athletes and the godfather of Kenyan running, who just so happens to be an Irishman!
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.