Iten – Home of Champions

I was pretty skeptical about heading over to Kenya on my first ever altitude trip and had previously declined to go out with the Uk Athletics Endurance Squad as I felt training was going well enough at home. Another limiting factor in my head – was that I have struggled with low iron in the past and so didn’t want to risk becoming anaemic again – as it is a total ball ache to get yourself fit and healthy again! But after much persuasion from Big Liz (coach), we decided that an initial 3 weeks training spell in January – whilst the apocalypse is happening back in Scotland (weather wise) – would be beneficial. Within my first day of stepping foot in Iten, my opinions changed dramatically. I asked if I could stay out a further week and a half – but to be honest – I would of gladly stayed out for longer had I not had to return back to my real life… University – boo!
The whole culture in Iten is just completely different to anything I have ever seen before. Running is normal. Back in Dundee, Scotland… running is not normal. You have to persuade people out on a run by claiming they can have a McDonald’s after it or that they can down 10 Jaeger bombs later that evening and still keep fit. On my first steady run, we had several little kids – no older than 5, with no shoes on – running alongside us for a good mile. It was amazing to see. They get excited seeing ‘mazungos’ (white people) out running and so come along and join them. Every single run I did there were always kids joining in, asking my name, what country I came from – a really unique experience. I would literally have to throw my little brothers Xbox out the window to watch him run outside 2metres to collect it – yet these BABIES were out casually jogging alongside me. Everyone kept mentioning that the kids eventually become quite irritating as many of them only know very limited english words – these words being ‘How are you’… to which I honestly must of heard a billion times. But to me, it was never irritating. I was too much of a melt – answering every single time someone shouted “HOW ARE YOU” from miles away. It’s much nicer than ‘ RUN, FOREST RUN’ or ‘118’ being shouted at you…
I had one little girl run alongside me, in her shiny Sunday Church dress for a good 2 mile – she was telling me how she loved running and that one day she hoped she could be like David Rudisha. Kenyan athletes to these kids are like gods – athletics offers a way out for most people but the main problem is – there are HUNDREDS of top class athletes, even just from this one town!
Track session
Asbel Kiprop
track session
the stream of kenyans
Going down to the track was an experience in itself. The dirt track was completely invaded with hundreds of kenyans all doing sessions at 9am on a Tuesday morning – and when I say hundreds that is no exaggeration. In one separate training group, doing 20x 1k reps, we counted 58 kenyan athletes. 58!!! I also spotted, former Olympic 1500m Champion Asbel Kiprop, casually running around in the huge group. I could of sat and watched them training all day, running is so effortless and full-time for these guys. That’s the difference to back home, there are so many distractions – silly little things you don’t think about until you realise out in Kenya they aren’t there. It is the bare minimum – constant power cuts,cold showers, limited internet etc. Thankfully within Lorna Kipligat’s High Altitude Training Centre we do have certain ‘luxuries’ that allow us to keep sane.
My kenyan dust-tan
The food within the camp was actually not as bad as I expected it to be – although after 4 weeks it does get a bit repetitive. Ugali (a sort of maize.. not sure how to describe it – but it tastes of nothing, has the texture of play-doh and if you threw it against a wall, it would probably stay there) but the Kenyans SWEAR by it. The other food we received every evening was Kale (looks a bit like seaweed – still don’t actually know what it is…). Alongside these two wonderful kenyan delights were more standard ‘home foods’ which ended up being some sort of ‘beef’ stew most evenings. Every day was set and so after 4 weeks you knew exactly what was coming up. In the evenings for desert we were mainly given watermelon or oranges but ONE DAY a week, we had cake day. The best day of my life. It was hilarious to see how everyone’s moods completely lift on ‘cake day’ but extremely worrying how quick the freshly cooked cake and chocolate sauce vanished. People were skipping their main meals to get their cake fix before returning back to the Ugali and Kale.
Breakfast and lunch were by far the best meals of the day. Every morning there were always freshly cooked pancakes or crepes along with some variance of eggs. One lucky morning we were treated to ‘mandazies’ – genuinely amazing – like little doughnuts with a slight taste of cinnamon. Lunch consisted of rice or pasta most days along with lentils or vegetables – but the most amazing part were the freshly cooked warm bread rolls. I genuinely lived off of 8 bread rolls and jam every single day out there – so, so good.
The ONLY time I got in the pool – picture proof that it DID happen.
Daily life in Kenya is pretty simple. Everyone gets up, has breakfast, meets for their morning run, gym, shower (well…. some people.. mainly the girls), lunch, chill out/play angry birds/nap/explore, go out for our second run, gym, shower, tea, play cards/quizzes, bed. It is genuinely like that- EVERY SINGLE DAY. Crazy, wild lifestyle….It does get repetitive but once you are back home, you really do appreciate how nice it is to live like that – simple. Card games were a vital part of the evenings as there was genuinely nothing else to do. Thankfully one day a week, Gaz (physiologist) made up a quiz for everyone to take part in. Without Gaz around, the evenings would have been a lot duller. Myself and Dean Miller are the two undefeated team members of BOTH quizzes – clearly just far too intelligent for the rest of the group.
Myself, Gaz and Del
We were very fortunate to have a really good selection of folk out in Kenya. When I initially looked at the list, I only really knew a few… but after 4 weeks of being thrown into such an enclosed camp – you get to know everyone pretty well! Mo Farah’s room was directly across from my own which was lucky for me as whenever my shower went cold, Mo’s went cold and it was always swiftly fixed by the local ‘DIY’ man who worked at the centre, Willy. For a double Olympic Champion – Mo is so laid-back and genuinely one of the nicest and most down-to-earth person i’ve had the opportunity of meeting. And from speaking to the other athletes – he seems to be the exact same person he was before his huge success within the sport – which is hugely refreshing to see.
Willy Songok… getting really into some Jerry Springer (look what i brought to the Kenyan culture… car crash TV shows!)
Thank me later Kenya…
There were some really funny moments out in Kenya but it’s a different situation were in now – social media has taken over – a small, funny story can be taken way out of context and blown out of proportion so unfortunately they will be saved for family and friends, maybe i’ll write an anonymous book in years to come and make a shed load of money…or not… 🙂
The ‘World Champ’ trees
St Patrick’s dining hall
We were lucky enough to go on small trips throughout our free time. One to the Giraffe Park and the other to St. Patrick’s School. They were both pretty sweet – the ‘giraffe keeper’ was so casual about the fact we were standing less than a metre away from these huge giraffes. Health and safety precautions aren’t particularly high on kenyan’s lists – I quickly realised – but it made it all the more exciting compared to back home! St. Patrick’s School is quite a well known boarding school due to the fact that the school has produced a ridiculous amount of Junior and Senior World Champions – who all get to plant their own little tree in the grounds – so cute. The school has the craziest athletics records I have ever seen! It was pretty cool to have a look around and visit the kids classrooms and dorms, it’s a bit of a contrast to boarding schools over here.
The crazy school records
St, Patricks Dorms
One day, myself, Jenn Walsh, David Devine and Dean Miller decided to take the trek into Eldoret for one reason, and one reason only – CHOCOLATE! Iten had very, very limited supplies of chocolate and after three weeks, I really started to crave some. Everyone had told us to hire a ‘matatu’ (a small van used as a taxi…although it definitely wouldn’t class as a van back in the UK…) but instead we decided to flag one down at the side of the road. Not our finest idea. We climbed in but then as the matatu stopped every 5metres along the road, another 3 people would climb in. In a 6 seater van, we had… 14 people! 14!!! Totally crazy but it added to the whole experience.. I couldn’t stop laughing – two men were hanging out the door as we were driving away. On the way back – I decided to sit in the front in order to guarantee a seat. After chatting away to the driver, I found out some vital answers to the hundreds of weird questions flying around my head.
  1. What happens if a car hits a cow? Who pays? – The person who owns the cow has to pay the driver to fix their car – even though the cows are people’s living and worth quite a lot of money!
  2. How much do you make as a matatu driver? – $2 a day, then they have to pay the owner of the matatu whom they rent it off.
  3. What’s his favourite food? – Ugali (he’s a liar… it taste like mud) but after a slight language barrier, I found out his ‘leisure food’ was crisps although he didn’t buy them very often.
  4. Why do the police stop all the cars? – Most of them are corrupt and take 100 shillings off every vehicle, even if nothing is wrong they will make excuses in order to take some money off the drivers.
Riveting stuff – I know. Thank me later.
Giraffe Park
The views at Kerio View alone, made the trip worthwhile. I have never seen anything like it. There were several Para-gliders staying in our resorts all casually jumping off the side of this mountain (you would honestly have to sedate me in order to get me in the air) and after watching how many of them came back with broken legs and arms – I definitely wont be doing it anytime soon. A funny story though (sort-of), one of the guys landed in another town a few miles away from where we were and banged into some sort of building and managed to damage it. He was met at knife-point with a lot of angry villagers who cut all the ties on his para-glide until he paid them enough to fix their damaged goods. Slightly scary but thats what happens if you decide to throw your body off a cliff – karma.
Kerio View
The first session I did was a week into the trip in order to allow me to acclimatise to the altitude. On my first easy run – I genuinely thought it was the end of the world. Iten is HILLY, there is genuinely no flat road at all unless you go down to the track. My first 20 minute jog consisted of me crawling up the hills… and I mean crawling. I thought these hills were bad until the first session – UP THE SIDE OF A MOUNTAIN. I have never seen anything like it. We ended up covering just under 5 miles and yet none of it was even remotely flat. At the top of Kerio View, we decided to take a photo to mark our achievement, however they were having to stop me jumping off the edge and putting myself out of my misery. My legs have never felt anything like it and it allowed me to feel sorry for myself for the rest of the day. If this wasn’t bad enough – we then did another 3 sessions up this mountain, genuinely think the coaches were out to end us. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone and had a few other crazy athletes join me – Helen Clitheroe, Sonia Samuels, Del Hawkins and Ultra Paul.
The physiologists, who came out with us on the camp were always on-hand in sessions to take lactic levels in order to see how we were coping with the training. I already knew my lactic levels were always quite low but I slowly became the running joke (great pun) amongst the group as my levels were never above 3 – which supposedly is extremely weird. My first tempo run – I only managed to get my lactic up to 1.3… clearly I have been running these far too slow, so it was nice to get some feedback on this part of my training.
My Kenyan-Scottish bracelet 
Kenya was not only an amazing experience but also a bit of an eye-opener into how other athletes from the UK train and why they are as good as they are. These people are professional – I still view athletics as a hobby for me. Yes – I train hard, but at the moment thats the only thing I do. I don’t do any gym-work, drills and in my day-to-day life, I don’t know what i’m doing in an hours time – never mind sticking to a daily routine. This clearly needs to change and since my return, i’ve tried my hardest to be more professional and get into a proper routine but it’s difficult whilst trying to attend university amongst part-time work etc. Time for a change.
I will definitely be jumping at the chance to return to Kenya again next year. The whole experience is something I wont be forgetting anytime soon. At this time last year, I was just starting back jogging again after months of being out with a broken foot – so I am extremely grateful to UKA for giving me this opportunity and allowing me to have my most successful and consistent winter training season so far.
Saying goodbye to the ladieeees
On my return to the UK, I wasn’t sure how I would react to the altitude but also to the long travel home so I decided against racing the trials this weekend and train instead. I ended up doing my quickest ever session by a significant amount – which is unlucky for me… as now Big Liz is determined to get me racing indoors.
Next for me: A serious amount of catching up with university studies. Two races indoors, Birmingham Grand Prix 1500m and then a 3000m in Stockholm– albeit against DIBABA! (getting lapped once would be a positive).

2 thoughts on “Kenyaaaaaa

  1. Just watched you at the world champs in Moscow, 1 word – AMAZING. With 300m to go you looked in pain bless and then the last 100m WOW – what determination…… and congrats on a fab PB. Pure genius – good luck for the final.


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