Twelve hours after leaving their homes in Dubai, Marcus, Tom and Rob were back in the familiar surroundings of Kerio View, Iten, Kenya. Their third time in the infamous running town labelled as the ‘Home of Champions’. To their delight nothing has changed, the décor, staff and freshness of the air remains as it was when they had left 12 months earlier.
The other non-changing factor is the altitude. At 2100m high above sea level the air is thinner here and it is felt immediately. Subtly you realise it as the heart rate increases 5-10 beats more than usual when you move from sitting to standing. It will take 6 – 7 days before they guys adapt at a resting level. It is the altitude that some say is the key factor to this town creating champions.
This time the guys have embarked on a week-long trip. The pro camps here allow for 7-10 days of acclimatisation, this involves very easy exercise to help the body adapt. Once Heart rates or paces look close to sea level numbers the intensity and longer volume runs can begin. However, these camps are usually 1-2 months long and an adaptation period is a luxury the lads do not get on their week long visits.
As the days roll on the lessons start to come in. Marcus, Tom and Rob are here to train but more importantly learn. Kenyan runners have an incredible forward lean, compact and rhythmic arms and a smooth gait cycle. Some of their run attributes can be immediately attained simply by watching them. The trick is to try and mimic how they run and think of how other runners can be taught it. What needs to relax? What needs to be rigid? How can you teach the timing of it all coming together? You cannot learn this in a lecture hall.
Interactions here are important. In previous visits Marcus, Tom and Rob have sat down with The Godfather of Kenyan running, Brother Colm O’Connell and his understudy Coach Ian Kiprono from the famous St. Patricks school. These conversations make you realise the altitude here is one small factor, the larger one being the attitude of the runners in Iten. They are invited back to train with the training group from the school and a few lessons are remembered.
On their penultimate day, the guys invited to watch the juniors train. It begins on the school field but rain soon starts hammering it down. The consequence is being crowded into one of the school halls where ‘exercises’ will continue. It is in this closed space, for two hours, the guys get to watch the magic happen and even be part of it. There is no magic by the way, just community and shared purpose.
New lessons are to be learnt as well, the timing of their stay coincides with world famous run coach Renato Canova and on the afternoon of Sunday 5th , where the guys find themselves sat with him watching the New York Marathon. Several hours later and a lot of chat from Renato a book could be written. He is 79 and a memory that stretches so far back with such detail it is not only incredibly insightful but motivational to the guys as coaches too.
We asked head of endurance Tom to sum up his 3rd time at the Home of Champions.
“If you come to the best running location in the world to only run and talk about running you are missing out on the bigger picture. It’s the rhythm of life here that really teaches you things. Watch how people live, how uncomplicated most things are. Listen to how they speak but more importantly interact with nothing but love. There is very little jealousy here, only happiness for what they do have. I will try to come back to this place every year for as long as I can. It is that special.”
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If you want to swim faster on race day, it’s no secret you’ve got to swim fast in training.
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