Joe's East Africa Trip 2012

Day 1. Tues, 10/23 - Iten, Kenya (canova)
Day 2. Wed, 10/24 - Iten, Kenya (kiplagat)
Day 3. Thurs, 10/25 - Eldoret, Kenya (Berardelli)
Day 4. Tues, 10/30 - Bekoji, Ethiopia (hills)
Day 5. Wed, 10/31 - Bekoji, Ethiopia (the woods)
Day 6. Thurs, 11/1 - Bekoji, Ethiopia (track)
Day 7. Fri, 11/2 - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (athlete clinic)
Day 8. Sat, 11/3 - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (coach clinic)
Day 9. Mon, 11/5 - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (national track)

Day 1. Iten, Kenya - Tuesday 10/23/2012

Before getting into the day-to-day it might be interesting to note that on the morning of my flight to Kenya the following news just came out:

spawned by this report:

A hot topic for some but nearly everyone I was in contact with had more important things going on, i.e. their running or coaching, then to concern themselves with things out of their control. (Of course there are strong opinions on this, mine included, that we'll omit for now.)

On to my first full day of 100% running stuff...   

After a comfortable night's sleep at Lornah's HATC I woke up at 2 a.m. - still adjusting to the time change. When the sun finally came up the plan was to take a short walk to a nearby scenic overlook, then go for a run before starting my day. I started out around 6:10 (when it was just barely light enough to walk/jog) but as I reached the main road, runners seemed to come out of nowhere from all directions. As they got onto the dirt path just next to the main road in Iten they would start jogging. With no time it was a steady parade of runners, all with bright colored jackets and shirts on. It was pretty neat seeing this sudden emergence of runners, some running in small groups, some alone. I quickly switched my itinerary, run now, scenic outlook later. 

My thoughts during this run went something like this: 

- the countryside here is just beautiful 
- this group of 3 tall, lean men in front of me are running really slow, I passed them reluctantly as I figured I might 'see' them later 
- lots of kids walking to school, they are excited to see a mizungo (I say hi and good morning to everyone and they are all very friendly in return, including all of the runners I came across) 
- it looks like it is only the kids that are late to school that are running, though several would run with me for a minute or so before resting 
- the roads are much more uneven, potted, rocky than what I was expecting 
- despite a couple runs I had done on a treadmill in Nairobi over the weekend, I am not used to altitude (my lungs are exploding). Iten Altitude 2400 meters.  
- What was that breeze? Oh, the 3 tall runners just flew by me looking like gazelles through winding trails in the maze fields 
- 10 minutes left in my run and it is now uphill the whole way, my heart and lungs have been yelling at me for some time, this will be tough... 
- Thank goodness for David and Abraham, two runners who came up from behind me and chatted with me the rest of the way.  Both were looking to run around 2:11 in the Nairobi Marathon this coming Sunday (Abraham got 2nd 2:10:50). 

I finished my run and went for my short walk to Keiro View. Along the way I met a couple other runners who had moved to Iten from a small village in south Kenya. These guys came to Iten in the hopes of being able to join one of the elite groups and eventually compete abroad. They were 1:49 800 meter and 3:48 1500 meter runners. Moving to Iten was a 'shot in the dark' for them, no connection to any camps or coaches, just a dream and an idea to go where the elites have been (keep in mind with those times they would be competing for NCAA championships if they were in the US). 

Kiero View is a sort of resort/hotel with a great view over the rift valley.

I took a couple clicks, returned to HATC for breakfast where I talked with some of the other guests at HATC (mostly ambitious foreign amateur runners - from UK, Dubai, New Zealand). Soon though I was off to the track ... 

Tuesday is 'track day' in the traditional Kenyan model, which is something like this - from what I had gathered: 

Mon: 70-90 min hard over rolling hills 
Tues: track w/ lots of intervals at fast but not too fast pace 
Wed: 1 hr easy 
Thurs: fartlek or hills 
Fri: easy 
Sat: long or tempo/race simulation workouts 
Sun: off (church) 

Most run 40-60 minutes easy as a second run of the day, the time and order (easy before track or vice versa) seemed to vary greatly, and some do a short easy 3rd run in the afternoon. 

I arrived to the track around 9:30 a.m., peak time from what I had heard. The famous track was in full glory. 

In Iten there seemed to be three levels of groups: 

1) Groups without a coach or leader of any sort, just folks who run together and are mostly deciding workouts based on tradition (i.e. the 'kenyan model' above). A common workout mentioned was 20-25 * 400 meters @ 67-69 w/ 1-2 min E in between. 
2) Groups led by a local olympian or world class runner, here they would just do what worked for the leader of the group - no individualization and a sort of 'survival of the fittest' set-up. One workout being done here was 10-12 @ 800 meters @ 2:10-15 w/ 2-3 min W/E in between. 
3) Groups or individuals being led by accomplished well known coaches in the area, i.e. the elite of the elite in most cases. If it is an individual they have 1-3 pacers with them for their workouts. 

At the track there is also many individuals or pairs that have no group and are deciding that day what they were going to do. 

So the track was full of over 200 runners, all in different groups doing different workouts. At some point in order to start your interval you had to wait 5 seconds or so until there was enough space in between runners in lane 1.  I talked with lots of runners, met an Australian coach who recently moved into the area hoping to start a group of his own, and after 2 hours of observing and talking around I had absorbed more than I imagined in such a short time. I began to jog back and noticed Moses Masai jogging with a couple guys, we exchanged hellos and he was very engaging and friendly. We ran his cool-down together and we planned on running the following morning. He's planning to move from the 10k to the marathon, he could have an exciting few years at this distance as his developed speed should be fully available as he moves into his early 30s. 

After saying goodbye to Moses I had a 12:30 lunch appointment with a local coach (a UK elite runner who lives in Iten and coaches some local elite junior runners). We had emailed prior to my arrival and he had hoped to have his athletes see me the following day. We had a good talk, he shared much of his knowledge of the local 'scene', but now I was off to meet Coach Renato Canova (reknown Italian coach of many olympian Kenyan runners) at 2 p.m. Shower, change, and off to his place. 

Coach Canova and I talked for many hours about everything running and beyond. It was only the now dark sky that reminded us we better pick this up another time. We agreed to start at 8 a.m. the next day so I can work with some of his athletes that have been suffering from injuries. 

Day 1 was done - packed, exciting, and I was beat. Asleep by 9...

Day 2 >>>

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