Saturday, 20 April 2013

Iten - Kenya

Mo Farah in action in Kamaryni Stadium
 
Running Paradise
 
The village of Iten in Kenya, or The Home Of Champions as it is known in the running world, is the Mecca for any long distance runner.

Located at 8000 feet on the edge of the Rift Valley in East Africa, this remote Kenyan village just outside the town of Eldoret is home to more World, Olympic Champions than anywhere else in the world.

With miles and miles of trails winding their way up & down the beautiful rural countryside, with only the occasional cyclist or mutatu to disturb you, there truly is nowhere better to train.

Whilst the population is predominantly made up of Kenyans, a handful of purpose-built western training camps provide the ultimate environment for anyone looking to focus solely on their running.

Due to the high altitude and remote nature of the village's location, it eliminates many of the commonly associated risks with travelling to Africa.

Mosquitoes are nowhere to be seen, soaring temperatures are nullified to the mid/high 20s, personal safety and crime is nothing compared to big cities like Nairobi, and traffic is minimal with only one tarmac road connecting the village to Eldoret.

You are more likely to encounter Wilson Kipsang or David Rudisha than you are a coffee-fuelled Mother on the school run or Garry boy joy rider!
 
Getting There

Your first task is to make it to Kenya. Most long haul international flights will fly to Nairobi (7 hours from London).

From Nairobi, Eldoret airport is the closest you can get to Iten by plane. International airline Kenya Airways now fly from NBO to Eldoret, but cheaper options are also available, as well as a bus (I wouldn't fancy it!).

From there it is around 50 minutes by mutatu to reach the famous 'Home of Champions' arch - if this doesn't give you goosebumps I don't no what will.

The views over the Rift Valley from Kerio View

The two most popular camps with foreign international teams and club runner tourists like me, are Kerio View and the High Altitude Training Centre (HATC).

Keiro View offers the most spectacular views of the Rift Valley and is popular with those people looking for a few more home comforts.

The HATC on the other hand is very basic in terms of rooms and amenities. However it has what KV never will - an aura.

The Facilities
 
Everything about it inspires you to train hard and live a quiet, focused lifestyle.

The first class gym attracts pretty much every top Kenyan athlete - you can expect to regularly see the likes of Abel Kirui, Asbel Kiprop & Wilson Kipsang to name just a few.


The food is 100% organic, grown on site and beautifully prepared by Maggie and the rest of the incredibly friendly kitchen staff. Expect a big varied breakfast of porridge, bread, pancakes, fruit & chai (Kenyan speciality tea/milk/coffee hybrid - which tastes awesome!).

Home made soup, pasta & rice for lunch and a dinner of beef/chicken/fish served with ugali (Kenyan rocket fuel for runners!), potatoes, rice & veg. Friday night is Pizza night though, so if you like your fast food there is one day to relapse!

The camp is regularly used by several international teams - UKA, Netherlands, Canada, Germany & USA to name just a few. Just heading in for breakfast, you are rubbing shoulders with some of the best endurance athletes in the world.

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to run with Mo Farah, which basically says everything you need to know about the calibre of athletes attracted to the camp!

 
Running in Iten is tough though - the trails are firm underfoot yet very slippery in the wet. It is also extremely hilly, certainly for a Suffolk boy like me who is used to pretty flat terrain.

An easy 5m run will see you encounter 2/3 hills steeper then you would use for a hill session back home.

Unfortunately I suffered a recurrence of a calf injury which forced me home early - so ensure before departing that you are in good nick as the terrain will soon expose any frailties.

Many of the professional athletes were walking around with their ankles and achilles mummified in KT-tape after a few days.

What to pack

Due to its remote location, western home comfort are few and far between, expensive and a long walk from the camp. For those with s sweet tooth, I'd suggest packing things like chocolate as you won't find any in Iten. You can't even get a WADA blood testing agent in Iten, let along a Mars bar!
 
White socks, and anything else white for that matter will get ruined by the famous orange tracks and trails so don't pack anything new or expensive. My yellow Nike Frees are still orange months and washes later!

Despite the altitude and the remote location of Iten, Garmins work fine and pick up a strong signal.
 
However, pack a torch and back-up chargers plus plenty of non-electrical ways of entertaining yourself as power cuts are frequent and can last for days at a time.  
Some of the guys in the camp suffered power surges which blew chargers, hence the reason for backups for phones & laptops. Wifi is also available in the camps for those who wish to Skype & Facebook, although is temperamental at best.


Health Concerns & Logistics
 
In terms of logistics, there is a KCB bank in Iten where you can get cash with a credit or debit card, and there is also a Western Union should you lose them (as I did before I even left England!).

The final thing to consider are the health & physiological effects of living at an altitude twice the height of Ben Nevis.

Ensure to drink plenty of water, add salt to your food & drink, monitor your weight & urine and try to take iron supplements. It is also advised to have a ferritin blood test before you go to identify any deficiencies prior to departing.

Be sure to take it very easy for your first few days, you will feel very tired and lethargic but this is normal, it is just your body acclimatising. Don't try to force it early as it will soon catch up with you!

It is advised to spend a minimum of four weeks at altitude to benefit from the effects upon your return to sea level. An excellent blog for altitude training information is http://egansaltitudeadventures.blogspot.co.uk/

Summary

Whether an aspiring international athlete or your average club runner, Iten is a place that all runners should experience, and offers a reasonably priced option for altitude training when compared to USA or other long haul destinations.

Be sure to check out St Patricks School, home of David Rudisha and Brother Colm whilst in Iten, and of course Kamaryni Stadium before the new all-weather track opens later in 2013.

There is no doubt you will come back inspired, if not by the running, then at the very least the infectious personality of the Kenyan people..

#nomoretreadmills

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Guides to running over 30 cities across 6 continents can be found using the links on the right of the page, and more photos can be found on Instagram @tomlfairbrother

 

2 comments:

  1. Tom what is the best way to get a hold of you? Do you have an email address I can use to ask you some questions?

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  2. Hey - email runnersworldguide@gmail.com

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