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


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..


You can follow me and my blog on Twitter @fairboyruns, Instagram @tomlfairbrother or on Facebook. You can also follow my running progress on Power of 10

Thursday 28 March 2013

Hong Kong - Hong Kong, China


Like Qatar, Hong Kong is one of those places where I'm not really too sure who would have it as number 1 on their list of places to visit.

The former British ruled territory, now under Chinese rule following the Handover in 1997, is much like Doha in the Gulf (ridiculously named as World Cup 2022 host) - there seems to be no real identity to the place.
The streets are lined with jaw-dropping skyscrapers, Italian super cars and designer shopping malls, in a city where big business, finance & banking plays a pivotal role in the global economy. Whether things were different when us Brits ran the show, I'm not too sure, but you definitely get the feeling the stricter Chinese rule has had an impact. Let's face it, they are not as fun as us are they!
An example of the wealth in Hong Kong, especially in 'The Peak' area (where my photos of the skyline during the day and at night were taken), is Severn Road, situated at the top, which is officially the most expensive street to live on IN THE WORLD. Prices start from $2630 per square foot.

But as with Doha, the huge number of the poorer locals are squashed into small pockets of the city which are dirty, loud and an eyesore, so close to areas of heavy investment. To me there is just no middle ground.
The super rich live the good life, where the sums of money spent on houses, cars and jewellery are more than most of us will earn in our lifetime. Whilst the poor squash together making do with working the dead end jobs required by these lavish lifestyles. The street sellers, toilet attendants, taxi drivers and valets.

In the midst of all of this, it has lost it's identity by selling it's soul to living the western lifestyle. There just felt like there was no culture or history that it was proud of. Subsequently as a tourist myself, I couldn't help thinking - who would come here on holiday? (Excluding me obviously!).

The weather is good, but it is not overly hot (for Qatar change to too hot!). Whilst the famous skyline is widely (rightly) regarded as the greatest anywhere in the world, it does not have the same aura, history or appeal as say New York or London

Flights are not too expensive, but USA, all of Europe and the Gulf are cheaper. What sights & attractions there are, are sprawled out across far ends of the cities numerous islands, of which there are incredibly 263!

This means it is not an easy city to walk around, especially given the extreme undulating nature of the popular areas. Therefore lots of time is spent on the metro to get from one point to another. Oh and the other factor which makes it similar to Doha in Qatar - it is bloody expensive!

Perhaps harshly, to me, it is just one of those places you visit on your way somewhere. Either a stopover whilst heading down to Australia, or on your way back from China or Japan. Certainly I would not suggest staying for longer than 2-3 days.

Right now that I have torn it to pieces I had better tell you about the running! I was only in Hong Kong three nights, one if which was lost to arriving late in the evening from Tokyo.

Day 1, having found a park on my tourist map I set off from my hostel in Causeway Bay, just east of the main business district. Temperature was around 22C so just a t-shirt & shorts required. Those who follow me on Twitter will know I then proceeded to get hopelessly and totally lost!

After 10 minutes or so of navigating countless pedestrian crossings, footbridges, traffic lights and gridlocked traffic I made it to Victoria Park. This Park turned out to be minuscule, with it's designated 'jogging track' taking all of 2 minutes to complete. After a couple of circuits I turned and back to find a new route.
Confident I could find my way back to the Hostel, I headed along the marina as close as I could get to the edge away from the busy roads (not very). Unfortunately, I ended up running around shopping malls, markets and footbridges, meaning a very slow, stop/start and hilly run.
Two hours later I eventually made it back to the hostel, thanks mainly to stumbling across a western hotel which kindly pointed me in the right direction (the opposite to which I thought). Fortunately it was morning and quite hot, otherwise god knows what would have happened to me!
Day 2 I regrouped, and after studying my tourist map, thought it best to head into the business district as opposed to away - this mainly because I identified another potential park, the imaginatively named Hong Kong Park, as well as the Botanic Gardens and what looked like some long, straight roads with few intersections.
Whilst Hong Kong Park, pictured above, turned out to be smaller than some people's gardens, the roads offered up the opportunity to stretch my legs without fear of traffic. The only downside is, as I touched upon earlier, Hong Kong Central area has to be one of the most dramatically undulating city centres I have ever seen, with the exception of maybe San Francisco.
I ran for an hour, which was plenty given my quads were burning by the end. Here is my route for you to follow, the second one, not the one where you get lost like me!
Distance: 12k (approx)
Start: Causeway Bay Metro Station, Causeway Bay, HK Island
Head west along Hennessey Road for approx 4k, running in the Bus Lane to avoid the heavily congested footpaths. I should add here for Health & Safety reasons, watch out for buses, obviously.
Once you reach the crossroads, hang a left into Hong Kong Park. You will run up a ridiculously steap footpath to get into the park, which sits above the level of the skyscrapers and the marina giving views across the district.
After a circuit on the outer perimeter of the Park, exit and continue following signs to Zoological & Botanic Garden. If lost, just keep running uphill and you can't go wrong!
After a circuit of the Gardens, head back on Cotton Tree Drive past Admirality Metro stop, and simply retrace your steps back to Causeway Bay (you will also pass Central and Wan Chai metro stops).
Roughly 12k in total, very undulating, but pretty much as traffic free and scenic as you will likely encounter anywhere in Hong Kong.
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You can also find over 30 city running travel guides, including Melbourne, Rome, Dubai & California by using the links on the right of the page.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Tokyo - Japan

If you asked non-runners to name a country they associate with running, what would they most likely say?

It would probably be an African country, like Kenya, or the Great Britain, based on watching Coe vs Ovett, Paula Radcliffe win the London Marathon, or more recently, Mo Farah winning double gold at London 2012.

Japan would probably be a way down the list. However, along with Baseball, the land of the rising sun is completely running obsessed!
Just from walking around the city for a few days and using the underground, it is clearly noticeable how few overweight or obese people you see. I know that may sound like a silly and crude thing to say, but it is a valid observation.
The Japanese people are just very health conscious. Not in a desperate, almost self-deprecating way like us Brits, who slave away at the latest fad diet or post-Christmas gym workout, looking at magazines and wishing we looked like the 'celebrities' we see.
They enjoy a well balanced, healthy diet consisting of lots of boiled foods like noodles or rice, combined with seafood and beef/chicken, mixed with tons of vegetables, teas, soups.

Whilst there are still western influences with things like Starbucks & McDonalds, in general all of the fast food outlets and convenience stores sell mainly Japanese foods - none of which are the heavy, calorie packed, grease or gravy soaked meals you would find your local pub or fish & chip shop selling in England.

As a result, the vast majority of the population enjoy the benefits of eating light, fresh foods on a daily basis. Now, combine this with the other major factor - everyone is constantly on the move!

Tokyo boasts the biggest population of any city in the world, and with that comes an incredibly busy, fast moving lifestyle. If you stand still it will swallow you up!

The people work long hours, and like most big cities around the world, traffic is awful and the roads are reserved mainly for buses & taxis. This means the daily commute involves walking, running, cycling or the tube.

There could be many reasons why it is so loved as a sport in Japan and in Tokyo - perhaps it is because it reflects the hard working nature of the people and the culture, or the low-cost factor of running in a city where the cost of living is so high.

It could be the Tokyo Marathon, which allows the city to put itself in the worldwide spotlight each year and helps create role models for the young Japanese, or simply the health benefits and getting some freedom in such an overcrowded, hectic environment.

As with Kenya, much can be speculated as to why and how one country can love the sport and excel at it so much more than any other country - the answer obviously is much harder to pinpoint and consists of numerous factors.

The day I arrived just so happened to be the day of the 2013 Tokyo Marathon, and by the sheer volume of spectators, you can see there is a real love of the sport.

I have been fortunate to run in twenty four different countries in six continents, and I can honestly say I saw more runners in Tokyo than anywhere else I have been, including Kenya!

All standards, from packs of 8-10 running tempo sessions, to the elderly joggers being overtaken by walkers. Running is ingrained in the daily routine and the way of life in Japan.

Surprisingly, unlike London which despite it's huge population and gridlocked transport networks has large public parks like Hyde, Regents or Hampstead Heath in which to escape, Tokyo is very short on space to stretch your legs.
The green spaces that do exist in the city house Temples and Shrine, popular amongst tourists and still operational as places of worship and pilgrimage.

Inspired from watching the world's elite complete the 26.2 I used my map to track down some of these parks to run in, despite temperatures down in single figures. However, I quickly found out (on numerous occasions), that running is prohibited in almost all of these parks!

Almost instantly upon entry and opening my legs, I was greeted with shouts of "STOP!" or whistles from Park Officers in uniform bearing their famous red sticks (that look light light sabres!).

After a horrible 60 minute run consisting of countless pedestrian crossings and traffic lights, I showered and decided research was required for my intended 10 mile run on Day 2!

In the pouring, sodden rain, I headed for the Imperial Palace, which my research reliably informed me was the running capital of Tokyo. Upon exiting the tube station and jogging the 300 yards to so to the Palace, I was greeted with probably more runners than I would see in a year in my hometown of Woodbridge in Suffolk!

Never before have I seen so many shiny bright coloured tracksuits, fluorescent shoes, ear muffs, elaborate headphones and handheld water bottles!

Surrounding the Imperial Palace and the Gardens/Moat is a 5k loop. How do I know it was 5k? Because there are distance markers on the pavement/sidewalk telling you so!

I was able to complete three loops, which combined with my journey to and from the tube station each way got me my 10 miles. It was nice for the confidence to pass so many people, although quite demoralising to be eaten up and spat back out by some many packs of flying locals!
Later in the week I was also able to track a park that allows running - Yoyogi Park - and there were quite a few others pounding the walkways, so it was nice to see some greenery on a run, even if, being February, all the trees were looking slightly bare!

Tokyo has a strange climate in that Winter is very dry, but very cold, whilst Summer is very hot but very wet. The best times to visit are March-April when the flowers and the trees begin to bloom. However, I was here in February and whilst it was cold (around 7-10 degrees C), it was still very pleasant.

You are absolutely fine to run with your headphones, and Tokyo is one of the safest places I have been, so you will be fine to run with your iPhone or MP3 player and Garmin. Still be careful to be sensible though when running at night, and maybe take a business card for your hotel/hostel and some cash in case you get lost - far easier than asking for directions in Japanese!

For anyone lucky enough to visit Tokyo - don't be put off but anything I have said - yes there are not too many places to run, and even fewer open parks to stretch your legs. However, being part of the Imperial Palace daily swarm of runners, which so typifies everything about this incredible city, is an experience you cannot and must not miss out on!

You can follow me and my blog on Twitter @fairboyruns, Instagram @tomlfairbrother or on Facebook. You can also follow my running progress on Power of 10

Summary - 5k Route

Start - Either Takebashi or Kudanshita Metro Stations  
(Both to the north entrance of Imperial Palace entrance)

Simply follow the walkway as it circles the perimeter of the Imperial Palace Gardens.

The north side of the Palace is far higher than the South, so depending on how you want your run, keeping the moat to your left hand side will mean the first half of your run is downhill and the second uphill.

Obviously if you want to have the first half of your run uphill, with a downhill finish, you will need to get off the metro at one of the southern stops, so try Sakuradamon or Nagatacho.

The metro stations are all coded (U3, S2 etc) so don't worry about having to remember of translate some of the long Japanese names!

Use the distance markers on the gold plaques to establish the distance, and do as many loops of the 5k as you feel up for!


You can follow daily updates from the blog on Twitter @runworldguide or on Facebook at

I have written over 30 other city guides, including Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Paris and San Francisco, which you can find using the links on the right of the page!

Thursday 7 February 2013

Kenya - Photo Album

Due to poor wifi I couldn't add any photos whilst I was out in Kenya - so here they are now! Apologies some are small, was unable to increase their size for some reason...

The iconic arch marks the entrances to either end of Iten - just to rub in that you are on their turf!

Signs of Kenyans love of running are everywhere to be seen in Iten. 
Me and Kerio View, which offers breathtaking views over the Rift Valley.
The entrance to the Camp.
Kamariny Stadium in Iten - currently the only athletics track in the town (a synthetic track is in construction) and where Kiprop, Kipsang, Rudisha and co and the foreign athletes who train in Iten do their sessions.

Me and Wilson Kipsang, one of many WR holders/Olympic champs who use the gym in the camp. It was good of him to pose for a photo but he clearly wasn't that interested in me!

St Patricks High School, still home to David Rudisha and his legendary coach Brother Colm
The Alumni wall of fame in the dining hall at St Patricks, featuring all-time greats of the sport - was truly inspiring.
A different video of me, Mo Farah, his UK coaches and some Kenyans running home.
Mo Farah showing off his Arsenal spikes!

A video of Mo Farah in the middle of his 600m, 400m, 300m, 200m x 4 session
My tiny room for four weeks!
The town of Iten
Walking to the track, I bumped into some school children heading out for break time - brought a smile to my face. Wonder how many future champions there are here!
You can read all four of my blogs from Kenya by using the links on the right of the page or on Twitter @runworldguide