It’s now been two weeks in Iten and I’m still not getting any more used to seeing people carrying machetes as they walk along the road. When I was a young kid my mum told me not to run with scissors, but coming home from the track on Tuesday my jaw dropped when I saw a young lady running to the next farm with a Paula-Radcliff-esque rotating arm swing with machete in hand. On the few occasions I’ve walked to town after dark I’ve been a bit jumpy seeing farmers in long coats carry these massive knives as they pass by.
But somewhat paradoxically, and whilst still a bit squeamish at such situations, I know in the back of my mind that the locals are genuinely friendly and harmless folks. People are always pointing out obstacles on the ground when running over the rocky terrain (almost like how cyclists do for each other when training in packs). Even on Tuesday at the track, three different groups of guys asked if we would like to join in their sessions. Everyone is welcome to attend the Thursday workout and before the start the locals explain the session details in both Swahili and English. It’s a very positive atmosphere, as if everyone is working towards a common goal and it’s everyone’s responsibility to help each other along the way. Post session I stocked up on bottled water for my recovery drinks, and a local man that saw us battling to carry the 10L bottles in from the town centre offered to deliver them via motorbike. The level of courteousness shown here is something I have never experienced.
The locals tend to start their afternoon runs excruciatingly slow (~8min/km) and finish fast (~3:20/km). However, sessions are the opposite – Out as hard as possible and try to hang in there. The Thursday fartlek this week was one minute hard alternating with one minute easy. The basic premise is you go till you drop. The best of the marathon guys do up to 30 reps, and I planned with my coach Ken Green to do 15 reps of this. About 150 people started the session, so not dissimilar to Falls Creek. However, after 30 minutes there were still about 50 guys in the front pack. I’ve never seen depth like this before, and this was just one of the several squads in Iten training that morning.
After two weeks here I have run most of the local loops in town, seen hundreds of runners and am yet to see a single person run barefoot. I told one of my local friends Paul Kiptoo Rugut that westerners were trying to run barefoot to copy what they thought was a Kenyan essential, his response: “But these people have shoes? That’s crazy! Don’t they get injured?” He literally laughed at me. I know people have had success incorporating barefoot training into their running sessions, but from where I am sitting in East Africa none of the best Kenyans do it. Even the guys that are just starting out will prefer to wear 4-year-old shoes than run barefoot.
A stand out natural element of the Kenyan athlete’s lifestyle is their diet. I can see the crops, vegetables, cows, chickens etc. hanging out on nearby farms a few days before I eat them. A Kenyan staple is ugali; mushy maize served with lunch and dinner (although I’ve seen some put milk on it for breakfast too). Personally, I reckon it tastes like play-dough but I’m told this blandness is good for me. English athlete Richard Goodman put the adhesive qualities of ugali to good use this week after a tip from his Kenyan housemates, and fixed his broken watch with mixture of ugali and glue! All the food here is typically very low in sugar, apart from the dozen cups of chai tea locals’ drink. The easygoing lifestyle of the Kenyan community and lack of distractions in Iten makes it easy to concentrate on training and recover between sessions. All the local athletes refuel straight after training, have regular massages and sleep for 10+ hours a day.
So far I have loved the lifestyle of being able to focus on my training and then simply relax between sessions.
Until next time,