RUNNING WITH THE KENYANS 1
Many of us dream of getting the edge over our competitors with some knowledge of how the best in the world approach their training and get the best from themselves. One of our up and comming young athletes Alan White has had a chance to do just that with an oppotunity to train with the Kenyans. Here is his report so far.
Running with the Kenyans – Alan White, 14th December 2015
It’s a regular Saturday morning. I can’t recall the precise weather but we’re at Wythenshawe sports fields in February so let’s assume it’s cold and/or wet. I dislike this session but it gets you fit. Plus it could be worse, there’s always the Etihad car park on a Monday night…
I still consider myself an infant in running. Two years (at the time of writing) isn’t a long time. Track work comes more naturally to me, but having started from scratch at the age of 24, it’s fair to say my endurance still has a long way to go. I’m enjoying the sport more with every week that passes and improving just as fast, but road reps and tempos continue to break me.
So perhaps I could speed things up with a stint at altitude? Imagine running with the Kenyans, surrounding yourself with that calibre of runner whilst living as a full-time athlete for a while. Let’s ask Coach Roden. He agrees I’ll be ready by the end of the year. So I start to plan it all in my head. To get some benefit, three weeks is a minimum, so let’s target five. What do I need to make it happen?
The big one is time off work, which fortunately my boss agrees to. What else? Get fitter. Research flights. Book a room at the camp (run by Lornah Kiplagat). Jabs. Kit. Advice from someone who has been before (again, in Rodens we trust).
After telling family I’ll be abroad this Christmas, I work my way through the rest of a sizeable to-do-list. The trip was months in the making, but several chaotic months travelling to London and back - whilst training harder with every passing month - brought the trip round quickly enough.
I land at Eldoret jaded but giddy. The taxi driver is friendly. The police officer at Nairobi was friendly, as was the man in Nairobi who processed my temporary visa. The receptionist makes my arrival smoother than any English hotel, inviting me for dinner within 15 minutes. This is Kenya, the people are warm and kind. Life is simpler and more gracious here.
My first full day involves breakfast with a group of Europeans, lunch with Charlie Grice, an afternoon chat with Mike Kigen (a man entrusted my Mo Farah for marathon pace making duties). It also involves my first run at altitude. So I don some smart new kit, kindly donated by MyProtein, and head out in the rain (a little taste of home).
Don’t push it. Train with caution. Respect the terrain, respect the conditions, respect your own body and the fact you’re tired from the travel. Most importantly of all, though, respect the conditions. Especially given this is your first time. This is not Whalley Range; this is 2,500m above sea level. Listen to the sensible voice in your head. Besides, you’re here for five weeks. Don’t rush it.
A morning walk to Iten’s sports store gave an early warning as to the effects of altitude. Even strolling up the hills had left me catching my breath, so I knew to take this one slow. Keep a keen eye on heart rate and run extremely gently. Week 1 is probably the most important here, so I’m using all the advice I’ve been given and letting my body adapt completely before pushing myself. I’ve got plenty of time to train with the Kenyans, I’m just happy to be off the plane and running for now.
Running with the Kenyans – Alan White, 17th December 2015
My first three days have gone well – I’ve only ran very gently up until now, approaching my runs carefully so as to keep my average heart rate around the 150 mark. You don’t feel the adaptations, not from a scientific perspective, but I’m adapting quite quickly to this, feeling better with every run and pleased to see my average pace drop from 9:00/miles to 7:30/miles. I say ‘average’…the hills here mean that term is purely a mathematical one; the terrain makes one mile vastly different to the next. If my ability to cope with the altitude is improving, the hills are there to keep me level-headed. And I thought Woodbank was unforgiving…
Yesterday was my birthday (the most peaceful one in years), so I ran five miles before standing in awe at the Rift Valley’s vast sweeping landscape. Chorlton Water Park is nice but this was spectacular. Walking back through the local markets was a far cry from Stretford Tesco as well, whilst an hour in the sun was more than enough to redden my pale northern face. Come on Alan, remember Magaluf…
In the afternoon I treated myself to the core class. Thankfully core isn’t a new concept to me, but this was brutal, an hour-long pain chamber involving an assault on hamstrings, back, abs and arms. Even the Kenyans struggle with this, the room full of anguish and shaking bodies.
Watching the Kenyans run is absolutely glorious – their fluency is a sight to behold. I’m hearing rumours of a Kenyan fartlek this morning: two minutes on, one minute off, although the one minute off is still close to a hard tempo to me. More than 100 of them take part in this, which sounds like carnage (just how I like it), but even I know it’s too early for that. Imagine telling Coach Roden I’ve attempted that on Day 4…. I’ll get involved at some stage, but this is my first hard session so let’s not be daft.
History tells me running a hard session on a full stomach is asking for trouble. My sleep is improving (aided by the luxury of afternoon naps), so I skip breakfast and opt just for water and an energy gel - thanks once again to MyProtein – before heading out into the morning mist for an easy two-mile warm-up. This takes me past Lornah Kiplagat’s new synthetic track – a white elephant which I’ll explain later in this blog. I do a few strides and stretches before turning round and facing the malevolent climb back into Iten.
It isn’t as easy as ‘one on, one off’: whilst a 15-minute fartlek doesn’t look much on paper, this is my first hard session at altitude so I’ve been told to take whatever recovery I need after hard efforts. I feel good on the first effort; happy to open my stride up at last, but obviously the sessions get tougher. 90-second efforts become 60-second efforts, whilst 60-second recoveries eventually become two-minute recoveries. Overall I manage six minutes of hard running and nine minutes of recovery jogging (the Roden voice in my head ensures I don’t walk). For the time being, I’ll take that as a miniature accomplishment. Now get me to that breakfast table.
I finish my warm down and head into recovery mode. Breakfast consists of porridge, eggs, toast, Kenyan donuts (we’re not talking Krispy Kreme here), a banana and coffee. The food here is nutritious. People say it’s ‘basic’, but I live on my own so to me it’s pretty lavish! Recovery is crucial here – run hard yes, but use the abundance of free time to hydrate, refuel and rest.
Having this much free time is foreign to me, but it opens up room for all the things you’d love to do more often back home: core workouts, afternoon naps, recovery walks, stretching, sauna visits. Take advantage, it won’t last forever,
Something else I’ve learned is how gently the Kenyans do their recovery runs. They train extremely hard but jog lightly in between sessions give their bodies the best chance of recuperating before doing it again. So on that note, it’s time for a nap before doing exactly that this afternoon.
Posted 19/12/2015 15:21