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Reflecting on three incredible months in Iten, Kenya – Home of Champions

Mary Keitany winning the 2012 Virgin London Marathon,becoming the third fastest of all-time.

As I sit on the roller coaster-like bus journey from Eldoret to Nairobi, it gives me time to reflect on the 3 month trip to Iten, Kenya as a whole.  In between getting thrown from window to window and launched off the roof in jack-in-the-box fashion, I realise that I have definitely taken being able to train injury free for the whole trip for granted.  The fact is I have just been enjoying it so much and relishing the opportunity to push myself to new limits.  But that is what you do when you are happy, you go for it and do not look back.

However, when I think back to what the previous trip between August and November last year was like due to shin problems and the worries I had before this one as a result of that, it really sinks in how grateful I am to be training injury free thanks to my physiotherapist, Ron Coutts.

Blogs and interviews have been a lot less frequent this time around as a result of me actually doing what I was here to do – run.  It is a sacrifice I have been more than happy to make and hope it pays off on the track this summer.  Nevertheless, I have been lucky enough to conduct two of the best interviews of my journalism career, which more than made up for the lack of other articles.

Spending time training and relaxing with Kiwi twins, Jake and Zane Robertson was a ‘Macced-out’ experience.  After leaving home aged 16 in 2006, the pair are now on the cusp of the highest echelons of the sport.  They are living proof that if you make sacrifices and follow your dreams to the bitter end then you will succeed.  As I concluded in my article with them in VO2 Max Magazine earlier this month, these boys prove people wrong for a living.

Jake and Zane Robertson, per 1500m final in Kitale, Kenya.

Two days ago I was also incredibly lucky to interview the charming and charismatic double London Marathon champion, Mary Keitany for the second time in my career.  What made this interview all the more special for me was that not only did it focus more on the personal side of her life than the running but she trusted me enough to ask any question I wanted despite one journalist not so long ago abusing this trust and writing unpleasing material.  This was made possible largely thanks to Jeroen Deen, one of the world’s top physiotherapists who is based in Iten.  Without Jeroen, I would not have achieved half the success I have done in the profession today.  He and Mary will be friends of mine for life.

There have been far too many people to name that have contributed to success and enjoyment of this trip.  One friend in particular was instrumental in helping us get set up in Kenya last year.  Both myself and Dan will miss his company and horrendous humour now that we are heading home.  Both trips would not have been the same without him.

From left to right: Ciaran, Nelly Masai, myself, David Rudisha, Dan, Linet Masai.

As an individual and as an athlete I feel very solid mentally and always have a positive mindset. Having had my fair share of injuries over the past few years I have often felt like I just needed the physical side of my running to catch up with the mental side.  During the first few weeks of this trip I had a handful of sessions with Klemens Weigl, as part of a sports psychology programme and already I am feeling the benefits. The sessions have filled me with belief that I can take the mental aspect of my running to an even higher level and as a result I am certain my times on the track will improve. His techniques and thought-provoking advice really gives you the feeling that you have an extra weapon in your artillery. I feel empowered and I look forward to a long and successful partnership with Klemens, even if it is via Skype.

Iten truly is a place where you can realise your dreams.  That said, you have to have a higher than ever commitment and desire to achieve your goals.  I came to Kenya knowing the results I wanted on return but would have to admit that to a certain extent, I naively thought it would come almost magically just by being here.  In week one something my training partner, Dan Mulhare said really hit home: “No one coming to altitude is going to improve unless you train harder than you would at home.”

My attitude has always been spot on thanks to my Dad’s inspirational advice over the years, but at home as a result of injuries and distractions which I won’t go into, my application and commitment has been lacking. Not now. Not ever again. This is the time I make sacrifices, work to fulfilling my potential and put smiles on the faces of those who support me.

Dan has definitely had a big influence on my training and commitment over the past 3 months. Anything I achieve this year would not have been possible without Clockwork Mulhare’s 6am screams at me: “Myles are you running this morning or what?” Had he not been here I would probably still be in bed rather than writing this article or running anywhere near the times I feel I can this year.

Dan and myself during track session at Kamariny Stadium

Gideon Gathimba is a Kenyan international athlete and world record holder (4x1500m relay) who won the mile race in Aberdeen for the opening of the Sports Village in 2009.  He kindly invited me to live with his family and train with him for 5 days in the middle of my trip.  It turned out to be the best 5 days of my life – filled with some incredible experiences.  We met his 122 year old Great Grandmother who had never seen a white person before.  As I entered through the gate at the bottom of her garden and she caught a glimpse of me, she started dancing around and shouting ‘mzungo, mzungo’ –  a term that many Kenyans use to refer to white people.  It was heart warming to see how delighted she was that a mzungo had come to visit her and also brought her some small gifts.  It is an experience which I will take with me to the grave.

Myself and Gideon’s 122 year old Great Grandmother, Adelaide

Gideon plays an active role at his local church when he is not jet setting around the world as part of his life as an international athlete.  By taking me along to Sunday service as his guest, we created a little bit of history.  No white person had ever attended and again their welcoming warmth towards me was inspiring.  Little did I know they were expecting me to get up on stage and give a mini speech.  I through in as much Swahili as I could muster and thanked them for their kind welcome and greetings.  It seemed to go down ok and I quickly migrated back towards my pew.

Myself, the Pastor and his daughter at Sunday service

In the final part of my trip we both competed in the Athletics Kenya track meeting in Thika.  My first race on Kenyan soil and I was the only mzungo in the whole stadium.  Racing in Kenya gives you a tougher than ever mentality that makes nerves in Scottish championship  call rooms fade into insignificance.  All eyes on were on me.  Thankfully this inspired me and made me more determined.  I knew I had been training hard and most importantly I knew that I had more ability than almost anyone in the stadium thought I had.  Racing below race distance at 400 metres, I ran 0.5 seconds outside my lifetime best and placed 4th out of 8.  I am told the announcer shouted on the microphone, halfway in to the race: “who is this mzungo and why is he beating our boys?”  We hope to raise sponsorship to get Gideon into the Aberdeen Union Street Mile road race this year.

Gideon taught me the importance of ‘shape’.  ‘Shape’ to Kenyans means more than just being in good shape, but being in shape to compete against anyone on any given day.  Previously I had been naive and in some ways lazy, thinking that 4 weeks of hard training with some weights and core mixed in would get me into prime shape.

Right now I am the fittest I have ever been but what Gideon and Kenya to a certain extent too has taught me is that there is no reason why this is anywhere near my limit.  It gives me huge confidence that if I could run 1.53.07 for 800 metres last season, off the back of 6 weeks hard training which had been preceded by months of messing around, then this year can be hugely improved.

Day 1 of the 2011 trip, not in ‘shape’

You can learn a lot from the Kenyan athletes.  You can also learn how not to do things.  So many train in groups that follow the lead/fastest runner’s programme.  These are not suited to everyone and it is why many runs themselves into the ground and into an early retirement. The rain here is indeed far worse than home. Almost every road is un-run able at times when the skies decide to open. However, they need to toughen up and run in the rain sometimes, they think we are crazy when they see us running in only a small bit of rain.  Another way that this can be looked at is that they do not feel the same pressure as we do at home to complete every session that is planned for them.  It is flexible and they can easily miss one here or there.

Coming into ‘shape’

Thanks to BodyHelix I was able to organise a mile race at the Kamariny Stadium in Iten.  It was a huge success and we hope to build on it greatly next year.  With winning times of 4.14 for the men and 5.00 for the ladies, there was a high standard turn out which was great to see.  It felt fantastic to give something back to a place which has given me so much.

The BodyHelix Men’s Mile 2012

Things could not have gone any better for me this time around.  I recorded my biggest ever weekly mileage week at 75 miles in week 10 of 12.  Whilst my Dad urges me to not get too fixated on mileage like he did it is hard not to get excited but I remain careful and hold back when necessary.  The track sessions I have done here give me real hope that I can run the times I want to this year.  I was pleased to be hitting fast times in sessions on the slightly too long dirt track at 8000 feet above sea level.  My last 2 weeks have included some quality sessions but reduced mileage and I am beginning to feel fresh as the races approach this weekend. I will line up to run the British Milers Club Grand Prix 800 metres on Saturday followed by a 1500m and 4x400m relay in Aberdeen on Sunday in my first outing as club captain.  It will be fantastic to see my Mum again when she kindly collects me in Manchester and drives me back to sunny Scotland.

It’s clear to see that I absolutely love it out here in Kenya and I could easily live here.  However, it is a strange feeling to have that I still really, really want to come home.  I am looking hugely forward to seeing family and friends again but the burning desire to be home again comes from wanting to produce the results that all this trip’s hard work was designed to do and that many people have supported me in doing so.

Yesterday I completed my final track session on Kenyan soil.  It was only 5 x 200 metres and with a long-ish recovery to get the legs ticking over for Saturday’s race.  I was determined to hit one of them in 24 seconds and the first 4 went by in 25, 25, 25 and 25.  I said to myself before the last rep: “you will hit 24, now GO!!” Coming down the home straight I was thinking to myself ‘push as hard as you possibly can and leave it all on the track, you will not have another opportunity to rectify this if you don’t push hard enough now’.  I crossed the line in 24.94 and as I put the brakes on I went up onto the bank of the track and was confronted with the most incredible view across the Great Rift Valley.  It was one of the best moments in my running life.  That is the magic of Iten, Kenya – Home of Champions.

Elated at hitting the elusive 24 second rep!

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Braveheart Becky aims to follow in the footsteps of her mother

Written by Myles Edwards in Iten, Kenya.

The first in a series of in depth interviews with Aberdeen Athletic Club members features under 17 middle distance star, Becky Cheyne.  Cheyne chats to Myles Edwards about her aspirations for the coming years and what it is that drives her to succeed in the sport.

Born in Aberdeen in 1997, Becky tells us how she first got involved in athletics:

“My first ever race was a Primary Schools event at Chris Anderson Stadium (now Aberdeen Sports Village).  I was in Primary 5 and managed to come 4th in the 800m.  Although I missed out on a medal, I was very proud of myself because my only other races had been at school sports days.”

This race planted a seed within Becky which continues to spur her on today as she then went on to compete in all Active Schools events from 2007-2010 and scooped 1st age group place in every Race for Life from 2007 through to 2009.  She hopes to return to the Race for Life event this year as she has missed the past few due to other commitments.

Now coached by the legendary Grant Smith, Becky has won ‘Athlete of the Week’ three times since the introduction of the award in November 2011.  Becky says:

“I am proud of this achievement because it shows that I am improving and heading in the right direction.  I think the introduction of this award means that secretly we all strive to do better and that our performances are recognised.”

Coached by Grant Smith since 27th June, 2011, she goes on to describe the influence that Grant has on her progress and that of others in the group:

“Grant is a good coach for many reasons.  He emails our workouts to us beforehand so that we know what times we have to improve on.  He also emails us our times following the session so that we can write them in our diaries and make comparisons with similar sessions from the past.

“He also gives us little tips on how to improve our running styles and techniques. He is always happy to help and never pushes us too far, he just goes with our abilities instead of pushing us to breaking point. He’s always happy, encouraging and positive.”

With personal bests of 2.49.1 and 5.56.2 for 800 and 1500 metres respectively, Becky aims to improve on both of these marks this season off the back of some great training over the winter months.

Cheyne goes on to tell us why athletics is the sport which she most enjoys:

“Athletics is my favourite sport because nobody judges you, every member of Aberdeen AAC is very friendly and welcoming. The sport itself is very enjoyable – you can run from anywhere, for whatever distance and for whatever reason. You can also use it to take your frustrations out on really well.  If I’m annoyed, I simply think – ‘I will show them’ – and therefore run better because of it.

“I prefer athletics to team sports purely because my hand-eye co-ordination is a bit skew-whiff! However, I do still consider athletics to be a team sport as everyone is in the same club.  Also, in relays we are a team – even if you’re not picked to be in the squad of 4 you will still get a buzz from cheering everyone else on.”

Keen to find out what drives Becky to train harder and harder week in, week out, I ask who it is that inspires her:

“My Mum, Denise is without a doubt the person who inspires me most as it was not so long ago that she ran for Scotland.  Kelly Holmes is someone who I also greatly admire.  She didn’t have the best start to life and didn’t even like running to begin with.  Despite this, she never gave up and in the end her hard work produced two gold medals in the same Olympics and also got her a knighthood.

“I admire the attitudes of athletes such as Derek Redmond who battle through severe pain to get to the finishing line.” (Redmond famously pulled a hamstring during the 400m semi final at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and had to hobble and be carried by his father for almost 200m to cross the finish line)

Becky goes on to say that she ‘holds athletes in high regard who, despite their talents continue to be modest and support younger athletes’ like herself.’

Next we move on to what Becky feels she can achieve within the sport of athletics:

“I am not certain of exactly what I can achieve but if I keep training well and getting personal best times then I will in myself feel that I have achieved an awful lot.

“I think it would be brilliant to run for Scotland one day, or compete in the Olympic or Commonwealth Games.  However, that is not a necessity for me to be satisfied. As long as I know that I can run for as long in life as I want to and that I am a lot fitter and more active than my peers at school, then I will be a happy chappy.”

The next interview will be with middle distance maestro, James Joy as he looks to improve on his 800m personal best of 1.53 from last year.

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Masai magic and Choge class in Body Helix Mile, Iten Kenya

Athletes jostle for position at the start of the men’s Body Helix Mile.

By Myles Edwards in Iten, Kenya.

As most people in the UK rose from their beds this Sunday morning, 36 Kenyans lined up to take part in the first ever BodyHelix Mile in Iten, Kenya.

Excitement was high in the build up to the big race at The Kamariny Stadium, home of distance running champions.  Both men’s and women’s races had to be delayed by 1 hour due to heavy rain overnight, which had made the famous dirt track more like a cross country course than a platform for some of the world’s best athletes to perform.  Undeterred, the athletes still went on to impressively produce some scintillating performances.

Maggie Masai outsprinted her training partner, Phenencia Chemtai to win The BodyHelix Mile women’s race in a time of 5 minutes 0.1 seconds, beating her lifelong friend by 0.4 seconds.  With a track session of 6 x 800m two days previously and a long run of 1 hour 20 minutes less than 24 hours before the race, both athletes had not planned on competing until a last minute change of heart.  It is not only this that makes their victory so impressive but also the fact that they had been sipping tea and eating the famous Kenyan food of chapatti only 20 minutes beforehand.  In a time of 5 minutes 23.5 seconds, Monica Chebet came home to scoop third place and the final cash prize.

Magdaline Masai (left) out sprints Phenencia Chemtai to win gold in the women’s mile.

Speaking after the race with Maggie, the younger sister of 2009 World 10,000m champion Linet Masai, she said:

“The preparation was not how we would normally warm up for a race but I was ok and still felt strong.  I am very happy to win this race but I will not be preparing like that ever again.”

The inaugural men’s BodyHelix Mile saw large numbers of athletes line up to try and scoop the title.  The field was packed with talent and it was 3 minutes 37 second 1500 metre runner, Raymond Choge who emerged victorious, outsprinting his compatriot, James Kangogo to win by 2 seconds in a time of 4 minutes 13.9 seconds.  Alex Lagat came home to scoop the bronze medal in a time of 4 minutes 17.3 seconds.

Coached by the explosive combination of Gabriele Nicola, Renato Canova and Joseph Cheromai, Raymond looked in great shape as he crossed the line to complete his first ever mile race.  He gave some insight into what the victory meant to him:

“It is a very good feeling to win the BodyHelix Mile.  I thank god for giving me the strength to win and beat some very good athletes who I was fearing slightly beforehand.  I was tired from a track session yesterday of 3x600m, 3x300m, 3x400m but I worked very hard to secure the victory.”

Raymond Choge sprints away from his rivals to win gold.

Race organiser Myles Edwards, Liaison Manager for BodyHelix in Kenya said:

“It was a truly spectacular occasion and really enjoyable to see the smiling faces of athletes who won prize money that will make a big difference to their lives.  Having trained here myself for 6 of the past 9 months, it fantastic to give something back to the community in Iten, Kenya and this would not have been possible without the BodyHelix team’s input.

“The race would not have occurred were it not for the phenomenal support of world renowned physiotherapist, Jeroen Deen who’s impressive efforts made everything run smoothly.  Thanks must also go to Dan Mulhare of Run Kenya and the local children who filmed and photographed the race, with the latter also creating posters to advertise the event over the past couple of weeks.

“I look forward to being part of this event for years to come and seeing it evolve into something truly special at the heart of the distance running world here in Iten, Kenya.”

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Returning to my home from home: Iten, Kenya

By Myles Edwards

Twitter – MylesEdwards

At 6pm last night I returned to my home from home.  Not that I needed any extra enthusiasm towards my return to Iten, Kenya but a phone call from Cambridge athletics legend, Mike Turner on the eve of my arrival sent my excitement and determination levels through the roof.

A hero of mine and close friend and inspiration of my father’s, the former English Cross Country Captain and GB Team Manager at the 1988 Soul Olympics has sadly experienced some ill health in recent months.  However, his granite-like grit and trademark resolve are shining through more than ever as he embarks on the recovery process.  To hear a double British Universities and double Inter-Counties Cross Country champion say – “Myles, you’ve never lacked ambition and have all the attributes to be a top athlete” – has given me an incredible buzz and increased determination to make this 3 month spell of altitude training as successful as possible.

The journey from London to Nairobi consisted of sleep, sleep and more sleep.  A hectic week with work and catching up with friends followed by the English National Cross Country 7.5 mile race on Saturday had clearly taken its toll as for the first time in my 23 year career, I declined a meal.

With only 2 flights leaving Nairobi to Eldoret each day I had missed the first one and was not hanging around Eldoret Airport all day until evening.  This left me one option – a 500 mile journey by matatu. For those of you who are not familiar with the matatu, count yourself lucky.  Packed in like sardines is an understatement.  The 14-seater mini bus at one point had 22 passengers and this was including my two 20kg bags taking up two of the ‘seats’.  Safe to say my backside and I were relieved and jubilant when the ordeal finally came to an end.

As soon as I set foot on the famous red dirt roads of Iten, I felt at home.  Within seconds a couple of locals, whom myself and training partner Dan Mulhare had made friends with on our previous trip, recognised me and came running over to greet me.  Local children refused to take no for an answer as they fought to be the one to carry my bags for the 5 minute walk to our place, secretly hoping that they would be full of goodies from the UK.

I write this after waking up on my first morning back in our compound owned by Moses and Linet Masai.  It has been absolutely fantastic to see everyone again.  Either Linet has transformed into a very annoying Rooster who seems hell-bent on disrupting my sleep or the feathered creature awaits her as a gift to mark her return from a fantastic 3rd place finish in Puerto Rico’s World’s Best 10km.

I cannot wait to get stuck into some serious training over the coming weeks but plan to be careful in the next few days to acclimatise and not risk injury.  As many of you know my previous trip to Kenya, whilst being truly inspirational, was unfortunately marred by a shin injury which stopped me doing almost any running.  Thanks to Aberdeen-based Physiotherapist, Ron Coutts, I am confident that I have the tools to manage the injury this time around and make this trip a springboard to future success in the sport.  I am hugely grateful for the unwavering loyalty, support and enthusiasm from my parents.  My father, Mel Edwards, has been an inspiration throughout my life and in particular during the times I have spent on the sidelines due to injury.  Grant Smith’s guidance, advice and coaching played a huge role in my success last season and solid training over the last 3 months and I look forward to carrying out his sessions in Kenya.   The trip would also not have been possible without the support of Body Helix, Fugro Subsea Services, Petrofac and in particular Paradigm Flow Services who have shown great faith in me as an athlete – something which makes me all the more determined to achieve my goals and repay their loyalty.

In half an hour or so I will be heading out for my first run of the trip and hopefully my first pain free run on African soil, with the words of Mike Turner ringing in my ears.  Iten is a truly magical place where you can witness athletes achieving their dreams all around you.  Who knows, I may even be on the shoulder of World 800metres champion, David Rudisha in years to come. Sorry, it seems the altitude has gone to my head already.

Kwa heri for now and thanks for reading.

Myles

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World record the goal for Wilson in Frankfurt Marathon

By Myles Edwards.  Reporting from Iten, Kenya.

Thousands of Kenyan athletes regard the world marathon record as the potential pinnacle of their career, the Holy Grail, the ultimate goal.  It is why, just like clockwork, at 6am, 10am and 4pm you will see an abundance of runners churning out mile after mile on the red dirt roads of Iten and other Kenyan towns.  Only a handful will reach such a level. 

The sheer depth of Kenyan talent over the marathon distance is perhaps most comprehensively demonstrated by the fact that Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich is officially the 9th fastest ever man to run 26.2 miles, and only the 8th fastest among his countrymen.  On the streets of Frankfurt on October 30th, the world record is a realistic possibility for the popular and charismatic, ‘Kipsang’:

“We as athletes have aims and expectations which become higher and more ambitious as we achieve.  Now my ambition is the world marathon record.”

Wilson Kipsang winning the 2010 Frankfurt Marathon

Speaking at myself and Dan Mulhare’s place in Iten, Kenya, the reigning Frankfurt Marathon champion was in cheerful and confident mood when discussing how he plans to retain his title and become the fastest man in history in the process.
 
“Frankfurt is my favourite marathon.  The people are friendly and the hospitality is fantastic.  Due to Patrick Makau’s world record run inBerlinlast month (2 hours 3 minutes 38 seconds), my plan has now changed.  I do not intend to run like Makau did, at times he was running 2.03.10 pace and then slowed. 
 
“I aim to run around 2.03.25.  The final 5km should be about maintaining pace, not slowing down.  If I aim for 2.03.05 then I could easily die.  As long as it is under the world record time then I will be very happy”, he said followed by his trademark chuckle of ‘aye aye aye’.

Kipsang explains how his role as a pacemaker has played a big role in his success but goes on to attribute his sensible yet tough approach to training as the biggest factor:

“Being a pacemaker is a crucial part of the learning process.  It teaches you speed control and you have a free mind with no pressure.  I always felt good and it taught me to have no fear.

“You must be clever and sensible and not just run, run, run.  Training is important but training well is the key.  It takes discipline and hard work.  I am a very focused guy, when I want something I go out there and work hard to get it.  The main thing is to live positive, if training is not going well then do not worry, it will come.”

In three days time, the city of Frankfurt could be witness to a new world marathon record.  Whether or not Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich is successful on this occasion, you can be sure to see much more of this determined and personable athlete at the forefront of men’s world marathon running in the not so distant future.

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An insider’s look at life on the ground in Kenya

ROGER ON RUNNING: A DIARY FROM ITEN
 
An insider’s look at life on the ground in Kenya
 
By Roger Robinson and Myles Edwards
As featured in the Web Only issue of Running Times Magazine.
 

My friend, Myles Edwards, a 23-year-old, national-class 800m runner from Scotland, is living and training in Iten, Kenya. The following are edited selections from the email diary he sent me in September and October. Not only do they give a glimpse of what a visiting runner encounters while training in Iten, Edwards’ entries also give telling insights to some of the world’s top runners.

Watching Dan Mulhare at the Ndalat Cross Country

My neighbor is Linet Masai! When she got home from the world champs, the celebrations went on until it was time for their 6 a.m. run. For such a slight lady, she has a huge amount of laundry – hogging five washing lines today with all her kit from the worlds and Zurich. Haven’t spotted the Daegu bronze medal hanging there! My room is basic — power comes on and off, no furniture, and it took three days to get a bed. But who cares? The people are terrific. Theo the taxi driver waited three hours at Eldoret when our plane was late.

Runners are everywhere. It’s like living in World Running HQ. I watched the world champs 800m on TV with Brother Colm, Rudisha’s coach. He was so relaxed! He just sat there. All he said was, “Easy, OK.”

Can’t wait to get back running. The shin is improving, and Lornah Kiplagat’s camp is great — this morning did gym, aqua-jogging, and a killer one hour on the exercise bike. Then at the physio, my appointment came between Augustine Choge and Mary Keitany. Jeroen, the physio, is a great guy, very modest, who has treated everyone from top soccer players like Robin van Persie to Mo Farah. My only problem is Simon, a neighbor, a 2:10 Ugandan marathoner, who laughs at me because I get up late in the morning. They have all run two hours or more before I appear at 8 a.m. But wait. I’ll show them.

It would have been impossible to have secured the place we have and had all these experiences without the help of a mutual friend of mine and my training partner out here, Dan Mulhare.

During my appointment with Jeroen today, Abel Kirui came in with Wilson Kiprop, and every one started dancing and celebrating Abel’s world champs marathon victory. I was on the table and he shook my hand as he danced round. That doesn’t happen every day!

The streets are like nothing I have seen before. Roads are pretty good, driving is appalling. The taxis drive on whatever side of the road they feel like. The people don’t have much in material things. I walked into a store called “Runners Point,” and it was like a charity shop, just shabby second-hand clothes, and some adidas apparel from before my time. The “London Marathon Shop” sells eggs and not much else. Some of the local runners, Kenyan and Ugandan, have begun to hang about asking for things. Very friendly at first, but now they seem to assume that we are wealthy and can give them everything from watches to food. But I didn’t work so many hours for this trip to give away my equipment to a full-time athlete with a manager.

Ran over 40 minutes yesterday, my longest run yet, because I misread a sign that I thought said “Iten 3K.” It was a fantastic loop. Until then, I’d run the same out and back on the road to Eldoret. Pretty sure some of the kids I passed have never seen a mzungo before. I gave them high-fives, said “Jambo,” and did my Usain Bolt imitation. Jogged down to the track, where there were around 150 athletes bashing out sessions of 400, 600, 800 and 1,000 reps, mighty impressive at that altitude. One European runner who has set up as a coach was loud and unpleasant to his athletes, who were “only” doing 1K reps in 3:06. The whole track heard him shouting at them, and he ended up sending two home. I felt like putting an arm around and saying don’t listen to him, well done, and stick to it.

Moses Mosop ran 45K today and went through 26.2 miles in 2 hours 16 minutes. At altitude! He plans to run Chicago but not try for the world record because he has some disruptions. Mary Keitany has been away at the Lisbon half, and will be doing New York. I’d better not say how she plans to run it. But she intends to win and won’t be waiting around. It looks likely she will be wearing my watch in NYC. I had dinner with Jeroen the physio and Mary’s coach, Gabriele Nicola, who is really helpful to me and incredibly knowledgeable, an absolute fanatic when it comes to knowing times and splits. He analyzed every split from Mary’s Lisbonrace to see where she can improve. He really cares about all his athletes. And Jeroen has become such a good friend I’m giving him my Aberdeen F.C. top. (The way they are playing this season, it might not count as a gift.)    




One really good friend is Enoch. I helped him set up an email and Facebook. He’d love to go to university but there’s no way his mother can afford it. Lornah and her husband, Pieter, have a great program that sends outstanding Kenyans to American colleges.   

The bad news is my running has stopped again, as the shin is far too sore. Did 100K on the gym bike yesterday, inspired by when Dad requested a treadmill in his chemo isolation room in 2007. [For Myles’ dad and his response to cancer, see “Roger on Running: Running Old and New.”] I hit the wall at 92K, but still did my 2-minute Ks target. No point in being down. I have a great physio who is far cheaper than home, and all the time in the world to work out and get mega fit. Bad things happen to everyone, it’s how you deal with them that sets you apart. 

Today I was sitting in the sun when Linet Masai shouted for my help. I ran over and in her living room a socket and extension cable was sparking. I made sure she was well away from it and got her to turn off the power. The plug had melted in the socket and snapped when I tried to pull it out. So I got a friend who was going to Eldoret to buy a new plug and socket, and dropped it off tonight after my stretching class with Jeroen, to Linet’s very shy sister Maggie. Five minutes later Linet came over, smiling but shy, asking how much she owed me, but I said nothing, it’s for a neighbor. When do you get opportunity to do a favor for a world-class athlete? Her smile went from ear to ear. It’s amazing to get to know her as an ordinary person at home, after reading about her, things like your magic description of her running, “Roger on Running: The New York Mini 10K.” I showed Linet her fan site on Facebook, which she had never seen. Some days I watch soccer with her and all her sisters. Linet supports Chelsea and her sisters support Man Utd, but no one is perfect.  I hope to one day take them to a West Ham United match.

Berlin and Chicago — wow! All Kenya is very happy. According to Canova, Mosop was only in 85 percent shape. Before the race, he said Moses would run “around 2:05:40,” not a bad prediction. [Mosop won Chicago in 2:05:37 on Oct. 9.] In the gym on the way to the shower I got chatting with a guy who after about five minutes casually mentioned that he was one of Patrick Makau’s pacers in his Berlin world record. I also talked to Wilson Kipsang. He told me, “As athletes we have expectations and aims. As we accomplish these, they change. Now my expectation is the world marathon record, and my aim is to do that in Frankfurt on Oct. 30.” Gilbert Kirwa will be at Frankfurt, too, and Agnes Kiprop could win the women’s. Then comes New York, with Mary Keitany. It goes on and on. This is an incredible place!

Three nights ago I picked up severe food poisoning and lost so much weight in 12 hours I was taken to hospital. Now I weigh the same as a Kenyan. Iten District Hospital was great, the staff were impressive and friendly. I was home in time to leave at 7 a.m. (see, I said I could do it!) for a local cross country race. Great trip, as Maggie and her friend Chemtai were running, and others from the Masai family came along. They are incredibly friendly and helpful people, and they laugh, laugh and laugh some more all day long. The race was like no event I have ever seen — kids everywhere, big fields, incredibly fast. Chemtai was 3rd in the Senior race and my training partner Dan ran 40:29 for 12.8K /7.95 miles, and only came 94th! He was first mzungo, and the kids had never seen a white man. I lost count of the number who asked me to sponsor them.   

Today I walked one hour, increasing the pace, and ran in the pool, which tests the breathing — and NO PAIN. Will try running again soon. My plan now is to get injury-free when I’m home, get a job to save some more money, and then come back here in March. I’ve made amazing new friends here, like Enoch, Jeroen and Linet. It’s opened up so many things I would like to do with my life, like coaching, and freelance journalism, and helping people find good therapists. I’ll do some of it here. This is a special country.

Roger Robinson has done many things in a lifetime in running, including racing for England and New Zealand, setting masters records at Boston and New York, and working as stadium announcer and TV and radio commentator. Most of his jobs involve finding words to describe or analyze running. The first of his successful books, “Heroes and Sparrows: a Celebration of Running” was reissued this year. Senior writer for Running Times he has won three U.S. running journalism awards. “Roger on Running” appears monthly on runningtimes.com. Read all of Roger’s articles here.

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Keitany Express heading for London via New York

Winning London Marathon 2011. Photos courtesy of The Telegraph.

By Myles Edwards.   Reporting from Iten, Kenya

Interview published on runnersworld.com Thursday 13th October 2011

Mary Jepkosgei Keitany, the 2011 London Marathon champion, ran her first race in 2006.  The Shoe4Africa road race, a 10k (but now a 5k) awarded prizes to the first 20 finishers. Mary was 21st. It could be argued that this result provided the catalyst for the altitudinal heights which the 5 ft 1” Kalenjin’s career has now reached. However, it was evident when speaking with her in Iten,Kenya, on Saturday that her granite-like determination was engrained in her long before that race.

Coached by Gabriele Nicola, Keitany is now a multiple world record holder. Growing up as a child inKenya, Mary was not short of role models and she states Paul Tergat and Tegla Loroupe as her idols.  Having athletes such as these to look up to not only planted the seeds of inspiration but instilled a burning desire for Mary to try and match their achievements.

Photo by Victah Sailer

Her coach, Gabriele Nicola, provided great insight into the reasons behind her success:

“Mary is talented, she is light and she has a big engine.  Some people are born to run fast.  However, on top of this she has a professional attitude and great discipline.  There is no secret.  Talent is useless for people if they do not have the correct attitude.”

Speaking with both of them earlier this week, it was clear to see the huge amount of mutual respect and admiration they have for one another.  Mary said:

“Gabriele does a great job as our coach and his training is very good. The best thing is that he is always with us and is very supportive when showing us what exactly to do.”

(By ‘us’ Mary is referring to the elite group which contains Sharon Cherop, Helena Kirop, Agnes Kiprop, Lydia Cheromei, Peninah Arusei and Hilda Kibet. These athletes are coached by Gabriele Nicola and some managed by Gianni Demadonna.)

With already world records galore to her name, I quizzed Mary on whether she saw Paula Radcliffe’s world best of 2.17.42 as an achievable target.  She responded in her typical modest but confident manner:

“It is maybe possible.  Now that Florence (Kiplagat) has also run 2.19 there is competition there to maybe do it sometime.”

Mary was unsure as to whether Radcliffe’s world record should stand.  The time of 2.15.25 was controversially deemed ineligible by the IAAF last month due the presence of male pacemakers:

“I am not sure.  It is a good time.  What I do believe is that a male pacemaker does make a difference when you are looking to run that pace.  It will not be possible to get a woman to pace for 2.15.”

With her sights set firmly on victory in next month’s ING New York City Marathon, Mary feels that she has improved a lot since her third place finish in the race last year:

“I have worked very hard since last year. I want to go faster. I want to control the race from the start and make it quicker.”

Winning the 2011 London Marathon stands out as Mary’s favourite achievement to date, but she would not be completely drawn on whether it would be enough to guarantee selection for the 2012 Olympics:

“I will do New York first, that is what I am focusing on. After New York, I can think about the Olympics but until then it is very important to have complete focus on my next race in New York. If I run well there, then I think that the two performances will be enough.”

Gabriele elaborated on Mary’s thoughts regardingKenya’s 2012 Olympic selection:”The problem is not with selection.

“The aim is to be ready and stay free of injury for the Olympics. We hope that Mary will stay okay from now until then. You cannot predict what will happen between now and then but the three most likely to be selected are Mary Keitany, Edna Kiplagat, and Florence Kiplagat.”

Although the focus of this cheerful, pocket-sized rocket is firmly set on the streets ofNew York, be under no illusions that barring injury or illness, she will unleash her artillery of weapons on her favourite course in 2012.

 

Mary Keitany career record

In 2007, she made her mark internationally with a second place behind Lornah Kiplagat (who won in a world record half-marathon time) in the IAAF World Road Running Championships inUdine,Italy. Following the birth of her first child in June 2008, her first race back was the World 10km inBangalore,India, in May 2009, where she finished a very close second behind Aselefech Mergia ofEthiopiaand ran a personal best 32:09. Four months later she won the 2009 Lille Half Marathon inFrancein a time of 1:07:00–making her the seventh fastest ever over the distance. Next was the 2009 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships inBirmingham, which Keitany won, breaking the Championship record with a 1:06:36.

In 2010, she broke the world record for 25 kilometers inBerlin, winning in 1:19:53 and also scooped first prize in the Abu Dhabi Half Marathon.  This year she went on to break the world half marathon record in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE with a time of  1:05:50, breaking a record along the way for 20k (1:02:36) and setting world bests at 8k and 10 miles. Keitany then earned her emphatic win inLondonin April, covering the 26.2 miles in 2:19:19.

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