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.