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Endurance Running Heaven

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MO FARAH
Farah back training at altitude in Kenya

30 October 2009

Tagged as ‘endurance running heaven’ by UKA’s National Endurance Senior Coordinator Spencer Barden, UKA’s altitude training camp is currently in session in Kenya with top UK athletes enjoying the benefits of the East African endurance ethics.

After a flight from Heathrow to Nairobi, a 30 minute flight to Eldoret and a short drive to the town of Iten, top British athletes find themselves at the heart of the Kenyan running community. At 8000ft above sea level, living and training at such a high altitude where the air is thin makes this the ideal place for athletes to maximize the benefits of being at altitude.

A typical day for the likes of European Indoor 3000m champion Mo Farah, World Championship 1500m silver medalist Lisa Dobriskey, and middle distance talents Colin McCourt and Becky Lyne begins at sunrise at 6.30am. The UK athletes head out for their morning run at 7am each day for anything between 35 minutes to an hour and run again in the late afternoon at 5pm. There is a great focus on group running.

Dobriskey, who has been at the camp for three days,  said: “It’s a different world out here. We decided to experiment at altitude because we haven’t had the opportunity before. You have to be really controlled and take things gently at first. There is a lot of focus on resting in between runs.

“We are all a really close group out here, eating and relaxing together. Mo has been out here before so we are learning from him and sharing experiences. Meal times are really interesting because we all sit down together and share experiences and stories. It’s good to listen to other people’s ideas and philosophies about running.”

UK athletes are based at the Kerio View hotel, close to the famous Rift Valley area, a popular training destination for endurance athletes across the world. A hotel chef prepares food to meet their dietary needs including Ugali – the famous high carbohydrate Kenyan dish eaten by all the Kenyan athletes, which the British athletes have been trying out.

Kerio View, located in Iten, is the ideal location for athletes to base themselves for training and relaxation. Farah, who trained in Kenya last winter before he broke the British 3000m indoor record at the Aviva Glasgow Indoor meeting, is a huge advocate of altitude training.

Farah said: “I was here last year so it’s good to get out with the Kenyan runners I was training with before. It’s at high altitude and hot which means I can get fit. My focus is the European Cross Country next month and training for it out here means I can just sleep, eat and train which is great preparation.”

In addition to the endless running trails the area has training centres such as the Lorna Kipalgat altitude centre and the famous St. Patrick’s School in the same area. UKA endurance secured permission for the UK athletes to access and use the gym and facilities at the Kipalgat training centre throughout their stay, which is just a short walk from Kerio View.  Athletes run from the accommodation each day, there is no need for transport. Everyone runs or walks.

Recently appointed National  Event Coach George Gandy oversees the training of the top athletes at the camp as well as his Loughborough training group who compliment the dynamic of the overall group.

He said: “It’s early days here, we are running in the comfort zone at this stage. There is a strong human spirit among the community here, it’s quite inspiring. Going out running at 7am and seeing so many other athletes on the roads is also inspiring.

“It’s interesting that of the 2000 inhabitants, 800 are top endurance runners. You can’t argue with those statistics. There is no stress here, it’s perfect for training.”

Barden added: “There are literally hundreds of athletes out training along the red cinder type paths, what is noticeable is that they are all running in groups, groups anything between four or five or  20 or 30. There is always a group or someone to run with and nine times out of ten there will be the odd world or Olympic medalist tucked way steady running along within one of the many groups.”

UKA Head of Endurance Ian Stewart set a new strategy for the event group early in 2009 with a focus on altitude and group based training. With Barden and Gandy in his team, UKA’s endurance program is best placed to improve its current crop of talented athletes and create a workable and successful ongoing strategy.

The camp lasts 3-4 weeks, the length of stay differs with each athlete, from 26th October to 27th November.