Monday, 29 July 2013

Guest Blog 5: Shane Benzie from Bekoji in Ethiopia

The latest guest post is an extract from a blog by Shane Benzie, founder of Running Reborn.  Shane has spent some time running with the Ethiopian athletes in Bekoji, made famous by its many Olympic medalists, and the subject of the 2012 film Town of Runners [DVD] From 2014, Shane will be organising running trips to Bekoji.  To register your interest, or to find out more about the services provided by Running Reborn, check out the website.

I’m running at a pace that I know my body will soon refuse to keep up. Two sounds enter my head momentarily blocking out the voice that is screaming at me to stop and just sit down. The first sound is my breathing, we are at altitude, 9200 ft and just when I need it most the air seems unfairly thin. The second sound is the rhythmic footfall of the eight athletes surrounding me; their steps are quick, light and in perfect harmony. Apart from that they are completely silent, not a sound, I can't hear them breath and some are actually smiling. Then with no words spoken or a warning of any kind they move up a gear and I am left behind to watch a blur of colour glide smoothly away.

I am in Bekoji, known as the town of runners, training with some of Ethiopia's best young prospects and the learning curve is as steep as the hills they train on.

Runners from the tiny Ethiopian town of Bekoji have won 8 Olympic gold medals, broken 10 World records and won 32 World championships

I was extremely privileged to accompany Malcolm Anderson co-founder of Running Across Borders  and Kayla Nolan the Executive Director of Girls Gotta Run to Bekoji.  It gave me an amazing opportunity to see first hand how these two organisations work with and support young athletes.  Not only do they help to produce potential world-class athletes, they also help young people to develop as individuals and find careers in industry related jobs such as coaching and sports massage.

To read more about Shane's experience, and what he learned from training with the Ethiopians, click here.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

My top ten favourite books about Africa

As some of you, my readers, may have gathered, I have a little bit of an obsession with Africa.  I’m not sure where, how or why the obsession started – it was probably ignited by TV images of migrating wildebeest, and flocks of brilliantly pink flamingo – but I know that towards the end of my PhD studies, planning my first trip to the content started to fill most of my waking hours (or at least those that weren’t occupied by PhD thoughts).  I also have an obsession with books.  And I’ve read quite a few books about Africa.  Here are my top ten.

1. Africa: Altered States; Ordinary Miracles (Richard Dowden)
This book was so good, that it took me three years to finish it; I really didn’t want it to end.  Each chapter looks at a different African nation, and in a part-autobiographical account, part-historical report, Dowden details that country’s plight against imperialism, poverty and/or civil war.  Over the course of the book he tries to piece together what makes Africa the continent it is today.  What makes the book so good is that it doesn't take sides.  It doesn't place blame; it just details how things are.  The colourful culture of the African people is vividly portrayed, and the series of mishaps and misfortunes they have endured, and overcome, are put into context of how they have shaped the Africa of today.  If you have ever wanted to find out more about the Dark Continent, this is a highly recommended starting point.

2. Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Shaped a Nation (John Carlin)
This is the book that I’m most likely to buy to give to somebody.  The book is even more powerful than its excellent onscreen adaptation (Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon), and had me in tears towards the end.  Brilliantly informative, and perfectly emotionally poised, Playing the Enemy charts how Nelson Mandela utilised rugby, and specifically the 199? Rugby World Cup, to mobilise political sympathy and non-violent recognition of the plight of black South Africans.  In utilising sport as a means of giving White South Africa what they wanted, Mandela brilliantly wins over his biggest political rivals, and cleverly conjures up a unified national pride which overwrites centuries of racial hatred. Carlin eloquently captures the spirit of Mandela's greatest moments which cumulate in a South African World Cup victory that all South Africans, black, white, Indian or Coloured can jubilantly celebrate.  Even if you have no interest in rugby, African politics or Nelson Mandela, I'd find it difficult to believe that anybody would not be moved by this wonderfully told tale. 

3. Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town (Paul Theroux)
This is the first of Paul Theroux’s excellent travel books that I read, and his excellent observational writing has catapulted him to the top of my favourite travel writers list.  I found myself nodding in agreement, smiling or laughing out loud throughout, and, like Africa: Altered States; Ordinary Miracles, I remember a distinct disappointment when I’d finished it.  That was an easy ill to cure though; I just went out and bought the rest of his books.

4. Swahili for the broken-hearted (Peter Moore)
This was the first book I ever read about Africa, and the humorous account of a journey from Cape Town to Cairo shaped much of my preconceptions of Africa.  When I lent the book to someone years ago, and didn’t get it back, it felt like a small part of me went missing.  Thankfully, I located another copy in a second-hand bookstore, and it’s been added to my to-read pile, as I’m really interested to see how differently I view it, several visits to Africa later.

5. Long Way Down (Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman)
Another rather light-hearted account of a journey through Africa, as Ewean McGreggor and Charlie Boreman share accounts of their trip on motorbikes.

6. Blood Diamonds: Tracing the Deadly Path of the World’s Most Precious Stones (Greg Campbell)
This book investigates the illegal West African diamond trade, and, in essence, is the true story behind the film Blood Diamond.  I’ve never seen what the big attraction of diamonds were, and the book highlights the fact that they really shouldn’t cost as much as they do, either in terms of money, or of human life. 

7. The Greatest: The Haile Gebrselassie Story
In the past I’ve always chosen autobiographies over biographies.  However, after reading some pretty mundane sports autobiographies, The Greatest went a long way to changing my preference.  This book is a well-written story of arguably the greatest distance runner the world has ever seen, but has considerable insight from Gebrselassie himself.  The book helped me relive some of Gebs great victories, and learn a lot about the man behind the athlete.

8. More Fire: How to Run the Kenyan Way (Toby Tanser)
More a reference guide than a cover to cover read, More Fire is an updated version of the now out-of-print Train Hard, Win Easy the Kenyan Way.  The book, written by Toby Tanser, who I had the pleasure of meeting on a couple of my Kenyan visits, is packed fully of facts, observations and points of interest about the World's greatest running nation, and, if you haven't already been won over by my blogs about Kenya, More Fire is sure to inspire you to take a trip to Iten or other Rift Valley training venue. 

9. Long Walk to Freedom (Nelson Mandela)
This book is unique, in that it makes it onto the list though I’ve not yet finished reading it (it is a very long book).   The 370-plus pages that I have read though have given an incredible insight into the life of one of the greatest political figures of all time.  Mandela doesn’t make out to be a saint, and tells things as they were, from his support of fighting the struggle by peaceful means for purely political means, to the shift to violent methods of freedom fighting.  There are bits that Mandela could have omitted to make himself look better, but the inclusion of his mistakes as well as his greatest moments is commendable.  Mandela, wasn’t born a Nobel Peace Prize winner; he is human like the rest of us, and his story takes the reader on the journey he travelled to become the person we know and love.  The prison years, and the eventual liberation have yet to come, but if the second half of the book is even half as good as the first, Long Walk to Freedom is more than deserving of its place in my top ten. 

10. The Running Man (Gilbert Tuhabonye)
This is the best of the rest when it comes to African running-related books.  Though not a literary masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, the true-story of Gilbert Tahabonye’s escape from genocide-torn Burundi, and his use of running to rebuild his life, is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming.


Other books that I’ve read and enjoyed: A Long Way Gone (Ishmeal Beah), the horrific tale of a boy soldier in Sierra Leone; No Future without Forgiveness (Desmond Tutu), the memoirs of one Desmond Tutu, the former Archbishop of South Africa; The White Massi (Corinne Hofmann), the true story of a tourist who fell in love with a Massi warrior during a holiday to Kenya; and Running with the Kenyans (Adharanand Finn), a great story of running in Kenyan, which I would recommend to anyone who hasn’t yet visited the country.

Update Feb 2016: I've just finished reading King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa (Adam Hochschild), and enjoyed it so much that I had to add it here. It was an incredibly enthralling read, telling an important tale, but with lots of interesting anecdotes throughout. It made history interesting, and has again inspired me to expand my collection of Africa-related books.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Guest Blog 4 - Vinnie Van Puyvelde from Flagstaff

The latest guest post comes from Belgian athlete Vinnie Van Puyvelde, who has recently spent three weeks in Flagstaff.  Vinnie is nineteen year old, and has 800m and 1500m personal bests of 1:53.72, and 3:57.12 respectively.  He was a member of the Belgian Championship winning 4x1500m team.  He aims to qualify for the European junior championships in Rieti on the 5k.  Flagstaff was one of my favourite venues, so it’s always interesting to hear other people’s views on the area.  

After a long travel from Brussels to Phoenix, I could finally smell the American air.  It took me about 24 hours to get to my destination, but when I saw the Flagstaff sign I understood it was all worth it. I would be spending three weeks in one of the most mythical training places in the world.

Flagstaff is a very outstretched city at an altitude of 7000ft (2130 meters), located in Northern Arizona, in the southwestern United States.  Because it’s so outstretched, the first thing you need in Flagstaff (beside your running stuff) is a car.  There are a lot of long, nice running trails, but for most of them you have to drive some miles to reach them. Most of the time I ran at the walnut canyon road because it wasn’t that far from our house and I could easily combine it with a strength workout in the Flagstaff Athletic Club East.

Another place where I did some endurance runs was Buffalo park.  Buffalo park is located just outside town at an altitude of about 7300ft (2225 meters).  The park has nice paths, and beautiful sights. But there are also some negative points about the place. It’s for example always windy up there, the circuit is just 2 miles and there is a pretty hard climb at the end of the circuit. But things like the wind and that hill make you so much stronger, so maybe they can be seen as an advantage. 

Fort Tuthill trail was also a nice trail. You can park at WalMart, where the trail begins. The path isn’t that good in the first mile, but once you’re in the woods, it’s a pleasure to run. I could go on for hours with telling about other trails and roads in Flagstaff like Lake Mary Road, but there are a lot of other things to talk about like where to do your track sessions and how are the locals…

In Flagstaff you have a lot of options to go to for your track sessions. One of those places is the Sinagua Middle School, located at East Butler Avenue. This is a good track where everybody can come to do a workout. The only problem can again be the wind, but this a problem you will always have in Flagstaff. Another option to do your track session is The Lumberjack Stadium of the Northern Arizona University. This is a brand new track with a big stand combined with a huge sports complex next to it. The only problem here is getting in… When you’re not an elite athlete, but you still want to do your training on the NAU track, you can take the south gate, which is normally always opened, because you won’t get in through the main entrance.

Of course there are other tracks in Flagstaff, but when you want to live high and train low, you can go to Sedona. Sedona is a little cowboy city at an altitude of 4,326ft (1319 meters).  Here you have the Sedona Red Rock High School. This school has a pretty good track, and is a perfect place to do your most heavy workouts. The weather is good here most of the time, and there’s far less wind than in Flagstaff. To get in Sedona, you will have to be on the way for a little hour.  During that hour you can admire the beauty of nature with the slide rocks and the Oak Creek canyon.

If the weather is very bad, you can do your session in the Skydome, a huge indoor training complex with a capacity of 10000 people. But don’t be too sure about doing your training there because the complex is also used for other sports.

The locals are very kind in Flagstaff. They are really athletics minded, they start taking to you about running, they would do everything for you if they hear you’re an athlete and they even encourage you while you’re doing an endurance run. It’s a sort of runners’ heaven, the only problem can be that there aren’t a lot of possibilities to eat healthy. You can find some stuff in supermarkets, but if you had a heavy day and you don’t want to make a meal by yourself, it will be hard to find a healthy restaurant.

A place to go on a recovery day or a day with one workout is definitely the Grand Canyon (1 hr 30 mins from Flag).  It isn’t that far and it’s really amazing - something that you must have seen when you’ve been in Flagstaff. Another possibility to go to is Las Vegas, but then you have to stay there for at least one night because the trip will take 3 hr 30 mins each way.   But it is a nice break in between the heavy work.

So Flagstaff is an awesome place to go to for a training camp. Great people, great trails, great facilities and it’s cheaper than St. Moritz where I’ve been two times before.  There’s also a great atmosphere that makes you feel like you can handle anyone.

Thanks to Vinnie for taking the time away from his training and school work to write this piece for us.  To qualify for the European Championships he’ll need to run 14:25.00.  His first attempt will be on the nineteenth of May, and we wish him every success.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Guest Blog 3 - Kerry Harty from Font Romeu

Are you afraid to go to Font Romeu at this time of year because of the snow? Are you put off by the prospect of cold weather? Irish International Kerry Harty has spent a considerable amount of time training in the town over the past few years, and likes the place so much that she even bought an apartment in the town. When Kerry is not in Font Romeu, her appartment is available for rent. For further details check out her website  In this post Kerry tells us about what training she’s doing at the moment in snowy Font Romeu.

Last year Kerry become the 5th Irish female to break 10 minutes for the 3,000m (yes, another one that kicks my ass over the barriers!), and has represented Ireland at the European Cross Country Championships. She is a multiple Northern Ireland record holder, and will have next year’s Commonwealth Games in her sights.  To follow Kerry's training and progress check out:

I am currently out in Font Romeu (FR) living at 6,000 feet preparing for the outdoor track & field season. We arrived in the third week of March which is quite early for this part of the world and they have had more snow than in over a decade so many of our normal training areas were still in knee-deep snow when we arrived! In fact we have had all four seasons over the past three weeks here. Also with me at the moment is Irish Junior Eoghan Totten from my home town who is spending three and a half weeks before hoping to smash his 10,000m PB on the track in early May. During the first week we ran a lot down in the Cerdagne Valley (at 4,000 feet) both in France and Spain. It is only a short 20-minute drive and there was no lying snow at this level. We have discovered some lovely new trails in the countryside which take in some spectacular views and wildlife. I really enjoy finding new places to run, it keeps training fresh and it's always good to get some heat on your back.

We have also taken a few trips to Perpignan and run at the beautiful Lac de la Raho. It's only around a 90-minute drive from FR and the weather is usually pretty good. The lap of the lake is flat, fast and around 4 miles. I love to do tempo work down there especially when it’s snowy up top. Back near FR at an altitude of around 5,000 there is also the Lac de Matemale. It’s also good for faster runs at around 5.5miles to a lap and the neighbouring forest has endless trails with carpets of pine needles much easier on the legs than tarmac. We’ve even done some runs in the snow in the forests over the early weeks. I’ve been using the ‘Yak Trax’ attached to the bottom of my training shoes; once on you don't feel them at all and they give a better grip. Runs are obviously slower on the snow but good for strength development. I’ve even been able to slot in some cross-country skiing into training which is great for getting in a few extra miles without the impact. It’s a fantastic way to cross-train out here and gives you a really hard workout. In another life I would definitely give biathlon a go – the FR area is the home of Martin Fourcade (and his brother Simon), World and Olympic Biathlon Champion.

Just at the end of last week after having a great spell of sunshine we experienced another dump of snow topping up the forest trails unfortunately and the track was also covered again. The lanes had originally been cleared from the winter snow and we had been doing sessions regularly but on Friday it snowed for 24 hours so we jumped in the car and drove to Barcelona for the day to do our track session in the sunshine at sea-level. It's a 2-hour drive but the roads are good and the track we used is situated right on the beach, so a nice wee dip in the Mediterranean after was very refreshing for the legs :)

So training here in FR at this time of the year can be done but I would say that transport is essential as the town is literally built on the side of a hill and there are brilliant running locations dotted inside a 20-minute ‘drive time’ radius. The lying snow at 6,000 feet has forced us to uncover new running trails and that’s a good thing. I’m doing around 70 miles plus two strength & conditioning sessions and one drills & hurdles session each week at the moment.

I plan to stay here for just over eight weeks and three have gone already and they have flown in. Generally spring is in the air, summer is around the corner and I’m looking forward to track races already in early May in Toulouse and then in Italy – all being well :)

Thanks Kerry.  Looking forward to 'racing' against you this season.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The importance of back up plans

The year was 1993, the month was January, the day was probably Wed, - though that's one detail I don't remember - the venue was Adamstown.  I was lined up in my bright yellow Donald Duck tee-shirt and my bare feet ready to take part in my first cross country race.

Now, 20 yeas later, almost to the day, I'm sitting in Dublin Airport waiting for a flight to Liverpool for the North of England Cross Country Championships.  The flight has already been put back from 07:45 to 10:15, but that's an ever moving target and until the inbound flight leaves Liverpool we won't actually know when we'll be flying.  And while the race was reported to still be going ahead at 07:50 this morning, that could still all change.  It's ok though.  I have a back up plan.  After a moment of madness last Monday I entered a 3,000m Indoor Race for tomorrow, just in case something like this happened.  I've not raced indoors for about 12 years, and I'm nowhere near track shape, so I'm still keeping my fingers crossed for eight kilometres of mud and snow today.  But I must admit, there is something very comforting about having a back-up plan.

And all this delay has given me some time to think.  Time to think about that first race 20 years ago.  Time to think about what I've achieved.  Time to think about what I've learned.  And time to think about back-up plans.

The gun went and I shot off like the proverbial bullet; straight to the front of the field.  I think I even created a bit of a gap on everyone else.  But then I was tired.  I had to stop and walk.  Loads of people passed me.  But I got going again and started to hold my place.  I even managed to pass one or two up the final hill to the finish.  I ended up 10th.  It was a county schools race.  There were lots of people behind.  I was ridiculed by my classmates for my naive tactics.  I didn't care.  I hadn't held anything back - those who know me know that I rarely do - and I thought that maybe, with a bit of practise, I could give this running lark a bit of a go.

I've been trying to think what my goals were back then; what I wanted from running, and if I ever achieved it.  I'm sure that Olympic stardom featured in my dreams at some stage, but back then I think I just wanted to be able to maintain the effort for the whole race, to win races like that, and to be looked up to by my classmates rather than be given a hard time by them.

Three or four months later other girls were upset because I statred to beat them.  The old guard of medal winners was being disrupted.  Four into three didn't go.  I had started to feature, and by May that year I won my first county title. 

I may never have realised my Olympic dreams, but running has given me so much more than the medals I've won or the dreams I've realised.  Corney as it may sound, it's made me the person I am today.

When I do deliver workshops with young performance athletes I ask them to list some of the skills and qualities that competing in sport has given them (particularly so that when they come to apply for jobs for which they have no obvious experience for they can look to their transferable skills), but I've never actually done that exercise myself, at least not until now.

And so what has running given me?  Well, aside from the fact that every educational or career decision that I have made since I was 15 has either been determined by the fact I am an athlete, or resulted from my direct and indirect experiences as an athlete, it has shaped my personality and my skill sets.  It's given me memories to cherish and most of all it's given me more enjoyment than I could even have imagined.

I didn't have many friends at school.  Truth is being a geek just isn't cool when you're 13.  Running though gave me a tiny bit of credibility, and it gave me a friendship circle away from school.  It showed me that if you work hard enough you can achieve things.  It showed me that there is more than one 7 o'clock in the day.  It thought me about setting and achieving goals, managing expectations and dealing with nerves.  It thought me to accept defeat, and to be humble in victory (a little easier when you always finish 2nd of course).  It thought me to manage my time, and it thought me to be a good team player.  It thought me the importance of a back-up plan.

And when I'm sitting here thinking about what I've learned, I'm also reminded about the things I've forgotten.  Unfortunately I've long forgotten to run like a naive 13 year old; to let everything out, and not to conserve too much; I've forgotten how to manage my life; and some days I've forgotten how much I enjoy running and racing like my life depends on it.

While I accept that the way I ran that race in 1993 isn't the best way to run a race, I do think sometimes that we can be too obsessed with the 'right' way to race.  Sport should be a way for us to express ourselves, and to demonstrate a little bit of our personality.

And so, when this plane eventually takes off, and I eventually get to Knowsley to race, I'm going to paint with my feet a little bit of me in that snow.

And so to the importance of a back-up plan.  The importance is not that I have something to fall back on if Plan A doesn't work out; it's that I have something to take my mind off the fact that Plan A isn't exactly going according to plan.  Oh and also that when I'm lined up with 8km ahead of me later today, I can think that no matter how bad it seems, the alternative, a fast 3km in a packed stadium, would have been so much worse.  

Unless of course I don't get to Liverpool.  In which case, wouldn't a 3,000m in the warm indoors make a pleasant change??!!!


At 09:50, the estimated time of departure was again adjusted - to 11:45 - too late for me to make it to my race.  Seats were offered, however, on the slightly delayed 10:10 service to Manchester.  We landed in Manchester at 11:30, I ran all the way to the train station, made the 11:40am train to Liverpool with about 30 seconds to spare, got a lift from the station to the race and made it to the course spot on time for the warm up.  And through it all I was as cool as a cucumber.

To say that the course was a challenge would be an understatement.  Where there wasn't six inches of snow, there was six inches of mud.  But then I love a challenge, and true to myself, I rose to that challenge.  The muddier the course got, the deeper I dug.  And what's more, I enjoyed myself every step of the way.  Beats being stuck in an airport - that's for sure!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Guest Blog 2 - Adriaan Geldenhuys from Lesotho

In this, the second of our guest blogs, South African athlete Adriaan Geldenhuys talks about his experiences altitude training in Lesotho.  Lesotho is a small country completely surrounded by South Africa, and which has the distinction of being the only country in the world completely above 1,400m altitude.  And from the photos Adriaan has taken, it looks very beautiful too.

Adrian himself is a1500m runners, and started taking the sport seriously just after finishing high school.  He had a successful season racing in Europe in 2012.  He is studying sports science in Potchefstroom, under Jean Vester (who coached Olympic silver medallist Hezekiel Sepeng), and hopes to make the South African team for the 2013 World University Games.  We wish him every success, and thank him for taking time out from his training to tell us about Lesotho and all it has to offer.

Altitude training in Lesotho
Afriski in Lesotho is a skiing resort through the winter months of June - August. The mountain adventure sport activities and training camps take place during summer months of October - April. It’s located in the Maloti Mountains 3222 m (10570 ft) above sea-level, operating in Southern Africa near the northern border of Lesotho. The resort is approximately 5 hours' drive from Johannesburg, South Africa via the steep Moteng Pass and the Mahlasela Pass. It is considered to be the highest road pass in Southern Africa.

Most roads here in the Maloti Mountains of Lesotho are gravel roads running through the scenic mountains. The road to Afriski namely the A1 is still a gravel road close to Afriski. It is best to train on this road because it's not that hilly. The other roads are mainly 4x4 tracks and run steeply into the hills and is only used by 4x4’s and the many local shepherds. In Afriski itself there is a road on top along the few condos witch is a straight flat gravel road for approximately 1200m where faster repetitions can be done, its about 3100m above altitude with no virtually no traffic. 

We do a few sessions including a uphill fartlek and a uphill tempo run up the last stretch of the Mahlasela Pass reaching almost 3300m before it winds down 4km to Afriski. This is my third year and we have done some tests before and after the 21day training camp. The red bloodcell count increased a lot. The first year (2010, November) I came straight from sea level, my hematocrit count increased from 43 to 48%. Other athletes who train all year round in Potchefstroom with its medium altitude of 1400m resulted in a increased hematocrit count from around 45-46% to 48-50% in only 21 days. 

We go down to do some steady runs 15km from Afriski down the Mahlasela Pass where the road run past Oxbow Lodge. The altitude is approximately 2450m and you can feel the difference in the 800m fall.  If you go further down the Moteng Pass you drive through a lot of villages and huts scattered alongside the tarred road. The tarred A1 runs from the border up the Maloti Mountains and stop at Oxbow Resort 15km before you get to Afriski. Long runs can be done up in the Maloti mountains without travelling from Afriski where we base, without big hills if you follow the A1 away from Afriski. Long runs can also be done down by the villages where the altitude ranges between 1850-1900m. 

The border into South Africa is approximately 85km from Afriski. We go once a week down to the border and into South Africa to the town Fouriesburg (10km from border) or Bethlehem(45km from border) to do some training on the Tartan track in Bethlehem or Fouriesburg a gravel track witch are both around 1800m above sea level.

Afriski are still developing more and more for the summer months' activities. They’re getting some gym equipment like stationary bikes, treadmill and free weights aswell. The accommodation is exceptional by any standards.

We eat three balanced meals a day at the Sky Restaurant witch is the highest restaurant in Africa. There you can find Wi-Fi aswell.

The athletes range from 800m to 5000m runners and are all top South African athletes, mostly from Potchefstroom and then some other athletes tag along aswell from other training groups throughout South Africa. Guys from France and the UK have joined us too.

The reason why we choose to train here in Lesotho are when we go back to Potchefstroom to train with the other international athletes, we can train harder for longer and recover faster, thus it results in better performances and faster times every year for everyone. It is also a great place to build some natural power for running the hills and the roads are extremely good for the legs to keep you injury free. 

Ryan Sandes uses Lesotho in his preparation for endurance races aswell. In 2010 he became the first competitor to have won all four of the 4 Desert races, each a 250-kilometre (160 mi), 6/7-day, self-supported footrace through the Gobi Desert in China, the Sahara Desert in Egypt, Atacama Desert in Chile and lastly Antartica.

The Lesotho Olympic distance athletes also train here in the Maloti Mountains. It's a regular training facility for triathletes aswell.

Adriaan Geldenhuys, 16/1/2013

Monday, 14 January 2013

Guest Blog 1 - Tom Fairbrother from Kenya

As I've not been doing any travelling for a while now, and have very little to blog about these days, I have invited some other athletes to contribute guest blogs about their adventures at altitude.

Below is the first post from Tom Fairbrother who is spending some time in Kenya at the moment.  The postgives an interesting insight into his first impressions of Kenya, how easy it is to meet famous athletes there, and the drawbacks of trying to train at altitude when not fully fit.

Tom will be blogging regularly on his own blog: during his stay in Iten.  If you're training at altitude and have some interesting ovservations to report or photos to share, please do get in touch (


Kenya - Week One

Having spent a great Christmas and New Year's Eve with all my friends and family, I set off for my three month stay at the High Altitude Training Centre in Iten, Kenya.

Since booking the trip in September, I ran a great first Half Marathon in 1:12:30 but unfortuantely picked up a calf injury at mile 21 of my first Marathon, eventually finishing in 2:38:55 in Munich, which was 4-5 mins slower than I hoped for.

This subsequently heavily affected my training up to Christmas. I had a three week spell where I literally did not run at all and I had to pull out of several races, missed the whole XC season. When I did start to feel better and get back running, I found I would pick up little niggles that would mean 2-3 days off.

However, I still set off to the tiny village in Africa, which is still home to numerous WR holders and Olympic Champions from 800m to Marathon. I arrived after what seemed like an eternity, leaving my house at 3:30pm on Wednesday and not reaching the Camp until Friday at 10:30am.

I did not get through unscathed as I somehow managed to lose my bank card in transit, so I had to cancel it and request a new one. Natwest will only send it to your home address, so I will need to get my mum to post it out to me. Luckily I have enough cash to last a while.

On my internal flight and bus transfer to the camp was a UKA team, consisting of numerous high class athletes. Amongst them were Scott Overall (2:10 Marathon), Lynsey Sharp (Olympic 800m runner), Tom Lancashire (1500m), Michael Rimmer (800m), Eilish McColgan (Steeplechase).

Last by no means least is Mo Farah. He arrived today, with his room being fitted out with his own sofa, his own TV (the only other is in the lounge) & his own pillows/duvet! 

It will be great to watch him train, although it is probably optimistic hoping to tag along to one of his easy easy runs as I imagine he will keep himself to himself. I may however try and make sure I am conveniently starting my run as he heads out, and see what happens!

Training in Iten poses many challenges; for a starters it is located at an altitude of over 8000 feet, which is almost twice the height of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK! In addition, the miles and miles of orange trails are very firm and rough, with the routes themselves extremely undulating. 

As well as the British athletes, in the camp are a Dutch Marathon runner (forgot his name) ranked 5th in Europe & USA 1500m Olympic finalist Morgan Uceny, with more UK athletes expected next week. 

After unpacking and relaxing, I ran an easy 4m at just under 8:00 mile pace. The first run at altitude is always tough, simply due to the lack of oxygen being this high up. I actually felt okay, but am very conscious not to push things this early. A general rule is that your pace will be around 30secs a mile slower at altitude. 

My first full day (Saturday) I headed out at 7:10am with a runner called Nic from Colchester for an easy 5m (7:30 pace). Due to the location of the camp, which is situated on the top of a hill, the last 2 and a bit miles were all up hill, so I was blowing a little towards the end, although I did drop Nic with about 1 mile to go. 

After an hour of stretching, followed by a gym session, I had a massage as I was struggling with quite a sore back from the flight. The therapist who massaged me said he has worked with many champions at St Patricks School. He informed me that David Rudisha will be in Iten from the end of January and will be using the gym here at the camp.

The massage itself was brutal, lasting over 1 hour 15 minutes and costing only £11. He found my agonising pain hilarious, and said UK massages are to easy! 

I was relaxing in the Lounge and met Lornah Kiplogat, multiple World Champion and owner of the Camp, as well as the Chairman of the Kenya Athletics. As you do.

Saturday night I felt quite tired, which was definitely the case as I slept for 10.5 hours! I headed out for an easy run to check out the infamous Kamariny Stadium, where all the great Kenyans past & present do their track sessions.

Located 1.5 miles from the camp, I arrived at around 9am to find it completely empty, so I couldn't resist running on it. I ran 6 easy laps around the track. There is much speculation as to how long the track actually is, from 400-410m!

I then headed 1.5m back to camp, reaching 6:55 pace. However, I still managed to get dropped by a local wearing jeans and a shirt who I ran past. He was walking when I passed him, so I can only assume he couldn't resist smoking a foreign runner!

I did some more stretching on my return, followed by a core session in the gym and more sunbathing (29 degree again!) and then an easy 2.5m recovery run, making 7m total for the day.

So after my first two and a half days in Kenya, I have managed 17m and two gym sessions, so productive but still very watchful and cautious. I would say the biggest benefits of training in a camp is the extra time you have, normally occupied by work/family etc.

You have so much more time to warm-up, stretch, workout in the gym & mix with other runners. In addtion, the food is all cooked for you and is all perfect running fuel, low fat carbs, organic veg, protein etc. 

I am missing my friends and family, but the camp has wifi so I am in regular contact through FaceTime, and more successfully, WhatsApp, and I am only here for 13 weeks and will be home in no time.   

Being around such top athletes is certainly inspiring, so hopefully on my return in April I will be a leaner, stronger and faster runner, and more importantly have learned and benefited from the experience of living in Africa for three months. 

Tom Lyle Fairbrother, 6th Jan 2012