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Joe Willgoss' Kenyan Blog

Long Run Iten-ded 

Day 1

After arriving in Nairobi late in the evening it was time to bed down at the Easy Hotel Kenya, although ironically it was not the easiest to get to, when the taxi is driving at slower than walking pace you know its bad. On arrival I was promptly told that the kitchen was shut, however, using my charm I managed to get a freshly made fruit salad – should be good enough for the first runs of the trip. I struggle with the mosquito net, but finally get it draped around me. Onwards to Iten tomorrow.

Day 2

Woke up feeling slightly more refreshed than I had felt after my flight, although the sheer terror of forgetting I was wrapped in a mosquito net made me more frantic than a student on A Level results day, that reminds me that I better find out how we did. Gladly looked at my work emails for the first time in ages to find out that the department results were pretty good, I am amazed that results were going down nationally, I always thought they were harder in my day. Onto breakfast which was a choice of scrambled eggs, omelette, fried eggs or hard boiled eggs with some beef sausage – sounds like a vegans dream. I went for the omelette which was surprisingly good with some local ‘Heinz Tomato Ketchup’ the beef sausage didn’t get too much action. The high point of breakfast was discovering that if you mix wheat-a-bix with hot milk and a banana you get something similar to porridge, I say similar but in reality it is just a warm, sawdusty mess with a hint of banana . As with another day of travelling I was unsure on when I would eat again, so did a good job at breakfast getting in and amongst the fresh fruit platter.

My flight was at 2pm to which the lady behind reception said that leaving at 12:30 would give me plenty of time to get through the airport and security. It would have been much smoother if I had been dropped off at the correct terminal – I unwittingly went to ID which is labelled as ‘domestic departures’ sounds good when you leaving on a plane to get to somewhere in the same country – I was told that I was in the wrong place and I needed to get to terminal 2… Luckily the shuttle bus (that runs every 10 minutes) was on hand to get me to the right terminal 45minutes before departure. Turns out missing the flight was never in any doubt as on the same shuttle bus was someone who was leaving at 13:30 and had been waiting for the bus for 30 minutes – turns out these Kenyans are quick at running, but not so good at anything else efficient. I finally got on the plane and took the 45 minute journey to Eldoret, amazingly there was still time to get a snack. This along with a dodgy beef samosa at the airport formed lunch.

After arriving in Eldoret it was about an hours drive to Iten. We arrived promptly at 16:30 to be welcomed by Willy, even though we have met before and he clearly remembered me, he still called me Will – turns out this Will Goss thing is spreading internationally. Like a true Englishman I went straight for afternoon tea (in my case a strong black coffee and a jam roll to take away) had a quick chat with Willy and went for my first run. The all weather road seemed easy at first and I was pretty sure that this altitude was a thing of the past – it is a shame that in any run out here you always start off going downhill. I opted not to wear headphones and instead take in my surroundings and give many a high-five to a local who I am sure were mocking me for wearing shorts and a vest in their winter – I sweated my way to 7.5 miles in 50 minutes and went straight for my jam roll!

Dinner was some delicious Ugali (this sentiment may change over the next 2 weeks) some kale and fish with fresh pineapple for dessert – a great start. At the dinner table I got chatting to a Belgian couple; I asked the female what her speciality was and she listed some of the marathons she had done including Rio; being the well travelled man that I am I exclaimed what an amazing city Rio was and the nightlife was incredible; her response was that she was there representing Belgium in the olympics in 2016 – she finished 74th (although 2 of her fellow competitors have now been banned – I resisted the joke about only 69 more positive tests and you’ll be on the podium!)

As I type this it is lashing down with rain and I have left my slightly damp kit from earlier to dry out; think I might be playing the long game here. Hopefully it will be dry by the morning and it will be good to see if the ‘all weather road’ is more successful than Tewkesbury School’s all weather pitch, which was once famously closed due to the snow.

Daily miles – 7.5

Total miles – 7.5

Day 3

Woke up nice and early by the dulcet squawking of a cockerel, slept pretty poorly and it had taken me a long time to get to sleep – to counteract this I watch This Country, which turns out to be fantastic. I decide to go out for a run nice and early, but not after attempting, a few times, to make myself a few pounds lighter. My normal rule of not running before a decent emptying had to be ignored and I set off at 7am down the all weather road, you either go before breakfast and get back in time to eat, or you load up before hand. Apart from a few puddles it had coped remarkably well, as with every run in Iten it starts off downhill, then rolls on for as long as you want before you return back up the hill. The Belgium lady seems to have overcome this issue, she tells me one of her favourite training runs involves running down the hill to Eldoret before turning around, and getting the mutatu back up! My run is 8 miles; although the last 2 feel as if they will go on forever.

Once I get back to camp it is time for some breakfast, this being the best part of the day. Today it was a choice between porridge, omelette or pancakes. Being the polite Englishman that I am I plump for all 3 – rumours going around that you burn off more calories when running at altitude! Over my 2nd coffee I get talking to a Scottish bloke called Andrew, he tells me of a great masseuse who is also one of the pacemakers, so I set off in hope of finding him. It is only a 5 minute walk, but the ridiculous amount of rain matched with my flip – flop choice means that it takes longer, and I end up caked in mud. Anyhow, we arrange a time slot and I head back to base to watch more of This Country.

At 11:30 I arrive for my massage with an enthusiastic Peter, we attempt small talk, although the language barrier and me being face down in a pillow doesn’t help. I do find out however that he has ran a 61 minute half marathon and did 2:13 in the Valencia marathon, I am hoping that this proves his credentials as a decent masseuse. I can only assume that he has a ridiculous amount of baby oil, and that the price paid out here is significantly less that in England. All seems fine initially and I am certain that this will help my legs, along with Johnson & Johnson’s share price. He then sets to work on my back, his technique here is to pull down my boxer shorts and start working on my glutes, we have only been acquainted for about 45 minutes and we are remarkably close to being the worlds most diverse ventriloquist act, I am not sure if his exceedingly slippery fingers should be seen as a positive or negative, but finally I am able to release the most tension I have had in years. It may have been a massage that did not comply with the Geneva convention, but at a mere 1000 Kenyan Shilling, or roughly £8, it is a price I am willing to pay to leave with my dignity intact. We agree on meeting for a run at 4pm, he says he will go easy on me, but I am not so sure I can take his word on it anymore!

At 4pm I met up with Peter and a couple of new campers, a German named Marcus and an Israeli called Janeli, we went out for a gentle 30 minutes to give them time to acclimatise themselves. Peter and I went off, and I tried my hand at some more gentle banter with him, turns out the language barrier really works in my favour if I say something and then laugh at it afterwards, I was also aware enough to make sure that I was never within ‘thumbing distance’ of him. The German is a Frankfurt supporter and I showed off my continental knowledge of Bundesliga football, essentially he told me they had lost Sebastian Halle, and I took great delight in informing him that I had selected him in my fantasy football team, shame they lost 5-0 at the weekend. We finished the run having the classic photo at the arch; Iten – Home of the Champions, I imagine I will be claiming squatters rights.

The weather has certainly improved this afternoon, and I am pretty confident that I will soon be burning nicely, the Kenyans are still dressed fully in black tracksuits, and I am wearing shorts that leave little to the imagination. On the flip side Club Iten has run out of pancakes, and I am not sure how good the alternative chapati will be, even worse after 20 minutes they have still not shown up, and I am being far to polite to enquire about them! 

After dinner Marcus and I head up to Club Iten for a drink, Marcus asks if they sell alcohol free beer, I am delighted with this and feel I have found someone who enjoys this weak nectar as much as me, they do not and instead I go for a pot of tea. We sit in front of the fire and talk about travelling, he is at the start of a 5 month world tour where he will finish with a marathon in Curacao, I am jealous but also feel that I would struggle away for 5 months, here there is no malt loaf! 

Daily miles – 12.3

Total miles – 19.8


Day 4

I am once again woken up by the cockerel, although this does get me out of bed and ready to go for a nice run before breakfast. I go outside to retrieve my kit and realise that I have fallen for the classic nighttime dew mistake. My running clothes are now soaked, including my 2 pairs of running briefs, and I have to resort to going commando, at least I can claim that the overnight moisture will be the equivalent of a deep clean. It is a beautiful morning and I head out alone, running past huge amounts of Kenyans who are about to start their fartlek, they are so elegant to watch and I can only assume they are equally impressed with my smooth running style. I clock up 60 minutes and head inside for breakfast. 

After breakfast I decide that it is polite to unpack, so far I have been in the modest twin room alone, however, there are new arrivals today, and I can only assume they do not want to see all of my stuff on their bed. Unfortunately for them I have nabbed the bed with the only reading light, unfortunately for me I did not bring an adapter so it is just a cosmetic feature. Whilst unpacking I realise I have misplaced a hoodie, I am sure it will show up. More annoying it seems that I have also lost a pair of boxer shorts, not such a big deal in England, but due to my stinginess by opting for no hold luggage that makes up a third of my non-running underwear, I decide that today might be a full commando day.

Marcus and I walk into Iten town, we have heard that there is a local 10km race taking place tomorrow, and with a few other English people we decide it would be an experience to enter. The race costs 400 shillings to enter, with a first prize of 50000 shillings, I am not sure of my credentials to get my hands on the top prize as last years champion also won, in record time, the Daegu marathon. We then head to the shops and I find a jar of peanut butter, this is excellent news, and I will add it to my daily diet of lots of bread and ugali. 

Over lunch we have a chat with others in the camp about tomorrows race, it turns out the 10km is a point to point race, and it is all uphill, I decide that this is now going to turn into a tempo run, at altitude. I have race number 036, and am pretty sure this will not correlate to my final position, my aim is sub 40 and more importantly to beat the German, if it goes to penalties I am in trouble! Around my table we all laugh about the course, I am the only one doing it so my smile is forced; tomorrow will be tough. I head up to Club Iten for my post lunch coffee, today is a great day as there are 3 games of football on back to back, when I get up there it is closed for a wedding; unfortunately for me this means that my caffeine fix is not the top priority and the usual slow service will now take even longer!

I head out for some strides and a gentle run in the afternoon and try to get myself into a place where I feel I can actually move at a half decent pace tomorrow; any sort of speed feels tough and I know this could be the worst idea of my life, I am safe in the knowledge that I know, at the very least, it will be a wonderful experience. I get back to camp and speak to the German, he has been to that track and has run 10 x 400m repeats and said he felt good; not the news I wanted to hear. I head in for a shower and look in the mirror, I hear that Kenya is quite the spot for wildlife; what I see staring back at me is the first introduction of pandas into Africa; I must put sun cream on tomorrow. I head to Club Iten to watch the football, have a coffee and maybe, just maybe, crash a wedding.

We leave Club Iten and Marcus introduces me to a lady he met at the track, I say hello and shake her hand and ask if she is going to be joining the training with us; it turns out I have just asked the World Half Marathon champion and 5k road world record holder if she wants to join a slightly sunburnt british bloke to run with him. Lorna Kiplagat is very understanding of the situation and laughs, which is good as it turns out that I am currently living in the training centre that she built with her winnings. At dinner we meet with Lornah again, and this time I manage to play it cool and explain how much I am enjoying the facilities. By this time I am very tired so retire to bed, tomorrows run could be tough so I plan to get an early night.

Daily miles – 13.2

Total miles – 32.9

Day 5

I treat myself to a lie in this morning as my alarm goes off at 7am. The race is due to start at 8am, but Willy explains that Kenyan time doesn’t really work this way, and that we won’t be starting until at least 9am. There are 8 of us ‘muzungu’ in total and we head to the start in a taxi. The worst thing about the drive is that it is the exact route we will need to run back up later on, to make matters worse there are many hills, and the last 4K will be all uphill. 

We get to the start line at 8:30, I am confident of at least 30 minutes to gently warm up; we are called to the start straight away, putting paid to any strides. The females start off 10 minutes before the men, I feel that this is completely unfair, and it should be the muzungu who get the head start. We are then called to the line and due to the importance of the race, and the prize money of offer, it is fiercely competitive; there are 2 false starts, luckily I notice before I start my Garmin! The flag is waved and like a flash the elite Kenyan runners are off, I plod along after them, and soon they are out of my sight. The first mile is a 5:45 effort, it is slightly downhill, and I worry maybe I have gone off too quick, even going downhill seems an effort. The route is undulating and I go through 5k in roughly 18:45. I am worried as the second half is pretty much all uphill. It is a struggle to breathe and I often think about throwing in the towel; however I am currently 2nd muzungu and I really want to catch the Japanese fellow ahead of me. On the long, final uphill I finally pass him, I feel like my lungs are going to explode, but keep on going. We finally reach the centre of Iten and the last 400 metres is blissfully downhill. I cross the line in a new Personal Worse 10k time of 38:56 – I am delighted it is over. I get interviewed over the loud speaker and explain how in England we have flat races which are much more fun. The locals are clearly quizzical about us and plenty ask for pictures, we happily oblige before returning to the taxi back up to the hotel. I am thankful my tactic of getting takeaway breakfast pancakes works and I quickly devour them. I think I feel worse now that I do after a marathon and slowly drag myself to the sun lounger.