Here in Canada, another cold front is moving in, forcing runners to retreat to the treadmills or invest in more layers. Spring is not far away, I promise you! In the mean time, I decided to bring a little bit of sunshine into your virtual world via Kenya.
The last few weeks, many friends and acquaintances have packed up and shipped out to various training camps around the world. Some are lucky enough to actually live where these training camps happen. I myself have put it on my bucket list to try a training camp at least once in my life. Training camps and high altitude are often used in the same sentence, but it’s more than altitude. It’s terrain, lifestyle and the ability to focus on one thing; training. Also getting to hob knob with some of the very best athletes in the world isn’t so bad either.
Rob in Kenya
I recently interviewed Robert Brouillette, an amazingly dedicated runner from the Great White North. Rob has attended several training camps and shares with us, what life inside a Kenyan training camp is really like.
- How many times have you trained in Kenya or is this your first time?
I’ve been training in Kenya four times over the past four years for a total of 8 months with my trip durations between one to three months maximum. I have lived in a few cities called Mosoriot, Eldoret, and now Iten also known as the famous “Home Of Champions.” I’m trying to make this an annual trip for as long as I can during the months of January to April which is the most popular time for international athletes to train here.
- Describe the first two weeks of training camp in Kenya?
The first two weeks is not about getting too fast or putting too much mileage on just yet. You first have to adjust to the warm climate that can leave you sun burnt if your not careful, high altitude that makes the air thicker so it’s harder to breathe, and terrain which is dusty rocky dirt trails with surprise hills. Also finding a group to fit into that will accommodate to the appropriate speed, distance and repetitions for the workouts you need to target your training and race goals. In short, the first week should be mostly easy runs to let your body understand all these changes and second week you can start throwing in some speed and up the mileage a little.
- What is your weekly mileage while at the camp?
My weekly mileage for my latest trip averaged 140K with my highest 180K and lowest 110K with me tapering a little for a race that week. Every year that I’ve been here I’ve had a different race plan for when I returned back to Canada. For example the last four years I trained for College 8K cross-country, marathon, half-marathon, and then 5K & 10K road races. I’m naturally an endurance high-mileage runner even when training for low distance fast road races, but no matter how many kilometres you want to run, there will always be someone to run with in Kenya.
- What kind of food are you eating to fuel your training runs?
The staple food of Kenya is healthy natural farm food such as potatoes, rice, corn, peas, beans, a variety of vegetables, and the odd packaged food like pasta. Breakfast is a routine of bread slices with peanut butter and honey but one time I had sweet potatoes to mix things up. The most important meal is supper which I always have the Kenyan traditional ugali. Ugali is corn flour which is mixed in boiling water until it hardens served with cooked vegetables and shredded skuma or cabbage on the side with a big glass of milk. Staying hydrated is very important so we drink cup after cup of chai tea and coffee throughout the day and I always have a litre of water at least every day. To spoil myself we have treats like chapati (Kenyan pancake), ndazi (Kenyan donut/pastry), some sweets, or a nice cold soda. Last but not least is the wide variety of fresh fruits like bananas, oranges, pineapple, apple, avocado, mango, and other more exotic fruits.
- How much sleep do you get to recover from your runs? Is there a difference in sleeping patterns with altitude?
Personally I have a later supper then most so that leaves me going to bed later but regardless I still get my minimum 7 hours. Usually a good 8 hours is enough with the early 5:45AM wake up to get ready for the morning workout. I didn’t notice any changes in my sleeping patterns due to altitude. What I can comment on is that since your here specifically for a training camp you find yourself running more, so it does leave you pretty tired by the evening and you may even start taking day naps when you wouldn’t normally back home.
- What technology do you use if any? Eg Heart rate monitoring.
For my running training I use the Garmin Forerunner 10 GPS watch and have used the Nike GPS SportWatch in my past trips. Strava, an online activity tracking website has been a big help with tracking all my runs, analyzing them for me, and keeping everything organized. It even allows me to see what other international athletes are doing in Kenya and how my friends back home are doing in their running. I have never used a heart rate monitor and have yet to see a Kenyan with one. I do see many international athletes using them and I definitely see the benefit of it. Especially here in Africa, at high altitude where your body and heart are reacting differently than at low-level altitude it can help make sure you’re getting enough rest, which is crucial.
- Have you found any problems adjusting to terrain? Diet? Or overall training?
There is a saying in Kenya where they joke that every day you will face at least one problem for whatever reason. Well training wise I’ve encountered training groups that are either too fast or too slow leaving you awkwardly trying to fit in,. Courses that are very difficult due to the uneven ground causing you to stare at your feet the whole run, and the hills here are more like mountains due to them being in the Rift Valley. Diet can be a big problem because you’re used to eating your hometown food all your life. Suddenly you fly to Kenya and are eating another kind of cultural food which can really play games with your stomach. Learning what your body likes and doesn’t like is all experimental until you find a diet and schedule that leaves you feeling strong and ready to tackle your next run. With regard to pacing for example; in Canada lets say my easy run pace is 4:30/K, taking into account all the environment factors in Kenya it is now 5:30/K for the same effort. Lastly, the Kenyan way is hard workouts are hard and easy runs are easy so you will see an athlete doing his kilometre repeats at under 3:00/K in the morning and then see that same athlete going at 7:00/K for his recovery run in the evening. This is a problem because it’s not a typical thing I see or do often while running outside of Kenya so it calls for some mental adjustments to fit in when running alongside them.
A long shot of part of the Rift Valley
- For those of us who have not yet been to a Kenyan training camp or may never get to, what is a day in the life of a Kenyan runner like?
A typical day as a Kenyan runner goes something like this: Wake up, morning workout run, breakfast, house work, rest with a book or music, nap, lunch, drinking lots of water, free time visiting friends, evening easy run, eat some fruits, have some tea, supper, go to bed, and repeat. I could go into detail but the Kenyan athlete try’s to live a very simple, relaxed, laid back lifestyle. They stay totally focused on their training which allows them to stay strong and not tire out easily by doing too much in the day. Another point is that not many people have cars so it forces them to be more active and walk around town to do their tasks. Of course each runner’s life has its more exciting moments like playing some soccer, dancing at the club, going on a safari, or shopping at a big city mall.
- What are you training for?
After 3 months of training in Kenya that ends March 26th, I will race Hamilton’s Bay And Back 5K just 3 days later on March 29th while the altitude and all the running I’ve done is still fresh in my lungs and legs. This event is basically an out and back road course that’s fairly flat and attracts some fast guys for competition. My goal here is to improve my 16:02 PB down to 15:30’s or faster. 3 weeks later I will race Canada fastest 10K which I happen to be a Digital Champion for at Canada Running Series’ Toronto Yonge Street 10K on April 19th which is point to point on the road, net downhill, super fast, and top level competition. The goal here is to improve on my 33:37 time from last year’s event. Those are the two big races that follow Kenya but then in spring I have Mississauga Half-Marathon and Ottawa Canadian National Championship 10K. My big summer event will be Waterloo Running Series’ ENDURrun as an Ultimate where I’ll run 7 races over 8 days that total 160K. I hope all my mileage now in Kenya can transfer over to help me in August for the tour de France of running.
- What will you miss the most when you come back home?
I love this place so much that I will miss so many things but mostly all the friends I’ve made in my 13 weeks here, some of the strongest training groups ever, the beautiful views from those soft dirt trails in the hot sun, and finally the unique deliciously healthy traditional Kenya foods of specifically ugali, chapati, and ndazi.
11. If you had any advice at all you can share with the readers what would it be?
Kenya is known to be the best place on the globe to train for running and if you’re a serious athlete and the chance comes around to go there, I say go for it because its an experience of a lifetime. An opportunity that runners from all over the world dream of doing and now that I’ve made my wish come true I want to see others enjoy it too. With that being said, to really benefit from the altitude and all that Kenya has to offer a runner, you really need a minimum of 4 weeks, ideally 6, with a maximum of 2 months based on what I’ve seen. I know this whole Kenya running can be overwhelming to the basic runner so I say if you can’t come here yourself then believe you are as strong as a Kenya in your mind. Find different exciting places to run in your community, always be aware of the food you eat; stay dedicated to your training, you might surprise yourself with how well you can excel at your sport. Keep that passion for running alive forever.
Robert Brouillette is 22 years old, from Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. He runs with the Health & Performance club in Waterloo. He is currently training in Iten, Kenya, for 3 months of high altitude running with some of the best runners in the world, living an African lifestyle, and enjoying the new culture. Training hard on the dirt trails in the sun to get faster and build the mileage along the way so he can return to Canada and race some big road races.
Runner Rob can be found on these social media sites and is always happy to hear from runners of all walks of life.