January 25, 2015

"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." -African Proverb

Marking ten days in Kenya and truth be told, the hills haven’t gotten any easier. My goal coming into this trip was to write about my experience once a week while I’m here training – so in the spirit of sharing, here it is.

The travel over here, high altitude, and tough running can (skewing on the side of will) wipe an athlete out when they first arrive. I spent the first few days acclimatizing, running easy on my own, and trying to get a full night of sleep.

Sunday’s in Kenya are low-key, the pace slows, there are fewer cars on the roads, families spend the day together, and over at HATC…athletes typically take the afternoon off to relax, go on excursions, travel to watch races in the area, and get psyched for chapatti night. Oh my, the chapatti here is to die for. The queue is a long one well before everything is ready at 7 p.m.! There are some seriously hungry athletes over here.

Last Sunday, Primoz Kobe, an Olympic marathoner from Slovenia, organized a group of us to visit a nearby giraffe sanctuary. We hired a van and driver (rammed with athletes from Canada, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, France, and Slovenia), to take us to the park. Travel in a vehicle in Kenya is an experience in itself; you see more during those trips than you can possibly digest. We had to take a dusty dirt road for the final stretch, bouncing along the exaggerated shoulders of the road that have been washed out during the rainy season. You better hope that your windows are up when another car passes, otherwise expect a full mouthful of dust. Once we arrived in the park, we walked on foot close to 5km through open plains looking for the giraffes. We saw wild impalas, gazelles, vultures, and a few very large porcupine needles along the way. Our guide was soft spoken and knowledgeable about the animals – his daily routine includes arriving at the park around 4 a.m. to make sure the giraffes are all doing well and to see where they are. The animals know him and that is how we were able to venture out on foot to see the wildlife. It was a hot afternoon, one that felt quintessentially African. What a continent. The history, vast climates, and captivating biodiversity are enough to make your head spin.

“We all learn as much as we want to and no more.” –Henry Miller

On the running front, my week got off to really inspiring start. I was introduced to a pacer through another athlete staying at HATC, we had a meeting on Sunday evening about my training, goals in Kenya, and how it would all work. I had the privilege of traveling to Eldoret on Tuesday with this group to watch the fastest women in the world run a workout on the track there – all of the ladies are part of the adidas team in Kenya. While I was jogging around the track waiting for the women in begin, I watched a group of men finishing their workout – tucked in a pack was the men’s marathon world record holder. What struck me about this whole experience was the intensity at which everyone there was working, truly remarkable. There was no fanfare – squat toilets rest on the far side of the track should you need one and there is dust everywhere simply because of the speed these athletes are running at. The highlights of the experience include watching my new pacer lead one of the female groups, talking with the women’s Kenyan coach, and watching Mary Keitany (world record holder in the half marathon and fastest female marathoner in the world) CRUSH the workout. It was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Let the mind run.

On day six, I officially kick started my routine for the coming weeks, waking up at 5:45 a.m., hitting the roads by 6:10 a.m. with my pacer. This allows for a productive day of reading, resting, writing, and eating before heading out for an easy afternoon run (most days). When we first start out in the morning, the air is cool, you need a light running jacket to cut the chill and wind. As the sun comes up over the fields and begins to light the roads, I can’t help but wish that people at home could experience these moments. There is nothing like it – soft sunlight, red dirt roads, and sounds of families and farm animals beginning their day. My pacer is a kind man, he grew up in an area called Lodwar in the northern region of Kenya, at age seven he traveled to Iten looking for work and found himself a job taking care of a cow (this is something that I have seen for myself now on nearly every run, little kids caring for livestock). We don’t talk much but when we do its pleasant conversation about life, dreams, running, and the differences between Canada and Kenya. I’ve really enjoyed having someone to lead me through the distances and push me. I know that with his help I will get stronger both mentally and physically. We completed our first long run together this morning, it was a grind but I’m glad it’s out of the way. All runs here seem start out with a long slow downhill followed by rolling hills with a long climb, climb, climb into the wind to finish. It is nasty!

There are a number of inspiring Canadians staying in and around Iten. This week, I had the privilege to travel to see the work that Tara (from Canada) and Wesley Korir are doing through their Kenyan Kids Foundation in Cherangany. For those who are unfamiliar with this area or Wesley, I highly recommend watching the film Transcend that documents his youth, his win at the Boston Marathon, and current role in politics here in Kenya. Tara took us to visit a few of the sponsored girls attending a boarding school, many who are also runners. Boys and girls attend school separately here in Kenya with the school fees being far out of reach for many families, the need is high and resources small in the Cherangany area. Tara and Wesley are tackling these issues head on by raising funds to send kids to school, empower local dairy farmers, and supporting people through sustainable programs. We spent the night at the Korir’s guesthouse, went for a run in the area (one car led us, another followed closely behind…something I haven’t really experienced before), and ate breakfast at Wesley’s parents home while looking through family photo albums. Everything about this experience was wonderful! The purpose of our trip was to watch the sponsored girls and boys run in a local race on Saturday morning. This marked one of the more memorable moments I have had in Kenya – seeing the girls making their legs and bare feet go fast. A woman’s place in Kenya is very different from Canada, what these girls are doing is defying the odds, blazing a path, and running their little hearts out. I jam with this. Being there with people like Lanni Marchant, Betsy Saina, and Tara Korir made the experience come full circle, as we are all women who have benefitted from sport. When we were asked to speak to the girls briefly, I was full of emotion – the hurdles in front of these girls are huge but with support from people like Tara, and a lot of hard wok at school and in running, the doors of opportunity will creak open a little bit each and every day.

There you have it…signing off for another week. To be continued. So long from Kenya.

All roads lead somewhere in Africa.
Mary Keitany crushing intervals.
Ride to Eldoret to watch track workout.
Classroom after hours.
Girls preparing for the big race.
Wesley and Tara Korir's home in Cherangany.
Breakfast at Wesley Korir's childhood home with Lanni Marchant and Betsy Saina.
Where is the party at?
Too rad for words. These girls are fast!
Letting the legs go fast.
Tara address students post-race.
Local Kenyan restaurant.
Typical Kenyan meal.
So random, I love it!