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October 30, 2017

Kenya Keep Up: Off To Africa In Search Of Fitness

What happens when four graduates from Bristol University in the U.K. decide to put their post-graduate lives on hold to chase their Olympic dreams? We’re not totally sure but we’re interested! We recently came across the Instagram pages for these four gents, who are now in Kenya and adjusting to life there as they train among some of the best distance runners in the world. Given how well this has worked out for Jake and Zane Robertson, we figured that it would be worth monitoring for a few months and we’ve decided to give the guys a space to update us on their progress. Give them a follow on Instagram to keep up with everything! Here’s their first installment!

“I don’t want to get a job straight after uni.’

“Me neither.”

“Shall we go to Kenya and become Olympic athletes instead?”

“Yeah, okay.”

That’s how it started.

Two years later the four of us, all graduates of Bristol University (UK), all running fanatics, boarded a plane from London Gatwick to Nairobi, Kenya. From there we made our way to the unassuming yet infamous Mecca of distance running, a small farming village called Iten.

This semi-mythical place, sitting at 2,300m in the middle of rural Kenya, has produced a staggering number of elite level athletes, Olympic medallists and world record holders in distances ranging from 800m to the Marathon. We figured that our best shot at realizing our own athletic potential was to spend three months there, the self-proclaimed Home Of Champions. Maybe by spending time among the fastest people on Earth we might uncover secrets that will aid us in our own athletic endeavors.

We knew this would be a huge undertaking. Aside from leaving our lives and girlfriends behind for so long, we knew the heat, altitude and savagery of the Kenyan training would require mental toughness that only dedicated distance runners can muster. Here is the team that signed up for it:

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After one week in we're almost used to the altitude and unforgiving terrain. As well a lot of steady running we've been perfecting our technique with plenty of drills, core work and plyometrics. Our host, Hugo Van Den Broek (worth a Google) has been invaluable and taught us so much about the place we're living in. The food, despite the occasionally disastrous high fiber content, is perfect runners fuel. No wonder the Kenyans are the best distance runners in the world! We're all eager to start smashing some sessions, but for now, we're just glad to have settled in. Thanks @epigrampaper and @felixrusby for a great article about our trip! #KenyaFeelTheLove #Iten #Phil #IThoughtItWasSafe #saucony #sauconyuk #runyourworld #welove_running #RunnerZone @runnerzone

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Andy, 23, @andycsalmon
6 ft, blonde, mileage monkey. The working man, effectively quit his job to come out here. Team Chef (check out his creations on our Instagram!). 10 km enthusiast (PB: 33:00). Hoping to slice minutes off that time when we get back.

Callum, 22,
6 ft, blonde, Saucony addict. Scored us a bunch of Saucony kit to take with us. Prefers 1500 (PB: 3:52), and is often our rep/tempo leading man in training. Big ambitions, sub-3:50 almost inevitable.

Will, 21, @chaser.will
6 ft, blonde, has spectacular abs he doesn’t deserve. Steeplechase enthusiast (PB: 9:47) and British Universities finalist. Full-time womanizer (just kidding) and the only singleton amongst us (line up ladies).

Jonny, 22, @jonnymonk800m

6 ft, not blonde, speedster. 800m specialist (PB: 1:48), as such has never run for more than 70 minutes in his life. UK top ten is the target for next summer. Wears Jegmar kit every day.

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FUEL – what goes in our bodies is as important as the hours we put in training, and over the next few weeks we’ll be showing you exactly how the Kenyans get petrol in the engine, how to make it, and how tasty they get simple, basic ingredients to be! For starters, check out our ‘bread and butter’ breakfast – eggs and avo makes for perfect recovery food with lots of protein, complex carbs and good fats, and tastes awesome too! We stick olive oil in instead of butter for a healthier, more refined scramble with all of the creaminess – honest! 🥑🥑🥑🥑🥑 Everyone breakfasts a different way around the world – let us know what you had! #breakfastofchampions #fuel #doesheavacado? #eggsquisit #kenyadiet

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The first challenge we would face would be the suffocating altitude. As sea-level dwellers, we simply wouldn’t be used to the low level of oxygen in the air. This is actually one of the reasons we came out here. Living and training at 2,300m will improve the efficiency of our hearts and lungs to deliver oxygen to our muscles when we’re running. However, in the first two weeks we were told to take things very, very slowly, to allow our bodies to acclimate (pole, pole).

This left us with plenty of time to meet the locals, including Hugo and Hilda, whose guest house we’re staying in, for a fraction of the cost of a hotel in the UK! Then there was Timotei, who insisted we come over to meet his wife and cow. There’s also Kirui the masseuse who comes over to fix our broken muscles twice a week (essential as there are NO physios out here), Richard the circuit session-master/sadist, Timo and Nick the 800m specialists who rarely train before 9 a.m.

When we were running, we were battling the hills, which are everywhere, on winding trails made of red dirt and compacted mud. Even a slight incline at this altitude is a cause for elevated breathing. To the sides are rolling fields of wheat, or livestock, or mud huts housing excitable children who run out as we approach, screaming ‘how are you?’. If you ask them how they are back the reply is invariably ‘fine’, despite the relative frugality of their own lives. Suddenly the new trainers on our feet and flashy watches on our wrists seem rather conspicuous.

After 10 days, when we had felt our bodies had adjusted. We tentatively headed to the track for our first session. The track wasn’t anything like the flat, synthetic, pink carpet we’re used to at home. It’s amazing that many of the world’s most elite athletes train here, on an uneven dirt oval with weeds covering half of the back straight. Everyone we asked estimated that the track was between 2 and 10m too long, and when it rains it’s unequivocally unusable. But, situated as it is on the edge of the rift valley, the view is absolutely stunning.

The food is basic to say the least, but extremely healthy and nutritionally spot on, despite featuring meat only twice a week. Instead we get protein from beans, eggs and milk and iron from an unprecedented amount of spinach. There isn’t a protein shake or supplement in sight.

Now we’re into the swing of things we’ve upped our mileage to between 50 and 70 miles each week. About 2 thirds of this is running (track reps, steady running, sprints, hills, threshold runs) and the rest consists of weights, circuits, plyometrics (jumping and hopping), drills and stretching. This example schedule is taken from Andy’s training:

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So what do we even do here apart from think of witty hashtags? ~ In this next instalment of posts, you’ll be able to get a feel for our typical training weeks and see what we do differently – all focusing on our different events 🏃🏃🏃🏃 ~ First up Andy, who’s looking to set a strong 10,000 PB next season. Try as he might, there’s no avoiding the gym – strength training is essential even for the longer distances, especially when you’re up at altitude. Miles per week is around 70, with a lot of threshold and tempo running, and also some quick track and hill sessions thrown in to maintain strength. First race in the UK will be Telford 10K – 8 weeks to go… ~ Next week Jonny, with his winter 800m plan 💪 ~ #UgaliSafariaandnoPunani #MilesequalsSmiles #CitiusAltiusFortius #TheDailyGrind

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We’re embracing every aspect of Kenyan life, from the simple food to the simple facilities, the early nights to the early mornings. After all, as the greatest running nation on Earth, they must be onto something. There’s an aura of high performance everywhere we go and we’re feeling inspired already – not to mention as fit as we’ve ever been. We’re already getting excited about the PB massacre that will surely follow our trip, but first we have two more months of training in Iten ahead of us. Stay tuned for more.

Andy, Callum, Will and Jonny


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