8 days at the High Altitude Training Centre,Iten

We were half way through our 13km morning run on the dirt road when we met a group of Kenyans running the opposite way, on this section up the hill. They looked strong, determined and focused. I looked at my watch; we’ve only covered 5km and the sun was beating down already. It was day 5 of our 8-day stay at the High Altitude Training Club (HATC) in Iten, Kenya and thank god our body finally started adjusting to the altitude. Life in London seemed like a million miles away…

I was very jealous when my friend booked his trip last year but I had my eyes on a different price; it was all about getting myself up and down Aconcagua safe. However, a couple of days before his departure I felt the sudden urge to join him. This must have been my craziest last minute idea but four days later we were on our way to Iten.

After three flights and a long car journey we arrived at the training camp on a Friday night. Dinner had been already served for the athletes so we were told to wait in a different restaurant and quickly a plate of beef stew and pancakes turned up. We were shown to our room after food, a basic twin bed bedroom (sports camp style- neighbours both side) net around the bed and a small but clean bathroom with shower. It was after 10pm and the whole site was quiet so we quickly unpacked and settled in after a 27-hour journey.

The alarm went off at 6am the following morning but nothing could stop us from going out on the first run. We decided to stick to the dirt road running parallel to the main road to Eldoret, which was recommended by the security guard. We soon realised this was another

“highway” and we were constantly covered by clay coloured dirt as motorcyclists, cars and trucks passed us. Must admit, this 7km run was pretty tough; heart was throbbing through our chest and lungs were pretty much at their capacity. It’s not just the long journey to this beautiful part of the world that take its’ toll but the 2500m elevation combined with never ending and rolling hills.

We survived though and turned up for breakfast. My mate decided to head back on the road after lunch meanwhile I opted for a swim at the club’s 25m pool. I was genuinely looking forward to get some swimming training done, until the top of my toes touched the water. It was frekkin’ cold! With a full swimming cap and goggles on it was too late to pretend I only came down to chill out by the poolside so had to brave the freezing cold water and get on with the swim training.

Besides the pool, HATC also has a large gym and a separate stretch area where exercise classes take place three times a week. Breakfast, lunch and dinner served on site for the hungry athletes and you can munch on freshly baked rolls with jam in the afternoon.

We heard there was a half marathon happening in Eldoret on Sunday so after a pre-breakfast run and some food we headed out to watch the Kenyans flying over a 3km lap seven times in about 63minutes in the punishing heat. To say they are fast is an understatement. They are bloody fast. We noticed apart from their height, their body shape was very similar. Lean overall, strong shoulders, straight bag, high knees and heels, thin but muscly legs. Some landing on their heels, some forefoot runners and a lot of drive coming from the arms. Their

feet barely touched the ground and we had to listen and watch carefully to hear them running. We were so inspired by the race, after lunch we went out on another run trying to copy their moves. With not much success. ☺ At least I managed to get another swim session in that afternoon!

Monday was business as usual. We ran to the Keiro View point where we spent a good hour waiting for and photographing the sun rising over the Rift Valley. Such a beautiful sight and an enriching experience.

We ran back to HATC for breakfast and had a nice long sleep (Kenyan style!) Before lunch we squeezed in a spin session and stretching then after lunch my friend explored the old athletics track and went back to the pool for my usual 1km arctic swim.

My mate insisted we should go back to the old track Tuesday morning so we headed out onto the dirt road after a rather delicious avocado& egg breakfast. The sun was already up and strong around 9.30am as we watched the elites (Team GB, Turkish athletic team, pro Kenyans) training. Carefully waited until breakfast was digested and decided it was our time to test out the track. While he was roaming around 400 meters I opted for stairs running up & down the stadium and when the track was much quieter I ventured onto it too. There

was something very authentic, old school and real about this place.

After lunch it was relax then gym time; more spinning and more running! Since it was pancake Tuesday, we treated ourselves to a meal in the club next door with a glass of red (purely for medicinal purposes..)

Wednesday was our half way point and we had already built up strength, felt much better on the hills and our bodies adapted to the high altitude. It was the day we did a 13km run before breakfast. Lovely quiet path, running past schools, children shouting HihowareyouIamfiiiiine!” and some beautiful farmlands.

We had some rest after breakfast then lunch then my friend had a sport massage by a guy called Hillary (or brutal but very good Hilary) who apparently massed the likes of Mo. If it’s good enough for Mo! I gymmed it with the usual hour long rolling hills spin bike ride which was followed by a 1km swim in the still bloody cold pool. The HATC dinner was fish so we thought we’d treat ourselves to a meal next door

(and while we were there somehow two glasses of wine appeared on our table, mystery).

Thursday ended up being half a rest day because when we got to the old running track in the morning and got an old truck tyre out to pull it, the heavens opened and everyone run for shelter. It didn’t look like it was going to stop se we headed back to HATC and called it a morning. Tim had a one on one session with a Kenyan coach and at 5pm we joined some HATC runners on their 5pm leg stretcher. There was a older guy John who was in a pretty good nick and an America girl with a 2:28 marathon to her name. We were surrounded by amazing athletes and super human beings, motivation and inspirations was always around.

We had a fab Friday morning run to a nearby pond. We found this part of Kenya being wonderfully lush!

Instead of relaxing after brekkie we decided to hail a matatu (Kenyan taxi= old minibus for about 6 people that fit it an least double that) then we got off at the junctions and hopped on a motorbike towards the Giraffe Park. The place has 15 giraffes and was opened about 15 years ago to save animals from around the world. We were told that due to the sheer size of the site, it can certainly accommodate a lot

more giraffes. They are well looked after whilst ensuring a wild but safe environment. Visitors entry fee (5000 Kenyan schillings) pay for the vet to fly over in case of emergency or clearing traps. Not having time in our schedule to do a safari, we were so pleased to have the opportunity to visit that fantastic place.

Since the end of the trip was sadly in sight, we ran down to the new track late afternoon to have some fun sessions. We were the only runners there at the time and with the sun settingin the background we pulled in some fast 100m lap times although Bolt has

nothing to worry about.

The big day has arrived, our last full day at the HATC. After breakfast we waited for our Kenyan pacer Ruben by the gate who turned up at 9am clearly very hungry and thirsty. Found out he ad already done 20km that morning. Ruben very kindly agreed to run with two mazungos to the stunning Torok waterfalls, with our favourite driver Jeff following. I was the support crew for the first 10km giving the boys water and feeding them then joined the last 8km to the falls. As soon as we got there about 15 children turned up showing us the way through the farms and bushed to the viewpoint. Words can’t describe what an incredible lite laid in front of us. The Rift Valley, a 6000km long trench that runs through from north to south of Kenya. We only had a tiny part of it in front of us but what a magical view.

After some pictures we headed back to the training camp and to top the day I had my last spinning and swimming sessions. The afternoon was spent by the poolside already making plans of when we’d return.

We departed for home on Sunday with wet eyes and big smiles after saying goodbye to all the wonderful people we met and looked after us while we stayed at the HATC. It’s been almost a week since we left but there hasn’t been a moment I didn’t wish we were still there. I think I left a piece of my heart in Iten..

© copyright 2021 by Alexandra Nemeth