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Thursday, 1 August 2013

Altitude training in the Rift Valley

I had been expecting to launch into a monologue about the merits of two long runs at 7000ft a day and how my form had improved. Having read Adharanand Finn's book - Running with the Kenyans, I was more than salivating to be able to train at such altitude and eat the local cuisine. The lowest altitude that I would be at would be 4500ft above sea level and the majority of the time would be spent at 7000ft.

With 2 days at Lake Naivasha I popped out for an early morning hour long run. I was soon left wanting. A slight incline along the main road at 8s left me gasping for air. I was shocked as this level of breathlessness I would have been expecting to run 7s or less. The strange thing that I experienced was that it was hard to catch my breath. I was not sure how to breath deeper other than to suck every ounce of oxygen from the surrounds. I still was left wanting. I headed off piste up a dried-up riverbed and up into the hills. At some point hands on knees, dropped the pace and hunkered up the hill to get a good view of the lake. Downhill back to breakfast and my first run in Kenya. Job done.

My main reason to be here in Kenya was to take a 6th Form trip to Kipsamoo School, just over 7500ft above sea level. This is an impoverished school that my school has linked up with, with the 6th Formers teaching the younger pupils and the 2 staff with me teaching the older pupils (ranging from 11-20 yrs old) and my role in training the staff and advising the leadership of the school to try to get more pupils to university.

I was utterly knocked back with emotion as I crested the hill after the 1500ft one hour walk up to the summit of the tea planting region. 350 pupils running straight for us, mostly in ripped clothes and no shoes. After some introductions there was an impromptu England vs Kenya football match, 15 on our team and over 100 on the opposition. We lost!

After 4 days of the hour walk and back down each day up to Kipsamoo School, I decided it was time for a run through the slums of the village. Anybody who has been to this part of the world knows the meaning of the "long drop" and coupled with 30+ degree temperatures and a heavy rainstorm 2 hours earlier, the smell was ripe. Not deterred, team 6th form boys joined me on a jaw droppingly stunning run through the villages with a throng of kids in tow, all shouting at us and smiling as we ran back.

My scientific head took over on the final day and I conducted some experiments using the fastest and fittest Kenyan lads. After a 1 mile flat out run I measured the recovery of the chaps and I was amazed by what I found out. Most had a resting heart rate of 70-80, much higher than I would have expected for a fit 18-20 year old. After the mile, heart rates went up to around 180-190 and then took on average 8 minutes to recover to about 90 and 5 mins to recover to below 100. My own rate started at 68, 14 bpm higher than normal and reached 180ish......I could feel this pumping through my skull (!) and recovered to below 100 also within 5-6 mins.

After this, my only exercise was the hour walk each day, plus a 5 hour walk to see the sunrise in the Kakamega Rainforest.....

Followed by a 1km swim at breakfast at 5000ft altitude above Lake Victoria. This was yet another time of being found out with breathlessness. As competitive as I am, there was a challenge of me vs 6th form with an underwater swimming contest. A 25m pool should be easy right? No! Not one of the 6th form, including the trained lifeguard to manage half a length. Add in an unbelievable ice-cream headache from swimming underwater at altitude and only I could manage the length.

having said, I can see how the altitude and diet go hand in hand for developing champions. In the 11 days of eating Kenyan food, I consumed about 10% of the meat I would normally eat and add in Sukuma wiki, green grams, rice, cabbage and especially ugali and I lost 3kg but had loads of energy.

I can see that the lifestyle is akin to hard training and would be great to have a month out here before an 100 but work and wife and impending baby might not allow this! Do I feel better? Yes....but not that much better!

Kenya rocks!

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