We ventured to Iten a few days ago on our own. I wanted to go because this is the place in Kenya to be if you are a competitive distance runner, in fact, it’s the competitive running mecca of the world. Iten is where all the world champions from Kenya train, so, numerous training camps and resorts are springing up around the town attracting world class athletes to the elite training destination.
On Monday after lunch after hill work, we left, determined to discover this other place, a place I’ve heard so much about.
From Mosoriot we managed to get a ride from an Indian picking up people willing to pay as he made his way to Eldoret. There was a little small talk, but not much. We got dropped off at the airport so that I could book my ticket to Nairobi, one thing off the to-do list. When we left the airport we waited on the side of the road for maybe 5minutes until another car came along willing to give us a lift. Hitchhiking is a popular thing here, or jumping into a Mattatu, either way, it’s not difficult to get a ride, especially when you are a Mzungu. When we reached Eldoret it took some time to find the Mattatu center that had vans going to Iten. Along the search we grabbed some sweet bananas from one of the many fruit kiosks that line the streets. I can eat pretty much anything that has a natural barrier, like bananas, pineapples and mangos. The fruit is delicious because it always comes in fresh and everything in Kenya tastes and smells better..
When we got to the Iten bound Mattatus we met another Canadian heading the same way and jumped on the same ride. His name was Jeff and he was training for a half-marathon and has done a lot of research on altitude training.
We arrived in Iten without fuss. We hopped off directly in front of the High Altitude Training Center (HATC); the entrance to it was framed by sypris trees with wooden fences on both sides, and a rocky drive-way leading down and down. We walked down with Jeff chatting about this or that then as luck would have it Eric Gillis came down the drive-way from a run. As it was late in the afternoon, we had to get our sleeping arrangements figured out.
The center is a resort. There’s a pool, a gym and something that sounds like a buffet for every meal. It’s expensive and was way out of our budget for one night. So we jogged down to the main part of town to look for a hotel. After a couple tries (this is high season for athletes in the area, so things get booked up) we found one bedroom with two beds and took it. We ran back to HATC, chatted with Reid and Eric a bit for the following day’s plans, and then walked back to the hotel. It was more of a hostel. The front counter to the building was butchery, so we had to wait in line, or rather; we had to wait for everyone waiting for meat to be served. They had a hunk of meat behind the counter with a man using a hack saw to piece it up. Then the lady at the counter would weigh it, rap it once in newspaper then put it into two plastic bags. Customers would watch the process, pay and hustle out. Our room was behind the butchery, through a tight alleyway, past several open bars, a pool table and a restaurant. Once up a set of stairs and on a balcony, it didn’t seem that bad. The two beds where almost double beds, but the mattresses where too big for the frames so they had a deep bowl shape to them. I was going to sleep in one of the beds with Simon.
We went hunting for food and found it at a busy place called Hillside. The place was packed because it was the Presidential Debate. We finished up quick then returned to the hotel and hit the hay.
The next morning we met up with Reid and HATC and jogged over to the track. The place was teeming with athletes. There was one big group of about 70 guys doing repeats, then a couple of smaller groups of 3-20 guys doing other workouts. It was busy. Reid rolled out some 1200s along with Simon, while I did 800s at the same pace. You really had to fight to keep your position on the track with some groups going faster and slower. When we finished we jogged back to the center and Michael, Simon and I got to take showers. Amazing. At the resto on the premises we had a bite to eat and chatted about races and training and whatever else. But time was ticking, and we had to get back to Mosoriot to get in our afternoon run. So headed out to catch a Mattatu back to Eldoret.
While waiting on the side of the road a small pick-up pulled up behind us to take a look at a souvenir kiosk by the road. Simon and I looked in, low-and-behold Mo Farah was at the wheel. Some words were exchanged, and Simon told us Mo was going to give us a lift back to Eldoret. Yep. We all giggled inside then hopped in.
Mo seems to be a pretty cool guy. He likes his Somalian music, especially the songs that are written about him. He’s also aware of how boring track can be, we had a conversation about hairstyles and facial hair, and changing it up for races, to make it more entertaining. He’s a big fan of Pre’s stache, or any stache for that matter. It was a cool car ride.
My days here are numbered, I’m going to miss the Chai.