This past weekend, the United Airlines New York Half Marathon took place in… you guessed it… New York City. This year’s course was new; we started in Brooklyn, crossed the Manhattan Bridge, ran along the FDR, cut across downtown to Times Square, then went straight up 7th Ave to Central Park where we would eventually finish. The fields were stacked (click here for official results) and the course is a bit hilly so the combination set up nicely for a good ol’ competitive race.
Coming into this, I had spent roughly 37 days in Iten, Kenya trying to find that “next-level” in athletic performance that every athlete desires. The New York race was the test to see how my body handled the high altitude of Kenya.
In New York, I clocked a 1:08:20, which is a pretty crummy time to my standards and I hope others expect better results than that as well. The problem was abdominal cramps that forced me to stop and stretch six times over the final 13KM. Sure, it’s disappointing not being able to perform to my abilities but when something like this happens, you just need to deal with it the best you can and move on.
What I was able to take away from New York is a solid effort that will benefit future races and the reassurance that training in Kenya put me in a good position to compete.
The Kenyan’s are tough… well, some of them. In Iten, they meet on Thursday’s for a group fartlek which brings out hundreds of athletes. Once the workout is established by the guy on the rock, the group would take off like a pack of hungry lions chasing down an impala. It’s quite the sight to see. About 5KM in, there’s a fork in the road where nearly half the athletes would drop out and walk home while the others continue to push. The athletes make every attempt to be in the lead group, which gives them bragging rights or earns them some sort of prestige. It’s so extreme that athletes will skip their rest break to catch up to the group or even take a shortcut through a field, which happened during my workout. Sadly, for him, it only got him to a few steps behind the tall mzungu.
The terrain in Iten is hilly and it was windy nearly every day. To do a workout on a “perfect” day was a challenge, so I made a commitment to do workouts on tough loops and a goal to fail as much as possible. This allowed me to care less about GPS data and focus more on overall effort. Plus, most of the Kenyan’s train with a simple rinky-dink watch that only displays time and look at them go, breaking records and winning medals.
The coolest part about Kenya is running the streets while kids are walking to or from school. On my morning runs, I would be greeted between 20 and 50 times. The kids will also run beside you for as long as they could manage, some while carrying a full backpack of school supplies. It’s just so different from Canada where sometimes I fear that the school bully at the local elementary school will force me to lick white dog crap while I pass the school wearing a jacket and full tights.
Culturally, Kenya definitely altered my perspective on how to live a simpler life. The people have less than Westerners but seem to be more grateful for what they do have. They’re more welcoming and friendly to talk to. Some will ask for money; most will just greet you. I felt safe walking around alone, something I cannot say about certain parts of Canada or America. Yes, I just compared my security in a town of 42,000 to an area of 360 million, this is to be taken with a grain of salt.
A group of us were fortunate enough to visit the Cherang’any Hills, NW of Iten. Tarah Korir showed us around the area as we made stops to the local high school, all-girls school, and an all-boys school to visit groups of student-athletes they sponsor. We also made a couple stops at athlete’s homes in the hills where their family treated us with food. The houses in the hills are mud huts with a thatched roof or a mud hut with a wooden frame and a sheet metal roof. It’s a simple design that provides shelter.
Overall, I would definitely recommend the trip to other athletes and running enthusiasts.
Back in Guelph, I have been able to link similarities between Iten and running in Canada. This is not forced words to make certain cities/training groups look better, it’s just the raw truth from my perspective.
- The trails of Iten are strikingly similar to that of Fish Creek Park in Calgary, Alberta.
- The Singore Forest reminded me of Vancouver Island in British Columbia and Preservation Park in Guelph, Ontario.
- The rural roads of Iten are that of Southern Alberta and the Calgary Region.
- The thin air and hills are comparable to that of the Canmore/Banff area in Alberta.
- The terrain of the Cherang’any Hills reminded me of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.
- The Thursday fartlek group is very similar to the Speed River/Guelph Gryphon cross country workouts in the Fall.
Even though Iten is a complete package for training, I strongly believe there are areas in Canada that can equal certain experiences in Kenya.
Coming up this weekend, Team Canada will be sending a team to Valencia, Spain to compete in the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships. My roommate, Evan Esselink, will be one of four Canadian men in the field, so make sure you cheer for that guy because he has worked his ass off ever since I met him in July 2016 and deserves every bit of support.
For the next 7 weeks, I will be wrapping up training for the Prague Marathon on May 6th with the Spring Run Off (April 7th) as an opportunity to test my abilities.
Keep your stick on the ice,