Kenya Trip 2014 – Part 1!

Posted: January 14, 2014 in Robert Brouillette

Jambo! Thanks for checking out the first weeks blog of my 2014 trip to Iten, Kenya for 7 weeks. This is the 3rd year in a row of me coming here to train in the high altitude for my running, live a simple healthy lifestyle, meet new friends, and learn from their culture. I’m also here to escape winter in Canada which has lots of snow, ice, slush, cold wind, and low temperatures, versus summer in Kenya which has dry, hot, dirt, trails and track, beautiful sunshine everyday, and high temperatures. For this year I’m going to be luck enough to have two summers in two countries to run in and only half a winter at the end of the year which is wonderful. But there is much more to running than weather, the season, atmosphere, environment, who you train with, or where in the world you are doing the running, so I know it’s not going to be a walk in the park but I’ll do my best to “train hard and win easy” the Kenyan way. Also this is the best time of the year to be in Kenya with hundreds of Kenyan athletes and international runners from around the world, as well as maybe two big races.

Week #1: January 4th – 11th, 2014

January 4/5
So my journey started off by heading to the Toronto airport before flying 12 hours to Ethiopia,  2.5 hours to Nairobi, Kenya, 1 hour to Eldoret, and finally a 1 hour drive to Iten which is where I will be living. Just like earlier years I brought 2 large suitcases that held my personal things in one and all my gifts in the other but once I got to my last short flight with Kenyan Airways they would only allow me to bring 1 big suitcase per person. This meant I would have to throw away a suitcase full of donations for the Kenyan athletes and children I meet or pay a larger than I’m willing to pay fee. What ended up happening after an hour-long discussion of persuading and such was that another man who was flying with me but had no luggage, put my second suitcase under his name. When our plane landed I bought the man a Tusker beer to thank him for his help and told him that some Kenyans are going to be happy to be getting a gift now thanks to him. I was met by my good Kenyan friend Johana Kariankei who will host me in his new home for as long as I need to be here to train which I am very thankful for. I am now using my Kenyan Samsung phone again which is 070-235-8081 but will be using Facebook to communicate with everyone in Canada. When I arrived in Iten, Home of the Champions, my nose started bleeding just like it did on my first day from my last trip here which I find weird but that must just be my head getting adjusted to the altitude. Johana and I went to a grocery store to stock up on two months of dry food/supplies and then pay 2 months rent for his new home to get that out-of-the-way and our on worry now being to run, eat, and rest. While I was taking my suitcases out of the taxi I must have stepped in an ant hill because once I got inside I literally had just like the saying goes ‘ants in my pants’ and they even crawled into my CEP compression socks too. I was bouncing around and stripping down which gave Johana a good laugh for sure.

January 6
Once I woke up I surprised Johana with some of the gifts that others from Canada and I donated for my trip. He was very happy to get new shoes by new Balance and Asics, as well as some sport clothing, and other supplies. Breakfast was exciting because I finally got to have the famous Kenyan chai tea again that I love so much. I then was ready for my first run in Kenya of 2014 which was just a 1 hour easy run at 4:50 pace since I still need to adjust to the altitude, heat, and I was off from running for 3 days due to my preparation and travel from Canada. I could feel the lungs taking a beating after just a few minutes but once I hit the end of my solo run in about 12.5K I felt refreshed and ready for more later. For lunch I headed into town on a motorbike which is the cab system in Kenya for short trips but if you hit a speed bump you have to hold on for your life sometimes. I went to my favorite Hillside Hotel (restaurant) and was very surprised to see New Zealand track Olympians Jake and Zane Robertson who were really nice to talk with and they even invited me out later for an easy 40 minute evening run. On my way back home I saw guys wearing Toronto Maple Leaf hats which were funny to see over here. I stopped at a barber shop for a quick buzz cut but it turned into an hour or more which was very weird because after 5 minutes my head was shaved but he continued to keep going over it with the razor over and over. I was getting a little impatient and he even bumped my eyebrow a little but in the end he was a nice guy and it only cost $1.50. Johana tells me that I am not allowed to eat pizza or fast food when I return to Canada because it will make me fat and die (in a joking way of course) but I don’t blame him. For some reason they think I’m a little fat compared to everyone else but in Canada I’m known as the skinny one. When it was time for the evening easy run at 5pm, I met Jake/Zane of New Zealand, Jonathan of Germany, a Belgian guy, and a Kenyan at the ‘Home of the Champions’ sign before we went for a 40 minute 4:40 pace run as a group of 6. After we stretched and talked before I lay in the grass and stared into the sky to see the moon out at the same time as it was sunny at just 6pm. I have had so much chai tea just in my first day in Kenya that my stomach was really hurting. Also wearing long sleeves, sweaters, coats, and pants in Kenyan summer is killer and I’m feeling tired and weak from it sucking out my energy. So I went to bed early to help adjust my Canada to Kenya sleeping schedule and feel better in the morning.

January 7
In the morning Johana was out on his morning workout so I went to the shop to pick up fresh milk since I won’t be running till afternoon and then evening easy runs. I realized that after putting on a clean pair of socks that after only 5 minutes they would be dirty because of all the dust. I fetched some water from the well which requires a lot more strength then I though as I have only heard about wells on farms or in stories but never actually had to do it till Kenya. I then went on my solo sub 1 hour on same route as yesterdays but a little faster so I ended up going 59 minutes, just 1 minute faster but I thought it felt a lot faster. At halfway into the run I had to take a 1 minute break before starting up again or I would have passed out from the heat exhaustion. However, at the end of my run I did collapse (on purpose) into the grass and just laid there thinking how tough this heat, altitude, and all the other factors really do affect your run both negatively and positively. Just looking down the paved road I can see the sun beams bouncing off the road making that same heat wave you see from a barbecue. There is a lot of trail dust in this season since it’s so dry that my originally clean shoes are now all brown and lost any white that was on it. I then bought a pink mattress (only color they had left but Kenyans love the colour pink here) so I will have a comfy place to sleep on tonight. I hung out at Johana’s Olympic Corner craft shop for a bit with the 2 new boys that work there and call themselves the “professionals” because they are some of the best bead bracelet makers in all of Kenya apparently. For my evening easy run, Johana took me on a late 42 minute run that started at maybe 7:00/K or slower for the first bit and gradually got a little faster to finish 6.8K at 6:10 pace (for sure my slowest run ever) but that was the purpose of this easy run. I headed back home to have a Nuun tri-berry sport drink before supper at Dan the neighbor’s house but too much delicious chai tea burnt my tongue like crazy. Also my face and neck is burnt after only 2 days in the Kenyan sun so I’m scared to see what happens after 2 months so I think ill wear a hat and sunscreen for now on.

January 8
At 6:30AM Johana and I planned for a 1:10 progressive run but after 45 minutes I let Johana run ahead and I was on my own finishing the 15K workout in 1:15 instead. The last 22 minutes of the run I did 10:1 (run 10 minutes/ walk 1 minute) to be honest which I have never done in my life. So far it’s always been 40-45 minutes into any run in Kenya that I feel the lungs given up or the sun beating on me too much but legs are still fine. Also I swear I will not wear a full track suit like all the other Kenyans again because that is really messing me up when it’s so darn hot even at the early morning run. Johana beat me home so he made some chai tea and pancakes for breakfast when I got there after my long much need stretch. I then scheduled an appointment for a massage with the professional Dan my neighbor after not getting a massage since my last time here 4 months ago. Massages in Canada can be very expensive when you should be getting them once or twice a week but here the most it can be is $7 and Dan went for a good hour or so. He complimented me a lot on my upper leg muscle strength that came from my College cross-country season but says my lower leg calf are too tight. My sunburn is hurting more as pieces of my scalp are now falling off, my forehead hurts to move, my shirt rubs on my neck which kills, and my elbows stings when I bend. On the tarmac road in front of Johana’s Olympic Corner shop a man was crossing the road too early and got hit by a car and died but fortunately I wasn’t around to see it. I took a motorbike ride to Hillside Hotel for lunch which was mbuzi (goat meat) and chapati which was really good but it was drowning in cooking oil. For the evening easy run, Johana, a Russian, and I went for 55 minutes which felt better than my past runs. Johana and I ate some of the popular corn maize under a hut while it rained for the first time of my trip but I know this is the dry season so I’m not worried.

January 9
I woke up with some serious heart burn, chest pain, and stomach ache, from all the cooking oil that has been in my food plus probably my body adjusting to all the new food it’s not used to. Regardless, I quickly ate some bread and drank a little chai tea before heading to the fartlek workout for 8:30AM. It was about a 30 minute run just to get to the meeting spot and then the real workout was 1:1 (easy 1 minutes/ hard 1 minute) x25 for 50 minutes of work. I ran with the pack of about 30 Kenyan guys and a strong 17-year-old American named Bailey for about 3 sets before falling back to my pace for the rest of the workout with another guy who was the same speed as me. After the run I did a big stretch but I learned my legs hurt still when going downstairs. At a store I was with a crowd of people who were sheltering from the rain but then a pile of 20 mattresses high was falling over so I saved everyone from getting squished. They said they couldn’t believe a 12-year-old white boy would put themselves in danger to help everyone. There is no way I look 12, especially with my Kenyan beard, that’s just crazy. On my easy evening run a little 5-year-old girl in bare feet kept up with me for longer than any little girl in Canada would be able to and I was going uphill too so it just shows they are ‘born to run.’ The people of Iten are trustworthy because I forgot my Nike GPS SportWatch on a fence while I was stretching and then after I had left the area for 10 minutes I ran back and it was still there and the people there were even keeping an eye on it for me. Some Canadian runners arrived in town making the High Altitude Training Camp full of international athletes from all over the world. There was a black out in the evening so the rest of the day had no electricity and the only light came from my flashlight.

January 10
In the early morning I went for just over an hour easy run while Johana was out on his own run as well. I made a pot of Kenyan chai tea by myself, drank it all, and then the neighbors invited me for more breakfast so I couldn’t say no. We talked about how important massages are to Kenyans, they get them 1-3 times a week, especially after the long run workout, or right away in the morning while your muscles are relaxed. I had lunch with Olympians Zane Robertson of New Zealand and steeplechase from Australia and we were supposed to go on an evening easy run but the bad Kenyan phone connection messed our plan up. Today was Johana’s 22nd birthday so we celebrated with about 20 of his closest friends while having a feast of food and drinks. There were lots of laughs, I know Johana had a great time, and I believe he said this was the first time he has a real birthday party with cake. After cleaning up the party mess we didn’t get to bed till midnight before I had to do an early morning long run tomorrow.

January 11
Before 6:00AM Johana and I woke up for the long run but I was so exhausted from the busy week and being up late last night that I decided to sleep in and do the workout later instead. When I finally got up, there was lots of leftover chapati for breakfast but no water left in the house and the well is empty. In the afternoon I met with Johana at the shop to give out the rest of the gifts that I brought in my large suitcase from Canada. There were about 20 athletes that received some shoes, sport clothes, Ironman deodorant sticks, watches, and gym bags. They were all grateful and I’m sure these things will help aid them in their training now. Knowing I have given a little gift from me but means so much to them makes me feel good and I know I have affected some Kenyans lives during my trip. At 4:00PM I was ready for my 25K long run just like the others did this morning, but I quickly learned it is much harder to do alone then with a group who can help push you along and with the heat it’s worse. I went through 10K at just over 4:00/K pace not sure exactly what pace I should be doing since it’s my first long run of the trip. I started to slow dramatically so I called it quits and headed back as my shins were starting to get sore and my feet hurt. Tomorrow is Sunday, so I have the option to take the day off to rest if I want because Kenyans dedicate this day of the week to religious and spiritual matters so no training but I will not be going to Church anyways.

Flying into Kenya!

Flying to Kenya I see the line between field and city!

Some shots of me in different places around Iten!

Some shots of me in different places around Iten!

I gifted lots of running gear from Canada to a bunch of athletes!

Some athletes got gift of running gear as gifts!

Johana's 22nd Birthday!

Johana’s 22nd Birthday party!

– Robert Brouillette


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