Lessons from Kenya

My final hard workout here in Kenya is now complete and I can happily say that I have put together a great block of training out here.

I came out knowing that I was in decent shape but not really knowing how decent as I hadn’t had any hard races since the North East cross country champs back in early December, but I had put together some good training back at home so knew I had a good base to work from. I’m now heading home on Thursday feeling a lot fitter, stronger, faster and looking forward to hitting some good races over the next few weeks.

Every time you come to a place like this you learn a few new lessons about yourself and your training and this trip has been no exception, I’ve picked up some valuable lessons and reinforced many of the things I learnt previously. These are not just things isolated to me but also general things about the environment we are living and training in and attitudes to training.

In terms of altitude training I have learnt 4 key lessons over the years:
1) Stick to your own training plans.
Yes it’s good to have some company on runs and during workouts but it’s not the be all and end all. I was looking forward to doing lots of group training out here as I train mainly solo back at home and with being here with two other female athletes who are also targeting the same race when we get back I thought that we might be able to help each other out a bit in workouts.

A lot of workouts will be very similar but with tiny differences which will change the make up of the workout. For example a float recovery instead of a jog recovery, a split tempo rather than constant pace or a fast finish long run rather than a slower easy paced long run.

As it turns out we had one or two sessions which were similar, one of which I changed my session to work with the others but then after that I found that it was just best to stick with what I had planned and do my own stuff by myself. At the end of the day once you’ve found what works for you, stick with it. You don’t need a training partner/pacer helping you out on every session, after all your not going to get much help from your competitors during a race so it’s best to just get stuck in and get on with it.

This leads on to number 2) Run at your own pace.
Don’t get sucked into other peoples pace. The first few days up here are vitally important in terms of volume and intensity of training. Over do it in these days and your trip could be ruined. It’s massively important that you pay attention to your heart rate and really not worry too much about pace. Your easy pace back at home may be 6.30min miles but out here with the altitude, hills and rough terrain it may be more like 7.30min miles. If you can accept this and stick with what your hear rate is telling you then you should be ok but if you push your heart rate too high trying to run at the your normal home pace or trying to keep up with others then you will be over loading your body too soon which can lead to increased fatigue or illness later in the trip.

Of course everyone is going to have a different easy pace. It’s so tempting to just jump in with a group for an easy 10 but within that group you could have one person running at 6.30min miles, another at 7min miles and another at 7.30min miles all at the same heart rate. Even running at 7min miles would mean that some in the group would be running too easy whilst others would be running too hard.

It take confidence in yourself and your training for you to accept that the pace is too fast and drop back from it, especially if you are running with some of your main competitors. I am now at a stage where I am confident and happy within myself to be able to do this so I will start out with a group but if I feel I am working too hard or my heart rate shows that I am working too hard I will happily drop back and run at my own pace. There’s no prizes for first back in a training run!

In the past I wouldn’t have done this I would have kept chugging away turning what is meant to be an easy run into a steady or even hard run and jeopardising my recovery or preparation for my next hard workout. But I’ve learnt the hard way that once you start to dig yourself a hole at altitude that it is very hard to climb back out of it! Luckily this trip I have been strict with myself and not let this happen and this has resulted in me not having to drop any reps or miss any key workouts. After all it’s consistency of training which counts not just blasting a good workout here and there.

Number 3 smoothly follows on – it is good to run slow at times.
Gavin Smith explains this much better than I ever could in his latest blog Eliterunningcoach.com but basically running slow, and I’m talking 8.30+ min miles for me, is actually a great recovery aid. I usually do this on a Wednesday night back at home but round here everywhere you look the runners are just shuffling along. I’m not just talking joggers, we’re talking big names like Mo Farah, Wilson Kipsang, Asbel Kiprop, the Chinese national squad. They all do the Kenyan Shuffle!

Some people at home might call this junk mileage or not even class it as training but it does have a great physiological benefit to it and helps to ‘flush out’ your legs after a hard workout. Obviously I don’t do this for every run but I have done a few whilst out here although I do have some work to do to get to true Kenyan Shuffle speed!

So finally number 4 and this is a new lesson I learnt just yesterday but maybe the most important of the trip!..mile reps at altitude are an absolute KILLER!!
My final track workout yesterday morning was 2 sets of mile/2×800/4×400. My other track workouts have all been single distances starting with 400m reps in week one, then 800m reps in week 2 and 1k reps in week 3. This week I gave myself some mixed reps to get used to running different paces.

The mile reps were at a slower pace to previous reps but still half way round the 3rd lap I was praying for a quick and painless death! The 800’s and 400’s, although ran a lot quicker (I even closed the session with a 72 & 71 400!) were a breeze in comparison.

Just before starting my 2nd set I asked Barry Fudge if it was worth splitting the mile rep down to ensure I still got the volume but at a quicker pace. Before he got the chance to reply I looked at him and said ‘or should I just man up and get on with it?’ Of course his answer was ‘yeah, man up and tough it out!!’ I’m glad I did though as despite feeling distressed for the first time since I got here, I did hit my target and finished the session feeling strong, though I did curse Barry a few times on my last lap of that mile rep!

So yeah, that’s a big lesson to remember for next time, keep track reps shorter and the do longer more sustained tempo stuff on the roads.

Hopefully my next race, Reading Half Marathon on March 2nd will prove that I have trained hard but sensible up here and that the trip has been worthwhile.

Until then I’d like to sign off by saying a MASSIVE THANK YOU to all those who made this trip possible and who have helped me out whilst here. So THANK YOU to British Athletics, Virgin Money London Marathon, all the staff at HATC, Neil Black, Kate Spilsbury, Steve Vernon, Chris Bramah, Paula Radcliffe, Barry Fudge and Andy Walling for all of your help and support, it really is appreciated and I hope I can pay you back with some good future performances.

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One Response to Lessons from Kenya

  1. Paul Cook says:

    Great read Aly, I’ve always believed there was value to those slower runs but have been told by others that junk mileage is no good. Good to hear it from a professional! Will keep an eye out for your Reading result good luck!

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