|Kenya Post 2007 World Cross Country Championships
Part III: Lornah Kiplagat's, Paul Tergat, Nairobi, and Nairobi National Park
April 25, 2007
I went to Kenya for the World Cross Country Championships. If I had to come up with one word to describe the trip it would be - amazing. The race itself which I described here with photos and video was something I have never witnessed before. As I said in my recap, the race was "a party, a sporting event, a carnival, a once in a lifetime event with tremendous national pride associated with it all rolled into one." That description doesn't do the race total justice as there were some 30,000-40,000 fans (although I also am willing to believe the estimate that were 70,000 people there) packed liked sardines, hanging from trees, sitting on top of barbed wire, cheering like mad in a stifling heat that was causing athletes to drop out/pass out left and right. The heat was so intense it literally could have killed an athlete (I'm not joking. Randy Wilber, a USOC sports physiologist, who I traveled with in Iten said an athlete dying was a real possibility). While the race was truly incredible, after the race, I spent a full week in Kenya and visited the areas where the Kenyans train. I wanted to try and get a feel for life in Kenya and in particular the Kenyan running scene. After having been to Iten and Eldoret, I now feel you won't really understand the Kenya running phenomenon, until you go to Kenya yourself and witness firsthand where the runners are from and how they train.
I'll try to use words and some photos to best convey what I saw, but trust me, you truly won't have a feel for the place until you see it for yourself. My advice certainly is if you are fortunate enough have the opportunity to travel to Kenya by all means get over there. If not, I guess you'll have to let my photos and descriptions fill the gap. I've come up with a staggering 546 photos that made the cut and I've put on the web. There are so many photos, I decided to divide them up into 3 main broad sections that roughly follows the chronological order of my trip (not all the photos are in chronological order).
My goal is to try and give a feel for what life is like in Kenya and not just show faces of one runner after another (although when I selected the three photos above to highlight each subcategory, of course I featured prominent runners, but that's because I figured that would get you most likely to click on them). My favorite photos were not the ones of the runners but of the school kids in Kenya. Many of these kids do not have much in terms of material wealth, but they almost always had a smile on their face, loved to meet mzungus (white people), and were incredibly well behaved. Westerners can learn a lot from them.
I'm going to start by giving a brief outline of my trip. After the World Cross Country Champs in Mombasa, my plans were up in the air. All I knew what I wanted to do was go to Eldoret (the fastest growing city in Kenya with around 200,000 people, 150 miles (but 5 hours by car) northwest of Nairobi, where many top runners have homes and businesses. Many of the athletes train there as well, and the Kip Keino High Performance Training Center is on the outskirts), and Iten (a very small town, 29 miles from Eldoret, perched on the edge of the Rift Valley. Iten is from what I know the preferred training place in Kenya and home to many training camps. The Kimbia guys, made famous by ChasingKimbia.com, train there. World XC Champs Lornah Kiplagat's Training Center is there as well as is St. Patrick's High School (a school with 120 boys per grade yet has produced scores of Olympians) and Singore Girls High School (one of the top female girls high schools in terms of running)). My goals were to try and check out all the places mentioned above, plus try and go to Moses Tanui's restaurant in Eloret and meet up with Paul Tergat at some point (my brother went with them to the White House in 2001). And to make things interesting I had made no contacts with any of the people above in Kenya prior to landing in Mombasa (clearly I'm not a big planner, naive, too optimistic or all of the above). But I had talked to Matt Taylor of Chasing Kimbia, author Scott Douglas, Kenyan expert John Manners, Cornell's Kevin Thompson who has become good friends with Kip Keino, and Track and Field News' (and Paul Tergat's good friend), Sean Hartnett, and they left the impression that a Westerner interested in running would be very welcome in Eldoret and Iten. They were definitely right as I actually accomplished all my goals.
The World Champs were on a Saturday and I wanted to take an overnight Sunday to Monday train from Mombasa to Nairobi contrary to about 10 people's advice (ranging from Paul Tergat, to people who used to work for the State Department in Kenya, to people at my hotel) who all said it would take too long. I left my hotel not sure if there was even space for me on the train, but I had my Kenyan cell phone (only $30 US with calls about 30 cents a minute to the US), a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of optimism.
The train was the best (I met my 4 Australians traveling companions for the next 2 days on the train) and worse decision (it took 21 hours to go 300 miles) of my trip. Fortunately, the Australians were all passionate about running and already had plans through Martin Keino to go to stay at Kip Keino's center. After a phone call to Martin and a 5 hour van (matutus they're called in Kenya) ride from Nairobi to Eldoret over the worst paved road you can't even imagine, I was being greeted by Kip Keino himself and having dinner with him. I should have known my trip was going to be smooth sailing if this is what a lack of planning could produce.
I stayed until Wednesday with the Australians at Kip's place seeing learning about Kip's impressive farm, training center, and school, while learning about the running scene in Eldoret. Those photos are in PART I above. Then it was off to Iten (30 minutes away from Nairobi) with Chasing Kimbia's Godfrey Kiprotich in charge. Little did I know that Godfrey was going to adopt me and entertain me for the next 4 days. Before I knew it I was sleeping at the Kimbia house, and being driven all over the Rift Valley by the one person who probably knows more about the running in the area than anyone. I went to St. Patrick's, Singore Girls, Lornah Kiplagat's, observed many runners, met many runners past and present (until you go to Kenya you don't appreciate how many good MALE Kenyan runners there are and have been and that running really is about opportunity and financial gain in Kenya-more on that next week), and had a great time. Those photos minus Lornah's are in PART II above.
Then it was off to Nairobi on Sunday to try and meet up with Paul Tergat (I met Paul at the pre race press conference and he had told me to call him if I came to Nairobi) and see what Nairobi was like. I ended up seeing Paul, doing a brief taxi tour of the city, and deciding to go to nearby Nairobi national park for half the day on Monday for a mini safari. Those photos are in PART III.
The three paragraphs above don't do justice in describing the trip but that's not my intention. I just wanted to give some brief background so you'll know what you're looking at. I'll write more about my trip later.
Until then I hope you enjoy the photos.
If you have time, please give me feedback on the arrangement of the photos at [email protected] (ie should the photos be bigger or smaller, (I shrunk them down to 800 pixels wide), etc). Getting back to this overview page can be hard but if you are on the any of the 3 subgallery index pages there is a link at the bottom to come back here.
I'd like to thank all the Kenyan people for their hospitality but in particular Kip Keino, Martin Keino, Godfrey Kiprotich, Moses Tanui, Lornah Kiplagat, Pieter Langherhost, and Paul Tergat. And Godfrey deserves an extra big thanks.
If you like what you see here and would like to donate to help support Kenyan people in general or to help renovate the track at Singore Girls School, please consider the Kimbia Foundation below.
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