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What do the Kenyans do?

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Johnhill.jpg This article published with permission from John Hill, CEO, Fastgear Australia email website

This years pre-comrades ultramarathon trip was pretty exciting with the start being a short stay in south Africa then off to Kenya for a week where I was going to the rift valley in the middle of nowhere which starts about 2000m above sea level. Why there? Well its where the cream of the Africans train, in altitude, the Kenyan Olympic team were going to be in that high performance camp along with other good runners from Lesotho and surrounding countries. The best coaches in Kenya were there and for me it was one hell of a buzz to be there and live with them daily in the camp, See what they eat how they train etc etc

After landing in south Africa next stop was Nairobi where I spent the night ,I felt like the only white guy in town which wouldn’t be far wrong. Extremely interesting and too long to explain in this story.

Next day onto the small plane to “Eldoret” in the Rift Valley, I was now in the heart of Kenya and boy could u tell… roads were just dirt and thank god my host turned up this time…nice bus all the way to the camp which was an amazing eye opener of African life. The shops the people the modes of transport…amazing…made you realize how you take things for granted in our world.

Finally to the camp which is owned by the great Kipchoge Kipkeino… an amazing Kenyan champion who now runs this camp for athletes sanctioned by the international athletics federation but on top of that does a scholarship for kids which he pays for, educates them and turns them into champions from being underprivileged kids….my stay was to eat sleep train with these athletes in this environment which I found fascinating... they gave me a separate cottage in the complex usually reserved for the champion runners rather than the dorm type system but apart from that we ate together and trained together. I kept trying to mix it up a bit at breakfast lunch and dinner times but really concentrated on learning about their training and diet.

First day I was under pressure, the coaches wanted me to run in the morning 5:45am with the team, seeing as I hadn’t run for a week because this stupid yellow fever side effects I wasn’t too keen as a 20km time trial was not on my plans for the morning trying to keep up with them lot jogging lol and at 3k altitude on my first day no thanks…. I hated myself for not taking up the challenge but knew if I did I’d be an idiot, I’d do the recover session in the evening instead after my own “get into it run” in the morning ….so in the morning my first run in Kenya in altitude after a week of no running …bloody hell the excitement of running along the dust roads of Kenya was such a buzz…every few minutes a Kenyan runner would be running the opposite way, big smile and wave…I knew I was in real Kenyan running country now… the total culture here is just all about running, guys on push bike cheering me and even old fellas on bikes going to work with old Reebok jackets on with international athletics meetings words on the back… what a buzz loved it!


Back to the complex for breakfast, the night before for dinner had been fascinating because all the coaches went on about is the way they eat is more superior to other runners, me being me I had to investigate more… they dished up the main food the Kenyans have every day which is ‘ugali’ - this is basically “maze” a plant all Africans live on, it’s very low gi carbohydrate with some protein that’s grown in Africa. But these guys eat this at night and go for 4-5 hr runs in the morning and eat nothing. Or they’ll eat it in the morning and won’t need to eat until dinner time… they also have it with hot milk…. in the morning they said I must have porridge… I tried it but it wasn’t oats - it tasted like earth from the garden!!.. weird stuff but it was actually millet with water, great food I agree. Very natural, very healthy. I couldn’t agree with their philosophy on not eating during running or especially an ironman but I had a feeling this episode was not over. I lived on the stuff day and night!


Next day I ran 2 hrs… ran all over the place and everywhere I went the kids would run by my side as long as they could hang on for laughing their heads off… I was the only white guy in about the nearest 500km at least… this really made me love the run, lots of Kenyans from different camps out and about running too… most just couldn’t believe this white dude running around like a nutter… they just don’t see white fellas let alone running.

Most of the Olympic team of Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, Uganda, and many more African countries were all at my camp in Eldoret. It was pure fascination on my part to be with them every second of the day ,going to training altogether in the old bus, eating every meal with them and just generally hanging out, going to town etc etc…they didn’t quite get me at first, I guess coz I was put in a cottage not the dorm and hung with the coaches at meal times (mainly quizzing them and learning anything I could) but now 3 days on all the athletes felt comfortable with me and chatted freely during training or eating or in the bus…. of course my questions were always about how they train and eat etc etc… I got a lot of respect back when they knew I was doing the comrades… they had no idea about triathlon so I didn’t even try to explain that. I got a feeling watching the Olympics for me this year will be a different ball game looking for the faces from the camp. Today’s training was 8 x 600m hills, all running is on dirt or grass countryside, my lungs were exploding going up and down but loving it, the odd Kenyan passing by looking at the white mans legs lol


Typical training week Kenyan marathon runner 2 weeks out from a marathon

  • morning 1 hr (18k)… typical
  • evening run 6k easy
  • 1 week out from a marathon 3 runs

Race nutrition

  • Not much… some will take gels at various points plus water

General training

  • Long run is over 3-4 hrs
  • Track sometimes 3 x a week…mixing it up with hill reps
  • All altitude running up to 3000m
  • Run twice a day every day, evenings always recovery 6k

Daily Nutrition

  • Breakfast… millet porridge, bananas, tea, sorghum, casave
  • Lunch…chapatti (wheat flour),beans(green grums),various beans, lentils, advocado, mandazi (wheat flour)
  • Ugali (maze) or grade1 maze, spinach, mash potato, sukumawiki (rich green veg) beef, chicken, pasta, rice

Race breakfast

  • 3 hrs before… 6 slices bread or porridge
  • Taper ..2 weeks out still run 140k per week 1 week out only 3 -4 runs

An interesting trip all round but traveling Africa is not easy, so many things go wrong as with most travel so you need to dot the eyes and cross the tees big time with this place… those of u thinking of copying this regime think twice and get a good coach to build u up slowly, these guys are bought up in their tribes to run from a very early age and can they run.

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