Susan Partridge Training Blog

Training at Lornah Kiplagat’s High Altitude Camp in Iten, Kenya

UKA/London Marathon funded

 Welcome to my blog from Iten, Kenya, “Home of Champions”. You may have already heard of Iten: its 2400m elevation and concentration of top Kenyan athletes has attracted many foreign athletes to train here in the hope of improving their athletic performance.  As a result there are a lot of blogs and newspaper articles kicking around that describe the motivational effect of observing some of the world’s best athletes in their home environment. For variation I’m going to try and focus on different aspects of my Kenyan experience and avoid just repeating what has already been said. A word of warning, if your finding the first part a little negative, please do persevere as it gets a lot better!

I arrived in Kenya after the majority of the UK athletes had already been here for a couple of weeks at least. Wowsers, that really was a shock to the system. I was not only less acclimatised and therefore slower than everyone else but I didn’t know any of the running routes. I spent the first few days (or week) being dropped in every single run or hanging on for dear life  for fear of finding myself in the middle of a Kenyan corn field with no idea how to find my way back home. This is a fairly typical part of the acclimatisation process when travelling to this altitude, you’ve got to be careful that you don’t push too hard too soon and allow your body to adapt to the altitude, which invariably means getting left behind. Less typical was the wet weather we experienced for the first couple of weeks. November and December are not usually rainy months in Iten, but this year has been a true exception. It rained most days and it rained hard. What’s the problem you might say, you’re Scottish, surely you’re used to a bit of rain. Well, yes, rain. The problem with dirt roads and rain is that you end up with very slippy, sticky, muddy dirt roads. The kind of mud that sticks to your feet and takes control of your legs and forces you to perform less than graceful ballet manoeuvres half way through a run and which was the cause of many a temper tantrum amongst the group (I’m not mentioning any names mainly because I was the only athlete to actually give up and sit down on a particularly bad run). Then came the plagues of moths and grasshoppers of almost biblical proportions. The noise of distant grasshoppers is soothing and lulls you to sleep. The noise of several grasshoppers in the room with you is loud and drives you to distraction. I swear that after a couple of days they had started to work together: one would distract me by jumping on my hair while the others all hopped into my room and under the bed!  It’s safe to say that after all of this, I really was beginning to think I’d come to train in the fiery pits of hell, but on a wet day! Get your head down and get on with it I said to myself, and so I did.

 Soon things started looking up (this is the bit where it gets better). Acclimatisation to altitude is probably very different for each person but for me it was like a light bulb moment. Suddenly, something clicked and I started to feel like a normal human being. Runs felt easier and I felt like I could push myself more without suffering for it afterwards. My coach, John Montgomery, and I took a fairly cautious approach to training as I’d never been at such high altitude before. I joined in with the group sessions but cut the volume a little to allow more recovery. This gave me the benefit of training with the others but without the risk of over doing it. I got some good long runs done out here as well. I’m sorry to say I got lost on every single long run I did and spent a lot of time asking directions or wading through rivers but clearly I got back eventually and am none the worse for wear. The weather changed for the second half of my trip and with the appearance of the sun the moths and grasshoppers all but disappeared. Despite my whinge about the weather and the beasties, I don’t want to give the impression that Iten is not a great place to come. Lornah’s camp has a gym (apparently – I don’t venture in there), a swimming pool and a lounge. The food is good (although you do occasionally crave chocolate or chips) and when it’s dry there are miles and miles of dirt roads to run on. If you go down to the track on a Tuesday or Thursday you can be inspired (or depressed) by the Kenyans doing interval sessions en masse. Last Thursday a group of marathon runners were doing 6 x 3000m (8min50ish I’m told). Suffice to say I skulked onto the track afterwards hoping no-one would notice me doing my 10 x 400m. There are plenty of opportunities to run with the Kenyans as well. However, for me, apart from the altitude, one of the great benefits of coming on this camp was the opportunity to train with the UKs top athletes. The Kenyans are inspirational and there is plenty to be learned from them, but I’m not Kenyan and my life outside of Iten is entirely different. It may be a controversial point of view but I don’t think you can simply take what the Kenyans are doing and emulate it exactly in the UK. The key is being able to look at my own life and figure out how I can make my circumstances work for me. Change what I can change and work around what I can’t in the best way possible. For me being able to look to athletes such as Paula Radcliffe, Helen Clitheroe and Hannah England is an immense source of inspiration.

On my final run in Iten I took my ipod to listen to music (the first time ever). I had a great run. The sun was shining, I felt good, I was keeping up a good pace and I only got marginally lost.  As I pounded the now dry dirt roads, farmers were smiling and waving from the fields, children were joining in with me and everything was beginning to resemble the African Rocky film that never got made. It was hard to tell above the music but I could swear they were all shouting “Go Team P”. Yes, it was a good day for Susan and a great final memory of Iten, Kenya.

 Training

  Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
Mon Travel 50mins steady35mins easy pm 35mins40mins pm
Tue Easy (30mins) 6 x 3mins (3 ½ rest)30mins easy pm 7 x 4min (3 rest)35 mins pm
Wed 1hr easy40mins easy 40mins very easy (mud!)1hr 10 mins steady pm 1hr 10 steady40mins easy pm
Thu 1hr 10 steady 4 x 6mins (2 min quickish jog) – like fartlek30mins easy pm 10 x 400m-ish (300 jog)30mins pm
Fri 1hr steady 40mins steady35mins steady pm 2hrs
Sat 10 x 1 min hills (Not too steep)30mins pm Hills (steep): 3,2,1 min (90,1,90) x 3*  50mins
Sun 2hrs 2hrs 10 Travel home
  65 miles 94miles 77miles

*this was hard!

Easy = Relaxed running but I don’t really do dead slow recovery runs.

Steady = Based on how I feel. Effort wise anything between an easy run and a tempo/session. Usually, somewhere in the middle.