Emma Pallant talks about her African experience
My 2011 campaign began by racing through the snow in the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country, not my favourite weather conditions I must admit! However, two days later I am in 30 degrees of sun, 2400m above sea level, at my first altitude camp which is sponsored by Virgin London Marathon.
We are in Iten, Kenya, a stone’s throw away from world 10,000m champion Linet Masai’s house. The centre belongs to Lornah Kiplagat and the set-up is great. Complete with a pool, gym, road bikes, great food and friendly staff, always around to accommodate your every need. The passion for running is part of the air and more than makes up for the lack of oxygen!
I have trained at altitude on the treadmill but conditions here are far tougher. I am really benefiting from having my coach, Mick Woods, out here. He is carefully monitoring my training partner, Steph Twell, and me. I can see how easy it could be to get over excited and train too hard before you have acclimatised, which would be detrimental to performance and a waste of a great opportunity. Our weight, oxygen saturation levels, heart rate and lactate measurements are being taken to help monitor the altitude effects accurately and objectively.
To begin with we just did steady runs and it was amazing how high the heart rate would soar at each uphill! There is certainly no shortage of hills here, meaning there are some amazing views and beautiful scenery. I am really enjoying embracing the easy going Kenyan way of life.
Having said that, I have had no problem in filling up my day. There is always something to do, ranging from the more obvious components of training, such as core stability sessions to the more subtle, yet just as important, recovery time in the form of afternoon naps.
It is great living with, and being surrounded by, so many like-minded people. The atmosphere is unique; the youngest of children will try to keep up with you as you run past them, sticking out their hands for a high five.
There is also always time in the day for the odd trip out and about. An experience that definitely won’t be forgotten in a hurry was the early-morning ‘photo shoot’. AW photographer Mark Shearman took me, Steph, Lee Merrien and Maz Okoro to the giraffe park for some scenic snaps.
There has been a bit of a joke about the way in which the Kenyans have been transporting our luggage. It is casually thrown onto the roof of the van, without any ties, so around every corner we take bets on whose bag has been lost overboard. A similar debate was had as we were herded into the open boot of the jeep and driven at high speed down a pothole-infested dirt track in search of some giraffes. Thankfully no athletes were lost on the corners! I think I should also take some credit for the lack of injuries as I was standing at the front and had the important job of screaming ‘duck’ for each overhanging branch.
The first group of giraffes we found refused to play ball, as they had some babies in the group so we couldn’t get anywhere near them. With the second group we had more success and Mark got the shots he was after. We have also had some photos taken down at Cario View, an amazing viewpoint which overlooks the Rift Valley. It is also a popular place to hang glide for a mere 40 dollars. Being scared of heights, I can’t say that I am at all tempted. However I did have fun persuading Mick that Steph had already paid her deposit and was going to give it a go in the next few days. His response made it fairly clear that he wasn’t in favour of this prospect!
I can’t believe I’ve already been here a week, it has gone so fast, and I’m sure the next two and a bit weeks will fly by just as quickly! Training is going well so far and I’m really looking forward to seeing the effects when I get back home and crack on with some races.
If I had to sum up my feelings and current state of mind, I would use two local words; ‘Hakuna Matata’. Those of you in need of a translation, give Lion King a watch through!