Having travelled to Kenya for her first trip to the high-altitude training centre in Iten, Alison Leonard told AW about a typical day
Funded by British Athletics, Alison Leonard has been training in Iten, Kenya. So what does a typical day at the high-altitude centre look like?
Leonard says: “It starts by fighting our way out of the mosquito nets.”
Every morning all the athletes need to have some checks done to make sure they’re healthy and coping well with the altitude and training. Leonard says: “We check our weight (to make sure we don’t lose too much) and oxygen saturation and fill in a general well-being questionnaire about markers such as sleep, muscle soreness and appetite (sadly there’s no option to put ‘extra hungry’). We also quickly check our Achilles and calves with the physiotherapy team to make sure the hill running isn’t causing any problems.”
It’s time for the first run of the day. Leonard says: “If we are just running, we will leave the camp at this time. If it has been raining (and when it does rain, it’s torrential) we usually run on the all-weather road which doesn’t get as muddy or sticky. If it’s dry, we typically do one of a few loops – there are a set of loops called the Calf (three miles and my favourite), the Cow (five miles, a bit hilly for me) and what I have christened the Big Heifer (it has a real name, but I think mine is more appropriate) and this is seven miles and consists of 3.5 miles going out downhill and a relentless 3.5-mile climb back to the camp – definitely not my favourite! The key is not to set off too quickly as I’ve been caught out many times. If it’s sunny then the sun-cream is a must – it’s very easy to burn.”
If a session is planned then they go to the dirt track, or if conditions are bad they will run to the London Marathon-supported synthetic track.
The 2:00.08 800m runner adds: “Sessions are the usual autumn base work, but everything is much harder work and yet still much slower than at home!”
Breakfast. There is always porridge, eggs and fruit, and usually pancakes. The 24-yearold jokes: “This is usually what I spend the morning run thinking about! It’s also when I take my anti-malarial tablet – although malaria is uncommon at altitude as mosquitos find it as hard as humans to live so high.”
Recovery. The internet connection at the camp is usually pretty good, so people spend time on iPads and laptops, as well as reading and watching films. Adelle Tracey has been passing her time by putting her skills to good use and giving everyone haircuts! Leonard points out: “It’s lovely if we can sit outside, but some days it’s like living in a cloud up here! When it’s sunny I’ll try and get some hand-washing done. When we get a few wet days I start running out of kit very quickly!”
Lunch is usually soup, some of the local home-made bread along with a rice or pasta dish.
This is when Leonard would usually be taking a nap. She says: “It’s great to have time out to make sure you’re ‘maxing out’ your recovery to get the best out of all your training. After I sleep its back to amusing myself. So far I’ve been so tired there have been no boredom moments. There’s also lots of time to get physiotherapy or soft-tissue treatment from the great British Athletics staff.”
It’s time to train again. On some days Leonard will be in the gym, but often it’s a second run. This one is usually an easy run, and just like on the morning run the athletes are often greeted by lots of Kenyan children running along asking over and over again, ‘How are you?’ The Bud Baldaro-coached athlete says: “They never seem to get tired of us. I usually answer back gasping, ‘I’m fine. How are you?’” They are not always so well received by the young ones, however. Leonard points out: “We have on at least one occasion reduced a small frightened child to tears just by running past!”
Most of the athletes head to the gym to do core and stretch out. Leonard adds: “There’s a real positive peer pressure to do the ‘extras’ while we have time out here – it’s a good influence, especially when we have an hour and a half to kill before our next meal!”
Dinner. Leonard eulogises: “Everyone looks forward to pizza night on Thursdays. It’s not Domino’s, but after a week of wholesome, but distinctly healthy meals and mostly involving ugali and kale – it tastes amazing! If you get a craving for something unhealthy then there are one or two cafés where you can get some chips or a burger – I haven’t cracked yet (at time of writing), but I think it’s just a matter of time!”
After dinner Leonard makes her daily pilgrimage to her stash of chocolate to get a daily dose of serotonin and it’s chill-out time in the lounge.
Bug spray time. Leonard says: “I check the room for bugs. There has been one evening so far when hundreds of winged termites hatched and flew around everywhere until their wings fell off! I then fight my way back in to the mosquito net and then it’s sleep time.”
Do it all again!