In Pursuit Of Excellence
As an athletics enthusiast I have marvelled over the years at the prodigious talents of the Kenyan athletes. Their continuous treadmill of talent, which for the past 40 years has had a defining impact on the world of athletics.
the World Cross Country Championships were hosted very successfully in
That weekend the Kenyan runners made it look so easy and it was from that moment that I specifically had a deep interest and respect in their athletics.
you a brief appreciation of the standard in depth of Kenyan athletics compare
the gulf between
As of the end of July 2006 the leading time by a British athlete was compared with that of the Kenyans. It was interesting to note at the time of research how many had surpassed the British best performance. You will find that their depth of talent is outstanding.
Event British best No. to have surpassed the time
3,000m 7.45 14
3,000s’chase 8.28 17
5,000m 13.09 16
10,000m 28.32 36
½ marathon 64.05 56 (at least!)
Accurate as of July 2006
the World Cross Country Championships will be held in Mombassa and I can only
envisage a powerful display of endurance running. Unable to attend due to
work commitments I decided that this summer I would explore the hot bed of
world distance running and visit
Before departing I approached George Best’s sister Barbara McNarry and enquired about the possibility of distributing football jerseys from the George Best Foundation to children most in need. (www.georgebest.com). Barbara and husband Norman were very interested in my travel plans and gave me the support and backing from the foundation.
indeed fitting that I departed from the
only been in the hotel a matter of hours when I spotted Paul Kosgei, a former
World half-marathon champion with a personal best of 59.07. We chatted and he
mentioned about competing in the World Cross Country in
We stopped half way at a place called Nakuru where we both enjoyed something to eat and drink. We both welcomed the stop as although we had only been in the bus for three hours the bumping and jolting due to the potholes was something else.
The view along the way was so unique with all the different villages and people walking, sleeping, and chatting outside their limited homes or shops. What was so noticeable were the hordes of children all immaculate in their school uniforms with school bags returning from school, possibly a few miles away. I certainly did not notice too many over weight children either!
We were met by Ngeny’s wife and taken to their house on the outskirts of Eldoret. Naturally being an Olympic champion he is able to reside in a nice area of town with world-class neighbours all around. Legends such as Moses Kiptanui, Daniel Komen, Benjamin Limo, Said Saaeed Shaheen (formerly Stephen Cherono) and Moses Tanui- what neighbours!
the KipChoge Keino Book and Sports shop not exactly like JJB or anything akin
to that but after all it’s Eldoret and you just can’t go into a
shop and buy the latest styles. To be honest there were only about 5 pairs of
spikes/shoes for sale, however there were plenty of second hand ones in the
local market as well as clothes. Although with the supreme natural talent of
Kenyan runners it can be argued how beneficial shoes are to some of these
athletes. In 1983 at a meeting in
the World famous St. Patrick’s High school located in a small town called Iten.
The altitude here is around 8000ft above sea level and it is certainly a very
conducive environment to producing world-beaters. This is a 560 strong boys school, which is not specifically an athletics
school, but it has turned out to be the best in the world for producing
athletes. There is a very real Irish connection at the school. For Brother
Colm O’Connell his story reads like a fairytale. He arrived around 30 years
ago to take up a teaching post initially on a two-year agreement, and never
returned! He is now the country’s most successful coach! Equipped
with very limited athletics acumen, through commitment and sheer motivation
he has garnered all the necessary tools, to nurture talent from the lush
training grounds around the school, to unveiling it to the world audiences in
the arenas of
races on the
In and around Eldoret there are a number of training camps for example the Kipchoge Keino, the Global Sports, the Lorna Kiplagat. I instead visited the Pace Sports Management camp at Kaptagat, around 15 km outside Eldoret. Once off the main Eldoret road to enter the camp you walk down a well-beaten, rutty and bumpy track all the while your route being lined with beautiful trees and vegetation. After about a one kilometre walk you arrive at the camp gates and soon the series of small bungalow type buildings are in view. It is a very serene place, a nirvana of tranquillity. The altitude is high, the air is fresh, there is peace and quiet in abundance, with fantastic running terrain all around; what more could you ask for? I was immediately given a very friendly reception by one of the coaches, Sammy Rono. We enjoyed a delicious plate of rice and potatoes for lunch before our walk around the facilities. He pointed out the main living quarters that can house up to 40 athletes at any one time and the television room and accompanying kitchen facilities. We walked around the camp and I just thought that the location was so well chosen. No distractions available and to a certain extent cut off from the outside world for a period of time in order for the athletes to focus fully on their training and tasks in hand. At the rear of the camp behind the main house is an area, which has a series of fixed hurdles, made of branches arranged in an oval type shape. This is used as a form of endurance training, and certainly it doesn’t take much to envisage how energy sapping it would be after 15- 20 minutes of high intensity running with the hurdles continually disrupting your rhythm. There is also a well trodden hill path, in which the athletes sprint up with a tyre attached to them for their resistance training.
to the races on the circuit the majority of fit runners where away competing
though I did meet Moses Arusei (2.11 for the marathon), Francis Kipketer
(2.10 for the marathon) David Koech (2.16 for the marathon) and 18
year old Joseph Ebuya (4th in the 2006 World Junior cross country
and this year has already recorded 12:58 for 5000m). Joseph (was not on the
circuit as he was competing the following week in the Kenyan trials for the
World Juniors- which he proceeded to win) had just finished a track session
that morning 10x400 with 1 min recovery on a sandy, gravel type track with an
average of 58.1- not bad hey!! Actually earlier that morning I met another 18
year old who was returning from training after having done 10x1000m with a 2
min recovery in around 2.43-2.48. This at altitude too! I left the camp realising that the
As I was staying with Ngeny’s family for me it was particularly poignant that it was arranged that the football jerseys from the foundation would be distributed at his former school in Eldoret. His wife, daughter and I travelled to Sirikwa Primary where the Vice-Principal Ann Tanui greeted us. The visitor’s book was signed and we chatted about an array of cultural topics. With all our business finalised we headed outside into the central area where we were surprisingly greeted by the 700 strong school. The teachers were all seated in two rows at the front with myself seated in front. They all started to sing and give praise for our visit. To hear such joyful, uninhabited singing coming from smiling children is an unforgettable memory. I was very much aware of this special occasion as I sat open eyed. Through careful collaboration with the other teachers in the school Ann Tanui, had finalised the list of 50 pupils to receive the jerseys. They were those in most need, boys and girls and a carefully crafted cross section of ages throughout the school. I was invited to speak to the pupils and after explaining who I was I introduced the revered name of George Best. I informed them about the genius that he was and about his sister Barbara’s idea of the jersey distribution through the foundation. While I was busy getting all the jerseys out of my bag the 50 names were being called out and they lined up. When all was ready they came forward and each was presented with their special jersey.
This was a very humbling experience and I truly felt very privileged to be in a position to help others much, much less fortunate than myself. Furthermore, I felt that in life George brought much joy to people through his wonderful skills and even in death he was still effecting people in a positive way and all the more importantly that it was children. Naturally, this was an experience that I will always cherish and understandably I was made very welcome to return to the school. At the end the children began to sing praises for George Best and myself. It was a fine and rare privilege being associated with the Belfast Genius. Through the Ngeny family I now have a very tangible link with the school and in the near future wish to help equip the schools primitive library.
Living with a family enabled me to try all the real Kenyan food. Certainly we are all aware that they eat well but just experiencing it makes it all the more meaningful.
Especially over the past 15-20 years a lot of research has been conducted on why the Kenyan runners are so successful and there are a plethora of valid reasons. There is always the nature vs. nurture debate. Certainly aside from all the known contributing factors such as living at altitude, healthy diet, genetic- ‘birdlike legs’- having 12% less flesh resulting in better running economy, optimum body shape, nomadic heritage there is still no substitute for talent, sheer hard work, focus and application. Author Toby Tanser (www.tanser.org) an authority on Kenyan running has got it spot on with his aptly titled book, ‘Train hard win easy:The Kenyan way’.
I had an
enlightening and unforgettable experience in
Keith McClure ©