Ryan Hall and his wife, Sara, are spending the month of September training at Lornah Kiplagat’s High Altitude Training Center in Iten, Kenya, from which Ryan will be sending periodic reports as he prepares to compete in the ING New York City Marathon on November 3.
Whenever Sara and I travel to a new place, we always try to experience the local life and blend in with the native culture. As a Mzungo, it is very difficult to fit in with typical life here in Kenya but in the last week Sara and I have definitely experienced the typical Kenyan runners lifestyle.
For the past week we have been staying with Ruth, a 2:26 marathon runner, in Nyahururu, Kenya. We originally came here to visit an orphanage that is affiliated with our church in Redding, called Heroes of the Nation, but after spending the day at Heroes we decided to stay for a week to check out the hidden gem of Nyahururu. I didn't know anything about Nyahururu before we arrived, so I was surprised when I learned that Ruth's house is less than a half mile from the late Sammy Wanjiru's home, where his wife and two kids still live.
I have since learned that while Iten is the well-known training hotbed of elite runners in Kenya, Nyahururu is home to many, many world beaters, such as Sammy. The people here have been extremely welcoming to us. Every evening we share a long meal at a new home and by the time we leave the home we feel as if we are family. Some of my favorite memories from my time here in Kenya have come from these meals.
A couple of nights ago we were eating with a family and I asked a brother and a sister how old each of them was. The older one said he was 29 and the self-proclaimed “younger one” said she was 30. I asked for some clarification on the matter, after which they engaged in 5 minutes of intense debate among themselves in Swahili before the older sibling finally changed his mind and realized that he must be 32. I couldn't help but laugh to myself, as these were two international runners who had legitimate passports yet had never realized how old they were till a Mzungo came with his questions.
I came to Kenya with many objectives, one of which was to learn about the Kenyan training system. After sharing a meal with Sammy Wanjiru’s old coach I thought to myself, “mission accomplished; this is what I came all this way for.” Sammy's old coach shared not only stories of Sammy's courage and tenacity on the race course but also the training that helped him be so dominate during his years as the best marathon runner in the world. While I realize that I am not Sammy and that following his program is not going to guarantee success for me, the principles I learned from Sammy’s coach are precious gems that I will take back to the States with me and apply to my training.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg