My first track visit this year in Eldoret Kenya

Athletes training at Kipchoge Stadium in Eldoret

On a typical track intervals day, a visit to one of the busy tracks in Eldoret, Kapsabet, or Iten is enough to show one the level of competition and the depth of the athletic talents in the country.

At 7:00 AM, it was a cold and cloudy morning in Eldoret on Tuesday the 12th of January 2021. This would usually be a warm, sunny, and dusty morning every other year, but the weather was quite different this time around. With some light clouds blocking the sun, it was good for both the runners who got cool weather to push harder in their intervals and for the photographers who didn’t have to find the right direction to face while taking their pictures.

Most of the tracks in the country had been closed after the social distancing rules were set. But these restrictions have recently been lessened and some sporting activities have begun to be held in the country, and so have the track facilities also been opened for the runners as well.

Judging from the level of the overgrown grass on the field and from the conversations I had with the runners and coaches on the track, it was the first track visit for most of them.

A quick reflection of my online coaching in 2020

Some of the runners I coach training in Kaptagat Forest, Kenya.

2020 has been a year full of many challenges and hard times, but the determination and the results from the runners that I coach online did provide me with some moments to cherish out of what was arguably the worst year for many.

In a world where people are easily being fooled into buying well packaged but useless items, the past year taught me to always offer the best quality in whatever I do and to make sure that my clients get value for their money.

Even when there were no races to run for some, most of my clients nonetheless ran their personal best times in their training runs.

One of them is Terrence. He recently ran some personal best times in some of his training runs, and seeing the effects that my training program had done on him, decided to pay for up to six months of my online coaching in advance. I thought he wanted to do that to get some discount, but instead, he wrote, “Am extremely pleased with the results so far and I believe in value for money. So no further discount required.”

A runner's detailed review of six months under my online coaching program

Jane Mepham after her half marathon run inTexas, USA

I am forever grateful to all the runners who have entrusted me with their running goals, and it gives me so much pleasure when I get positive feedback out of my online coaching.

Here is an elaborate review from one of my favorite runners as she looks back at the six month's journey of her training with me.

Jane Mepham is the founder and owner of  Elgon Financial Advisors – an independent virtual Financial Planning Firm that serves First-Generation Americans and Immigrants based in Austin Texas and one of my online students.

Running Background

I ran track in high school (middle distance races), but switched to Tennis at age 16 and figured this was going to be my lifelong sport.

Fast forward to a couple years ago, I developed tendinitis in my right elbow (Tennis elbow), which made hitting a tennis ball extremely painful. After consulting with a lot of doctors and folks in the tennis community, I came to the painful conclusion that I had to stop playing tennis for a while to give my elbow a chance to heal, and that’s when I turned to running.  At this point my goal was simply to get out, get some exercise and use running as a way to stay healthy. Even though I’d run track in high school, the only competitive road racing I had taken part in was a 5k at my local church way back in 2012. I was pretty ignorant about running and I honestly never thought I would take part in a race.  As happens with a lot of things in life, one of my friends convinced me to sign up for my first half marathon (3M in Austin Tx) in early 2018 which got me training harder.  I had no clue what I was doing, so my training was literally just to go out and run a couple times a week with some gym workouts thrown in for good measure.

I surprised myself when I finished the race in under 2 hours (8.55 min / mile pace). But it took me almost two weeks to fully recover.  That same year I started running with a small group, and the difference was amazing in terms of overall improvement. I ran the same race in 2019 and this time finished in what is now my PB - 01:39:41 (07:37 min /mile pace), which got me into the top 10 in my age group. I continued running with the same group, and our training consisted of what we jokingly called the neighborhood run (5-7 miles) on Tuesday, a track workout on Thursday and a long run on Saturdays ( 9 to 13 ish miles). Some folks in the group would do more than the 3 days, and those training for a marathon would do longer longs on Saturday. In addition, we all incorporated other workouts on our own.

Big Goals

That year I decided to up my game. I set up a goal to complete a full marathon and qualify for the Boston Marathon at the same time. I picked out my qualifying race for early 2020, but my training was not very organized (What you don’t know can actually come back to bite you) and I had to severely cut down due to painful knees and a few other injuries, that just seemed to crop up every now and again. By the time Jan 2020 came around I knew there was no way I was going to be able to complete run the targeted Marathon in March/April of 2020, but I still run my favorite race – and surprised myself by finishing the race in 01:42:32 (7:49 min /mile).  I was just glad to finish it. 

Online Coaching with Justin

By then as you can tell, I was fully hooked onto long distance running and was constantly looking for ways to improve. I figured that if I was to improve, I needed to see what guys like Eliud Kipchoge, Rudisha and some of the folks in Iten were doing. Based on everything I knew and my background as a tennis a coach, I knew hard work is the key, but it was also important to find the right program and hopefully avoid the injuries, that seemed to be derailing my progress. With the Corona virus lockdown, I could not run with my group anymore and so really needed to find something that would keep me going. In my search for an online coach, I came across Justin Lagat, and after reading his blog, I reached out to him to see if we could work together. I loved that he’d grown up and trained in that environment, had interacted with some of these elite guys, had worked with some of the same coaches in the same environment and had a PB of 02:26, after cutting of 29 minutes from a prior run. My logic was very simple, Kenyans are the best at long distance running, to be the best you need to train like them. I shared my goals with him

1)      Improve my half marathon time -  Run under 01:30 (under 07:00 min /mile pace) 

2)      Run my first marathon and qualify for Boston marathon at the same time  – For 2021 (This might change), I would need to run in under 03:45:00 (appx 08:37 min /mile pace) for my age group.

Mental preparation for race day among Kenyan runners

Wilson Kiprop, the 2010 world half-marathon champion,
versus Bedan Karoki at a local race in Kenya

An athlete may have done enough training to run well in a race, but without the right mentality going into the race, all the training might become useless.

They say that experience is the best teacher, and if there is one place that this applies more, it should definitely be with the mental preparation among Kenyan runners getting ready to run their dream races. Some learn about the best ways to deal mentally with their races through experience while others are taught by a coach or by fellow runners.

One of the runners that have impacted me more on how to be tough and courageous in a race is Wilson Kiprop, the 2010 world half marathon champion. He told me how determined he was to finish in a podium place at a local race before no one ever knew about him. He had never finished in the top ten positions at any big race before. But here, the race meant everything to him. He had no more food where he stayed away from home, no money, and no one to ask for help. He was in Nairobi and he wanted to win some money at the cross country race to enable him to travel back to Eldoret. The race was paying the top three finishers only.