A 2,400m to 2,800m altitude run in Kaptagat forest, Kenya

Me, training in Kaptagat
Kaptagat is an area within the Kenyan highlands that is known world over as an ideal place for athletes to train. This area is some kilometers to the East of Eldoret town; some say it is 16km, others say it is 25km while others say it is 40km. I say, they are all right!

Kaptagat has been used to describe a very large area that comprise of a number of shopping centers, villages, many athletic training camps, vast farm lands and forests. Among the athletics training camps here include: Volare Sport's Global Camp, Ricky Simms' Pace Sports Management camp, Dr. Rosa's Nike camp, Complete Sports camp and Chepkero Athletics camp, among many others.

Even though all these camps are situated far apart, there is always one route you won't miss to find athletes, not only from the camps in Kaptagat, but from other nearby towns as well plying it. It is a route from Brocklyne junction to Kaptarakwa shopping center and beyond. Others just term it as Kaptagat forest, even though part of that route is not really in the forest. It is a route that begins at an altitude of around 2400m and climbs gradually up to over 2800m after Kaptarakwa shopping center.

Apart from being a moderately hilly course throughout and on such a high altitude where every athlete anywhere in the world would wish to train, the road itself is relatively softer to the feet and the sloped terrain drains water naturally during rainy seasons hence ensuring that the route is free from mud and pools of water. In fact, all athletes in Kaptagat shift their training to this road during rainy days.

It is more than a year now since I shifted my training base from Kaptagat to Eldoret, but like many other athletes whose bases are elsewhere but occasionally travel here to run on this unique route, I and Wilson Kiprop (world half marathon champion) did travel here a few years ago to do a 1hr 40 minute run. The rest of my training group was going to participate in the Tuskys Wareng Cross Country race and we had to leave them behind to recover ahead of the competition.

We arrived at Brocklyne junction a few minutes past 11am in a hot sunny day. As we changed into our running gears and discussed last minute plans on the pace to be used, I could not help getting anxious and gulping down mouthfuls of water before the run could begin. Kiprop was just fresh from winning a 12km local race where he had opened a gap of about 400m from the rest of the competitors. He was definitely in his best shape and I had to stick with him all the way in order to make the work easier for our coach who had to concentrate on driving the car, monitoring the right pace and giving us water at some points.

We set out at a moderate pace. But, the continuous climb coupled with the scorching sun made the going tough much early in the run. After running for 5km where we crossed some colonial houses that include shops, a church, a primary and a secondary school, the coniferous forest ahead looked very inviting as I looked forward to some shades and fresher air in there. Not only did I realize that when we finally reached the thick forest, but there was no more interference from livestock, people and vehicles on the road as well. It was relatively deserted.

Some times during a hard run, or in a race, there is a point where time seems to freeze for a while. For me, on this particular day, it was when we were doing the steepest part of the route. I glanced at my watch which was only showing 44 minutes. We weren't even in the middle of our run and I was already beginning to struggle. I glanced again at my watch after what I thought was a considerably long time, but it only showed we had run 54 minutes. Luckily, the slope got better after that point. As we went higher and higher towards Kaptarakwa, we began to notice the temperatures getting colder and the tree barks and leaves beginning to have more grey hairs on them. I could feel the biting cold on my forehead which was already wet with the sweat I had poured out from tackling the better part of the course.

We ran past Kaptarakwa shops and after some more running, the pace got faster. I would have wished to finish all the 1hr 40 minutes, but with 20 minutes to go, a gap began to exist between us. It was our coach who insisted that I drop out and get in the vehicle, congratulating me for making it that far. We drove behind Kiprop the rest of the distance, watching his rapid feet tackle the hilly course as though he was running on a track. He was probably exercising on his finishing power.

There is certainly no course in the world that is as tough as the Kaptarakwa route and this route could just be playing a great role in Kenya's dominance in road races world over. Out of the top 14 athletes in the 2014 New Delhi half marathon, 12 of them were Kenyans. It won't be a surprise that all of those 12 Kenyans actually did a run on this same route before flying out to run in India.

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