Having a Kenyan coach is much more valuable than buying Kenyan jerseys and bracelets

Steven Vanlancker (centre) training in Iten, Kenya
“I am surprised that it had to take me over 6,000km of traveling to finally understand what “easy” really meant,” Steven Vanlancker told me as we sat and sipped some hot tea outside on a hot afternoon at Iten Club in Kenya.

Steven is from Belgium and is one of the runners that I coach online and who at times borders on nagging with many questions whenever I give him a program for the week. Often, he would want to know the exact pace to use in each one of the runs I give him. So, when he came to Kenya, did a few runs, noticed that an easy pace on some routes can sometimes get faster than hard runs on some routes; he then realized the need to use feeling for his runs rather than follow the pace on his watch!

He felt in love with Iten from the first minute he arrived.
Ugali with Sukuma-wiki
This is the picture he sent me shortly after arriving at the High Altitude Training Centre accompanied by the words “I am eating” as I tried to get to him on phone.

“It is an inspiring place. It is so tempting not to go out on a run here, any time” he said, confirming it by going out for a 1hr 25 minute run when I had given him a program to do just one hour. He also added a 45 minute afternoon run on a day that I had scheduled a recovery afternoon for him.

But, all these were fine given that I had given him fewer workouts for the week in order for him to get plenty of extra time to explore Iten and enjoy his first-ever trip to Africa.

In Iten, there are so many runners of different abilities out there running at different times throughout the day, from the time the sun rises to when it sets; it is really so tempting not to join some of them.

On Thursday, he joined a group of about 100 athletes for a Fartlek, which was also another great experience for him. I asked him later if he was able to see the leaders for the next 3 minutes after the fartlek was started and he laughed, “Unless you mean 3 seconds!!”

Below are some of the things that puzzled him after his short stay in Iten.

He wondered why some runners would spend a lot of their money in buying books that claim to help them improve on their running instead of spending them on a coach who would monitor their progress and advise them at a personal level. “Besides the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to running, books can never provide feedback to the daily challenges that a runner may encounter on their day to day training. Only a coach can do that,” said Steven. “I think the value of having a Kenyan coach is so much more than that of buying Kenyan bracelets, Kenyan national team kits and visiting Iten, all combined,” he added.

Secondly, he wondered why some foreign runners would come in search of a Kenyan running experience yet they still get a private car arranged to take them to the starting point of fartlek merely 5km away while the Kenya runners are actually jogging there!
Joining a group of about 100 athletes for the Thursday fartlek. 
He also wondered why some foreign runners would travel all the way to Kenya to discuss ice cream, protein shakes recovery drinks, etc, instead of focusing more on the Kenyan food, culture, and lifestyles. According to him, perhaps most of the books, programs and products out there on running are actually just being designed to satisfy people who “want to hear good things about their bad habits” and not necessarily to help them improve on their running.

At the end of it all, Steven learned that 90% of what it takes to become a successful runner actually comes from pure hard work and daily runs. Everything else from shoes to supplements, among others, only accounts for the remaining 10%.

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Steven said...

Steven here, nicely written Justin and totally illustrates my experience when I was in Iten.
I was already at the point knowing that you were the biggest value I could go for to improve my running so I can't recommend you enough. As I said when I was there, you serve a role bigger then just write me a program every week. I can ask you all about running, the Kenyan Way and so much more. You should not be thankful towards me, it should be me thanking you for being my coach!

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Kenyan Athlete with fans in Canada The happenings from 2016 to 2018 have inspired me tremendously to take up the job of helping others...