GCH in Kenya!
Galway City Harriers Represented at the
Athletics Kenya Cross Country in Iten
Saturday 09th December
In Kenya, cross country in a big deal! Cross country is where you go if you want to get noticed by an agent/coach/sponsor. Unfortunately, you also need to be crazy fast to get noticed by anyone around here, and so when the dust had settled, literally, I had not earned a contract or a shoe deal!
It was day 52 in Kenya for me, & the Athletics Kenya X-Country was in Iten for a National XC qualifier race. The Venue was a big showground/field in the centre of town, which meant a flat twisty course, something akin to an airport check-in queue, switching back & forth across the field, before going out the main gate, down a dirt lane and around to the other end of the field. The course was roughly 10km, with 5 2km laps in store for the senior men. (the junior girls, boys and senior womens races had proceeded our race)
Entry was 100 Shillings (about 80cents!) & was done at a fold-up table beside the car of an official & there was hundreds of athletes. This is by far the fastest race I've ever run in. The guys at the front were 27-28 minute 10km runners! Brother Colm was there with his athletes. Other runners arrived in shiny pick up trucks - a sure sign that they have raced successfully overseas
There were about 200 runners in the senior mens race, including 8 Mzungo's (that is, white guys) We stood out like a bunch of sore thumbs - much taller & heavier than the kenyan's. My legs appear to be twice the size of the average kenyan's legs! They really are incredibly light & lean. The start was fast. really fast. When called forward to the white chalk line, the field burst forward early and we were off! The gun sounded a second or two later as we raced off across the field. The early pace was crazy, as it always is when hundreds of kenyans are trying to get noticed, way under 3 min pace for the opening kilometre.
So obviously, by the first corner, myself and most of the other Mzungo's were left behind, and from that point on, I was in a separate race - The Mzungo race! We must have provided a side show for the spectators. I wonder if kenyan people are amazed by our slowness while we are amazed by their speed.
The Kenyans tend to glide over the ground, no matter how uneven or bumpy it is, but as someone who is used to smooth surfaces, this course was not easy to run on. It was bumpy and unpredictable, but it was at least better than the stoney dirt roads we normally train on. And crucially, it was mostly flat which can't be said of any road in Iten. Also, it was 11am and the Sun was beating down on us.
I ran with another mzungo, before breaking away from him in the third lap. So I was on my own when the enevitable happened. Most of the field seemed to pass me on the 4th lap, flying by, first one by one and then in bigger and bigger groups. I had one lap left with no-one in sight ahead of me & well clear of the next runner. The goal was, as it had always been, to finish the race, despite the altitude (2,400m) , the heat & the surface. I did so in a time of 37:41, almost 10 minutes behind the winner. I was the 3rd Mzungo home. I was also the first Irish runner home. Peter Gaffney from Dublin was running too, but as an 800m speedster, he struggled a bit with the distance.
About 130 runners made it to the finish. Interestingly, alot of Kenyans usually drop out early. Some go out way to fast & blow up after a lap or two, some are shorter distance runners just looking for a fast 2km training run & some just lose interest once they see that they won't be able to match the faster guys on that day.
It was a great experience, & I'm now even more amazed by the Kenyan runners. There are hundreds of incredibly talented athletes here, all competing desperately to get a chance to run a race in Europe or elsewhere around the world. That is the dream in Iten.
Happy Xmas to you all, & see you in the new year!