For the last four years we prepared our running spring season in Kenya, more exactly in Iten, in the camp Kerio View. In spring 2015 we went for the first time not to Kenya, but to the neighbouring country Ethiopia. Kenya has a population of 40 Mill. people and has half the size of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is three times larger than Germany and has a population of 100 Mill.
Why Ethiopia and not Kenya like the last years? We love Kenya, the people, the landscape and the atmosphere. Ethiopia came to our mind because we knew that our coach Renato Canova will stay there from January up to the beginning of March. We’re interested in Ethiopia because there is a lot of unknown that we can discover, the new training conditions, the foreign culture and we want to see, where and under which conditions the Ethiopian runners are training. Since autumn 2014, Canova coaches Kenenisa Bekele, who has built a camp for athletes in Sululta, a place near Addis Abeba at an altitude of 2750m. Canova was there with the Chinese national team that he also coaches. And we joined the group.
In this report we want to compare those two world known training places. What is the advantage of Kenya and what is the advantage of Ethiopia? Is Africa Africa or are there fundamental differences between those two countries? As we have always been in the Kerio View Camp in Kenya we will compare that to Kenenisa’s Camp in Ethiopia where we have been this year.
Let’s start with the journey to the two destinations and Ethiopia comes clearly off as winner. The journey to the camp in Kenya has sometimes taken up to 24h. Lufthansa does not fly to Nairobi, so there is no direct flight to Kenya. That means you have the choice to fly via Amsterdam, Paris or Abu Dhabi. From Nairobi you can choose between a trip of many hours with the matatu (that is the name of the mini buses there) or a domestic flight from Nairobi to Eldoret. From Eldoret you will take the Matatu (1 hour trip) to the camp. The journey to Ethiopia is easier and more comfortable. From the Frankfort airport you can fly directly to Addis Abeba, the flying time takes only a little bit longer than seven hours. Bekele’s camp is in Sululta, round about 40min outside the capital. In Ethiopia it is easier to manage the traffic than in Kenya, as there is also right hand traffic like in Germany. In Kenya cars drive on the left hand side, at least theoretically. In both countries we had the impression that the traffic norms are more proposals than rules. Everybody searches his own way through the traffic. There are nearly no traffic signs, people overtake from both sides and the hooter is always used: to greet or to warn somebody or to show your anger or joy.
Both countries are in the same time zone. When we have wintertime in Central Europe, they are two hours ahead and in the summer it is only one hour. So we hadn’t to deal with any jetlag problem in both countries. Iten in Kenya is at an altitude of 2400m, Sululta in Ethiopia is some metres higher at 2750m. You feel the difference during running, which is neither an advantage nor a disadvantage.
The weather conditions are similar at both places. There are no four seasons, but a rainy and a dry season. The main rain time is between mid June up to September. We have always been in Africa in the period between January and March. There was just very little rain, the sky is nearly always blue with no or little clouds. Sululta belongs because of its altitude to the cold zone, so the temperatures are perfect for running (8-24°C). In Iten it is a little bit warmer than in Sululta.
Let’s compare the training conditions. In Iten you can find the legendary Kamariny-stadium, which is 3-4 km away from the camp. The dirt track has a furrow on the first lane made by all the runners that are running daily on the track. The track is a little bit longer than 400m, but nobody cares about it. Sometimes you also find some cows in the middle field of the track. On Tuesday, which is the track day in Kenya, you will see hundreds of athletes running there. That is very impressive and you should definitely watch it one time. You better not put your own track training on a Tuesday. Since 2014 there is also a tartan track in Iten. It was built by Lornah Kiplagat, a Kenyan who has a Dutch citizenship. Lornah has also a camp in Iten, the High Altitude Training Center. The track, that is only 3km away from the Kerio Camp, is only for guests of her camp. In Sululta the tartan track is only 200m away from the camp on the other side of the road. Immediately after leaving the camp you already see the gate of the stadium. All in all there are less runners on the track than in Kamariny, Iten. The beautiful track with 6 lanes was built by Kenenisa Bekele. Bekele is a person of high standing in Ethiopia. All the medals from big championships have been won by just a handful runners. In Kenya it is different. There are more runners who won medals at the Olympics or World Championships. In Ethiopia Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele are the undisputed superstars. Even Franz Beckenbauer might not have such an influence in his country Germany as those two extraordinary runners.
The landscape enchants at both places. The Kerio View Camp in Iten has the most beautiful view we can imagine. Hundreds of metres below you can see the Kerio Valley and if you are lucky and the air is clear in the dawn, you can see the Mount Kenya at the skyline. If you are there you will let your mind wander. In Sululta we were impressed by the mountain silhouette, that surrounds the place though its altitude of 2750m.
In both camps you start your run directly from the camp. In Kenya the running roads are very dusty, you run on the typical Kenyan red dust, where are also some stones. Here it is nearly impossible to find a flat running course. The roads are hilly and that also gives you a lot of power in your legs. In Sululta there is a huge grass field, where you can run. If you start at the camp you jog 3km through a small forest and then you will get there. The grass is short and the ground dry, though the big size of the field you will see some traces that mark the running routes made by hundreds of footsteps. A plus for Kenya is the greater variety of running routes, Ethiopia scores with the big grass field.
In Kenya we went for the marathon specific training with the matatu to the Moiben Road. The ground, mostly treated down dust, has some quite stony passages. There is not too much traffic, but if it hasn’t rained for some weeks, the cars are raising a big cloud of dust. Compared to the other running routes, Moiben doesn’t have a big altitude difference and you can run at least 23km in one direction. The Moiben Road is at an altitude of 2250m and you can easily find it. To get there, it is a 30min bus ride from the camp. There is another road 1,5h away from the camp. The top athletes are doing their 40km runs there, but we haven’t been there yet. In Ethiopia the Sebata Road is the place for the marathon specific training sessions. The arrival is quite complicated because you have to go through Addis Abeba and it takes round about 1,5h. The way back to the camp took mostly because of the traffic even longer. But the long journey is worth it. The road that is at an altitude of 2100m is the dream of every marathon runner: good tarmac, flat and little traffic. You can run there also at least 23km in one direction.
Everybody who comes to Iten is welcomed by a big gate with the letters “the home of champions”. And these words are definitely well chosen. There are several world class training groups in Iten for example the one of Geoffrey Mutai or Wilson Kipsang and you also find the St. Patrick’s High School there. That is the place where Brother Colm met David Rudisha for the first time. He trained and formed him there into one of the world’s best 800m athletes.
In Ethiopia the runners are widespread. Most of them are also in one town, the capital Addis Abeba, but this is a town with millions of people and contrary to the small Iten with 4000 habitants the distances between all the spots are longer. In Kenya most of the athletes are living in camps, in Ethiopia the runners live with their families. For them a long travel to the training is usual, they change daily the training places and at night they sleep at home. The advantage of this way of living is that they don’t need a longer period of holidays at home, as they are already living with their families. Sululta is one of the training places and there are many more around the city. In Iten we often met early in the morning training groups with more than hundred runners, in Ethiopia the groups are mostly smaller.
The Kerio View camp is bigger than Kenenisa’s camp and has more beds and rooms. The standard of both camps is similar. Simple but you have everything you need. A bed, closet, table with two chairs and a bathroom. In the Kerio View you have a real shower, in Kenenisa’s Camp the shower is integrated into the bathroom ceiling. In Kenenisa’s Camp you also have a TV at your room, but you only get some British, Ethiopian and Arabic channels. In the Kerio View you have a TV in the gym, where you get many different channels. A propos gym, you will find a gym with different machines like a treadmill, a spinning bike, weights etc. in both camps. Bekele’s camp has also a sauna and a steam bath.
You have free Wifi in both camps that doesn’t always work well. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. You can have a power breakdown in both camps. In Kenya the emergency generator, an old tractor engine, starts immediately, so you are only for some minutes without electricity. In Ethiopia you sometimes wait for electricity for hours.
In the Kerio View camp there is a laundry service for athletes. The dusty training shirts are washed by the women there and even the running socks, that changed their colour from white to red/brown after the runs on the dusty roads, become clean again. In Kenenisa’s Camp you are doing your laundry by yourself. In a bowl and with your hands it is a good athletic session for your forearms. In your room you have a laundry rack so your clothes will be dry after one or two days.
Let’s check the food in both camps. The Kerio View in Iten is well known for its good cuisine all over the region, so even politicians and the top athletes go to the restaurant there. The standard is comparable to a very good restaurant in Western Europe. If there are many runners in the camp, they offer the food at a buffet. In addition you can eat à la carte with many different dishes. In the afternoon you can eat a piece of cake or pancakes and for dessert you can order ice cream, mango mousse or a yoghurt drink. Moreover you always have a great choice of fresh fruits. If there is still a wish that remained unsettled, the kitchen will try its best to fulfil your desire.
The food in Kenenisa’s camp is good but in a different league than the food in Kerio View, that has a bigger variety. The food that they serve is well prepared, but there is no cake or ice cream. For dessert you sometimes get fruits, especially bananas and oranges.
The communication in Kenya is easier than in Ethiopia, as more people can speak English. The camp Kerio View is owned and managed by the Belgian Jean-Paul Fourrier, who speaks fluently English, French and German. His assistant, the Kenyan Joseph, speaks fluently English and a little bit German. Kenenisa’s Camp is managed by Lucky. He is an Ethiopian and he speaks fluent English, the staff speak little English. If you want to buy some more things than cookies and bubble gum in Iten, you will take the matatu 35km to Eldoret. There is the Nakumat, a big supermarket, where you get nearly everything. From Sululta to Addis Abeba the distance is similar and in the capital you find everything you need. In Kenya you pay with the Kenyan Shilling, in Ethiopia with Ethiopian Birr.
We love both places, Kenya and Ethiopia, the Kerio View Camp in Iten and Kenenisa’s Camp in Sululta. When we go to training camp to Africa, we don’t only go there because of the great running conditions. We also go there because of the people living there and that we get to know them. At those places we relax, get power, motivation and we get inspired by all the world-class runners.
Homepage Kerio View: www.kerioview.com
There is no homepage yet for Kenenisas Camp.