“NO ONE RUNS….BUT EVERYONE TRAINS” IN KENYA, THE LAND OF SUPREME DISTANCE RUNNERS!!!
Shore AC is mighty proud of the lifetime achievements of Dr. Jason Karp! He joined our club as a promising runner at Marlboro High School and has gone to worldwide success as coach, author, entrepreneur and much more. We cheer all his successes!
And Shore AC welcomes this latest report from Kenya
By Jason R. Karp, PhD, MBA
“How was your training?” he asked me, as I entered the large, heavy metal gate where I live in Iten, Kenya, the sweat on my forehead glistening in the hot Kenyan sun.
“Good. The altitude feels a little lower today,” I joked.
The first time I was asked that question, I was taken aback. It immediately changed myperspective.
No one in Iten, Kenya asks you, “How was your run?” They always ask, “How was your training?”
In this rural town, where the world-class runners outnumber the cows and sheep (and there are many cows and sheep!), no one runs. Everyone trains. They train to run faster, to attract an agent who can help them get invited to races in Europe or the U.S., and to get a flight out of Africa so they can run those races and win money.
Trainingis their way out of poverty. They train in used, hand-me-down shoes onrocky, red dirt trails,twice per day, five days per week, and a long run on Saturday, with the relentless intention to be the best. To win. Winning means a lot more to these Kenyan runners than it does to runners in the Western world. Winning—and the money that comes with it—means escaping poverty. It means a better life. It means they can buy a cow.
Even when speaking to this 48-year-old mzungu (white person), they ask, “How was your training?”
I have a lot to live up to.
As an American coach from Marlboro, New Jersey living and coaching in Kenya, I see hundreds of runners training every day, and have the opportunity to coach some of them. Here’s some of their training secrets.
Training in Groups
Like a pack of wolves traversing the wilderness together, Kenyan runners train in groups. While pack life for wolves ensures the care and feeding of the young and enables them to defend their common territory, group running for Kenyans ensures competition to push the pace for the more seasoned runners, while providing careful training and motivation for the lower-level runners, who practice holding on to the group pace.
Controlling the Pace
A senior member of the Kenyan running group dictates the pace of the run. No one is allowed to pick up the pace on his or her own. Everything is controlled.
This is a difficult concept for manyU.S. runners to understand. When I was in college, there was a guy on the cross country team who always had to be in front. He would push the pace all the time because he had to always finish each run ahead of everyone else. That’s immature, and shows ignorance of how to train properly. Most runners run much faster than they need to meet the purpose of the workout. I have seen this countless times over my coaching career.
Runners shouldn’tdo workouts to practice running faster; they should do workouts to improve the physiological characteristics that will enable them to run faster in the future. To do that, they should run only as fast as they need to meet the purpose of the workout.
For example, if the purpose of an interval workout is to train VO₂max, run at VO₂max pace, no faster. If your VO₂max pace is 6:30 per mile, run your reps at 6:30 pace, no faster. Running at 6:20 pace or 6:10 pace is not better than running at 6:30 pace when 6:30 pace achieves the purpose of the workout.
For a distance runner, it’s better to run more volume (distance or time) at the correct pace than less volume at faster than the correct pace.Make workouts harder by adding more volume (more reps or longer reps) or less recovery time between reps.
Running by Feel
Most of the Kenyan runners don’t run with a GPS watch on their wrists; only the top runners can afford one. Instead, they run by feel. Every run, every fartlek, every interval workout not done on a track is done by feel. Through months and years of practice running with others in groups, the Kenyan runners have learned what different paces feel like, and they become masters of the pace and of the effort it takes to run a specific pace.
When you become a master of the pace and of the effort, you become a master of yourself, and youwon’t make mistakes like starting every workout or every race too fast, only to slow down in the second half. Instead, you start at the paceyou know you canhold the entire workout or race because you have become an expert judge of the pace, and then are in a position to run faster toward the end. Leaveyour GPS watchat home and run by feel.
Running High Mileage
Most of the Kenyan marathon runners run upwards of 115 miles per week, with the shorter distance runners running slightly less. Even the runner ranked 5,865th in Kenya runs high mileage. Running 100 miles per week is nothing special in Kenya. The Kenyans race infrequently, instead focusing on developing their aerobic systems to their highest potential through high mileage, running 11 times per week.
From your current starting point, whether zero, 20, or 50 miles per week, slowly increase yourmileage until it’s time to back off to taper prior to the most important end-of-season races. Don’t back off the mileage for every race every weekend; all that does is retard your aerobic development.
Although many interval workouts and races can improve fitness quickly, long-term progress should not be subordinated to short-term results.Training intensity needs to be carefully controlled, with the major increase in training from year to year coming from volume, sprinkling in just enough intensity at the right times to get the job done and hold your interest. The more aerobically fit you are, the more you will ultimately get from your subsequent speed work. And since youlikely did not grow upwalking and running to school like the Kenyan kids, you need to make up for lost time.
Every Thursday at 9 a.m. in Iten, about 200 Kenyan runners (and a few visiting Caucasian runners, referred to as mzungu by the locals) collect at a trailhead at the side of the road for the famous Iten Fartlek. It is a special event and impressive to watch. The fartlek is 5K to 10K on rolling dirt, rocky trails.
A combination of two Swedish words that, when put together, translate to “speedplay,” fartlek running dates back to 1937, when it was developed by Swedish coach Gösta Holmér, who used it as part of Sweden’s military training. Many of the Kenyan runners in Iten don’t have transportation or the financial means to use the few available tracks, so they rely on fartleks for their quality workouts. Fartleks allow you to play with changes in speed and to have fun while doing quality workouts determined by effort.
The Iten Fartlek rotates three workouts: 5K to 10K of either alternating 1 minute fast/1 minute slow, 2 minutes fast/1 minute slow, or 3 minutes fast/1 minute slow, repeating those three workouts every three weeks. Some runners stop at 5K and then jog home, while senior members of the group make a right turn at the fork in the trail to extend the fartlek to 10K. The runners usually start the fartlek conservatively, with the second half of the workout run faster. The slow parts are run very slow, which enables them to run the fast parts fast.
The Kenyan runners have a singular focus and work ethic that make them successful. If you train in groups, control the pace, run high mileage, and run fartleks, you will surely succeed, and perhaps you’ll even be able to keep up with a Kenyan.
Dr. Jason Karp is an American distance running coach/ living and coaching in Kenya. He is founder and CEO of the women’s-specialty run coaching company Kyniska Running. A competitive runner since sixth grade who attended Marlboro High School and The Peddie School in Hightstown, Jason quickly learned how running molds us into better, more deeply conscious people, just as the miles and interval workouts mold us into faster, more enduring runners. This passion Jason found as a kid placed him on a yellow brick road that he still follows as a coach, exercise physiologist, bestselling author of 12 books and more than 400 articles, and speaker. He is the 2011 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and two-time recipient of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition Community Leadership award. His REVO₂LUTION RUNNING™ certification has been obtained by coaches and fitness professionals in 25 countries. His books may be found at //drjasonkarp.com/books.
As his website tells us, “Since becoming one of the youngest college head coaches in the country when he was 24, Dr. Karp has had a long coaching career that has included college and high school cross country and track & field and private coaching of adult runners. He is a USA Track & Field certified coach and creator of a popular coaching certification program. Run faster with his award-winning coaching services.
He is an entrepreneur in mind and heart. Dr. Karp left academia to pursue his own ideas and passion. He has founded several businesses and pursues many projects, including a women’s-specialty run coaching company, a run coaching certification program, a literary agency, and a running camp in Kenya.
Follow him on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | LinkedIn | YouTube. To contact Dr. Karp: Jason@drjasonkarp.com
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