Heading for the Hills: High Altitude Training in Kenya
Altitude training is an important part of my preparation for competing as a middle distance athlete. I travel to a variety of places around the world, up to as many as four times a year to get the exposure of living and training at high altitude. Out of all the places I have trained (Pyrenees, Arizona, South Africa & St Moritz) Kenya is by far the most physically challenging due to its height and lack of flat running.
I visited Kenya for my first experience of altitude, back in 2014. The camp is based at 8000ft in the rural town of Iten, also know as ‘The home of Champions’. Many athletes travel from all across the world to indulge in the Kenyan experience as well as reap the benefits of living at high altitude. Life in Iten is a ritualised daily routine of sleep, eat, train, repeat. You very quickly become accustomed to this in order to maximise performance.
Beginning the year on a positive note, I headed back to 8000ft on the 1st January 2019. This was my fifth time travelling back to this wonderful part of the world.
The travel to Iten consists of an eight hour flight from London to Nairobi with a 12 hour layover and another hour and a half flight to the closest city Eldoret. Then from Eldoret it’s a 1 hour 30 minute drive in a Matatu (Kenyan Taxi) to The home of Champions. Therefore an estimated 23 hours of travel and a big climb of 2500m in altitude. This can cause the body a lot of stress, therefore supporting immunity during travel is essential. I often take two CurraNZ capsules over a 24 hour period, as well as plenty of fluids and regular application of antibacterial hand gel. Hydration is also key when travelling long hall. I find using electrolytes can help to retain fluid and also prevent you from having to go back and forth to the toilets constantly in flight.
The nice thing about travelling back to a familiar place is being able to prepare, knowing what is needed to support training and make everyday living more comfortable.
TOP 5 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HIGH ALTITUDE TRAINING IN ITEN…
Maximising recovery is essential when your body is under pressure to adjust to the rocky terrain and hills. Compression can also help to reduce swelling from travel.
2. Hydration Support
I always travel with electrolytes as cabin pressure and arrival at altitude can cause dehydration due to the dry conditions. These are also helpful when training in warm conditions.
3. Nutritional aid
Loading up on CurraNZ a week before traveling to support immunity and support recovery when travelling & probiotics for gut health (I often drink Kefir or Kombutcha when travelling)
4. Heart rate Monitor
It’s important to ease yourself into training the first week at 8000ft. Using a HR monitor is a great way to assess how your body is adjusting and adapt accordingly.
5. Eye mask
Sleep is an essential part of recovery. I napped everyday for 30 -90 minutes in Kenya. When your body is working hard even when you’re not running, napping can really benefit muscle repair and cognitive performance.
Diet can be simple and repetitive in kenya. The Kenyan’s tend to eat a lot of kale, ugali (a mix of maize flour and water) and stew normally goat or beef. As a vegetarian they would often make me lentils or an omelette to accompany the kale and ugali sides. For breakfast there was porridge, eggs and we would be treated to pancakes (crepes) and Mandazi which are a kind of east african donut. Mandazi and pancakes are not the healthiest, however when you’re having very little fat in your diet it’s a good thing to have these treat’s as maintaining body weight at high altitude is essential to gaining red blood cells.
Kenya exports a lot of its amazing fruits and vegetables therefore getting a varied diet can be difficult. At home I have berries on a daily basis therefore supplementing with CurraNZ daily allows me to get an antioxidant boost on camp and help support the immune system. There is also recent research to suggest that CurraNZ supports Gastro-intestinal integrity when exercising in heat which could be another added benefit to supplementing when training in Kenya.
As for the training in Kenya, there is virtually no flat running (apart from the track). Therefore, it’s likely to experience a lot of delayed onset muscle soreness in the first week, particularly as the body adjusts to a lot of uphill & downhill running. Muscle fibres need to break down to repair and then adapt for us to become stronger, however this process doesn’t always happen quick enough when training three times a day. Some antioxidants can reduce DOMS therefore supplementing with CurraNZ to enhance recovery.
Overall, training at the high altitude training centre in Iten was another memorable experience. Iten has a unique athlete culture ingrained in daily life. Being mindful of how to recover best and support training when at 8000ft is essential as well as respecting the altitude. Looking forward, I am sure the exposure to altitude here will contribute to my developing fitness and set me up for the next challenge of the indoor season.
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