The cool breeze in Eldoret welcomes travellers like sweet music. The air here immediately feels different to that in Nairobi. An altitude of 2000 metres is serious stuff. A hundred metres at a good pace is all it takes for you to realise why thousands of professional athletes from all over the world come to the high plains of the Rift Valley to train.
The scenery here is not exactly stereotypical African landscapeâ€”the luxuriant countryside dotted with green forests looks nothing like Simba’s savanna. And yet here, in these isolated places with their unmade roads, grass and tea plantations, if you really listen you can still hear the primordial spirit of Kenya.
Life in the centre of Eldoret, where base camps are generally located for sporting purposes, differs greatly from that in the training camps just a few kilometres out in the countryside. This continually evolving city bustles with all the commotion you would expect from a 500,000 strong urban settlement just a few kilometres from huge Lake Victoria. Its smells, movement, and colours are very different from what we are accustomed to in Europe. A fast-changing community, with all the good and bad that brings.
The starting point for the WINTECARE expedition is the Noble Hotel in Eldoret but their real destinations are the training camps in Kaptagat and Kapsabet. Two cornerstones in the history of professional running in Kenya. Speaking with their founder, Dr. Rosa, you understand immediately how different these places, and in part, the people who live here, were twenty years ago, when the mere idea of a tartan track or a training schedule was utopia. Today, thousands of native athletes and, among them, hundreds of top runners, train on these high plains, on roads, in forests and on clay stadium tracksâ€¦Some centres also have technical synthetic tracks.
Life in the camps is difficult to describe properly; at times they feel like a military set-up run to a tight schedule, with a mess and sleeping quartersâ€¦ at others they feel more like summer camps, where people of the same age come for fun. The only way to really get an idea of what it is like is to spend a few months living with the kids here who, their eyes burning with the desire to prove their worth, are anxious to grasp this opportunity to change their life and write a small chapter in the history of their country. Seeing them in these rooms, at times you forget that these are world champions or talents capable of finishing a Major in just over two hours.
Training sessions are hard work and strict. Exact quantities of kilometres must be churned out every week. Some days mean even 40 kilometres covered at race speed. The landscape surrounding the camps is the gentle scenery of lowland and hills. For some distances it is impossible to stay on asphalt roads. Often they run through woods and countryside, on rough terrain that severely strains the athletes’ biomechanical structure.
Here, an amateur runner moving at a pace of 4 to 5 minutes a kilometre would have serious problems covering more than ten at a time without suffering drastic repercussions on his joints. When you see champions of the ilk of Paul, Feiysa, Stanley, Lawrence or Titus training, each with their own personal style, you realise that, despite being similar to how most runners move, there is something different in it. They seem to have developed a natural elastic capacity in the tissues of their tendons and muscles. The thrust is not generated as much by the muscle force when the foot is on the ground as by the kinetic force accumulated when the foot lands and released during the bounce back. Performance is therefore not just a question of resistance. Keeping up a fast pace for long distances requires you to learn how to exploit the energy accumulated and released with every step. This enables longer air time without using up too much muscle energy. Most of the impact is absorbed by the plantar fascia, the Achilles tendon and by other myo-tendon components in the rear kinetic chain. No coincidence then that the physio team working with these champions often has to deal with problems affecting the Achilles tendon. Another element suggested by the data gathered, which would warrant further study, is how the localisation of proximal and distal inflammation differs depending on the athlete’s tone and muscle trophism.
With more than twenty athletes attending each camp, all needing daily physiotherapy, it is not easy to organise a training course, especially at this time of year. Nevertheless, the days spent with the team therapists went smoothly, alternating theory and practice focused on the new T-Plus tecar model, which will be used in the camps in Kaptagat, Kapsabet and Nyahururu, even if these expert physiotherapists have been familiar with tecar technology for years. The new characteristics of this WINTECARE instrument allow for an expanded range of action. In addition to the power delivered, the revolutionary high-efficiency no-cream capacitive system paves the way for myofascial techniques until now hard to combine with a traditional diathermy machine. The training programme uses 3D apps for study of the anatomy of the skeletal muscle and of other macro systems in the body, adding much more detail to the applicative programmes covered in the practical stage. With help from our senior specialist Javier Gonzalez, the training week in Kenya is showing excellent results. We are already working on organisation of check point days where a second specialist will check progress by the local team and take a more detailed look at rehabilitation times and performance specifically requested by the centre.