Chula Vista, CA. – With a roll of low-lying fog still clinging to the hillsides, and valleys along the U.S. – Mexico border, the final track workout of the winter training camp for Kenya’s Team Ikaika took place this morning at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center – formerly the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
Led by team manager Davor Savija and Coach Daniel Ngetich, the four men toured the track for 8×1 kilometer at 2:41 – 2:48 pace (64-65 seconds per lap) with a one minute 30-second jog recovery between.
Team Ikaika (Hawaiian for “strong”) consists of Shadrack Kiplagat (60:06 half-marathon PB); Titus Sang (will make half debut this spring at the Istanbul Half Marathon); Ambrose (“The Cobra”) Kiptoo Bore (61:01 PB); Abel Kipchumba (59:22 PB), and an injured Evans Cheruiyot.
The group has been in San Diego for two months prepping for a series of half-marathons in April. But it’s more than just training they’ve come to experience.
“Here in San Diego the goal was when in Rome do what Romans do,” explained team manager Davor Savija. “For instance, eye contact is the norm here in America, while at home you avoid eye contact with an older person as a sign of respect. Also, speaking softly, or not at all, is respectful back home whereas over here it’s the opposite. The guys usually eat two colors of food most of the time, white ugali (corn meal) and bananas and green spinach, kale, etc.
But during our stay here we have them eating six colors of food per meal, plus four different textures: hot, cold, crunchy, and soft. Plus, we doubled their protein amount with milk and meat, as meat is usually not consumed back home, also doubled their water intake because there’s often chronic dehydration back in Kenya.”
All these ancillary elements are meant to increase the worldliness and marketability of these young athletes as the screws continue to tighten on distance racing opportunities, especially with the IAAF Council’s decision on March 10th to eliminate the 5000 meters from the 2020 Diamond League tour.
“We are in a 2% business,” said Davor. “The difference between a world-class half marathon and a guy not eating is the difference between 59 minutes and 61-low. 61-low and you’re not eating.”
Two months in San Diego has also introduced the men to better hand sanitizing, improved immune system strengthening, and training consistency.
“Eat, sleep, train. No distractions,” continued Davor. “We’ve already proven some running books wrong as the guys are only 3 to 4 seconds faster per kilometer training here at sea-level then at home at high-altitude. It’s not the 10 to 15 seconds per kilometer like some would have you believe.”
”I recover much faster here than at home,” confirms Abel Kipchumba, the fastest man on the team with a 59:22 personal best from Valencia, Spain last year, followed up with a 59:40 at the RAK Half Marathon earlier this year in the UAE.
“Abel will run the Prague Half April 7th,” said Davor. “Titus, Shadrack, and Evans Cheruiyot will race the Istanbul Half, and Ambrose will run the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in Washington DC then the BAA 5K on Boston Marathon weekend.”
This first camp in San Diego is an experiment, for sure, meant to round out the overall skills of these young athletes, not just their athletic abilities.
“For instance,” says Davor, “Abel owns a small shop back home in Iten, like a little notions shop. But he spends time running the shop and buying goods for it when he should be recovering from training. So we are here to address the final 2% of performance: recovery, nutrition, gym work, physiotherapy, and consistency in training.
“In Kenya, there are many distractions, poor recovery, family emergencies, laziness, exhaustion, one thing or another. A camp like this has no distractions at all.
“Abel ran sub-60 twice in his first year of competition and four other sub-61s, all with top-5 finishes. We’re not telling him what he was doing before was wrong, only that what we’re doing now here is better. This will give Abel a chance to run 58 minutes in Prague if the weather is right.”
It has been a learning experience and a chance to bond and hone their fitness to a razor’s edge. Good luck to them all as they disappear to the far corners of the globe like the early morning fog burning off the deep green hillsides along this border town.