In Summary
  • ‘We now have enough time to prepare for the Olympics Games, which is everyone’s dream’
  • Unable to leave Kenya due to travel restrictions enforced by the global Covid-19 pandemic, foreign athletes try to make the most of high altitude Iten’s famous, impeccable distance running conditions

They came, saw, loved the environment and decided to set base in a region that has been celebrated as one of the best and most conducive for distance running training in the world.

When Ethiopian athletics legend Haile Gebrselassie visited Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County, in February this year, he hailed the region, regretting why he didn't train in the area during his hey-day.

Many foreign athletes have been trooping to Iten for training, and even those caught in the coronavirus lockdown don’t mind being locked down in Iten.

But the situation is not that rosy as athletes are now having to train on their own following the Kenyan government's health directives.

Nonetheless, some of the foreign athletes who have been unable to travel out of Kenya are making the best of their stay in Iten.

Like India’s Amresh Durrell, who was among the few athletes who benefited from food rations distributed by world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge on Tuesday.

Amresh Durrell, an athlete from India who trains in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County, speaks to the press after receiving his food ration from world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge during a distribution exercise that targeted 20 vulnerable athletes in Iten on May 19, 2020. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Amresh Durrell, an athlete from India who trains in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County, speaks to the press after receiving his food ration from world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge during a distribution exercise that targeted 20 vulnerable athletes in Iten on May 19, 2020. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Amresh arrived in Iten three months ago and with the target of improving on his performance in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres races before going back home, but the coronavirus pandemic halted his travel plans.

He had heard of the region and asked his parents if he could join those training in the area, and they were quick to allow him. He loves the fact that the local community is friendly and welcoming, making his stay more comfortable.

“I love everything in this region, including the local food which I’m now used to,” he said.

He has the ambition of becoming a world beater and his mentor is Kipchoge whom he met during the food distribution on Tuesday.

Oneil Williams from the Bahamas has been in Iten for the last eight years where he has been training for various races, including at the World Championships and Olympics Games. Oneil has been forced to train alone after the camps were closed with athletes advised to train in isolation following government directives on social distancing.

Bahamian athlete Oneil Williams, who trains in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County, during an interview with Nation Sport on May 20, 2020. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Bahamian athlete Oneil Williams, who trains in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County, during an interview with Nation Sport on May 20, 2020. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP


His first stop was Kapsabet in Nandi County where he trained for five months before shifting to Iten after being told that it had many world beaters.

“Kenya has the best long distance runners and I wanted to interact with them and learn their training techniques and I must say my performance has drastically improved since then,” said Oneil. But he told Nation Sport that athletes are really suffering because they always depended on races abroad to put food on the table.

“We hope the virus will be contained so that our lives can continue. As athletes we now have enough time to prepare for the Olympics Games which is everyone’s dream,” said Oneil.

Like Oneil, Estonia’s Roman Fosti was getting ready to compete at the Tokyo Olympics Games, but his plans were halted by the virus.

He couldn’t race at the Rotterdam Marathon which he was going to use to get qualification time as it was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fosti was 33rd in the marathon competition at the World Championships last year in Doha.

Estonia's Roman Fosti, who trains in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County, during the interview on May 20, 2020. The marathoner trains on his own to keep fit, after races were cancelled due to Covid-19. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Estonia's Roman Fosti, who trains in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County, during the interview on May 20, 2020. The marathoner trains on his own to keep fit, after races were cancelled due to Covid-19. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Meanwhile, Darya Mykhaylova from Ukraine was training for the Vienna Marathon which she wanted to use to gauge her performance, but the virus has locked her in Kenya.

She says that she has missed competition so much and hopes that the virus which has hit the world would come to an end.

PICHED AN INJURY

She said that the training trail is good for her build-up and she was in good shape but has been forced to wait for things to normalise as she looks forward to head home.

Darya Mykhalova from Ukraine, a marathoner, during an interview in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County on May 17, 2020. She has been training in Iten due to its high altitude. She cannot travel back home due to international travel restrictions caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Darya Mykhalova from Ukraine, a marathoner, during an interview in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County on May 17, 2020. She has been training in Iten due to its high altitude. She cannot travel back home due to international travel restrictions caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Her Ukrainian compatriot Tony Hrabovskyi, a 1,500m runner, arrived in Kenya last December and has been training in Iten as he looks forward to various competitions.

He was targeting the Olympics Games and he has been forced to wait longer after the Games were postponed to next year.

“I was looking forward to participating at the Olympics Games but I picked an injury at the same time. I now have time to heal before I embark training getting ready for the games which were postponed to next year,” said Hrabovskyi.

January, 2018, was his first time for him to set foot in Iten, and he was impressed by the weather and training grounds.

“You don’t need a lot of money to stay in Kenya and that has really helped me because I have a small salary from the federation,” he said.

WHAT THEY SAID

ONEIL WILLIAMS: (Bahamas, Marathoner).

“Kenya has the best long distance runners and I wanted to interact and learn on their training techniques which I must say my performance has drastically improved since then,” says Oneil.

“I didn’t have time to go back home but I have the advantage of training as I look forward to the next season which I expect to participate in various races as we get ready for next year. Athletes are really suffering and without finances it’s really hard to maintain their families and we are just hoping for the best so that our lives can continue.

ROMAN FOSTI: (Estonia, Marathoner).

“I was supposed to compete in Rotterdam Marathon to get qualification time for the Olympics Games but that has now been shelved and I’m left training alone ahead of the next season,” says Fosti.

“I’m lucky because I have the support from Estonian Olympics Committee where I have monthly salary and my club which has been supporting me.

“But my heart bleeds for those athletes who normally depend on races abroad and they are now suffering,” he said.

AMRESH DURRELL: (India 5,000m, 10,000m)

“I love athletics and when I heard about Iten, I just wanted to come and train to improve my performance in the 5,000m and 10,000m,” says Durell.

“The community here welcomed me well and I was training well with the Kenyans before the virus halted the training programme. I love everything in this region including the local food which I’m now used to. I want to be like Kipchoge in future because he is my mentor and I’m happy because I have met him and he has encouraged me to continue working hard in my career.” added Durrell.

TONY HRABOVSKYI: (Ukraine, 1,500m)

“I was looking forward to participate in the Olympics Games but I picked an injury at the same time. I now have time to heal before I embark training getting ready for the games which were postponed to next year,” said Hrabovskyi.

“You don’t need a lot of money to stay in Kenya and that has really helped me because I have a small salary from the federation.” he said. I really love the food and the community here has made my stay more comfortable. This is a place I would love to ask other athletes training abroad to come and have a feeling.” he added.

DARYA MYKHALOVA: (Ukraine, Marathoner)

“I was in the process of finalizing my training before the virus halted our running lives. I just have to wait because it has affected the whole world,” says Darya.

“I was sure I would do well and when the race was cancelled I was forced to stay in my rented house as I wait for the airspace to be opened so that I can go back home. If I stay for another three months I know my performance will be better and that is why I love Iten.”