My new training group, by Justin Lagat, note by Larry Eder

Justin Lagat has been writing for us now for a few months, and we enjoy his insights into running, training and living in Kenya. In reading this column, I was taken back to the fall of 1976, when I entered Santa Clara University. 

Emmanuel Mutai Group, February 2012, 
photo by

I joined Tony Fotinos, Pat McVeigh, John McVeigh along with my best friend, Bob Lucas, on daily runs. Fotinos and both McVeighs were all sub 4:15 milers, and they gave training about 90 minutes a day: warm up, bash a rush, shower, then back to the books. Most days were a mile or two of chatting, then someone would take off ,and soon, we were flying, for us, and as it tipped under six minute pace.  The freshman (Bob and I), watched as Tony Fotinos would just drill one of the guys over the last couple of miles,  finishing fast. Drenched in sweat, gasping for air, I wondered if all the runs that fall would be the same-they were. We tended to get pretty fit, we thought. 

Our first conference meet was held in Reno. The UNR team that year was a who's who of running: Domingo & Miguel Tibiduiza, David Murphy, Tom Wysocki, the late Eric Hulst were the host team. The race was started with the blast of a tank's main turret gun. 

The 5.5 miles were complete hell, I was sucking air and knew that I was in no shape to race these beastmasters. To add to the humiliation, there was place on the course where, with 3/4 of a mile to go, I saw the UNR boys, all together and Wysocki and Murphy telling jokes. They had crushed University of Portland and us. Somehow, we had taken third in the conference, so we were quite pleased. 

The pecking order in training groups is a global thing. Fun to see how similar to US groups that the young Kenyan training groups are. Well,except that they were sub five minute pace for much of the run! 

Whenever you join a new training group here in Kenya and decide to run in front during a normal morning run, you are most likely going to get very disappointed in the end and decide to train alone for some time before joining it again, but that will be a second mistake you will be making after the first one of running in front! The athletes only run hard in order to test the strength of a new athlete joining their group. All will be fine the following day after they will have known how strong you are. The training will then be quite controlled and enjoyable. This is exactly what happened on Monday this week when I rejoined a training group after being out of it for about a year.

Having learned from the few athletes I had met in the evening that the morning run was to start at 6:15 am at the usual point - the same one we used earlier last year before I moved to Kaptagat, I set my alarm to ring at 5:55 am. I would need about ten minutes to get ready, less than five to reach the starting and another five for any other matters that may arise.

I approached the starting point at around 6:10, but, noticed that the place was deserted. Perhaps I had arrived early, I thought, but then in a distance, around 800 meters ahead, I was lucky to spot a group of figures that appeared like a moving dark shadow on the road, in the twilight. Well, I decided to follow the shadow and find out what it was!

Within the first two kilometers, I passed by one athlete whom I did not recognize, apparently having not been in the group last year. After continuing to pass athletes running on in a single file, each one struggling and running alone, I noticed it was not a normal morning run. Ahead, on this rough road that heads out towards the east from Eldoret town, I still could not make out the distance of the leading pack from the many shadows that were silhouetted against the now bright eastern sky. It occurred to me that a new athlete was most likely in the lead! Then another thought, "World Half"! Most groups are now adopting the training strategy of Wilson Kipsang's training group at Iten, where they do a hard run every Monday which has been duped as "world half" in Iten, perhaps the name comes because of the huge number of athletes, some being foreigners, that often appear there for the run. Whatever the reason for this abnormally fast morning run, I was determined to try and reach the leading pack. 

I finally spotted the leading group about 400m ahead, but then it disintegrated and went to two separate roads leaving me momentarily confused before deciding to follow the majority. By then, I was passing by two athletes who tried to react to my speed and ended up separating and following me in a single file, just like the rest behind them! A few meters ahead, some glanced at their watches and gave up the chase. It was around 35 minutes on their watches, 32 on mine, and a turning point for those who wanted to run less than 1hr 10 minutes. Most of those I had just caught up on made a u turn and a bigger gap appeared between me and the leaders. With the many road diversions at that point, coupled with the tall maize plantations, I made a wrong turn. I noticed that after a few meters and ran back to try another road, but almost collided at the corner with one of the guys I had just separated from. He too, didn't know the right route, so we both decided to chart our own course!
We ran the rest of the distance at a comfortable pace ending it at 1hr 15 minutes. Out of the approximately 30 athletes who started, only four followed the right course and three of them managed to finish in one group! One of the athletes who were in the lead was a new comer into the group, and that explains everything! 

I guess I shall have to wait again till next Monday to know whether this run was to do with the "world half", or whether the athletes were just trying to test the limits of the new athlete.

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