Iten is a place where you shouldn’t boast. Do all of your friends tell you how amazingly fast you are? Do you compete at regional or even national level? Well, unless you possess an Olympic or World Championship medal, or have seen WR (World Record) beside one of your race times, then you are possibly a below-standard runner in Iten.
Turn up at the old dirt track on a Tuesday and you are almost guaranteed to see a runner who has won a big-city marathon (think London, Boston, New York or Berlin), an Olympic or World Championship medallist, or a world-record holder. I remember watching Asbel Kiprop, holder of one Olympic and two World Championship gold medals in the 1500 metres, lead a group through a track session on my first week in Iten.
The Thursday fartlek session is often lead by Wilson Kipsang, current world record holder for the marathon. But these celebrities do not run alone. They fly along the roads or track in Iten surrounded by runners who may also be known, may not yet be known, or may never be known. There are many fast Kenyans training in Iten.
Then there are the foreigners. Mo Farah, reigning Olympic and World Championship gold medallist in both the 5000 and 10,000 metres, has been training for his first marathon in Iten. Paula Radcliffe, current female world record holder for the marathon, was also in Iten earlier in the year. National athletics teams from Great Britain, China and Poland will all visit within the first few months of 2014. Many individual elite athletes also head to Iten to train towards key races on their calendar.
It is an amazing place to visit for a keen runner. But it is also likely to make you feel slow. The first foreigner I met in Iten was very quick to point out that he is only a recreational runner, holding a best marathon time of 2:44. Most people would be blown away by that time, but in Iten is a time that should definitely not be boasted about.