One of the guys staying with me at the HATC in Iten was a Canadian who happened to be the sponsor for the Rift Valley Marathon. Therefore I found myself heading out to the race to run a half marathon on my final running day in Iten. I had the course profile described to me as being relatively flat but with a dip and then climb at about the halfway point, and I decided that I would attempt a fast time. On arrival we found out that the route had been changed from the previous year, featuring a single lap rather than two loops of 10.5 km.
After a lot of speeches and talking, little clear communication and great patience the race eventually started. I am not sure exactly how late it commenced since it was never clear at what time it was scheduled to start.
I set out at a pace of around 4:10 min/km, which in most countries would result in a finishing position within the top 2% of the field. After 500 metres there were only two people behind me, both of them also foreigners. After a few days of heavy rain the dirt roads and paths we followed were muddy and slippery, and some times it felt closer to a trail race than a road marathon. On a fairly rocky downhill path I used my trail experience to overtake the race sponsor and continued to push the pace.
Approaching the halfway mark the course started a significant downhill. When it continued for more than two kilometres I realised that I would be facing a very severe climb in the second half, and it didn’t keep me waiting. It appeared that the course changes might have reduced the boredom of running two laps, but adding some significant climbing. Just after the halfway point we bottomed out of the descent and started a steep ascent. I quickly realised that any targets I had in mind prior to the race were clearly no longer valid.
As I made my way up the 2.5 km climb I started to catch and pass Kenyan runners. One thing I have noticed is that Kenyans don’t tend to be great at tactical racing. They tend to hold onto the lead pack for as long as possible, regardless of whether they are capable of completing the half marathon in 60 minutes or 90 minutes. I would continue to pass runners for the remainder of the race.
Towards the end the race featured a fairly confusing out-and-back section, wandering across a field on a dirt trail, although I think that was to avoid a road that had been washed out by the recent rain. We descended to the turnaround point, therefore climbing as we headed to the final turn. We made our way towards the school where the race started and finished, and I was worried that the course would be short when my GP watch beeped for 20 km just before entering the school grounds.
Amazingly they managed to include the entire last kilometre within the school grounds by winding runners up-and-back numerous times along a large field of grass. Eventually I turned the last tight corner to run the final hundred metres to the finish line. I was happy with the run in what had turned out to be a hilly route at altitude.
All that remained was for me to taper for three weeks leading into Paris. There I would really run hard.