Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Art of Cross Country

You could say that cross country is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get next. And that’s the beauty of it.

One week you’re floating over a perfectly dry, pancake flat course, the next you’re struggling up hills and through mud, running into that sort of horizontal wind and rain that seems to save itself for race day.

Often the same venue can throw up completely different experiences two weeks in a row, just to keep things interesting.

At a track race, the smallest unexpected detail - an outside waterjump, finishing in the back straight, no lap times being called out, 30 minute call ups, an official reminding you (still without a valid reason why) to tuck in your singlet, wider than normal bends, flowers in front of the water jump, toilets without toilet paper - can mess with the mind, and cause already simmering pre-race anxieties to boil over. 

But at cross country, anything goes.

Hell toilets, never mind toilet paper, are an unexpected luxury!

Cross country is an art form

Summer will be soon enough for carefully timed warm-up routines, racing the clock, analysing progress, cursing headwinds, pollen counts and humidity (often all on the one day) and, when everything goes according to plan, sitting and kicking. Summer will be for formulas and for measuring.

Winter is for conquering hills, measuring performance purely by how much (or little) you had left in the tank, and gently smiling to yourself when, on the last lap, you finally work out the best route through that energy-sapping muddy patch. And if you think you’re going to just sit and kick, you’ll not just risk the result you hoped for, but also much of the fun. 

It’s the lack of lap times, kilometre markers, and any form of measurement other than finishing position that makes cross country so enjoyable.

Winter is when the science of running gives way to the art of running!

Twenty-three years of experience

Twenty-three seasons of running cross country has taken me to 22 of Ireland’s beautiful counties, across much of England and Scotland, and occasionally to mainland Europe; it’s swallowed two of my spikes, never to be seen again; it’s taken a toe nail; and it’s blocked up my parent’s bathroom sink on numerous occasions. 

My memories of running in the early days are dominated by images of four or five of us cramming into my mum’s less than reliable car, carefully placing school books into the back window – where they would inevitably remain for the weekend – and heading to the brown fields of Claremorris, Cavan or Stranorlar.

Sometimes we’d have had accommodation booked in advance, more often than not we didn’t, but we’d always hope that wherever we ended up staying the night before a race would also happen to accommodate some young male runners from Cork or Donegal or Belfast, or such exotic lands. 

And we’d laugh a lot. Those weekends were full of laughter.

And now…

And despite those wonderful memories, I’ve probably enjoyed cross country more in the past year or two than I ever have. And I plan to continue to do so for a few years yet. 

On the good days I’m reminded how much I enjoy it. How fresh, wet mud doesn’t actually hurt, how much enjoyment can be gained from simply reaching the top of a hill, and how, even on the days when I’m the only one from my club or county, this is a team sport. We are all in this together.

And on the bad days I’m reminded how wet socks and hardened mud don’t make for a pleasant journey home.

At last season’s English National, I spent the final kilometre of a gruelling race, where the main challenge was simply staying upright, locked in battle with a fellow mud warrior. We ran together for a while, then I got dropped only to come back on the next muddy patch where I went past my rival, she rallied and dropped me, and then, in the final metres, I came past her one final time. No words were spoken when we crossed the line. We simply turned to each other, shook hands and laughed. We’d both scraped into the top 60! 

Like any other form of art, not every race is going to be a masterpiece. You make a big deal of the good runs, mentally recreating them on an almost daily basis, and remind yourself that the bad results don’t matter. And on the bad days, as well as the good, you’re allowed to laugh.

Occasionally people ask me why I still do it. For me it’s simple. My Mona Lisa may have been created nearly fifteen years ago, but there are still goals to achieve. And I’d like to think that, like da Vinci, I have more than one great painting in me.

And I’ve never raced in Wicklow. I’d like to race in Wicklow!

Disclaimer: 

A small bit of artistic license has been used in writing this piece. My mum’s car only broke down on two occasions, there may have been a small bit of green in Cavan before we started, and though I’ve pulled quite a bit of grass and mud from the plughole, I’ve never actually blocked the sink. 

And occasionally, just occasionally, you know you’ve ran well, not by how far over you’re bent or how long it takes to catch your breath, but by how easy it felt; because truly great artwork is created effortlessly.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The Africa the media never shows you

The hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou has been making waves on Twitter and Instagram during the last week. Started by some young Africans wishing to breakdown the stereotype - war, famine, poverty - often associated with their continent.  Beautiful pictures of African landscape, buildings and poeple are being shared via social media, and offer a wonderful alternative to the 'Poverty Porn' that we have come to associate with sub-Saharan Africa.

I've been to Africa ten times now and love the place. But if it wasn't for running and altitude training, I might never have made it to this most beautiful of continents. Each time I've visited, I've been bowled over by how green everywhere is, how friendly the people are, and, in some cases, how advanced things are.  Each country I've visited has sprung up new surprises, and I never cease to be amazed by the beauty of the people and their surroundings.  And I've just touched the surface. I can't wait to explore some more in the future.  

Here are some of my examples of #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou from Kenya, Ethiopia, Morocco and South Africa.


And finally, my personal favourite.


Africa doesn't need our pity, but it definitely deserves our curiosity! Don't be afraid to explore it for yourself.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Guest Blog: Sara Treacy's Best of Font Romeu

European Team Cross Country medallist and Irish Steeplechase Champion Sara Treacy normally spends her busy days balancing work as a doctor with training and competing at the highest level. Recently she spent three weeks at altitude in Font Romeu, and with a relative abundance of time on her hands, she had took the opportunity to explore the best that the beautiful Pyrenees resort town has to offer.  In this post Sara shares her thoughts on the best places to run, eat and play, as well as the best places to relax between training sessions.

Hi! This is my first blog post, so bear with me please people! I’ve just arrived home after almost 3 weeks in Font Romeu breathing scant air, training hard and ‘living the dream’! My second time in the area, I find it a perfect combination for body and soul. Below I’ve included some of my favourite places to eat, drink and relax, and of course trails I love to run.

View of the valley below Font Romeu from Residence le Domaine de Castella where I stayed for the first part of the trip. 

A small skiing village nestled into the culturally rich Catalonian mountain region of Cerdagne, Font Romeu is a popular destination both in winter and summer. If your training camp is doubling as your holidays from work or college and you’re bringing your other half or family, even in the ‘off-season’, it offers more than just the physiological benefits of altitude. The combination of track, gyms and idyllic running routes make it an ideal training venue.

Beautiful views make the hard work a little bit easier. Callum rented a bike form Intersport in Les Angles to accompany me around the lake (and take the odd photo).


On easier days I enjoyed immersing myself in the cultural delights the region has to offer, from the petite boulangeries to the imposing Fort Liberia in historic Villefranche or a trip to the natural hot sulphur baths at St. Thomas to help the legs recover. On the harder training days I would just sit and sip coffee to prepare for run number two, enjoying the white-topped mountain views on the terrace of ‘Chuppa café’.

Fort Liberia in historic Villefrance

After several weeks of work-related stress, it took only a couple of days to settle fully into the slow even kilter that is the athlete’s life in Font Romeu. A typical day involved rolling out of bed to have a small breakfast and that essential cup of tea, before meeting the group to drive to one of the many trails in the area for our morning run, or to Lac de Matemale or the track for a session.

Olympian, Paralympian, future champions... all 'enjoying' training at Lac de Matemale


Job done and the return journey often involved a quick stop for an almond croissant or, one of my highlights, lunch on the sunny terrace of ‘L’Ermitage’ to debrief and recharge after Bud’s most recent concoction of 4s, 6s and Ks. I love the buzz of a busy track and groups of athletes from a mixture of countries working around each with cheers of ‘allez, allez’ ringing out around the track from complete strangers as you struggle to keep on pace, body crying out for oxygen.

Enjoying coffee, discussing training, and making silly faces at L'Ermitage


After lunch, hours were spent as we saw fit, studying, shopping, napping or doing bits of work while sipping speciality tea in Salon de thè l'Après-Ski. It did not take long for the locals to become accustomed to us runners, and my rusty French enquiries about the area were often met with polite enquires about what event I did. I was informed that the Olympic Champion Steeplechaser had been training here recently; nice to know I’m in such good company!

The obligatory photo of food! This was me being all cultural on the first night at Restaurant Le Chaumiere. Everyone else had delicious looking steak

We were blessed with great weather most of the time, fresh mornings and blazing afternoon sun with a cooling wind. This area has an average of 300 sunny days a year (according to the local solar furnace in Odeilla), so when it’s not snowing, the chances are that you’ll have a few nice ones! Late afternoon would find me applying suncream, music blaring, ready for drills on the balcony of the apartment complex. Then the weary legs were coaxed back on the mountain trails for our easy evening run, followed by core and stretching.

Another day, another beautiful trail!

This was my favourite time of the day to explore new trails; main training done for the day I could run relaxed and easy, soaking up the scenery and the smell of pine. Possibly my favourite trail is still within running distance of the village, just a few minutes from Collette Besson gym. It starts off as a wide path with rolling hills and emerges by the picturesque wooden chalets on the edge of Bolquere village. You can follow the little yellow signs for ‘Étang du Ticou’ which will bring you to a small pond and wooded picnic area. I like this trail for several reasons: its close, the surface is good underfoot and on a late run on more than one tranquil evening, I happened upon young deer out to graze or a fox to hunt on this path.

The beautiful Étang du Ticou


Another trail worth exploring if you have a car is up in the mountains on the far side of the valley. With stunning views, this gem of a trail was discovered at the end of the trip, and needs further exploration! Beware, however, there is a nearby military testing zone. Look out for signs with ‘DANGER DU MORT’ to avoid taking the the wrong road!

Start of the trails at Capcir Nordic ski area
There was a lot to do in Font Romeu and the surrounding area.  We attempted a barbecue at Lac de Bouillouses, which went something along the lines of: 'weather? - check, location? - check, fire? - check, food? - check, cooking utensils? - ah sh1t!!!

There are lots of adventure activities, a high ropes course at Parc des Adventure just on the edge of the town, and an animal park (Parc des Animaux), near Les Angles. Unfortunately I missed that trip as I was trying to catch up on some work.

Our attempt at barbecuing failed due to lack of one very important item.
Parts of Lac de Bouillouses, the first reservoir on the River Tet, which winds through the valley to Villefranche and beyond, were still frozen.

At the end of my three weeks I was sad to be going home, but I felt mentally rested, fit and eager to attack the track season ahead. The return journey to Perpignan passed uneventfully on the 1 euro bus, the only catch being that the shuttle to the airport is a ten minute walk from the bus stop, so we cheated and took a taxi with our luggage. We arrived at the airport to discover the flight was delayed by 5 hours, so we checked in our luggage and my boyfriend and I got the shuttle back into town and spent the day exploring Perpignan, which, as it turns out, is a charming little city. I’d highly recommend it! Thinking about it now, I’m already looking forward to my next trip!

Palais de Rois de Majorque in Perpignan
Discount booklet for the many historical and
cultural attractions in the area

Map with my Font Romeu best bits
Zoom out to view the points of interest outside of Font Romeu, and click on the tags to view more information.



And no blog post would be complete without a selfie!

Myself and Callum at the old medieval town in Villefranche

Thanks Sara for sharing this useful information, and best of luck with the season ahead.  

For more information on altitude training in Font Romeu, check out these posts:
Q&A blog with Dean Cunningham, aspiring 10km runner who has trained in Font Romeu
Guest blog with young triathlete Sam Laidlow who studies and trains in Font Romeu
Guest blog from Irish International Steeplechaser Kerry O'Flaherty who owns an apartment in the town
My own updates from my research visit in 2010
Focus on altitude training options in France and Spain

All this information makes useful additions to the details on facilities, travel and other practicalities in Notes from Higher Grounds.



If you have been altitude training and have similar information to share about another venue, then please get in touch.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Altitude Training Options: Australia

Australia is the flattest continent and is not particularly well known for its mountains  However, there a few ski resorts at or slightly above 1,600m in the more mountainous parts of Victoria and New South Wales. The southern hemisphere summer, and early track season makes it an attractive training destination for Europeans. Falls Creek is the best known of Australia's altitude training destinations, and many top European runners, including Irish legend Sonia O'Sullivan, have trained there over the years.


Despite not having a track, Falls Creek is well equipped for high performance training.  There are a variety of trails, with flat trails running alongside aqueducts, and more challenging routes crossing the surrounding hills and valleys.  The views are always spectacular, and the resort peaceful, if somewhat isolated.


There is a small gym in the town, lots of self catering accommodation, and a few friendly eating establishments.

Falls Creek is a popular refreshment stop among cyclists making their way around the 230 km Bogong Alpine Way or recovering form the uphill ride from Mount Beauty.

Falls Creek is also a great spot for mountain biking and a number of purpose-built mountain bike courses have recently been opened in the resort.


Mount Buller (Victoria; 1,600m), Charlotte Pass (New South Wales; 1,837m) and Mount Hotham (Victoria; 1,861m) are some of the other options available.

Falls Creek is just one of 15 venues detailed in Notes from Higher Grounds: An Altitude Training Guide for Endurance Athletes. The book, which includes photos, maps, trail details, travel information and lots of useful advice is available via Amazon.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Altitude Training Options: Mexico

Mexico is a large country stretching from the southern border of the US down to central America. While the country's tourism is centred around it's seaside resorts, a large portion of the country is actually situated above 1,500m of altitude.  Two major mountain ranges - the Sierra Madre Oriental and the Sierra Madre Occidental - run practically the full length of the country, and the elevated plateau that links them contains many places with potential for altitude training.  San Luis Potosi and Mexico City are the most used of these.


San Luis Potosi, a city of approximately 1 million people, has an altitude of 1,860 metres.  It's altitude training offer is based largely around Centro Deportivo La Loma.  La Loma is particularly well equipped for swimmers, and has hosted swim teams from across the world.  It also has facilities for athletics, tennis, boxing, judo and other martial arts, squash, volleyball, basketball and Olympic handball.

Guests stay in an adjacent apartment block, and three meals are included in the daily rate.


Parque Tangamanga I, a large park on the southern of the city, offers some running options, but those looking to clock up high mileage may need to travel to some of the rural areas outside the city.


Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world.  The sprawling city has an estimated population of approximately 9 million (city proper; metropolitan area population of more than 21 million), and due to this, along with geographical factors, has major air pollution issues.  If you can see beyond the crowds, the pollution and the inevitable traffic jams, Mexico City has a lot to offer in terms of altitude training.


Mexico City is a particularly good place to visit if you want to combine a holiday or cultural trip with some running.  A number of the city's parks are suitable for running, and the large forested areas on the south west of the city make welcome relief from the city.  There is always something to see or do, cost of living is low, and though speaking Spanish is an advantage, it is less important than in other parts of Mexico.

Toluca de Lerdo, at 2,680m above sea level, is the highest city in North America, and is also a well known altitude training spot. It is situated just 66 kilometres from the capital, but is considerably less polluted, cooler, and less crowded than Mexico City.  Some of the best training spots on the south west of Mexico City are also accessible from Toluca.

Mexico City and San Luis Potosi are just two of the fifteen venues featured in Notes from Higher Grounds: An Altitude Training Guide for Endurance Athletes.  The book can be purchased through Amazon for just £20.


Friday, 6 February 2015

A novice's guide to self publishing

I've been sharing my relative wisdom recently with a few individuals who are thinking about going down the self publishing route.  The process of writing, editing and publishing a book was probably the most ambitious project that I ever embarked on, but also one of the more enjoyable experiences I've ever had.  It was a very steep learning curve, and of course there are a few things that I would do differently, but, for me, self publishing was undoubtedly the best way to make Notes from Higher Grounds a reality.

It's just over a year ago since I picked up the first copies of my first book from the printers. In this post I'll share my experiences in getting to that point, and give some advice to those setting out on the book writing process.

1. Is self-publishing the best option for you?

Every aspiring writer will have a few options open to them.  The best option for you will depend on the type of book you're writing (fiction or non-fiction), who your target audience is and how far and wide they are likely to be spread, your skills and abilities, and your ambitions for the book.  Self-publishing gives you considerably more freedom in relation to what you can include, and how you lay out the book, but you must remember the additional work involved in the writing, editing, design and publicity stages of the self publishing process, compared with writing for a publisher.

Money does come into it, but that shouldn't be your only consideration.  If the quality of the book is important to you, you should also consider the skills you already have, and those you feel comfortable in picking up along the way.

I had a very clear idea of how I wanted the book to look from the very beginning and felt that there were things that I wanted to include which may not sit well with a publisher.  I also felt that with such a niche market, I was very unlikely to get the backing of a traditional publisher.   Full colour photos form a key part of my finished product and, therefore, print-on-demand type publishing was never going to be an option (as each copy would cost far too much to publish).  I knew that I could pick up the design skills that I needed along the way, and relished the challenge that came with self-publishing.  I never set about writing the book to make money, and it was always going to be more about the journey and the destination; though the destination was very pleasant indeed.

In reality, there is nothing that a publisher would do that you can't do as a self-publisher.  However, the contacts and skills of an experienced publisher can be invaluable.  Consider all your options, especially the print-on-demand and other less traditional forms of publishing.

2. Everything takes longer than you think

Because I was doing everything myself, - writing, fact checking, layout, editing, images and illustrations, cover design and publishing - there was quite a lot of work to get through, and quite a lot to learn along the way.  While I wouldn't like to admit that I underestimated the work involved, there were definitely times when I forgot that I was doing the work of 5 or 6 people.  When I'd finished writing what I wanted to write, I was only about halfway through the whole process.  The layout and editing in particular took a lot longer than I expected.

Try not to underestimate the work involved, and consider the progress that you're making rather than how much you have left to do.

3. Start editing early

I spent a lot of time deciding whether I should write 'euro' or 'euros' (or indeed 'Euro'), whether or not 'check-in' should have a hyphen, and if the past tense of 'dream' was 'dreamed' or 'dreamt'. Of course, any of these would have been correct; I just had to make a decision and keep it consistent throughout. In the end, I put together a spreadsheet  detailing each of my decisions, which was a useful reference when I came to make similar decisions, or to doublecheck what I'd decided, and it will be a great starting point for my next book.  In hindsight I would have started this spreadsheet at the very beginning, and included any word that I was unsure of right from the start.

Two very useful books, particularly if you decided to use Oxford English, are the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors and New Hart's Rules.  I found these books invaluable, and would strongly recommend that any new writer invests in a copy of each.  The Oxford online Dictionary was also very helpful and Perfect Punctuation has helped solve some of my punctuation confusion.

Since finishing the book, I have started a Proofreading and Copy Editing course with the Writers Bureau which I am finding invaluable. I am so much more aware of the idiosyncrasies of the English spelling, grammar and punctuation than I was before.



4. Use social media

I have found social media a useful way to network, but I do find myself spending too much time on it. I set up my blog when I started the project, and the bits that I was writing all along were very useful when it came to put the book together.  In fact, I already had about 10,000 words written without realising it.  Knowing that people were reading about my experiences, and enjoying what I had to say, gave me a lot of confidence when it came to write the book.  I set up my website quite soon afterwards, and though it doesn't change much, embedding the blog into it means that I have relatively new material on there on a regular basis.

I also set up a twitter account at an early stage and had grown a considerable audience long before the book was published.  I have had real sales through Twitter, as well as offers of support from other camps.   I am still undecided about whether I should tweet as myself, or as my project.  My account is Altitude Training Camps, my handle is @egansadventures (which came from my blog title: Egan's Altitude Adventures), and I have included my name in my biog.  But there are advantages and disadvantages to this.  Sometimes people that I know can't find me, but using the brand does keep me focused on the purpose of my account. While I originally only used Twitter from the altitude perspective, I have recently connected with the self publishing world, which as an independent author, working on my own, is something that I have found invaluable, and wish I'd done sooner.

I didn't set up my Facebook page until the book was published; having never used Facebook for personal purposes, I was a little uncomfortable with using it.  I found it a little easier to promote/grow my page once I actually had a finished product.  What I would say is that you should set up a 'Page', rather than a 'Profile', when promoting anything on Facebook.  Though the page is linked to your personal profile, nobody viewing the page knows that (though you can invite your friends to 'like' your page), and you don't have to be active on your profile to run a successful page. Embedding a Facebook feed into your website is another way to keep your web content fresh.



I toyed with the idea of using Pinterest, and Instragram would probably have been useful during my travels (but didn't really exist then - how quickly the social media world is evolving!).  I used LinkedIn to let everybody know when the book was published, but apart from that have found it of minimal benefit for this project.  I have a Google+ profile, but this is not something that I have invested too much time into.  I would say that Twitter and Facebook are definitely the big players, and would recommend focusing on them before spending time on any other form of social media.

The photos that I took along the way have been invaluable, not only in the book itself, but in the promotion work that I have done alongside it.  I took thousands of photos, and captured almost every moment of the research phase.  Some video footage would have been a great addition.

4. Start a distribution list early

As you work through the writing process, you will come up with ideas of where you can promote it. By the time you're ready to distribute your press release, you'll have forgotten all the great ideas you had along the way.  Start a spreadsheet and start to jot down all your contacts and potential contacts as you think of them.

5. Don't stress about the actual publishing step

Publishing a book is actually very simple.  Once you know when you're going to publish your book, how long it's going to be, and a few other details, you apply and pay for a bunch of ISBNs from Nielsen. They'll then email you the numbers, and if you're printer is worth their salt, they'll be able to turn it into a barcode for the back of your book.  The information that you submit to Nielsen will automatically be added to book databases such as Amazon.  That's pretty much all that's involved in the publishing phase, and it will take a couple of weeks at the very longest.  Once published, you'll need to send a copy of your book to a couple of libraries.

5. Organise a launch event

The biggest single mistake that I made was not having a launch event.  I was unsure where or when would be best - as I thought that I my target audience was widely distributed.  The timing of publishing (a couple of days before Christmas) didn't help, but in the end I just ended up not having an event.  I have since been surprised by the amount of support I have got locally, and though the people of Wexford weren't my main target, a local launch event would have worked well.  The event doesn't have to be big, or cost a lot, but it will definitely help you spread the word.

Some other basics

Printed books at zero-rated for VAT purposes in both Ireland and the UK.  Printing of books is also zero-rated, but other aspects of the publishing process are not (ISBNs, promotional materials - including printing of flyers, Amazon selling fees, packaging etc.).  Standard postage stamps do not have VAT applied, though courier services do apply VAT. E-books are not zero-rated for VAT. You will not need to register for VAT unless you are likely to exceed the relevant annual income threshold for your government.


I found the following books useful in the editing process.



The following books are also part of my library and were useful reference points. Unfortunately, many of the self-publishing books are written in the US, and hence some parts are not applicable. The first book is UK-based.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Altitude Training Options: Kenya

Kenya is our featured country for January.  This is a great time of year to visit the East African country, either to prepare for international success, or to achieve your own small running and fitness goals, and later this month numerous British Olympians and Olympic hopefuls will we heading out on one of their intensive winter training stints in the Rift Valley town of Iten.

As those who have read my book, or followed my blog, will well know, I have been to Kenya six times (and am well overdue a trip).  To say that I love the place would be an understatement.  It is probably the closest I have found to a home from home.  The Rift Valley is, in my view, second only to the Grand Canyon, in terms of awe inspiring natural beauty, and sitting on it's edge is one of the most relaxing activities one can engage in.  The people are the friendliest I've come across, and the laid-back atmosphere has yet to fail in rejuvenating me or recalibrate for me what is important in life. Even if I wasn't a runner, I think I would find Iten and the surrounding Rift Valley region a great place to visit.



But it is the opportunities that it offers runners, that is the real jewel in Kenya's tourism crown.  The altitude, above 2000m, is perfect for altitude training.  The climate too is almost perfect, and apart from a few weeks of heavy rain, training is possible here almost year round.  The locals may complain about the cold in the winter months, but daytime temperatures rarely drop below 20 degrees, and with low humidity (as a result of the altitude), the weather is rarely unpleasant for training.



Most roads are unsealed, undulating dirt roads that meander through the countryside, and even the surfaced main roads have dirt trails alongside them, so there is no shortage of forgiving surfaces on which to complete high volumes of training. Many of the tracks are dirt too, though Lornah Kiplagat has recently opened a Tartan track in Iten for guests of her world famous HATC.

Training facilities are improving all the time, and since it opened in 1999, Lornah Kiplagat's HATC has continued to develop to meet the needs of its foreign guests.  It does, however, maintain a distintively African feel, and guests have the opportunity to sample Kenyan food and way of life in relative comfort.  There is an outdoor swimming pool and a well equipped gym at the camp.


While Lornah's place is well established and well known, on the other side of Eldoret (next to Eldoret Airport) is the Rift Valley Resource Centre, a relative newcomer to Kenya's altitude training offer. This centre, located in Mosoriot, is open to students, athletes and community volunteers.  Lel, Cheryiout and Rotich are among the athletes who have trained on the nearby trails.  The centre has links with a number of local schools, health clinics and community projects, and visitors may have the opportunity to volunteer during their stay.


Further information on training in Kenya can be viewed on some of my previous posts, including the following summary post about Training in Kenya, and these reports from my visit in 2010: This is Kenya and Jambo Sana.

Iten, Kenya is just one of the venues featured in Notes from Higher Grounds: An Altitude Training Guide for Endurance Athletes. Other training sites in Kenya also receive a mention.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Last Minute Christmas Gift Ideas for Runners

Those of you who've read my book, or followed my blog from the beginning will know that I've got a little bit of an obsession with books.  And I'm mad into that running malarkey! And Christmas is fast approaching. With that in mind, this post is all about running books and related gifts that you can buy for the runner in your life, or, of course, for yourself.

5. Town of Runners (DVD; Jerry Rothwell)

I went along to watch this movie in London when it was released in 2012, and was instantly reminded of the beauty of Ethiopia.  The documentary tracks the progress of a group of young athletes from Bekoji, Ethiopia - the town which has produced such distance running legends as Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba - and portrays some of the difficulties encountered by those wishing to follow in the footsteps of their heroes.  Ethiopia is beautiful, Ethiopian running is beautiful, and this story will, no doubt, have you wanting to visit the East African highlands.


4. Wild Running: 150 Great Adventures on the Trails and Fells of Britain (Jen Benson and Sim Benson)

This is a guidebook for those who dream of exploring Britain's forest, mountain and coastal trails.  It includes 150 hand-picked runs, chosen for their sensational beauty and simple navigation, for those looking for a relaxed, scenic run, or a 'hard-as-nails' challenge.  Route maps, photographs and trail descriptions are included, along with information on safety and training advice.  Ideal gift for anybody who enjoys running off-road.


3. From Last to First (Charlie Spedding)

There are far too many running autobiographies to mention, and to be honest, I was starting to feel that once you read one, you'd read them all.  That was until I read this simple, yet inspiring and useful book. In telling his life story, Spedding shares useful tips and advice, and the alternative approach to autobiography will have inspired to train like never before.


2. Believe Training Journal (Lauren Fleshman and Roisin McGettigan-Dumas)

This is a great gift for any female runner.  The year-long journal, written by two professional athletes who have been there and done that, inspires and educates, covering an important aspect of training each month - from goal setting and setbacks to nutrition and body image.  The journal isn't dates, so can be used at any time of  the year, but what better time to get stuck in than when the new year begins?


1. Notes from Higher Grounds (Elizabeth Egan - yes that's me!)

It would be a bit daft for me to write a blog about running books and gifts and not put my own publication in the number 1 spot.  This book is all about altitude training destinations; it is a sort of travel guide for runners, but isn't just for serious athletes.  Anybody that has ever dreamed of training with the Kenyans, or running along endless mountain trails will love this book.  I was whole-heartedly passionate about this project from the very beginning, and four years later, published a book full of tips, photos and advice to inspire other athletes to use running to explore the world.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Altitude Training Options: South Africa and Lesotho

South Africa’s diverse natural beauty and pleasant climate (most of the year) make it a popular tourist destination.  It’s colourful political past also make it an interesting place to visit, and once you’ve saved for the airfare, travel is relatively cheap.  Security and personal safety are, however, always a concern, and visitors should take reasonable precautions against crime, particularly in the large cities.  Trips can be very rewarding, and facilities are generally better than elsewhere in Africa.  Best of all, South Africa provides a great opportunity to train in a warm, pleasant climate during the northern hemisphere winter.

Potchefstroom
Potchefstroom is possibly the best known of the altitude training destinations in South Africa, but, while the facilities there are excellent, at 1,350m above sea level it is hardly high enough to initiate an altitude training response.



Dullstroom
The small tourist town of Dullstroom (2,080m), located east of Johannesburg, is a much less well known training spot, but has a greater variety of trails, is safer, has an excellent choice of holiday accommodation, and is considerably higher.  The area is particularly beautiful, but lacks a track and other training facilities.



Photos from my trips to Potchefstroom and Dullstroom can be viewed here. There are blogs from South Africa  hereherehere and here.

Pretoria
Somewhere that has excellent facilities for many sports is the High Performance Centre (www.hpc.co.za) at the University of Pretoria, where there is more than 70 hectares of land dedicated to sports facilities.  The centre’s altitude is approximately 1,350m, with areas up to 1,500m within the city.

Johannesburg
Johannesburg also has some altitude training possibilities, though the city’s reputation for crime is a major turn-off for foreign visitors.

Lesotho
The entire area of Lesotho, a small country which is completely surrounded by South Africa, sits above 1,400 m of altitude.  Covered with rugged mountains and spectacular scenery, Lesotho has a massive tourism potential, and authorities there are beginning to develop altitude training opportunities.  AfriSki resort (3,030m) and Mohale Village (2,200m) are among the currently available options.


Adriaan Geldenhuys wrote a guest blog on altitude training in Lesotho for us in 2013.


Potchefstroom and Dullstroom are detailed in Notes from Higher Grounds: An Altitude Training Guide for Endurance Athletes.  The book also contains further information on training options in Pretoria and Lesotho.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Altitude Training Options: Ethiopia

Ethiopia is less well known as an altitude training destination than neighbouring Kenya, but the opening of excellent training facilities like Yaya Village and the success of the 2012 film Town of Runners have done much to increase the country’s appeal.  Indeed, Ethiopia’s tourism potential across the board is considerably underdeveloped, and many are surprised to learn of the country’s beauty, cultural diversity, and friendlessness, and that Ethiopia has nine UNESCO world heritage sites!



Sululta, a small town just 11 kilometres north of Addis Ababa, is where many of the athletes who live in the capital carry out their daily training sessions.  It is also home to Yaya Village, a purpose-built training resort which has attracted athletes from across the world since it opened in 2011.  The eucalyptus forests, dirt roads, and grass clearings make for varied running terrain, and the recent opening of a synthetic track, owned by multiple Olympic Champion and world record holder Kenenisa Bekele, is a significant addition for those with a need for speed. 



Those who want to get to the real heart grass roots Ethiopian distance running can visit Bekoji, aka Town of Runners, a small town south west of Addis Ababa.  The town has produced athletes who, between them, have won 10 Olympic gold medals, broken more than a dozen world records, and won more than 30 world championship titles.  Derartu Tulu, Kenenisa and Tariku Bekele, and Ejegayehu, Tirunesh and Genzebe Dibaba.  Visitors to the town have the opportunity to watch the next generation of world-beaters train, and to meet the coach who guided the aforementioned stars in their earlier years.

The Great Ethiopian Run is the largest road race in Africa, and each year it attracts hundreds of overseas participants wishing to test themselves against the altitude, the heat, and more than 10,000 other runners and joggers.




Blogs from my 2010 visit include: Ethiopia by Picture, Farewell Africa...For Now,  This is Ethiopia, Can I be a 'Funrunner' for a Day?, The Carb Queen is Dead and Gone,  and Addis, while during my 2014 visit I blogged about meeting Haile Gebreselaise, wrote about my trip to Bekoji, and summarised my trip in a photo blog. Shane Benzie from Running Reborn wrote a guest piece about training in Bekoji for us in July, 2014.


Additional photos can be viewed here (2014 visit) and here (2010 visit).

More information on altitude training in Ethiopia, and details  of how to arrange a trip there can be found in Notes from Higher Grounds: an Altitude Training Guide for Endurance Athletes.