If there is a spiritual home for running, it is certainly Iten, Kenya. It is where the gods of running go to test themselves, and mortals find their training elevated beyond what they dared to dream.
Many serious runners around the world have dreams of visiting this small town on the Kenyan highlands. They come to see for themselves how the Kenyan runners train, and join their training programs and experience Kenyan training. Some of the best runners from other countries have done so. Indeed, if you visit Iten ahead of a major international competition, you’ll likely find runners from around the world training. Still, many more would like to visit Iten but still have a lot of questions.
What are the hotel options? What other options are there for getting accommodation? How does one find a coach? What running groups can one just show up and join? Are there any secret routes or top trails that people just have to run while visiting? How do you get there from the airport? What trips are there out of town?
This article will try to explain everything that one will need to know about Iten.
How to get to Iten
So, first of all, let’s find out how to get there. After landing at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, there are various ways to proceed to Iten. You can book a local flight to Eldoret from the local air lines that include:
These will take you from Nairobi to Eldoret airport in about forty five minutes.
You can choose to take a taxi to Iten from the Eldoret airport, or walk just out of the airport’s main gate and take the public transport vehicles, called matatus. The matatus will take you to Eldoret town before you can take another vehicle to take you to Iten.
To use a taxi may be a little bit expensive (expect to pay at least $25), but it is more convenient to take you all the way to Iten, especially if you are new and have some luggage with you.
To take Matatu you’ll pay 50 Kenyan shillings (USD 0.5) to get to Eldoret. When you get into Eldoret, ask the conductor from your Matatu to help you find the next matatu to Iten. This second bus should cost 100 shillings (about $1). Once you get into Iten, a local motorbike, or boda-boda can take you to your hotel for 50–100 Shillings, or it’s a small town, so alternatively you could walk.
One can as well board a public transport vehicle from Nairobi to Eldoret for about 1000–1500 shillings(USD 10–15). Most of the vehicles plying the Nairobi — Eldoret route are found along the Haile Salassie Avenue. You can take a taxi from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi to where the buses pick up passengers for about 1000–2000 shilllings ($10–20). The North Rift, Eldoret Sacco, and the Great Rift Shuttle are some of the companies that have their vehicles plying that route. From Eldoret, there are other public service vehicles plying the Eldoret — Iten road. You will again be directed by the driver who brings you from Nairobi on where to find them.
Where to Stay
There are a number of accommodation options in Iten. One can choose to stay in a hotel, a training camp, a guest house.
Lornah’s High Altitude Training Centre (HATC) is the biggest training camp that hosts most of the foreign runners who would like to come and live in a setting of a training camp with many privileges being accorded to the guests who book their stay at the centre. There is a gym with weight machines, cross trainers, bikes, free weights and space for core stability training, strength training and stretching. Gym instructors offer three core stability, strengthening and stretching sessions every week, which are free to attend for HATC guests. The HATC also has a clinic for physiotherapy and sports massage and two saunas. There is also a coach who can cater for all levels of fitness and experience of the guests and can provide training advice and schedules depending on the guest’s needs.
There are other smaller training camps in the town as well which cater for specific athletic managements including Gianni Camp, Run Fast, among others. Here, the athletes benefit by having one coach, some support staff and a physiotherapist in one place. These camps are often friendly to other athletes, especially to foreigners so try getting in touch to see about paying a visit.
For hotel accommodation, there are a limited number of hotels, with the two best options being the Kerio View Hotel and the Keelu Resort, which is owned by the former marathon world record holder, Wilson Kipsang. Most of the guests in these hotels are visitors who also come to Iten for athletic reasons. If not runners, they are either coaches or agents. This provides many opportunities to meet and interact with people with the same interests. These hotels both have restaurants on site and can help arrange local activities.
Training Groups to join:
Iten is a very small town and as long as you wake up early in the morning, it’s easy to find people to train with. You will never get lost too (or if you do, it’s easy enough to ask someone for directions), in case you choose to explore the place alone. A good rule of thumb for Iten is: don’t hesitate to ask! If you’re looking for a good route, bicycle to borrow, coach to guide you, or just about anything then start asking around. Odds are someone will be able to help you out.
British Olympic marathoner Sonia Samuels has compiled a great set of mapsthat can be a helpful reference if you’d like you map out your routes and plan for how far you are going to run. Here’s one of the maps , you can find the rest on her website.
In Iten, Thursdays and Tuesdays are speed workout days. Some athletes attend the track which is a walking distance from the town, be it the Lornah Kiplagat’s High Altitude Training Center’s track or the public’s Kamariny Stadium. The public track is open to all and there are many different groups arriving to train from 6am all the way up to around the midday. All one needs to do is to approach a group and ask them what they plan to do and see whether they fit their program.
On Thursdays at 9am, you’ll find the big Iten fartlek. To get there, you jog about three kilometers northwards from the centre of town on the Marakwet road up to a junction famously referred to as “Tairi Mbili” and wait for others to arrive.
Runners who converge for this workout usually reach over 200 in number and there is no need to ask anyone for permission to join it since most of them do not even know each other. At the start of the run someone will take the lead in calling out for pacing of 2 minutes hard, 1 minute easy or 3 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy, and consensus is generally reached fairly quickly so be ready to set your watch as the group will set off before you know it.
Saturdays are usually for long runs. Some groups have vehicles that take them to some favorite 35km, 38km and 40km routes that are usually located at the relatively flatter and lower altitudes nearer to Eldoret town. Kaptuli, Ziwa, Naiberi and Annex are some of the routes runners mention when they are going out of Iten for their long runs. The best thing to do is ask around to see who is going on long runs and if you can join them for their outing. If you don’t manage to find a group, you can also plan your own route, and if necessary pay a boda boda (motorbike) rider to meet you along the way with water.
If you’d like to plan your trip to be part of a large training group, The Kenyan Experience offers 2 week training tours that bring together runners from around the world.
What to enjoy in Iten, besides training
Iten is not only a great place for long distance training, but is as well one of the best places in the world to enjoy nature; from exploring caves, to escarpments, to waterfalls, to watching wildlife and several gorges.
The views on your way down towards the Kerio Valley are breath-taking and one can stroll around as he marvels at the landscapes below.
Rimoi Game Reserve is one of the biggest game reserves in the country to watch elephants, buffalos and other wild animals. Other activities you can get to enjoy around Iten include hiking, taking natural showers at the Kureswo hot springs, fishing and various other campsite activities.
The best way to get to these interesting sites around Iten can be by asking any of your trusted friends or staff at the hotel you will be staying and taking a motorcycle (boda boda), or checking with the hotels around if they are planning any trip for the weekend. Or, better still, visit Olympics Corner and ask for any assistance you may need. Olympics Corner, a shop that is located just outside the HATC is very friendly to runners and has a collection of Kenyan products that are of great interest to anyone who visits Iten. These include some rare hand made Kenyan bracelets, ornaments, belts, clubs and many others.
The world record for distance paragliding was set in Iten (or so the legends go), and paragliders from around the world usually come to Iten around December and January. Paragliding often turns the locals into tourists as they turn out in large numbers to watch the paragliders. The best place to find them is the hill next to the gate of Kerio View Hotel. If you’re lucky, there might be some paragliders who are certified for tandem flight and will take you up for a small fee.
There are a couple of billiard halls in Iten, which can be a fun way to spend an hour or two. Games are normally 20 Shillings each, and can be a great way to meet and chat with some local runners as they relax during the day.
We hope that you’ll grab your Enda running shoes and head on out to Iten to take your training to the next level. Train with the best of the best in this little pocket of running heaven.