Radcliffe takes high road in search of gold

Marathon star takes to Kenyan altitude


The grey metal box attached to the wall in the arrivals hall at Eldoret airport says: "Corruption complaints box." Here in the foreign land of Kenya, it is like the past of LP Hartley's imagining: they do things differently.

Heading out of the airport, at the entrance there is a giant sign proclaiming: "Welcome to Eldoret, home of champions. Only champions win London."

It refers to the London Marathon rather than the London Olympics but given the domination of Kenyan athletes in the middle and long distance events at the World Championships in Daegu last summer we can expect many of the champions of London 2012 to have come out of this part of east Africa, in one way or another. Our battered jeep takes us along a rutted, dusty trail of a road 32km north west to Iten.

The route is lined on either side by small wooden and tin shacks, with matchstick slim Kenyans of all ages offering all manner of services. "Victorious butchery," says the sign outside one modest establishment. "Tearoom and chops," says another. "Coffins," another announces starkly, Ronseal-fashion.

The locals lining the route wear ragged clothing and shoes but seem happy with their modest lot. They smile and wave and shout, "Jambo," – "hello" in Swahili.

At the top of the climb to Iten, which stands perched some 7,800ft above sea level overlooking the vast, breathtaking sweep of the Great Rift Valley, a red-painted arch proclaims: "Thank you for visiting the home of champions." Off to the right, we rumble down a trail until we reach the gates of the High Altitude Performance Centre. "The university of champions," it says on the sign.

There have been an awful lot of world and Olympic champions from this market town of 4,000 people, which is one reason why, when we step inside, Paula Radcliffe can be seen performing high-kicking drills by the side of the swimming pools. It is 9am and the world's fastest ever female marathon runner has already been for her morning run along the red dust trails that thread through the hilly landscape. She is strengthening her legs to make sure the kind of misfortune that befell her in the Olympic marathons of 2004 and 2008 does not happen again when she has a fifth – and surely last – shot at Olympic glory in London this August.

In her two decades as an international runner, the 38-year-old Bedfordshire woman has become renowned for her ultra-holistic approach. UK Athletics once issued a booklet about it entitled "No stone left unturned". No pebble, more like.

There has been the emu oil to treat injuries, the titanium necklace, the knee length compression socks, the ice baths. There have been the trips to high altitude to gain the benefits of a boosted red blood cell count upon return to sea level but never – until this winter – to Kenya and the gold mine country of distance running.

For four weeks before Christmas Radcliffe was with the rest of the British endurance squad at the High Altitude Training Centre set up in Iten by Lornah Kiplagat, a long time rival at cross country and in the marathon. After Christmas she has been back at the base UK Athletics have adopted as their endurance camp, funded half by the national governing body and half by the London Marathon.

For someone who lives in Monaco, it might be expected to be something of a culture shock. "I think the first time you come it's a culture shock," the mother of two said yesterday, sitting in the complex restaurant. "You walk into the town centre and realise that that's all there is – and that these [shacks] really are shops.

"Yes, that's a shock. But when you go out running and see the local people they're all so happy. We're out covered in mud in the pouring rain and they keep shouting out, 'How are you?' And they're all smiling. That's great."

The Iten locals have become accustomed to seeing Kenyan champions on their trails. Radcliffe is a former world champion and as the holder of the outlandish world record for the women's marathon – a Boltesque 2hr 15 min 25sec – she commands respect.

"Yes, they do recognise me," she said, "because they're all running mad. I go out and all of them – apart from the really young kids – know me and shout out my name.

"It's inspiring being here because of the history, but it's also inspiring being around and seeing Mo Farah and the young runners in the British squad coming through. They knuckledown and train really hard and it's inspiring to see."

Not that the trip has been trouble free – or scare-free for Radcliffe. "I've been for a precautionary scan on my ankle in Eldoret this morning," she said. "I did a really good long run last weekend and since then things have just felt a little bit tight. Thankfully it's just muscular."

Come late afternoon the world record holder was heading back up the hill from "the University of Champions" for a training run. "Radcliffe! Radcliffe!" the happy people of Iten shouted by the side of the dusty red trails.

That 26.2 mile Olympic exam on home soil was moving closer into view.

Bekele dispute escalates

The dispute between Kenenisa Bekele and the Ethiopian Athletics Federation cranked up a notch yesterday when Jos Hermens, manager of the Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m champion, said: "He is so upset that he is saying, 'Let me run for another country'." That is unlikely, given the rules on athletes switching nationality – one year if both national federations agree and three years otherwise.

The Ethiopians would not want to lose their best athletes – 34 are suspended for missing a training camp – so that would mean the longer option. Hermens added: "Kenenisa said to me, 'I have not been shown any respect'."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride