Striding ahead of the pack
Having had the best year of his career last year – he set the new SA 5 000m record and made the Olympic final – Elroy Gelant took his training camp to Kenya last month. He tells Simnikiwe Xabanisa how it’s going
How did the Kenya trip come about? Hezekiél Sepeng [former 800m Olympic silver medallist and athletics coordinator of] Athletics SA approached me and said that, as part of their excellence plan towards the World Championships in London, they would provide me with the opportunity to go and train at high altitude.
I’m really grateful for the opportunity and I made the best of my training in Iten [in Kenya]. I really observed a lot with regards to training, discipline, nutrition, the will to excel and the mindset towards professional running. How long were you in Iten for and who did you train with?
I stayed in Iten, which is about 2 400m above sea level, for a five-week training camp. A few sessions were under the guidance of one of the world’s most renowned middle- and long-distance coaches of all time – coach Renato Canova.
It was difficult at first to acclimatise. The first few days were very difficult and I could feel my lungs overworking because of the oxygen shortage. It took me about eight days to really acclimatise.
The first few runs were hectic as the Kenyan women overtook me quite easily on our morning runs, but I guess it motivated me to pull up my socks for the remainder of the training camp. You said on Twitter: ‘I’m beginning to see a change, slowly but surely.’ What did you mean by that?
I guess I could feel I was starting to adapt or acclimatise. It was the first set where I could actually stick with my fellow training partners and finish strongly with them. We did a 2km set (2min, 56sec average on every kilometre) with a kilometre recovery jog of 3.30 minutes in between the repetitions until we reached 20km. Everyone always wonders what it is that the Kenyans do differently to everybody else. In your opinion, what is it that makes them so good?
Firstly, I think staying at an altitude of 2 400m really plays a major role in their performance. Secondly, their determination to succeed in improving their daily standard of living plays a big role. A lot comes from within – the will to succeed. Their nutrition might also play a role.
They have a very basic lifestyle and rely on simple food, as I call it. They live straight from their land, benefiting from all that natural nutrition. Is there ever going to be a chance for South Africans to team up like the Kenyans tend to do?
In my opinion, it’s important not to imitate what the Kenyans are doing, but to focus on our strengths and to train twice as hard as they do. What I would suggest is to get more exposure to altitude training and training camps like in Kenya for us to be more competitive on the world stage.
But it comes down to how much you want to succeed in life as an individual. Last year was a big one for you – breaking the SA 5 000m record and making the Olympic final – what’s your plan for this year?
I’m going to take things step by step. I won’t be in a hurry to try to break my 5 000m personal best of last year.
I think this year it will be important to be in tune with my body, soul and my ability to perform. I need to stick to the basics with regards to training and try to stay free of injury.
In terms of my goals for 2017, I’ve set my sights on a top 10 position at the World Cross Country Championships in Kampala next month, and a top six finish later this year at the world champs in London. What did making the Olympic final tell you about yourself?
It told me that I must never doubt myself. The Olympic experience showed me that I’m capable of so much more. Although I ran a South African record last year, I’m not comfortable. I want to seek more challenges and push myself to greater performances. What do you think it’ll take for you to break through the 13-minute barrier?
I’ll just stick to what worked for me last year. I think implementing the altitude training and [what I learnt at] the training camp will push me to even greater heights, but what is most important, is to follow my passion and desire to succeed.
DETERMINED SA’s 5 000m record-holder Elroy Gelant feels refreshed and more confident after training at high altitude in Kenya. He looks forward to implementing the lessons he learnt in the country