Visit a running mecca
Iten, in Kenya’s Rift Valley, has produced an extraordinary number of distance-running Olympic medallists, world record holders and race winners, including David Rudisha, Mary Keitany and Wilson Kipsang. The rarified air at 2,400m above sea level isn’t the only draw: ‘The countryside surrounding the town is perfect running country, with endless red-dirt trails crisscrossing the fertile highlands,’ says Adharanand Finn, author of Running with the Kenyans (Faber & Faber), who spent several months in the area. ‘On any given morning, troops of Kenyan runners glide by, beckoning you to join them. You can’t fail to be inspired by this special place.’ There are many training camps in the area, but The Kenya Experience (traininkenya.com) is the first outfit to cater for non-elite athletes.
Ethiopia has also produced a glut of greats, including Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele, and Tirunesh and Genzebe Dibaba. Addis Ababa is the hub of the country’s running scene, and Gebrselassie has established his own training camp, Yaya Village, just outside the capital. It has a running track and access to miles of forest and mountain trails. Run Fast (Run-fasttours.net) offers a 10-day trip based at the camp, including entry into the 10K, 40,000-strong Great Ethiopian Run.
Dubbed ‘Tracktown USA’ Eugene, Oregon, is the birthplace of US running legend Steve Prefontaine, and where Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman began a public jogging programme in 1963, a scheme seen as the precursor to the first worldwide running boom. Bowerman also coached at the University of Oregon, whose alumni include Alberto Salazar and Galen Rupp. In the university grounds, you’ll find the famous Hayward Field running track, which hosts the Prefontaine Classic, an annual athletics event that attracts the world’s best. Tickets for opening night are free, but need to be reserved in advance. (preclassic.runnerspace.com). Eugene is a great city to run in, too, with parks, woodland and riverside tracks, plus rugged trails like the Ridgeline, a 12-mile web of marked paths with sweeping views. For information on routes, races and other events, visit eugenerunningcompany.com.
Font-romeu, a village in the French Pyrenees, has been a prime high-altitude training destination since the 1968 Olympics. Alongside the usual trappings of a European ski resort, it also has two running tracks, miles of undulating trails and, above the town, a specially laid 4000m flat trail – ideal for lung-busting tempo runs (no wonder Paula Radcliffe made Font-romeu her second home). The recently refurbished National Centre for Altitude Training is primarily a base for French endurance athletes, but anyone with an Iaaf-recognised athletics club membership can use the facilities for a fee. (cneafontromeu.com, font-romeu.fr)
South West London’s Bushy Park (royalparks.org.uk/parks/bushy-park) is the birthplace of the Parkrun phenomenon (the inaugural outing took place there in 2004) and remains one of the UK’S best-attended Parkruns, often attracting more than 1,000 runners. It’s not just on Saturday mornings you’ll see runners using the many paths in the 1,100-acre park, but don’t worry if you can’t keep up – you could be chasing some of the world’s best. Jo Pavey and Mo Farah trained here, and one of the reasons the area has become such an athletics hub is its proximity to St Mary’s University College, which runs a world-class Endurance Performance and Coaching programme. Homegrown athletes such as Rio Olympians Charlie Grice and Steph Twell, along with many from abroad, have moved to the area to join the programme, making Bushy Park and Richmond Park their training ground. After a run, head to the park’s Pheasantry Café for coffee (and cake).
RUNNERS HIGH Training outside Iten, in Kenya’s Rift Valley, and (inset) FontRomeu and the Great Ethiopian Run
ON TRACK Hayward Field, Oregon, US