Worth a Trip: Iten & the High Altitude Training Centre

As a source of world-class athletes, the town of Iten, 36km northeast of Eldoret, has few peers. Over the past three decades, it (and the St Patrick's High School in particular) has produced a staggering number of world champions and Olympic medalists, among them Peter Rono (1988 Olympics), Matthew Birir (1992), Wilson Boit Kipketer (2000) and David Rudisha (2012).

Partly the success has to do with altitude: Iten sits at 2400m above sea level, which is ideal training conditions (thanks to the thinness of the oxygen in the air) for marathon and other long-distance runners seeking to build up their endurance. Another factor has been the presence of world-class coaches – Brother Colm O'Connell of Ireland arrived here in 1976 and has coached world champions ever since; O'Connell has been credited with helping to bring Kenya's female athletes to the world's attention, including sometime Iten residents Edna Kiplagat, Florence Kiplagat, Lornah Kiplagat, Linet Masai, Mary Keitany, Sally Barsosio and Rose Cheruiyot.

And then there's the High Altitude Training Centre, which attracts well-known runners on a pilgrimage to one of the world's best-known mother lodes of athletic talent. Founded in 1999 by four-time world champion Lornah Kiplagat, the centre has a swimming pool, gym and, of course, running tracks. They welcome everyone from world-class athletes to recreational runners, and they've coaches to suit all levels. Contact the centre to ask about the numerous packages on offer.

The book More Fire: How to Run the Kenyan Way (Toby Tanser; 2008) was written in and about Iten, as was Running with the Kenyans (Adharanand Finn; 2012).

If you don't have your own wheels, matatus (KSh120, one hour) connect Iten with Eldoret's Sergoit Rd.