Endurance: Kenya

Kenya teaches Uceny important lesson

February, 26, 2013
Morgan UcenyJulian Finney/Getty Images2012 U.S. Olympian Morgan Uceny says she sees competition differently after training in Kenya.
By most measures, Kenya is a long way from Indiana. But not by every measure.

"Training in Kenya just makes you realize that you don't need to have extraordinary means to be a good athlete," said Morgan Uceny, who spent many of her summers in Plymouth, Ind., helping her bricklayer father or washing buses for her mother, an assistant in the school transportation department. "All you need is a pair of decent trainers, some natural talent, and the work ethic to turn that talent into something greater."

Uceny, a 2012 U.S. Olympian who was ranked No. 1 in the world at 1,500 meters in 2011, relocated last fall to Loughborough, England, after her Mammoth Track Club coach, Terrence Mahon, joined UK Athletics as its endurance coach -- hence the term "trainers" for running shoes. ("Every day at practice we end up laughing with our new Brit teammates over different jargon," Uceny wrote in an email. "It's a never-ending source of entertainment.") And when the UK team set off in early January for the distance mecca of Iten, Kenya, for a high-altitude training camp, Uceny and U.S. teammates Anna Willard and Jen Rhines went along.

The group lived and trained at the High Altitude Training Centre, founded by Lornah Kiplagat, the longtime distance star who won two half-marathon world titles, finished third in the 2003 New York City Marathon, and ran the NYRR New York Mini 10K nine times in her career, winning in 2003, '05, '06, and '07.

Living in a simple room with a bed, a desk and an adjoining bathroom, Uceny spent three weeks taking meals in a common dining room and enjoying runs on the hilly, rocky dirt roads amid cornfields and forests, under sunny skies with temperatures in the 70s and at an altitude of 8,000 feet.

"It was beautiful to look at when you weren't gasping for air," Uceny said.

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