The spartan retreat where Kenya's star athletes train

The camp's most famous resident is Kipchoge (5th R), a living legend and winner of two Olympic medals (Tony KARUMBA)
The camp's most famous resident is Kipchoge (5th R), a living legend and winner of two Olympic medals (Tony KARUMBA)

Daily training, frugal living, shared household chores: The Kaptagat camp, where Kenyan athletics stars Eliud Kipchoge and Faith Kipyegon are preparing for the Paris Games, is a protected retreat, known for its focus on self-discipline.

This small complex in Kenya's Rift Valley, perched at an altitude of 2,500 metres (8,200 feet) between forests and corn plantations, was founded in 2002 by former runner-turned-coach Patrick Sang and the Dutch athlete management agency Global Sports Communication.

"The idea was to help young athletes develop their potential because here in Kenya many don't have access to training facilities or to the support of a coach," Sang told AFP.

"It is a place where elite athletes mentor young ones, a place run by athletes that also became a school of life."

Its most famous resident -- who has been training there since its founding -- is athletics legend Kipchoge.

"This is the calmest place ever. It's a good place to concentrate... We live a simple life," the two-time Olympic marathon champion told AFP.

This is where the 39-year-old laid the ground for his greatest exploits, including his 2018 and 2022 world records and the two Olympic titles, to which he hopes to add a historic third gold medal come August.

In 2019 Kenyan middle-distance champion Faith Kipyegon, who is also aiming for an unprecedented hat-trick in Paris in the 1,500 metres, started attending the camp.

"This place really changed my life, my career," the 30-year-old said, adding: "It's our second home. We train and live as a team. We are focused 100 percent on running."

- Taking out the garbage -

But it's not about athletics all the time.

All the athletes live at the camp from Monday afternoon to Saturday morning.

During that time, they are expected to contribute to the running of the camp, doing household chores including cooking once a week, cleaning the TV room and lavatories, and taking out the trash.

Far from the hi-tech training grounds in the United States, the Kaptagat camp offers minimal comforts.

For nearly 15 years, athletes got their water from a well.

In recent years, running water and solar panels have been installed.

A few single rooms have been added to the double rooms -- the only concession to the elite status of certain runners at a facility which wears its egalitarian credentials with pride.

In Kaptagat, "there is no world champion, no record holder, all of us are equal," said marathon runner Laban Korir, who is designated "president" by his peers and coordinates the various committees which run the camp.

Here, even world champions reveal hidden talents: residents told AFP Kipyegon also prepares the best chapati (flatbread) in the camp.

- 150 kilometres per week -

Far from their families, the athletes devote themselves to their training, which follows a common programme: 16 to 20 kilometres in the morning and 10 kilometres in the evening four days a week, a weekly "long run" of 30 to 40 kilometres and gym sessions twice a week.

While entry to the camp is strictly limited, local runners join training runs on surrounding roads, hoping to be spotted and recruited.

After their training, athletes can get a massage, grab a book from the camp library, where the eclectic selection ranges from "A Promised Land" by Barack Obama, "Midnight Express" by Billy Hayes, "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius or... "Running a Marathon for Dummies".

Distractions are few and far between.

The use of the telephone is prohibited in the dining room and during massages.

Instead, residents sit in the garden and chat over cups of sweetened milk tea.

"We talk about the current prevailing situation in our country, like... politics, and also football," said Victor Chumo, who has been training in Kaptagat since 2019.

"Here we live like a family, we have different generations," long-distance runner Daniel Mateiko, 25, told AFP.

"We learn from our mentors, we help each other and train with one goal: achieving your dream."