Distance runner explains an infamous workout that elite Kenyans do twice a week.
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PRAGUE — For most road racers, coming to the end of the pavement means either a wrong turn was taken or the run is over.
But for a number of elite Kenyans like Philemon Limo, it means things are about to get real interesting.
As he prepares to tackle his third straight Hervis Prague Half-Marathon here on Saturday, Limo talked openly about an infamous workout in Kenya that is little known outside the country and can feature hundreds of the best road racers on the planet battling to leave each other in the dust.
“The workout is called the End of the Road but it means the end of the tarmac,” Limo explained. “It is where all groups of athletes, several groups from Eldoret, Iten and Kaptagat meet and train together in one site. It is a place to test your ability. When you become able to run at the front, you know you are okay when you go to race outside.”
The premise, according to Limo, is quite simple.
Twice per week, usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays, at what would seem to be the conclusion of a track or road training session, a large group of athletes comes together and continues running until the paved road ends and the dirt and gravel trails begin. The number of runners participating varies from each session, but Limo said that there can be upward of 400 men running at any one time, and that all-female groups with as many as 300 women run the same session.
The workout extends for at least another 70 minutes, with the pace ramping up periodically until its conclusion, where only the best of the best are left running. And in Kenya, that means Olympic and World Championships medalists and major marathon winners.
“The group has all runners, starting from 800 meters and 1500 meters all the way up to the marathon,” Limo said. “When you can be at the top of this group until the last minute, you automatically will go out and win because you will be in good shape. That is the purpose of End of the Road. You come, you test yourself, and then put it to use where it counts.”
Limo, who hails from the same Marakwet District that produced Kenyan distance running stars Moses Kiptanui, Evans Rutto, Reuben Kosgei, Ezekiel Kemboi and Richard Chelimo, remembers the first time he jumped into an End of the Road workout three years ago.
“The first time I did the run was in 2010 when I joined the training group,” he recalled. “I still remember it today. It was tough. I was not catching anybody. I thought to myself, ‘I am not going anywhere with this running.’ But in September or October of that year, I was able to get up to the front.”
Not coincidentally, Limo achieved his first major successes in the six months after that initial move to the front of the End of the Road pack. In March of 2011, he made his international debut at the IAAF World Cross-Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain, finishing seventh in the men’s 12-K senior race in 34:21. A month later, he won the Prague Half-Marathon in what was then a course-record 59:30, a time which still stands as his career best.
Before boarding the plane to fly here, Limo tested himself in an End of the Road workout on Tuesday.
“It was not bad. I did OK,” he said with a sly grin. “There were about 10 or 15 guys who finished together up front. Guys like Sammy Kitwara, Joel Kimurer, Wilson Kipsang, Wilson Chebet and many others. I have finished at the front several times. The last time was actually last week.”
How that bodes for Limo on Saturday remains to be seen. But he is confident.
“Always, when you are at the front of that group of special runners, you must know that you are in good shape,” he said. “It is only when you are in the back somewhere that you know you still have a lot of work to do.”