Book Review: Running With The Kenyans
My Christmas reading was a brilliant book, Running with The Kenyans by journalist and runner Adharanand Finn. It follows his journey to shed light on what makes the Kenyans such gifted runners. To do this he doesn’t just study them – he embarks on a 6 month stay in Kenya, training along side champions and hopefuls.
Adharanand Finn begins his story as a young, talented runner – fascinated by the record breaking feats of Kenyan distance runners. However, university life stymies his training. He competes now and then but is no longer jostling for position at the front of the pack. Fast forward a few years and Finn ponders whether now, in his mid 30s, he still has the ability to produce a noteworthy performance.
Rather than just sign up for the year’s London Marathon, Finn sets off for Iten, Kenya, with his wife and 3 young kids in tow. Here he plans to uncover the Kenyan secrets of running and with that, sets his sights on a sub 3-hour marathon across the East African plains.
Now as much as I’m no distance runner, it was fascinating to follow the discovery of the Kenyan runners’ “secrets”. Was their innate talent and technique down to running barefoot to school every day as children? Was it a genetic advantage passed down by generations of cattle rustlers – their speed essential if they were to escape alive?
Through training with Kenyans, interviewing coaches, runners and locals, Finn explores a number of possibilities that give them that competitive edge in distance running. What shines through most for me though is the amazing balance between the basics of running and the competitive life. Deep down this story uncovers a basic need to run. The “primal urge” we have to move and connect with our instinctive human nature.
This primal sense extends to their training and preparations. Runners simply train, rest well and eat. They live in basic accommodation and shun watches or energy gels. They run by feel and intuition and live by the bare essentials. While many are seeking the financial rewards on offer, the simple lifestyle is main-stay whether you are a young runner looking to get noticed or an experienced record holder.
Whether you have an interest in marathon running or not I would whole heartedly recommend this book. It touches on many of the reasons which make Kenyan runners such a dominate force in this field. However, immersed in their culture, surrounded by the elite and promising youth, Finn reveals that beneath the technique, training or upbringing is a common, primal instinct to run which we can all relate too.
We may obsess about our PBs and mileage count, but these things alone are not enough to get us out running… What really drives us is something else, this need to feel human, to reach below the multitude of layers of roles and responsibilities that society has placed on us, down below the company name tags, and even the father, husband, and son, labels, to the pure, raw human being underneath. At such moments, our rational mind becomes redundant. We move from thought to feeling.
I spoke to some top British athletes who had come to Kenya to train and I asked them what they thought the biggest difference was between the Kenyans’ training and their own. ‘Rest,’ they all said, unanimously. ‘In England, when we’re not running we go shopping, cook food, meet up with friends. Here they just rest.’
On western society
A recent study by the University of Essex found that even in the last ten years, the average English ten year old has become weaker, less muscular and less able to do simple tasks. They’re not talking about running three miles to school twice a day, but the most basic activities such as hanging from wall bars in the gym.
Featured image courtesy of: angela7dreams