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run like… a Kenyan?

I’m always picking up books about running or reading articles on the internet about the same. The majority are just the same loosely-inspiring things rehashed again and again. Lots of positivity, lots of snippets of inspiring athletes doing their things. They tell you to run like this or run like that if you want to improve your times but usually without much in the way of concrete detail. I love reading the stories but if I’m being honest, I don’t think I ever take too much away from them.

I’ve read books about the greats (Gebrselassie, Prefontaine, Bannister, Ovett, et al.) and found myself lost in their stories. Outside of the biographical, I often turn to inspirational tales of how we will eventually break the 2-hour marathon barrier. If that’s your thing by the way, I highly recommend Ed Caesar’s “Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon”. It focusses on the obvious but includes a wonderfully interwoven story covering the life of Geoffrey Mutai.

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Around Christmas time, I had just finished my occasional browse of running related titles on Amazon when the algorithms took over and suggested another book based on what I was looking at. Nothing unusual about that. Anyone who has ever done some online shopping has experienced this. However, the suggested book grabbed my attention immediately.

The cover wasn’t a jaw-dropping work of art (it was nice) nor was there any huge slogan to pique my interest, just a title “Running with the Kenyans”. The text uses colours, cleverly designed in tandem with the cover’s backdrop, to reflect the colours of the Kenyan flag. That wasn’t what grabbed me though – it was just the title. So, I added it to my cart and thought this could be a good story.

running with lions

The author (Adharanand Finn) starts the book with what is somewhat the end of the tale, although the reader is not truly aware of this until the end of the introduction. However, when a book starts with a line-up of runners anxiously awaiting the start of a race, only to figure out that they are being delayed due to lions on the course… there’s no way you’re going to put that book down.

Finn then brings the reader back in time to tell the tale of how he arrived at that start line. His story is no less than an odyssey, full of incredible moments, humour, and bizarre yet real happenings that will cause smiles, gasps, and wonderment, right until the end of the book. One of my favourite episodes in the book is when Finn is trying to reach Wilson Kipsang (once a world record holder for the marathon) but had been given the wrong phone number. The conversation went like this…

“Is that Wilson Kipsang?”

“No, William.”

“Oh, I thought your name was Wilson. The 2:04 marathoner, right?”

“No, 2:05”

– Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn

Kenya is such a special place for running. Even when you have the wrong phone number, you can still get through to somebody with a world-beating time!

Aside from the humorous episodes like this, the greater story is how Finn, a relatively accomplished amateur runner, decided to take a year out of his life to give it everything and train like never before. To give it one chance to see what he was truly capable of. Let’s be honest, he had me at ‘running’ but this was a tale that I could get onboard with. I too am somebody who loves running. Also, I am gathering years. I have lost a bit of shape over time and regularly yourn to know if there really is something more in me.

I doubt that Finn and I will ever meet nor he ever know of me but his book has changed my life. ‘Run like a Kenyan’ is my new training motto. My attitude to distance workouts has been completely rewired. Learning about how Kenyan runners treat long runs by running as they feel rather than pace targets was an eye-opener. The brief insights into Kenyan diet intrigues me also, especially the wonder food ‘ugali’. Although diet is one of those things I really struggle to control, it is something I have to play with.

new year, new me

Groan! That phrase again. 2019 has just begun but planning for the year ahead must also be done; especially with my newfound inspiration and positive training outlook of starting to ‘run like a Kenyan’. [reality check: I am not capable nor ever will be capable of running as good as an average Kenyan runner but it doesn’t mean I can’t run ‘like’ them]

I started work on a 12-month training calendar recently. Completely focussed on distance targets per week rather than specific training sessions; it is very different to how I have trained before. Each week is also matched with supplementary strength training. This I have worked out with my more knowledgeable guinea pig master so that it is feasible without overreaching. My first draft is complete and as I stand back looking at it, I’m asking myself, “is this crazy?”

to run like a Kenyan, you have to run a lot of miles, run by feel, run as hard as you think you can
it’s a lot of miles on my new plan to run like a Kenyan!

This plan is like nothing I have ever attempted before in terms of cumulative mileage. My off-season (i.e. outside of half and full marathon training) has typically been 25-30 miles per week at best. My new proposal to myself is that there are no longer any sub-30 weeks in my life nor will I see any until I have finished a marathon this year. A long run is something that I just do, not fear. Miles, miles, miles. This is going to be exciting; I think I’m going to learn an awful lot about myself over the coming 12 months.

2 thoughts on “run like… a Kenyan?”

  1. You have a good writing style. The Kenyan ‘Run as you feel’ idea seems to me to be another way of saying ‘listen to what your body is saying’. Cheers, David.

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