Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn, is a great read, and is now one of my ‘Top Shelf’ books.
Despite his rather “un-anglo” name, the author is an anglo-saxon English guy who felt he never quite reached his potential as a runner and is keen to find out ‘the Kenyan secret’. Even though he’s not what you would call a top runner (38 min for 10K), he and his family move to the town of Iten, in Kenya, to live and train with some of the fastest distance runners on earth, Finn’s keen to see if he can work out exactly what makes the Kenyan’s so good. As you’d expect, it’s not a simple answer.
One of the keys to the success of Kenyan running, is Brother Colm, who Finn spends some time with. Brother Colm is an Irish priest, who came to Kenya in the 1970’s to teach at a local school. He inherited the athletics coaching position, even though he knew absolutely nothing about the topic, but he has since produced dozens of Olympic Gold medallists, World Champions, and World Record holders from 800m to the Marathon. You could say he has an abundance of ‘fairly’ good talent to choose from, however he’s obviously used it wisely.
There are plenty of great anecdotes throughout the book. A favourite of mine is when the author is trying to phone a 2hr 4min marathoner..He happens to call the wrong number, but not to worry, the person who picks up the phone is a 2 hr 5 min marathoner, so he’ll do. In most parts of the world, 2 hr anything marathoners are fairly hard to come by! Talk about a concentration of champions. Of the 4000 people living in and around the town of Iten, 1000 are full time athletes!
I found this book very easy to read. It flowed along nicely without getting bogged down in the detail of his daily life. Throughout the story the author gradually builds the relationships he is developing with his ‘team’ of Kenyans who are training for the Lewa Marathon with him, Finn’s first. Running your first marathon is intimidating enough, but add to it the hazards of running through the open African savanah (read: LIONS!), and you’ve got a real challenge on your hands.
Finn’s descriptions of his early morning runs evoke wonderful images of runners making their way to the meeting spot in the pre-dawn African light. Nothing needs to be pre-arranged. Everyone knows where to meet. You just show up at 6am, and (if you’re a white guy), hope you can keep up the pace.
Anyone interested in running and/or wishing to improve their running will get a great deal from the book, through inspiration, some technical advice, and finding out the secret to what makes these Kenyans so good.
You can grab a copy of Running With The Kenyans from the Book Depository. Right now the soft cover edition is 40% off, at $18.71. And you receive free shipping worldwide.