Running With the Kenyans: Passion, Adventure, and the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth
Review by Brady Holmer, FTC and TeamFTC member, Graduate Research Assistant, Integrative Cardiovascular Physiology Laboratory, University of Florida
“In Kenya, do you have runners like that? People who are just running to get fit?
… “In Kenya, there are only athletes.” “…if you are an athlete, you run. If you aren’t, you don’t”
This dialog between author Adharanand Finn and Olympic 5000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot resembled an underlying theme of the book “Running With the Kenyans.” Namely, in Kenya, running is life.
Finn, once a young runner himself, tells of his early fascination with Kenyan runners and provides this as the impetus for him moving his family of five to Iten, Kenya, one of the most well-known stomping grounds for the world’s best runners. He wants to live and train with the best. He wants to find out, “what the secret” is.
“Running” however, is more than a self-indulgent journey of one writer to get faster. As Finn interacts with the locals and learns from them, readers too learn the Kenyan “secret:” that there is no secret at all. Iten is literally a 24/7 training camp for athletes young, old, fast, and “slow.” Local cross-country races held nearly every weekend where, yes, the children and adults mostly run barefoot. There are no running programs, we learn, only 5:30 a.m groups runs that you either show up for, or regret missing. In Kenya, running is quite literally, a way out, and this sense of urgency pervades their training and their culture.
What makes “Running” interesting is the oddness of the author training with a group he doesn’t fit in with, yet is accepted by with open arms. The Kenyans, it seems, are willing to give anyone a try, anyone with the joy of running. Finn immerses himself in Kenyan running culture, and even when he falls back on long runs on the dirt roads, someone is waiting to give him a water bottle.
The journey culminates with Finn competing in a local marathon, really, “26 miles of wilderness” as he likes to describe it. How often do you see a pack of Zebras on your run. Training, it seems, has been paying off, he’s the first mzungu (yes, white guy) to finish the race.
The book makes one want to pack up their things and head to Iten, if only for a short while, just to see the goals that could be achieved if fully immersed in a lifestyle conducive to running success. The main route to success, however, comes in an off-hand conversation Finn has with his daughter before heading out on a run.
“Why are you running?” She asks.
“Because it’s fun.” He replies.
Thanks for the book review, Brady! Do you have a running book you would like to see reviewed or have read a book you would like to recommend to the FTC? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org