Book review: Running with the Kenyans – Adharanand Finn

I have recently read the book “Running with the Kenyans” by Adharanand Finn while I was on holiday and it was really an entertaining piece of work. He is trying to answer the question “why are Kenyans good at running?” by leaving his hometown in England and moving to Kenya with his wife and children for 5 months to run the brutal Lewa Marathon.

Running with the Kenyans

He moves to Ita, the running capital of the world and starts investigating why they are so good at running. He meets a lot of famous world record holders from the 5k to the marathon distance. What intrigues and inspired me was why he actually moved to Kenya. He used to be a talented running in high school and university, but when he started his career he neglected his talents and training. As the years are slipping away, he says: “I keep telling myself that one day I will train hard and run really fast. I´m not really sure what that would actually mean –a sub 3 hour marathon, perhaps? But the years are slipping away. I tell myself there is still hope. It isn´t that I want to achieve any specific goal, I just don´t want to one day look back and regret that I never gave myself a decent chance to see what I could do”. That last sentence impressed me.

Within his adventure he writes all the things down in a small blackbook about the “secrets of the Kenyans” to sum things up. In the end he concludes that there is no specific secret but it is all of them together. It is a gathering of many aspects:

• The barfoot running technique they adapt to in their childhood
• The ugali food, a rich carbohydrate meal that they eat every day
• The altitude
• Their genes and physiques
• Their dedication by only eating, sleeping and training
• Their role models of former successful athletes
• The running training camps
• The abundance of different roads and trails to train on
• And most important….the hunger to succeed…to change their life! (winning one race in the Western world will change their life forever, because of the prize money)

The inspiring story and his writing style kept me reading and finish the book within 4 days. But there is one paragraph in the book that got my attention, where he describes why we humans run. About the feeling we get and we cannot describe and explain this to non runners. “Watching runners racing for the line, relying on nothing but themselves, their own will-power, fighting their own limitations, eyes fixed ahead in complete focus, the dedication of years of hard work etched across their faces, can bring tears to your eyes. Running is a brutal and emotional sport. It is also simple, a primal sport. As humans, on a most basic level, we get hungry, we sleep, we yearn for love, and we run. Just watch small children left to play unsupervised. They can´t stop running. It is part of what makes us human.

Perhaps it is to fulfill this primal urge that runner and joggers get up every morning and pound the streets in cities all over the world. To feel the stirring of something primeval deep down in the pits of our bellies. To feel ´a little bit wild´. Running is not exactly fun. Running hurts. It takes effort. Ask any runner why he runs, and he will probably look at you with a wry smile and say: “I don´t know.” But something keeps us going. If we push on, we begin to feel a vague, tingling sense of who, or what, we really are. It´s a powerful feeling, strong enough to have us coming back for more, again and again.”

Conclusion: An educational, inspirational and motivational story that was worth my time!

This article has been written by Erik Brandsma, a triathlete from the Netherlands with a dream to finish the Ironman World Championships in Kona-Hawaii.