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Running With The Kenyans

I have just finished reading Running With The Kenyans by Adharanand Finn. The book is an account of an amateur runner's experience of spending six months living in Kenya in the town that many world class endurance runners live and train. The book examines what factors contribute to the Kenyan's ability to dominate world endurance races.

The main conclusion is that there in no one secret. There are many things that contribute to their abilities:

Barefoot running as kids. The book talks a lot about barefoot running. The conclusion is that because the athletes learn to run barefoot as kids, they develop a good and efficient technique that helps them avoid injury. As the athletes get older and more experienced, most will progress to using shoes, but they will still have the correct technique.

Running to school. Or rather, just lots of running as kids in general. Not the sedentary lifestyle that most kids in our country have.

Very low fat, high carb diet. The diet of most of the people living in the town consists of mostly a type of bread. They get almost all their energy from carbohydrates. There is virtually no medium to high fat foods available. To celebrate one girls birthday they had to specially order in a cake from the next town over. High fat foods are just not available.

Focus. If someone is good enough at running that they aim to become an athlete, then they go all in. Friends and family help support them so that they can fully focus on their running. No day jobs. No other schedule to squeeze training in around. If there aren't running, then they are recovering.

Determination. For many ot these runners, there is no plan B. Their goal is to win and get the prize money. They set off assuming that they are going to win.

A running culture. There are many running role models. Many predecessors to aim after. So many world champions and record holders. This contributes to their belief that if they train hard enough, they can do it too.

These factors and many others help explain the dominance of the Kenyans when it comes to endurance running. I enjoyed the book, though I don't see myself forcing my kids to run to school barefoot in an attempt to make them world class athletes when they are older.

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