Sunday, September 15, 2013

Running with the Kenyans : Adharanand Finn

Running with the Kenyans
By Adharanand Finn

Finn moved his wife and three children to Iten, Kenya, in order to train with Kenyan runners and understand why there are so many great Kenyan long-distance runners.

Refreshingly, this book is not like an extended Western-culture-centric,  running magazine article that proclaims "The secrets of Kenyan runners that will enable you to achieve your personal record!"

Rather, this is really a memoir of Finn's and his family's experience moving to and living in Iten, Kenya.  Finn does learn factors that contribute to Kenyans' success with running, but these are bundled into the larger experience of learning to live in a new country.  And that is what is really enjoyable about this book: you get a sense of the novelness of moving a new location, of meeting new people, uncovering differences in cultural norms and eventually the comfort of settling in.  And running just happens to be one large aspect of the culture there.

Finn does organically piece together a number of different factors that contribute to the Kenyans' success in long-distance running. But in the end, he concludes that many of these are are inherently linked to location (ex. high-elevation) and culture (ex. Kenyan children run barefoot to school when they are young / running as the only way out of poverty) and are not transferable elsewhere, much like how the charm of Parisian cafes or the success of Silicon Valley have not been duplicated in other locations. 

Finn ends up organizing a team to train for and run the tough, local Lewa Marathon, which serves as an end focal point for his narrative.  But it's really the descriptions of Finn's tough training runs, of his conversations with local coaches and successful athletes, and other colorful anecdotes of living there that make this such an enjoyable read.

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