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Book Review: ‘Running with the Kenyans’ by Adharanand Finn

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Rob Murray

Rob is a self confessed running geek, obsessed with all things related to the sport, whether road, track or triathlon.
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In Running with the Kenyans, club runner and journalist Adharanand Finn goes on a quest for the Holy Grail. A mystical running elixir, craved by athletes around the world as the magic formula to being a faster, better runner. Is it their food (Ugali in particular), genes, upbringing, perspective (‘Kenyans win races. I am a Kenyan, therefore I can win races’), or sheer determination, sacrifice and application?

Reaching Potential

Adharanand Finn running through the bush in Lewa. Photo: Marietta d'Erlanger

Adharanand Finn running through the bush in Lewa. Photo: Marietta d’Erlanger

Finn, the author, is no slouch himself; at the beginning of the book he runs 5k and 10k times that many club runners would be proud of attaining. In September 2010 for example, his 5k time was 18.19 and half marathon (on Dartmoor no less) was sub-90 minutes (86:54). Excellent times that actually placed him in the top 4% of the entire British population. Finn doesn’t deny that he has a talent for running though, in fact, this is the driving force of the book. Knowing that he has natural talent, he wonders what would happen if he gave it his all – how fast could he go? Combining this with the knowledge that Kenyan male runners have won 19 of the last 25 Boston Marathons (not to mention countless other championships and Olympics), the natural thing for Adharanand to do is to visit Kenya to learn from the greatest long distance runners on Earth.

Iten – Home of Champions

So, with the scene set, the book follows the author from his home in London, to a six month training ‘holiday’ to Iten, Kenya. Sitting 8,000 miles above sea level, this small town of around 4,000 inhabitants has become a Mecca for pro athletes. In the book Finn suggests that as many as 1000, or 25% of the population are runners.

Iten - The 'Home of Champions'

Iten – The ‘Home of Champions’

As he arrives in Iten, with his wife Marietta and three children, the narrative begins to form into that of a typical story. With a beginning and introduction in London, the training ‘journey’ in Iten then takes up the majority of the book. However early on we are told about Finn’s idea to run one of the most difficult long distance races in the world – the Lewa Marathon. Finn (with great gusto) forms a team called the Iten Town Harriers. The difference in running cultures immediately apparent when Fin asks his Kenya friends “what colour should our vests be?” To looks of ‘why does it matter?!’

A Wonderful Tale of Discovery, Well Told

Although a biographical account of his time in Iten, with the build up toward the Lewa Marathon at the end and a well described collection of characters, the books feel more like a fictional story. After the author drops hints about more colourful characters, the reader finds themselves wondering what we don’t know about them.

An Interview with author of ‘Running with the Kenyans’, Adharanand Finn

And you really feel as though you are running along as part of the pack, as Finn pounds mile after mile on red, dusty tracks. Or winds his way down precarious slopes to visit the rural homes of the friends he has made. Or takes part in training at one of the many training camps around Iten, running with the Kenyans, eating with the Kenyans and fully immersing himself in a new life.

Running with the Kenyans

Running with the Kenyans

As the book reaches its final pages you find yourself gripped as Finn lines up at the start of the Lewa Marathon, helicopters circling over-head to scare the packs of lions away.

Does he find the secret of the Kenyans running prowess? The answer is so multi-faceted and complex that the entire book is the answer!

Author: Rob Murray

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