I just finished this book in two days. The plot is simple: Adharanand Finn used to be an athlete, but has long since stopped training. He somehow rediscovers his passion for running, and moves to Iten, Kenya for half a year, to train like a pro. While there, he meets many of the world’s fastest runners, and many world record holders, and improves his PB. No spoilers here.
It’s a fascinating look into how Kenyan athletes live and train, and what their background is like. Their way of life is really much poorer and simpler than I had imagined. For most athletes, running is their only way out of poverty, and the difference between failure and success is infinitely small. There is only room for a handful of runners in a big marathon, and they must be spotted by a foreign agent to be able to get abroad. The number of elite runners in Kenya is so large, they have to be at an Olympic level to even get noticed. The dream for these runners is to win price money in a big international race, so they can buy a cow and a car. While training they can hardly afford a pair of shorts. Their diet in mainly ugali, which is a bit like polenta, and beans. So much for protein bars.
The book is sometimes compared to Born To Run. But while McDougal’s book is written with a mission, to convince people that barefoot running is a good for you, Running With The Kenyans takes a more open approach. Finn simply wants to learn to run faster, and his reasoning is: Why not learn from the best? The book is not just about running, but there’s a bit about daily life in rural Africa as well, as well as a number of interesting characters. The book won’t give you many concrete training tips, but focuses on the larger picture on how you should train. As the Irish coach Colm O’Connell puts it:
You people come to find the secret, but you know what the secret is? That you think there’s a secret. There is no secret.
So don’t expect the book to blow your mind like Born To Run probably did, but expect to want to head out for a long run as soon as you put the book down.