Running with the Kenyans – Review

Well, we’re back from holiday. And so far, the weekend has been spent doing various DIY activities. Today I found myself buying lawn food and spreading it across our lawn – this is a sure sign that I have well and truly left my twenties.

As I traveled to London for Run to the Beat, I finished reading Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn. Basically, after winning a 10k charity run in the UK, Finn decides to move to Kenya for a period of time to train with Kenyan runners, and in the spirit of adventure, brings his wife and kids along too.

It appealed to me because of the subtitle: ‘discovering the secrets of the fastest people on earth’. It seems that at every major running event the champions are Africans who aren’t very well known, who outrun the competition by a long shot, and who accept their success with composed pride. If there was a secret to this success, I definitely wanted in.


However, soon after starting, Finn makes it quite clear: there isn’t really a secret to their success. The memoir looks at what makes the Kenyans successful, which includes eating huge amounts of ugali (a maize-porridge thing) and taking rest periods seriously (ie. not doing anything). There are three recurring themes which run throughout the book:

  1. Barefoot running is how they run when younger, but the athletes do train in trainers when professional
  2. The lifestyles of the more rural Kenyans prepares them for running in a way that our Western lifestyles won’t
  3. They see it as their way to make a massive difference in their lives and the lives of their families, and so they work bloody hard for it

It was really interesting to learn more about how the athletes trained. I know very little about how any professional athlete trains, but the simplicity of their training camps was still an eye opener. As was the sheer size of the industry: I had no idea how many training camps there were out there, nor how many international athletes trained there as well.

Finn also emphasises the humble conditions that the athletes live in compared to their successes: he describes meeting Mary Keitany and her husband in their modest house, and then seeing her win the London marathon. Apparently it’s thought among the Kenyan athletes that too much comfort can make you soft, which will ultimately impact your running. Not an entirely stupid idea.

There were a few things which meant this book wasn’t a complete page turner for me. His reason for being out there wasn’t 100% clear: beyond focusing on bare foot running and learning about their lifestyles, at times it seemed there wasn’t a lot of insight. For example, the woman in his running team struggled to complete any training runs, yet in their marathon (**spoiler alert**) she places. Yet Finn doesn’t offer any insight into how she achieved this success despite his doubting her abilities throughout the book.He also doesn’t offer so much insight into why his own time improves.

Also: some further insight into his wife’s experience would have rounded it all off a bit more. She just seemed to be a bit-player in this experience, which is a shame: a wife who travels to Kenya with 3 kids under 10 just so her husband can run all day should be celebrated I reckon!

So: it was definitely an interesting read, and it did help me when I was running in Run to the Beat: I pictured these Kenyan training camps, and “They want it more” became my mantra. It was a nice account of his running in Kenya and the people he met, and again it made me want to put my trainers on and run when I finished. But the conclusion that there was no ‘secret’ was kind of obvious, and therefore a little disappointing. I felt like I was waiting for something which never arrived: perhaps if it had been marketed differently it would have felt a lot more satisfying.

Hope you’re all having a good Saturday? Any gardeners out there? What can I do now that I’ve fed my lawn?


Ellie B