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

Run to the Beat Race Recap

This Sunday I raced the Run to the Beat half marathon in London, along with my sis-and-bro in law.

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Some people made a really good effort at fancy dress. Others just wore the t-shirt they were sent.

It’s USP is that there are DJs positioned throughout the track to keep you pumped for the 13.1 miles. I prepared for the race as best I could by painting my finger and toe nails the same colour as my t-shirt. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no prep more important.

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Instead of giving us a t-shirt at the end, they were sent to us before, and actually had our numbers printed on. Genius! A cool t-shirt that I’ll definitely wear again, and no annoying race number pinned to my front. Instead of feeling weird that everyone was in the same shirt, you felt like you were part of something big. But I still found myself looking for the purple shirts of my running club….

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The course itself wasn’t anything special, and we saw a lot of docks and cranes. The best DJs along the course were the ones who encouraged the crowds: they really lifted my energy! Especially in mile 7 after the short-lived ‘half way high’ wore off.

I think there were some people who weren’t regular runners on this race. Now – despite what you are about to read – I am ALL FOR people getting into running. But. When you’re in a busy race, it’s not cool to cut out in front of someone and then slow down! Then your legs tangle up with the person behind, and you both risk falling on your faces.

This happened to me three times within the first three miles. I’d run out of patience by the third time, and gave the poor girl a big dirty look. Then I thought: watch yourself, or karma will get you.

Then, not 2 miles later, karma struck. I tried to overtake a girl at the same time as running past a lamp post with a huge sign on it. And misplaced my feet, and fell flat on my face. Well, on my chest, left knee and ankle to be exact. So watch out people! Nothing like a fall on your face to literally bring you back to reality with a bump!

In spite of this, every time I checked my time, I was on target. This was the first time I had properly paced myself, and it was so exciting to realise 10k in that I was on track for my target finish! And this was shortly followed by disbelief that I had to keep this pace up. I slowed down a little at the end as my left side was hurting (a mix of IT band, sore knee and sore pride).

Miles 7 and 10 were challenging, but I had just finished Running with the Kenyans the day before, and kept thinking about the ‘Kenyan secret’: they just want it more than us, and work harder for it. And everytime I wanted to slow down, I told myself that, and thought about my goals, and it helped me pick my pace up.

The final half mile was tough: after running 12.6 miles, with a hill in the 12th mile, I got to the top and saw the finish line. But there were two out-and-backs which took you devestatingly close to the end before taking you away again.

I think this sums up my impression of the race: it was fun, and had the elements to make a great race, but it didn’t quite hit the mark. It started 15 minutes late, the water was in plastic cups at the water stations (impossible to drink and run), and the out-and-backs at the end were just mean! Just as I handed in my bag at the baggage drop, the whole shelving system collapsed (luckily no one was hurt). But the biggest negative was during the course: one section of the race took you around the perimeter of the Royal Artillery Barracks, and my sis-in-law was queuing there for 5 minutes to get in and out. After charging £46 for entry, this seemed really unfair.

So, finally, I made it through the out-and-backs, and finished. And got a personal best! I finished in 1:41:50, forever to be known as 1:41 😉 I missed my target that I had set earlier on in the year by 1:50, but I am SO STOKED to get that time after thinking I wasn’t prepared.

The highlights of the race were:

  • Really friendly and helpful volunteers at the start
  • A cool running village at the start/finish line, with a real party atmosphere at the end
  • Awesome running top
  • Jessie J performing at the end
  • Vita Coco were a good sponsor, and such a great drink to have on the way around
  • Running in the same event as my sis-and-bro in law and their friends was really fun
  • The fact that they lived 10mins from the start didn’t hurt either 😉

After the event, we collected our medals (worth the £46 just for that), and went to a local pub to enjoy the sunshine. I love London pubs: they are the coolest of the cool. This one had an awesome beer garden, and made you feel like you were in a trendy London version of Girls but without the annoying cool-because-she-doesn’t-know-it main character.

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And just because he’s a trooper, here’s my Dad’s pic from the City2Surf last month.



Did anyone else race this weekend?

Has anyone else fallen on their face during a run?

Ellie B