Running with the Kenyans, Adharanand Finn
Recommended by Steve Lott. Steve is the Director of Studies and Head of English at Aldwickbury, but his other main passion in life is athletics, so given that he knows of my interest in running, it was not a huge surprise when he came up with this as his recommendation. Yet another (3 of the last 4!) book that has been shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year!
I finished this book about a week ago, but Easter holiday catch ups with friends and then my extraordinary trip to Le Manoir rather got in the way of writing this. But enough of the pre-amble, on to the book itself.
The author, Finn (I’m not going to type that first name again!), was a talented runner as a youth, but then life got in the way (feels familiar – the life getting in the way, not the talented runner as a youth bit). In his mid-thirties, spurred on by a pleasing local race result after he had got back into running to a certain extent, he decided to uproot his family, including three young children, and move to Iten in Kenya. This village was mentioned in both Bounce and Grit, and is well known as the centre of the distance-running phenomenon that is the main success story of Kenyan athletics in the last thirty or forty years. There he trains with Kenyans, he talks to them, he talks to coaches, trying to wheedle out the driving forces of their extraordinary success.
In the end, his conclusion is not a surprising one – there are a number of factors, and I won’t spoil the book for you by replicating his conclusions here, because that is not really what the book is about. It is more a story of a journey, of a dawning realisation about lifestyles. It is humbling to read the stories of these universally poor athletes, running because it gives them the opportunity to rise above poverty. It is a chance at a better life, but even the better life that they attain would still be considered a poor one by most of us in the UK. And yet they are happy, or at least reported happy by Finn – one presumes he would have no reason to distort the facts. Who are we to judge what is a poor life and what a rich one, if the other parties are happy?
Humbling, heartwarming, and if you are interested enough in running to know your own pacing over different distances and elevation changes, full of throwaway sentences that make you think “how the hell does anyone run that fast?!” A thoroughly enjoyable read!