Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review: Running with the Kenyans

Adharanand Finn’s Running With The Kenyans stands as part personal odyssey, part Kenyan running exploration. On the surface Finn sets out with two primary goals in mind: first, he wants to find himself as runner, person, and writer, and second he wants to tap the Kenyan well in an effort to figure out what makes the country so dominant in distance running. In order to achieve both goals, Finn uproots his family, complete with small children and moves to Kenya to train for a marathon. With these two central themes, at times the book can inspire, at others it can meander along lacking direction as he searches for to find the answer to questions that boarder on rhetorical.

As a runner, Finn is not world class, at least at the texts start, and regardless of his end stage fitness, he will never be elite. That said, he wants to live the dream, to run free as he calls it, “to live among people who don’t think that running is ridiculous” (Finn 45). In Iten, Kenya, the town he relocates to, people do not run for fitness—they are not dog walkers, they have to work too hard just to stay alive—here people run to be athletes, to seek a way out and to find a future. In Iten, a hotbed of Kenyan running, the home to the famous Brother Colm who started it all, people run because to run, they have a chance. Thus their training comes with “‘the hunger to succeed” (237).

Finn explores this world, stumbling into record holders both current past at nearly every step. As he works toward his personal running goal, running his first marathon, he befriends locals, attends races, and visits training camps. Finn creates a running team with the goal of not only completing, but also promoting a few dreamers. Along his journey, he casually shows up to a morning run, one conducted at 5:30 am, to find the current Marathon World Record holder, Wilson Kipsang, giving directions for a fartlek workout. Success and greatness is so abound, that when Finn attempts to contact Kipsang, a 2:03 marathoner, he phones the wrong Kipsang, only this one has a 2:05 personal best. The running greatness becomes his focus, and much of the text tries to find the secret, one in the end has a complex and convoluted answer, a response deeply rooted and spread across the culture of the area.

Finn’s marathon rests at the text’s culmination, standing as the final event beyond the afterword. While this path is interesting, the nuts and bolts rests in the sections highlighted above. Finn wants to know why we run. Why do people punish themselves? At times he follows the lead of Born to Run for he himself had converted to forefoot style to avert injury and mimic barefoot Kenyans, and he longs to know what running means. Throughout the narrative journey, he digs, ponders, and tries to find the answer: “Perhaps it is to fulfill this primal urge that runners and joggers get up every morning and pound the streets in cities all over the world” (195). He went to Kenya to become primal, and as an avid runner I can claim that his journey stokes the internal fires of those constantly searching for the same facts. 

Favorite line: “Twenty-six miles; forty-two kilometers. But they are just numbers. One step at a time. One breath at a time” (xiv). 

 Works Cited
Finn, Adharanand. Running with the Kenyans: Passion,Adventure, and the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth. New York: Ballantine, 2012.

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