Running with the Kenyans: Passion, Adventure, and the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth


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One woman tells me, as we sit on the grass afterwards, that she thinks running is like getting drunk in reverse. With drinking, it feels great at first, but then you start feeling awful. With running, you feel awful first, but then, after you finish, you feel great. That sounds like a much better deal.

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According to Lee, however, it’s not only about the forefoot strike. He tells me to keep my head up, lead with my chest, and pull my legs through, as though I’m on a unicycle. If that isn’t enough to think about, he starts a metronome going at a rapid-fire tack tack tack.

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Toby Tanser. I was reading about him in the newspaper in Lewa last week. I’ve also got his book, More Fire, about how to run like a Kenyan, in my bag.

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charity, called Shoe4Africa,

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‘We do all our exercises at the school in bare feet,’ he says, looking at me, making sure I’m listening. ‘In the West we put children in shoes before they can walk. What are we teaching them? We’re teaching them that the ground is dangerous, that they need to be protected from it. But Kenyan children can feel the ground, so they have a better relationship with it. They learn to place their foot carefully when they run, so they don’t hurt themselves. They learn to land gently, lightly, gliding over the earth rather than pounding it.’

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Mike Boit, a former student at St Patrick’s, won an Olympic bronze medal in the 800m in the 1972 Olympics. In 1978 he won gold in the Commonwealth Games. ‘At the celebration, his childhood friend came up to him. The two of them used to run around together as children. He shook Boit’s hand. “That’s all very well,” he said, pointing to his gold medal. “But can you still catch an antelope?”’

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It was a dangerous game that only the fittest, strongest and fastest runners survived. The better a young man was at raiding, the more cattle he accumulated. The Kalenjin were, and to a lesser extent still are, a largely polygamous society, and so the more cows a man had, the more wives he could buy, and the more children he was likely to father.