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Fantastic book, easy read.

More than 50% of my life I've been a runner. I'm a white Caucasian male who is trying to always get better and I look up to East Africans in the sport of running because, quite frankly, they're the best. I'm always curious to know what kind of training they do differently, or what kind of food helps them. Obviously I'm aware that genetics plays a large role and no ONE THING will make me into a superstar outside of more training. But, I like learning about new cultures and seeing how I can implement changes into my running regiment using Kenyan tradition!

This book is a fantastic read because it's a story about the authors journey to kenya to uncover secrets about kenyan success. What you find is that there are like 10+ "secrets" that, when all put together, lead to kenyan success. Not ONE thing like going barefoot, being at altitude, etc.
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on August 9, 2013
After reading "Born To Run", I purchased this book to learn more about why people run! This book is interesting - the best part being the final chapters. I learned why and how Kenyans strive to be athletes, how they train, the foods that sustain them, the trails they run on (with lions and other wildlife watching!) and what they do with their prize money as the best runners compete in worldwide competitions. The author and his family traveled to a Kenyan training camp, lived in a rented house in the town. and made many friends. The author met and ran with the top athletes in world competition including those who won olympic medals.

Seventy years ago my husband ran long distance track in high school - he was a farm boy, spent early childhood in the mountains of West Virginia, and ran in school competitions barefoot! He won medals and enjoyed himself. Others wore sneakers but remember, they did not have thick soles! So now, with a son-in-law who runs triathalons and is training for an ultra marathon, I am amazed at how running shoes are changing to near barefoot status again.

If you like to keep up with track competition and enjoy running or just watching from the sidelines like me (wishful thinking!) enjoy the book.
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on July 28, 2012
I'm one of the growing legion of US-based readers who makes it a regular practice to read The Guardian UK's web. There, I learned of Guardian writer Adharanand Finn's book. This enjoyable tale captures the enthusiastic spirit and genial disposition of its author and the willing, "let's go for it" all-in cooperation of his wife, Marietta. [Without her support, no trip, no book.]

Finn's recounting details his decision to up sticks for Iten, a town in Rift Valley Province - the epicenter of Kenyan running dominance for the last decade or more. Ostensibly, this book is about Finn's 'game improvement' plan: having tasted a bit of success as an undergraduate runner, he takes up a friend's counsel to train hard for a year and reap the benefits. Being a good journalist, why not do that in the Rift Valley?

In truth, the book is more about an exploration of Kenyan running dominance. What makes them such astonishing world-beaters? Finn's neat writing approach is to look for "the secret," all the while taking note of - and tallying - one factor after another chapter after chapter. The secret? After piling on the evidence, he concludes rightfully that there's no one thing. Here's his well-considered summary:

"For six months I've been piecing together the puzzle of why Kenyans are such good runners. In the end there was no elixir, no running gene, no training secret that you could package up and present with flashing lights and fireworks. Nothing that Nike could replicate and market as the latest running fad. No, it was too complex, yet too simple, for that. It was everything, and nothing. I list the secrets in my head: the tough, active childhood, the barefoot running, the altitude, the diet, the role models, the simple approach to training, the running camps, the focus and dedication, the desire to succeed, to change their lives, the expectation that they can win, the mental toughness, the lack of alternatives, the abundance of trails to train on, the time spent resting, the running to school, the all-persuasive running culture, the reverence for running."

I love the construction of the story: instead of formulating this list and studying the factors, it's the reverse that happens - Finn encounters each of these factors in turn in his daily life and training and then thinks, hmmm, that's another thing to add to the list. Well done.

One disappointing note in the book is Finn's admission of an odd gap in his knowledge of running history and culture. It involves a neat serendipity in his book: one of his co-runners in Iten is a "young American student named Anders" (we're never told his surname although - hint - it's 'Samuelson') Eventually, he "work[s] out that Anders' mother is Joan Benoit"...a fact not easy for Finn to work out because he gets a jumbled tale from his host, Godfrey, and - unstated - Anders is a humble kid (the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree).

Later, upon the occasion of a visit to Iten by "Anders' Mom," Finn relates that "not knowing much about her career, I looked her up on the Internet and managed to find a video of her Olympic victory in 1984." He then proceeds to school his readers about her 'amazing' breakaway run in which she "plow[ed] on with a look of steel on her face..." Huh? By most accounts the seminal event in the history women's running and you have to look it up on the Internet to see what it was about? Seriously? Then, two pages later he recounts an episode with her while driving in Iten and describes her as a "small, elderly white woman with short gray hair." Elderly? Joan Benoit Samuelson is an attractive, 55-year-old woman who, yes, wears her hair short and naturally gray.

That irritation aside, "Running with the Kenyans" is a delightful book. Anyone with an interest in sport should pick it up.
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on September 9, 2013
This is a journalist's account of contemporary running culture in Kenya. And so it is in the unmistakable, or I might say inevitable, style of a reporter. It's readable - I've often read books in a less agreeable style. A lot of it is anecdotal journalistic free association rather than analytical observation. Yet, in spite of a pretty good effort I think he still misses or at least underappreciates some aspects of what he experiences, although the observations are appreciated. And it certainly does take more determination than I would likely gather to uproot a small family, leave a job and move to Kenya to study the runners there. Would that there could be a similar book about the Tarahumara, which is doubtful.

What he comes away with is a series of factors that logically seem to lead to the Kalenjin Kenyans' domination of distance running worldwide today. It's just that somehow you come away with the feeling that something is missing, that it doesn't all really quite add up. The running barefoot as children, training at high altitude, diet, and the motivation to get out of poverty -- are all significant...yet you don't come away with the feeling that all the pieces are there, or maybe they just don't fit together into a coherent whole. One point in particular he fails to mention: with the debate over whether distance running causes heart scarring or not, it would be especially interesting to hear if the Kenyans have experienced this problem or not. I've never heard of one of their runners having any such thing.

I think that something not fully acknowledged is that Westerners have become so distanced from nature they have no comprehension of life in a tribal culture. For those who look, there are certain common features of any true tribal society. They all start with the assumption that nothing is given. You must work hard, very hard, for survival. So you see the brutal training given to young Apache runners, described in my book, the vision quests and sun dances of north American plains tribes, the pueblo kiva initiation ceremonies, and the Kalenjin circumcision ceremony. You had indeed better be focused if you aim to survive such ordeals. And once a young person survives such an initiation they are much less fearful or reluctant to give everything to any endeavor. For example, after the Masai kill a lion with a short sword in order to become a warrior, do you think they would be too concerned about competing in a race?
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on April 22, 2014
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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on January 4, 2015
Over the last several years, every discussion of books about running begins (and too often ends) with Chris MacDougall's Born To Run. The book is terrific, but it is only one of the two best books on running I've read. Dhar Finn's Running with the Kenyans belongs in every books-on-running conversation. I simply can't praise his storytelling style enough, especially the brilliant way he writes about his own running life merged with the pursuit of the mythical legacy of the world's greatest Kenyan distance runners. If you liked Born To Run, you absolutely need to read this book. I have no hesitation in saying that it belongs in the company of the best books on running you'll read. I understand that Finn is now working on a project on Japan's ekiden running culture. Already looking forward to pre-ordering that one.
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on April 2, 2018
It was an enjoyable relaxing story. It really shows you how one's environment can shape performance. It's a totally different sport story that I found captivating. I highly recommend it to the typical runner.
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on May 31, 2017
An interesting concept of running style!
Also good insights as to cultural contrasts and personal commitments to overcoming significant challenges in life.
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on May 4, 2017
I may be a little bias here, but reading Finn's story is interesting, especially to runners, either recreational or more serious ones. You will feel his excitement during all those practices and races, His experience in living a life as runners or befriending with elite Kenyan runners and witnessing their daily habits are interesting for running aficionados like me.
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on August 2, 2014
For any average runner, seeing the mighty Kenyans run is an visual delight and as you try matching their gait, their pace etc and quickly realise that you're doing it wrong, the first thing that comes to mind is that these guys are from another planet. There's no way someone can run that quick for that long. You inevitably think of their secrets and wonder what makes them tick.

This book puts it all in perspective that too from the eyes of another fellow, non-Kenyan runner, which OSAn important factor. Finn does a remarkable job crafting the story and constantly going back to the key factors that seem to deliver the Kenyan domination of world athletics. Great read, definitely recommend reading for runners.
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