How to Become a Kenyan
Inspired by Kenyan runners?
I sure am. Want to become a Kenyan, or at least like a Kenyan runner?
I sure have, and I am not alone.
There are two ways to become Kenyan:
1. Move to Eldoret or Iten, eat ugali and sukuma wiki every day. Run a ton with the various training groups and live and breathe running until you get fast. Adharanda Finn tried this, and wrote an interesting account of a European living, training and racing in Kenya in his book Running with the Kenyans.
Don’t want to pack up the kids and live in a third world country like Finn? The you’ll have to improvise and adapt. Here are a few Kenyan secrets that could be modified to fit a Western lifestyle.
- Build the Biggest Aerobic Base You Can: I recommend the Maffetone Method. A large part of Kenyan success is the years of easy to moderate aerobic running they do as kids. Many people are also surprised at how slow even elite Kenyans train much of the time. Aerobic fitness is the most important factor, and you can’t fake it for long.
- Don’t Run Barefoot, Run Like You Were Barefoot: Remember that Kenyan runners get shoes as soon as they can. But years of running barefoot have given them a fantastic stride. For Westerners who have lived their lives in shoes, a different approach is needed. Spending more time barefoot, running in less supportive shoes, training on natural surfaces and focusing on a high cadence efficient stride can pay off big.
- Simplify: The more you focus your life energy on running, the more improvement you can make. Take a close look at lifestyle factors that interfere with training and recovery. See what you can eliminate or reduce. Read Thoreau and remember his maxim, Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!
- Periodize: Know when it’s time to train, and when it’s time to take a break. Know when it’s time to go hard, and know when it’s time for recovery.
- Rally the Troops: Find others to train with. Kenyans rarely train alone, and they feed off that group energy to get more done. Join a club, find a partner, go to races, get a dog. Lots of folks get more done when part of a team.
Eat a simple starch based, vegetarian diet. The Kenyan dietary secret is not the ugali and sukuma wiki, but that it is starch based with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. There are many ways to do this based on a number of different starches, fruits, and veggies to suit anyone’s taste.
OK, so you can’t really become a great Kenyan runner, especially if you missed out on a Kenyan childhood. But you can still learn from some of their habits. Who knows? Maybe a PR is in store for you this season.