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Running With the Kenyans

In a move that is alternately naive, courageous, and entertaining, British journalist Adharanand Finn transplants to Kenya to learn from the world's best runners.

By / May 17, 2012

Running With the Kenyans By Adharanand Finn Random House 288 pp.

Courtesy of Random House

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Kenyans dominate long-distance running. Why? To see them gliding effortlessly at mind-boggling speeds to record-shattering marathon times worldwide can cause bewilderment. They seem super-human, almost alien, a mere pair of lungs atop two pistons.

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Most of us have not attempted a single 8-minute mile since our eight-grade physical. Top marathoners run a 5-minute mile 26.2 times in a row. There must be a secret, is the simple explanation to this madness. If only we slow Westerners knew the secret, we too could run with the Kenyans.

And so the British journalist Adharanand Finn moves to Kenya in search of the answer for his book “Running With the Kenyans.” That alone is audacious.

IN PICTURES: Kenya on the run

Making the book borderline silly, the 37-year-old Englishman fashions himself as a potential elite marathoner after winning a local 10k race (6.2 miles) in 38 and 1/2 minutes. To give some perspective: That’s the rough equivalent of winning a backyard game of horse and then heading to the Miami Heat summer camp to train with Lebron James.

There are easier ways to run faster than relocating with your wife and three children to East Africa. For starters, run daily. Finn, however, has not trained seriously in nearly two decades or ever run further than 13 miles. Anyone would get faster if they trained hard for several months, and Finn’s improvements hardly seem the result of living in Kenya.

Still, while I would rather have read about an already elite British or American runner testing the results of training in Kenya, Finn’s mix of naiveté and courage (and his wife’s patience and support) give him the incredible opportunity to meet and train with the world’s fastest runners. He is constantly bumping into a Boston Marathon winner here (Geoffrey Mutai) or a London Marathon winner there (Emmanuel Mutai, unrelated) as he trains for his first-ever marathon while also hunting down the “secrets” as to why Kenyans are fast. His search focuses on the storied town of Iten in Rift Valley Province, a dusty village at 8,500-feet elevation known to be a breeding ground for the world’s fastest runners.

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