Run Like a Kenyan

Posted: March 19, 2011 in Run, Training
Tags: , ,
  • Long Run (click to see stats)
  • 11.51k (1:28:33)
  • Avg. Heart Rate = 156 bpm
  • Max. Heart Rate = 159 bpm
  • Avg. Pace = 5:38 /km
  • Max. Pace = 3:14 /km
  • Calories = 1113
  • Temp = 4º
  • SOTD: ‘Franklin’s Tower’ (04-14-01) by Phil & Friends

God bless taper week.  Just an easy 11k run today in the city for an unpleasant change.  Likewise, not very exciting pictures this week either, but I did enjoy the current spring-like weather outside and the fact that I didn’t have to spend an additional 45 minutes getting dolled up to prevent frostbite.  I think I’m as ready as I’m ever going to be for next weekend’s ‘Around the Bay’ 30k race.  I’m just praying for nice weather similar to today.

A long swath of unpaved ground between Lakeshore Rd. and Carleton Ave. Whoopie shit.

While I ran this morning I thought about an article I that appeared in Tuesday’s Globe & Mail entitled How I learned to run like a Kenyan (03/15/11) by Reid Coolsaet, one Canada’s premier marathoners.  This article was forwarded to me by a friend, not because I’m some sort of running enthusiast so much, but because I’m too cheap to ever splurge on such a hoity-toity newspaper in the first place…but, I have to say, it was a pretty interesting read and gave me something to think about.

This is about as scenic as it gets in the city unfortunately.

It is already a well-documented fact that the poor African country of Kenya has been producing some of the world’s finest and most gifted marathoners for the past 30 years or so.  Kenya already lays claim to 60 of the top 100 marathoners in the world with four of the five top marathons in the world all going to Kenyan runners last year alone.  Just recently as a matter of fact, the new women’s world record for the Half Marathon was set last month by Mary Keitany also from Kenya…obviously.  All in all, 239 Kenyans broke the two hours and 15 minutes mark in the marathon.  Holy shit!  Consider then that Kenya’s population is approximately 39 million to Canada’s 34 million, saying that Kenyans are ‘decent long distance runners’ would be like saying the Japanese have a ‘slight situation’ at their Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Along the Walker’s Creek Trail

The article details Coolsaet’s journey to this East African country to explore why this is the case exactly.  Coolsaet travels to the small town of Iten which is home to many of the world’s foremost marathoners, as well as hundreds of other runners who make a living winning road race purses around the globe.  Besides the fact that this rural town is perched at approximately 2,400m above sea level providing athletes the added benefit of training in thin air, Coolsaet details a few other reasons that may culturally attribute to Kenya’s long distance success.

Consistency. Run – a lot – no kidding.  If you want to be a good runner you have to get out and run – simple.  Kenyans will run up to two or three times a day and look for any opportunity to fit a few extra kilometers into their regular training weeks.  Where I can’t run that often, I do make a point of getting out to run at least 4 times a week which is more than any of my other workout routines for cycling or swimming…but twice a day?  Geez!

Lots of rest. Don’t just take a break – REST! It is vital that the body has adequate time to repair itself after a hard training session before attempting to embark on another one.  Kenyans actually factor mid-day naps into their daily training routine as well as getting to bed as early as possible.  Plus, they don’t run hard all the time and schedule slow and easy runs for a few days after a particularly hard training session or race.  Okay I can do that.  In fact, just to switch things up a bit while keeping it simple, I will even put on one of those ridiculous neon flotation belts and run in the deep end of the pool…maybe once a month. What the hell.  Rest…I like the sound of that.

Group Training. Apparently, seeing a Kenyan running alone is like spotting a Sasquatch lumbering across the trail in front of you.  Kenyans prefer to run in groups to receive that added little push during hard runs, as well as keeping easy runs light and easy with idle chit-chat.  This is something that I have adapted only recently when I started to run with my coach on the weekends.  I used to prefer the solitude of long distance running (as I still do from time to time) but I have noticed a drastic improvement with my own skills after running with a group even for a short time.  Who likes getting left behind, right?

Warm up. It is said that it is best to ‘ease into your runs’ – something I don’t typically do very much given particular time constraints.  Kenyans start off very, very slowly before transitioning into an easy jog and then into their intended pace.  I’m more of a ‘get-up-and-go’ kind of fella myself, but I have begun to recognize that I need to spend more time warming up prior to running to prevent bouts of stiffness and soreness afterwards as well as difficulties during the run itself.  I am going to start walking slowly and build while my Forerunner 305 connects (2-3 minutes) to it’s satellite and then start my “run” once set and ready.  Done.

Soft surfaces. Running primarily on dirt trails and unpaved routes, Kenyans minimalize the impact wear n’ tear on their knees and limbs receive at the hands of running on harder paved surfaces.  I understand this whole philosophy, of course, but this is easier said than done when you don’t live near vast expanses of African Plain.  I am hoping to get more trail runs accomplished this spring/summer once the weather is nicer and I’m not at such a risk of death by exposure after loosing my way along snowy unmarked trails in the middle of February.  I did manage to find this long stretch of unpaved ground today in the middle of the city and although it wasn’t scenic, it was a bit softer and easier going on my knees and legs.  I wonder if there are more of these ‘trails’ around?

Avoid stress. The Lion King popularized the Swahili phrase ‘Hakuna Matata’ which, loosely, translates to “no worries”.  Now, finally, here is a philosophy that this hippie triathlete can get behind.  Kenyans embrace this philosophy in their lives 100% and, instead, use running as means of avoiding stress; something that I am in no way, shape or form ready to say about myself.  Long distance running, for me, is a chore.  It is stressing in itself…but I hope to get to this point someday.  In the meantime, I do yoga afterwards and throughout the week to keep my stress levels in check.

So what does this say about my own run training?  Am I on par with Kenyan marathoners?  Certainly not!  In fact, on today’s lazy 12k run I felt more like a pregnant wildebeest, however, I am learning what it takes to be a decent long distance runner and this article affirms to me that I am, in fact, on the right path.  All that’s left now is to drop another 100lbs, get a good sun tan and have myself fitted for a black, red and green Olympic jersey.

  1. […] but it does allow me the odd chance to just get out for the sake of getting out.  I think those Kenyans are definitely onto something […]

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