Book review – Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn

Make this top of your reading list

It is not all that often that I wait with real anticipation for a book to be published. Even less common for me to pre-order it online and count the weeks and days until it will arrive, mainly due to the fact that I always have a pile of books next to my bed that I have yet to start, so adding to that pile is never a priority. But a combination of some brilliantly written articles in advance of one particular book and the fact that the subject matter is something I am fascinated by, meant that I was impatiently waiting for my pre-ordered copy of Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn from the day that the publishing date was announced.

Thankfully my great friend and mentor, Charlie Dark, passed on a pre-publication copy that he had been sent to read so I was able to see whether the book would live up to my rather high expectations earlier than anticipated.

I was hoping that the book would be part-training manual, part-inspirational tome and part-sports psychology discussion – maybe a combination of Paul Thoroux, Rasmus Ankersen and Professor Tim Noakes. It turned out to be a bit of all of them, though perhaps not in the proportions I was expecting.

The big question

There is no doubt that there is a plethora of literature, research, opinions and even movies about the reasons behind the recent and current domination of endurance running by people from east Africa and in particular the areas around Iten in Kenya and Bekoji in Ethiopia (there is a pretty amazing film coming out about Bekoji and you can see the trailer here) and the question that comes up again and again, is what is the secret behind their success? I have my own opinions and I’m happy to talk about this until the cows come home. But this is about what Adharanand discovered…

The (bigger) answer?

In Running with the Kenyans, Finn transports himself and his young family to Iten for a year to try to find the answer to the vexing question of why there are pockets of outstanding achievement in endurance running in east Africa. Along the way to trying to answer that question, Adharanand has adventures, set-backs, triumphs and no small amount of self-discovery.

I loved the parts in the book when Finn starts to train regularly and discovers that he is capable of much more than he thought he was. The descriptions of some of the runs – those that went well and those that didn’t go quite as well – had me variously laughing, wincing and nodding in sympathy. Finn ran the full gamut of experiences (pun intended) on his way to becoming the best runner he could be.

All along the journey of self discovery, Adharanand met people who gave him hints and tips, ideas and little nuggets of advice. But the answer to the big question always seems slightly out of reach. There are many examples of runners who are not super-human, of little set-backs, of every day struggles which makes the amazing achievements of the greatest runners alive seem even more extraordinary. So does Finn finally get the answer he is looking for?

I think in the end up Finn does answer the question. Certainly the answer might not be to everyone’s liking, but the end of the book has a very satisfyingly concise conclusion, that only someone who has really got up close and personal and lived the experience that Finn has, could confidently come to. The book is very well written – so really easy to read: I finished the book in two days on my warm-weather training camp – and whilst I personally might have liked a little more ‘science’ (I’m a running geek after all), I was massively inspired by the book and my desire to go to Iten has been stoked more than ever. And when I do pack my bags for Kenya, I’ll most certainly take a copy of Running with the Kenyans because is it well worth a second read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About simon

I run marathons. Everything else is a result of that.

3 Responses to “Book review – Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn”

  1. source May 27, 2012 at 8:37 am #

    Is it alright to put a portion of this on my web site if perhaps I publish a reference point to this website?

    • simon May 28, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

      Please feel free to quote anything I have written on your website and if you can reference where it came from that would be fantastic. What is your website by the way?

  2. Ruth Walters-Crisp May 28, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

    When I read Simon’s review and he knew I was buying the book he kindly invited me to post my review here too, so here goes:

    As a CrossFit Endurance training, high protein and low carb diet eating, marathon runner I probably should have put Adharanand Finn’s “Running with the Kenyans” down before I ended the first chapter. Just pages in, this book went dead against everything my training regime stands for.

    But it was enchanting. Page after page my attention was held. I’ve recommended this book to both runners and non runners since reading it. It’s a chronicle of an amazing journey and teaches so much about commitment to a cause, mental struggles, physical hardships and believing you’ve got what it takes to do something.

    When Finn leaves the UK for Kenya in search of just what makes the country’s runners so good and an opportunity to better his own running techniques, we meet the most incredible cast of colourful characters. As the fist part of the book flits around his pre-departure time in the UK, we’re soon living there with him in Iten, also trying to fathom out just what this Kenyan secret is.

    Finn’s new life builds with every chapter, as do the remarkable friendships he grows.

    I could share so many spoilers but I refuse to. This really is a must read for yourself. It left me with so, so much to think about, drawing several parallels with Matthew Syed’s “Bounce” that I read earlier this year.

    I ran the London Marathon on April 22nd 2012 in 4:39:31. I read Finn’s book before the Edinburgh Marathon on May 27th 2012 which I completed in 4:08:17. I say no more aside from you will never, ever look at the front of the pack in the same way again.

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