The book chronicles an English vegetarian journalist’s journey to Kenya as he looks to better understand the country’s running talent. In conjunction with this Finn improves his own running by implementing some of the principles he observes in the East African country.
Finn details his own running story, from his Northampton-based running club, to losing interest whilst at university and returning to road-racing as an adult. Due to his sense of adventure and a Kenyan relative, he goes with his wife and two young children to the home of endurance athletes.
Throughout his stay he meets many runners, including top athletes such as Mary Keitany, Geoffrey Mutai and Haile Gebrselassie, and famous coaches such as Brother Colm. He experiences running in the dark along trails early in the day and running in local cross country races. Finn creates a running team, which he names the Iten Town Harriers, and details their training in the build up to the Lewa Marathon. Alongside this he learns intriguing theories about whether barefoot running is the most efficient means of running.
The book is packed with interesting anecdotes from various runners in Kenya, in pursuit of understanding the secrets behind the most successful nation in long-distance running. Finn offers an insight into the running culture in Kenya, as many of the people and runners he meets are connected to Olympic and world championship medalists, world record holders and/or winners of famous big city marathons. Any serious runner does not have a job as it takes up too much of their time and energy. Although athletes rely on help from relatives they are also prone to over-training.
There appears to be many factors that make Kenyan runners special. These include:
- often difficult childhoods running to school barefoot
- simple diets and lifestyles
- altitude training
- many opportunities to rest
- the limited alternative livelihoods
- an abundance of role models.
But perhaps most significant is the Kenyans’ unassuming dedication and hard work that leads to confidence and an expectation to win. Running can truly change their lives.
The book is an honest and adventurous account of one man’s pursuit to answer pressing athletic questions. Finn maintains an open mind and heart throughout. He learns ultimately that one must acquire self-effacing discipline to run faster.