A few years ago whilst travelling in Kenya I had the unique opportunity to live and work with Kenyan runners and one of their olympic coaches from the London 2012 Games in Embu. East Africa and Kenya has produced a mass of fantastic distance runners, look at the front of the London Marathon or the Olympics and you’ll see a bunch of red, green and black vests symbolic of the Kenyan flag gliding along effortlessly.
I turned up to what in essence was a field with a track marked out purely from wear and tear in the grass from running. No state of the art gym, no recovery spa, no juice bar, no biomechanical lab.. .The list goes on! Instead what I witnessed was a group of runners who everyday wake up and run, eat, sleep, repeat. No fancy kit, no special diet, no ‘magic bullet’ you can just buy. Just simple fuel, technique and recovery. Of course if you have ‘good’ genes, you live at altitude and you’re surrounded by that strong culture you are likely to become a better runner, but that doesn’t replace hard graft and form.
To dispel some theories about the ‘magic’ of Kenyan running such as ‘they run barefoot’ or ugali (type of flour) has ‘rocket fuel’ properties, is not a valid reason for the depth of their success. Most of the runners I met were born into poor farming families with a talent for running. I met numerous runners who’s family were astonishingly funding them to live at the running camp. This un-developed raw talent for running can be a ticket out of poverty for them and their family if they get agents and win competitive events. A more plausible reason for their success is the reality that running is a vehicle that can enable them to provide the most basic health care and education that we enjoy whilst we train for a 10k closer to home. This is not to discredit that good footwear, energy gels and GPS toys don’t work, it helps! But underneath the bells and whistles needs to be real motivations, effort and an appreciation of training.
If you’re looking for that infamous silver bullet to boost your training towards that Bristol 10K or Half Marathon, remember nothing you can buy replaces good honest training and preparation. Put a value and intent on every training session and mile, Consider running for cause close to your heart.