Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Need for Speed

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Need for Speed

Article excerpt

Byline: JOHN PRESTON

RUNNING WITH THE KENYANS: DISCOVERING THE SECRETS OF THE FASTEST PEOPLE ON EARTH by Adharanand Finn (Faber, [pounds sterling]14.99) JOHN PRESTON OVER the summer there are going to be lots of people sitting in front of their televisions, disconsolately prodding their thickening bellies and musing on lost opportunities. Could they too have become Olympians if only they'd eased up on those doughnuts and stuck to their training regimes? As a boy, Adharanand Finn had the makings of a promising long-distance runner. Named after the Sanskrit word for Eternal Bliss, he spent his teenage years competing in cross-country races in Northamptonshire. But he let it slip in his twenties and by his late thirties all that remained was a host of nagging what-ifs.

At the same time, he'd long been fascinated by Kenya's dominance of middle and long-distance running. Of the top 20 fastest marathons ever run, 17 have been won by Kenyans. Between 1991 and 2009, Kenya won 32 Olympic and World Championships gold medals in middle and long-distance running -- just in case you're wondering, Great Britain won none. With middle-age hovering on the horizon, Finn decided to go and live in Kenya for six months. "I want to unshackle myself and run like a Kenyan," he declares. He also hoped to discover the secret of Kenya's success. Finn's trip does not get off to a promising start. His time of 38 minutes and 35 seconds for a 10 kilometre race is, he's appalled to learn, three and a half minutes slower than Kenya's slowest junior girl athlete.

The vast majority of Kenyan runners are based in a small town called Iten in the Rift Valley. Everyone Finn meets there seems to have an Olympic medal of one sort or another. All of them live in large spartan dormitories, eat vast quantities of a completely tasteless but carbohydrate-rich maize paste called Ugali and are utterly dedicated to athletics.

The only heartening piece of information I can pass on to more sedentarily inclined readers is that they also spend a remarkable amount of time in bed. …

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