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Running with the Kenyans

Book notes for “Running with the Kenyans”, Discovering the secrets of the fastest people on earth by Adharanand Finn

Highlights:

Alastair has told us that lions don’t know the difference between a tent and a rock, and that we are quite safe once we’re inside. loc 557

As we run, schoolchildren run along beside us. A few call out: ‘How are you?’, but most seem to be running regardless of us. One of the theories often put forward as to why Kenyans are so good at running, often by the athletes themselves, is the fact that they run to school each day. ‘Are they already hoping to become athletes?’ I ask Toby, assuming he will know the answer. ‘Is that why they’re running?’ ‘No,’ he says. ‘They’re running because if they’re late they get caned.’ loc 728

I love running like this, in a group. You often hear commentators on television saying that an athlete is getting an easy ride running in the pack. In one way it doesn’t make sense. You’re still running under your own power, using the same energy to propel yourself forward. Wind resistance isn’t usually a big factor in running. But somehow, in a group it is easier. It can feel as though the group is running, not you. As though the movement around you has picked you up and is carrying you along. The switching back and forth of legs focusing the mind, synchronising it, setting a rhythm for your body to follow. As soon as you become detached from the group, its power evaporates and it feels harder to run. loc 859

A farmhand is milking one of the cows. ‘Do you sell the milk?’ I ask him. Again he looks at me as though I’m mad. ‘No,’ he says. ‘It’s for us.’ The majority of the people in the Rift Valley are brought up as subsistence farmers, so when the athletes win any money, the first thing they do is buy a cow for milk. I can’t help thinking it would be easier and cheaper just to go to the shop and buy it every day. Every street has a tiny kiosk selling fresh milk for virtually nothing. But the mindset is to own a cow. A person without a cow is not really a person. You can judge the importance of someone by the number of cows he owns. loc 2050

Genes determine how tall we are, how well we respond to training, the colour of our skin, and whether we are male or female. The effect of gender on athletic performance is so marked that we split the competitors up. So genetics makes a difference to how fast people run, that much is clear. That top athletes are all people with a genetic advantage towards their discipline is also fairly certain. loc 2609