Learning to run like a Kenyan

Mon, Jul 2, 2012, 01:00

MY RUNNING LIFE: Adharanand Finn, 38, author of a new book ‘Running with the Kenyans’

When did you start running and why?I started running when I was nine. I had just started at a new school and they sent us all on a cross-country run, and I won. I decided to join my local running club.

I love the feeling of running fast, and the sense of freedom and abandonment you get when you’re out there alone, racing across the countryside. I also love the feeling after a run, when the endorphins are rushing through your brain and you’re left with a calm sense of fulfilment. I’m still chasing best times, too – I get very excited when I run a PB [personal best].

What brought you to Kenya?Ever since I was a teenager I’ve had a fascination with Kenyan runners. Who were they? How could they run so fast? Eventually, I decided to go and find out – and to see if some of their magic would rub off on me.

I learnt that they don’t have any secret magic formula. They just run hard and long from a young age, eat well and are very driven to succeed. It’s heartening, and in some ways humbling, to see what can be achieved with real focus and dedication.

What did you learn about yourself?I learnt that physically, although I’ve always strived to be healthy and active, I am a product of my comfortable, western lifestyle, in which I drive to the shops in my car, spend hours each day on the computer, and have easy access to rich, fatty foods.

What was your average training week before?I used to run two or three times a week. Usually one interval session or fartlek session, and one or two steady runs of about five miles. I also used to do the occasional yoga session.

What is it now?I now run five or six times a week, including one longish run (eight to 10 miles), one track or interval session, one tempo run of about five miles, and two or three steady runs of between five and seven miles.

Are you training for anything?I’m down to run the London marathon next year.

What’s your daily diet?Breakfast: oats with grated apple, nuts and dates. Lunch: salad, bread, hummus, beetroot. Dinner: rice or pasta, or some kind of bake with lentils, nuts or vegetables. Lots of water throughout the day.

What do you wear on your feet?I have fully bought in to the whole barefoot trend – that running barefoot, or in a “barefoot style”, encourages you to run more efficiently and reduces injuries. The trend comes from a theory developed by Harvard scientists in the US who spent time watching Kenyan runners – who all grow up running barefoot. I had to give it a go. When I did, running felt easier – more enjoyable. As my feet are too soft to run fast without shoes, I wear the Nike Free minimal shoes, or racing flats, which mimic the action of running barefoot.

Any niggly injuries?Since running more often and changing to a barefoot running style, I’ve had no real injuries, except one strained IT [illiotibial] band, which kept me from training for a few weeks. I used to have quite serious knee and hip problems.

Have you ever been chased by an animal?Despite running across the African bush past wild lions, I was never chased by anything in Kenya (except lots of schoolchildren). But on the very first run I did after returning to the UK, I was attacked by a buzzard, who swept down on me three times before I managed to escape.

Favourite running tip?Don’t forget to breathe.

Running with the Kenyans is published by Faber and Faber

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