It isn't the high altitudes alone that make Kenyans the best runners, A View from Kenya, by Justin Lagat

Justin Lagat writes his column for RunBlogRun on a weekly basis, giving us A View from Kenya. In this column, Justin Lagat explains what truly motivates Kenyan runners to better themselves. 

Justin Lagat, photo from Justin Lagat

It isn't the high altitudes alone that make Kenyans the best runners, by Justin Lagat

There is an influx of tourists coming to Kenya usually from November to February. Most of them are sports tourists who are seeking to train with and like the Kenyans on the high altitudes of the Rift Valley regions, hoping that by the time they go back to their countries they will magically notice a big difference in their running. One thing these foreign runners get to learn and experience once they are here in Kenya is that they need to train harder than they had been doing.

But, it is not obvious that foreigners who come to Kenya and train just like Kenyans are able to compete like Kenyans and become as competitive too. Apparently, it is not merely a decision to train hard that pushes Kenyans to train as hard as they do. It is a strong need to succeed in their lives, which is ingrained in their subconscious minds even when they are asleep. Here are some reasons why it may be hard for foreigners coming to Kenya to train as hard and become as successful with their running by simply shifting their training bases to Kenya.

First of all, for many Kenyans running is the only way to escape poverty. One common phrase I have heard from a number of athletes at various camps is; "it is better to die trying to earn a living than to die of hunger." It is often said that when one wants so much to succeed as much as they need to breath, then they will surely succeed. The same can be said of many Kenyan runners who see running as the only way to earn a living; buy a piece of land to live on, build a house, marry a wife, educate their children and do some developments. A foreigner who can afford a trip to and a holiday in Kenya definitely has other means to earn a living. 

Second, Peer pressure. Other champions are personal friends to other Kenyan runners, if they could win, why not them? Besides these friends being their living testimonies as to what they can achieve when they work as hard as them, there is also the element of wanting to be as successful as them in order to maintain their friendships and remain in the same caliber. You can imagine when a friend builds a nice house, or when he buys something new and his friends would, in a healthy competition, want to do something as impressive or even better too.

Third, the world believes in them. It is not a secret that in every part of the world, when a marathon is organized and a name of a Kenyan athlete is seen on the start list, the rest of the competitors get nervous. This fact gives them great morale while training and running in competitions. It also works to their advantage in that the rest of the competitors in a race will allow them to control the pace believing that they know the right pace.

Fourth, "hard" means a different thing to them.  They often interchange this word with the word "suicide". For example, you will often hear them talking about a program of a day being "1 hour 10 minutes, suicide." Hard is one word that is often used in relativity. It may mean a different thing to different people and what is hard for others may be easier for others. For many Kenyan athletes whose lives have all along been hard, the degree of their hard training will definitely be different. Their normal daily activities may have included working as laborers on the farms outside in the scorching sun for a whole day, or walking for distances of over ten kilometers daily.

Five, the society has big expectations from them. Most Kenyan athletes do not run for physical fitness, or for fun. Once one starts running, he/she has to win a race at one time or else the society will keep ridiculing him that he is, or has wasted, his time training in vain. He has to prove that he did the right thing by beginning to train.

Next time you plan to visit Kenya to train for your big race, note that the environment and high altitudes alone may not help if you do not have a strong desire in your mind to win.

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