Book Review: Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn

The city’s comedians have been out writing signs. One says: WHAT ARE YOU ALL RUNNING FROM? Another says: YOU’VE GOT GREAT STAMINA. CALL ME. 1-834-555-8756. Yet another reads: IN OUR MINDS, YOU’RE ALL KENYANS.

Running with the Kenyans: Passion, Adventure, and the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth

Running with the Kenyans: Passion, Adventure, and the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth by Adharanand Finn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the world of distance running, athletes from a single country have been getting a lot of attention over the last several years. The East African nation of Kenya has produced some of the fastest runners on the planet. English journalist – and runner – Adharanand Finn wanted to find out what the Kenyan secret was, so he packed up himself, his wife, and their three young children and moved the family to a village in Kenya. There, he met runners. He interviewed them, he observed them, and he trained with them. Through it all, he puzzled over what element could be the key to the success of Kenyan runners (genetics? diet? culture?), and he wondered whether it was possible to improve his own distinctly non-Kenyan performance.

I am a big fan of the whole “quirky memoir” genre, in which the author tries out some experience and writes about it. Through Finn, I got to explore Kenya and take a peek inside the lives of runners whose names I see all over the running magazines. I enjoyed the easy, conversational tone of the first-person present-tense narration. Each chapter is headed with a small black-and-white photograph of people or events discussed in the book. This is not a book to help you improve your own running times, or even really one that thoroughly explores every facet of Kenyan running (a subject of academic research in its own right). It is an enjoyable tale of what one man’s attempt to understand what it means to be a Kenyan runner.

Source: checked out from the public library

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Are You Going to #GoTheDist in 2013?

All Runners To Start

If you know me at all, you know I love a spreadsheet. There’s just something about sorting data into rows and columns that appeals to me. And a spreadsheet that tracks my personal progress toward a goal is just irresistible. So, naturally, I was drawn to #GoTheDist when I read it about it over at I Go Through Life in Inches and Pounds. (Detailed instructions on how to join are available there.)

I love the simplicity of it. Pick a quantifiable fitness goal. Break it down into quarterly increments. Then, chip away at it, a day a time, while the spreadsheet does the math and lets you know where you are. And you can see who else has joined and support each other.

My goal for 2013 is to run/walk 365 miles. This was also my goal in 2012, and I was on track until November, when I was sidelined first by the Endless Cough and then by gallbladder surgery. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2013.

Shoulda Taken the Left at Albuquerque

Back in April, I threw my name (and credit card) in the virtual hat for the 2011 Nike Women’s Marathon. I had no expectation of winning. I thought they had a “3 Strikes and You’re In” rule, a la the NYC Marathon, and I wanted to start the clock running. (They don’t, actually. You can lose the lottery indefinitely, I suppose.)

So, of course, this showed up in my inbox:

… and, at roughly the same time, a charge for the race fee showed up on my Visa bill.

Right, then.

I was in the last month of training for the Pasadena Half Marathon. I use the word “training” loosely, since after the event was rescheduled from February to May, I kind of lost my running mojo.

Still, in late May, after the Half – which took place in a downpour and gave me a time that was neither a PR nor a PW – I started Training for the Marathon. I’m using Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 plan, and doing a cobbled-together walk/run combination. Short runs (3-4 miles) are on the treadmill, and 5-6 mile runs are fairly easy to route in my neighborhood (more or less). But I knew I would need somewhere with fewer traffic lights for the long runs. And also some hills, since the very flat streets around here will do me no favors in San Francisco’s hills. And I didn’t want anyplace too deserted.

And then I thought, “Griffith Park!”

It’s got miles of both roads and trails, it’s got hills, and it’s got lots of people around. Ideal.

Except that I forgot about my talent for getting lost.

Last week, on a scheduled 10-miler, I decided to try out the equestrian trails, since there were lots of runners and walkers on them (as well as horses). The trails are pretty much sand, and a few miles in, starting heading upward. Up, and up, and up. Around mile 4, I had a great view of the city, but I had no idea how I was going to manage another 6 miles. After a mile or so downhill, I found my way back to the main road around the park, and stuck to that for the rest of the way.

Yesterday was a cut-back run of 7 miles. I double-checked a map and decided to run the road around the park for a loop of 5.5 miles, and then do an out-and back for the remaining 1.5. No problem, right? Just follow the road. That worked fantastically. Right up until I realized that I was closing in on 6 miles, and I was pretty sure that I was nowhere near the place I started. And then I was at a big intersection – one of the entrances to the park. Not the one I came in.


I backtracked and found the spot where I had taken the wrong turn, then ran/walked my way around the rest of the original loop to my car. A two-mile detour that put my run at 9. As I wrote on DailyMile, “It’s all fun and games until someone takes the wrong turn.”

This Sunday is a 12-miler. Wish me luck.

Race Report: Rock n Roll Los Angeles Half-Marathon

First, the vital details:

  • Yes, I finished
  • No, I did not trip, fall, or otherwise injure myself
  • Also, I apologize for the photo quality, and for the fact that I’m using swiped proofs

One of the nice things about having the race start pretty close to home was that I didn’t need to get up at a ridiculous hour to get ready. I was able to get up pretty close to my usual time (which I have been told might be considered a slightly ridiculous hour anyway), have some peanut butter pretzels, get dressed, and head out the door.

K drove me to the drop-off point, and from there it was a pleasant enough walk to the corrals. I was in corral 16. Everyone was in a good mood, which is always nice. I saw a few other shirts from One More Mile, and got some compliments on mine.

We crossed the starting line nearly 30 minutes after the gun, and ran a few miles through Griffith Park.

Smiling in the Early Miles

I went out a little faster than I intended, running the first three miles in 11:25, 11:3, and 11:18. That was with planned walking breaks, so I know that when I was running, I was running a little faster than I should have been. And then the hills came, and the walking breaks started getting longer, and I stopped caring about smiling for the cameras.


It really was a nice course, though, despite the hills. The water stop volunteers were smiling, and I heard a lot of people thanking them as we went through. The bands were entertaining. There were a bunch of different spirit groups, including one that I think was made up of the cheerleaders from Temple City, but I’m still not sure. And, once we left the park, there were lots of people gathered along the streets, cheering us on.  I saw  a lot of great signs; I think my favorite was the one that said, “That’s not sweat, it’s your fat cells crying.”  The most memorable, to me, was one that said, “Run, B****, Run” – without the asterisks. I really, really, REALLY hope that someone asked him specifically for that sign. And also that he figures out for the next time that maybe the rest of us won’t find it quite so amusing.  Somewhere in mile 10 – I think, and it was my slowest mile (14:54) – there was a man holding a sign that said, “You’re doing great! Big hill ahead!” I hoped he was joking, but then I turned the corner, and there it was, just as he said, a big hill for our tired legs to slog up.

In mile 11, I think, there was a little girl sitting on the curb with her mother, a cooler full of water bottles in between them. I took one gratefully. It had been a while since the last water stop, and my Nathan handheld bottle was empty. So, thanks, whoever you were!

Once we reached downtown L.A., I started counting down the streets. I knew the finish line was near 11th, and we entered on 3rd (I’ve driven into the city that way many, many times over the last eight years on my way to the Central Library, so this amused me a lot). Of course, a few blocks from the end, we had to turn and do a little zigging and zagging to finish out the last mile. My Garmin, which had been counting down from 13.1 as a “quick workout” decided about a quarter mile from the finish line that I had reached the goal, and stopped recording. Oops. I perked up a lot once the end was in sight, and ran across the line with a smile for the camera.

Finish Line Photo
Crossing the Finish Line

A race volunteer hung the medal around my neck (backwards). After slurping down a bottle of Cytomax (in retrospect, not the best idea, I should stick with water next time), I went for the posed medal shot.

Medal Photo
The Official Finisher Picture

In the secure area, there were lots of munchies (mmm, bagels) and cold, cold water. I never made it to the various booths at the Festival. I called K to let her know I was done and that I would be inside ESPNZone, because the insanely loud amps at the Finish Line Festival were too much for me. When she arrived to pick me up, Little Miss ran up to me, saying, “Congratulations!” And, really, that was even better than the medal.

Finally, the official results:

  • Time: 2:52:27 – a new Half-Marathon PR by 41 minutes
  • Overall: 7575
  • Among Women: 4196
  • In Age Division: 870

And I beat my co-worker’s time by about 4 minutes, although I never saw him, because he started a few corrals ahead of me. Isn’t chip timing fun?

The Boston Sprint

For years, I’ve been fascinated by the Boston Marathon. A few facts for the uninitiated:

1. Boston is the oldest continually run marathon in the United States. The 2011 race will be the 115th running.
2. In 1970, the Boston Athletic Association began imposing qualifying time requirements for entrants in order to limit the field.
3. Boston is the only U.S. marathon (excluding Olympic and other championship races) that requires entrants to meet a qualifying time in a previous race.
4. Boston does provide spaces for runners who do not meet the qualifying standard but are running to benefit charities.
5. Qualifying for Boston (the much-sought “BQ”) is a goal for many, many, many runners.

I would love to run Boston one day. Like many runners, I want to qualify for it rather than take a charity slot. It’s a lofty goal for a slow runner like me, but a girl can dream.

For the runners who have trained and qualified this year, though, one more hurdle (if you’ll pardon bringing the track metaphor into road racing for a moment) came between them and Boston: it sold out.

Registration opened online for qualified racers at 9:00 AM EDT on October 18th. Eight hours and three minutes later, all 21,000 entries had been sold.

The popularity of the race certainly can’t be denied. Nor can the fact that the streets of Hopkinton (where the race begins) can only hold a finite number of runners. And, of course, technical difficulties with the registration didn’t help matters. (Those of you who have attempted to buy Wollmeise can empathize, I’m sure.)

There’s been quite a bit of mumbling in the last few years about tightening the qualifying standards. Last week, the Wall Street Journal turned the focus specifically on lowering the qualifying times for women, arguing that (1) women are fueling the current running boom, and (2) the finishing time gaps between elite men and women do not support the current gap in the BQ times.

Since I’m a long way from qualifying for Boston, I’m coming at this strictly as an observer. I’m wondering what folks who’ve run it or hope to run it, and especially those who are close to qualifying but not quite there, think about the possibility of tightening the standards.

Personally, I figure that by the time I’m about 70, my running speed and the BQ times might finally match up.

Run Happy

A few weeks back, an email popped up in my inbox from somebody at Brooks. It said I’d won a prize in an online drawing, and they wanted to verify my address. I’ve entered a bunch of Brooks drawings online, and I wasn’t too clear on what I’d won. So, I was happy when this package arrived on my doorstep:

Brooks Goodie Pack

A t-shirt (which is a size too small, sadly), a drawstring backpack, and a new water bottle. You can never have too many water bottles, after all.

The shirt is kind of retro. The first thing I thought of when I saw it was my old summer camp shirt. From 1987.


How cool is it to win a little goodie bag? Run Happy, indeed!


It’s T-14 days to the Half-Marathon, but I don’t have much of a taper in my plan. Next week’s run is the longest, at 10 miles, and today’s was supposed to be 9 miles.

“Supposed to be”? Oh, yes. I got to 7.5, and then I did this:


I tripped over nothing at all. One moment, I was running along, doing mile splits between 11:50 and 12:40, and the next, I was flying through the air, watching the asphalt move toward me with alarming speed. I landed hard on my hands and rolled to right, banging the heck out of my right leg. My hat flew off. My glasses flew off. I saw blood dripping on the ground and took a few seconds to realize it was coming from my forehead. I scooped up my things and moved to the grass along the bike path.

“Oh, my god, your eye!” exclaimed a guy walking past.

“No, no,” I said. “It’s my forehead. I’m fine.”

He offered to call someone for me, but I waved him off. I walked the 3/4 (or so) of a mile home. It wasn’t until I got home and sat down that I started to feel really lousy. There was blood all over my favorite running shirt. I had scrapes and bruises all over. My glasses were out of alignment. And I hadn’t managed to finish my run.

On the other hand, unlike the ill-fated 11-miler in 2002, this run didn’t end with a sprained ankle. Tomorrow, I rest. Later in the week, some treadmill running. Next Sunday, 10 miles. And I’ll be carrying my cell phone.

K has suggested that I take up cycling instead. At least I’d be wearing a helmet.

Race Report: Ovarian Cancer Coalition “10K”

You know the scare-quotes can’t be good news, right?

I signed up for the 10K event of the Ovarian Cancer Coalition Run a while back, when I was using the RW training plan. In the Higdon plan, which I started with and then switched back to, today was supposed to be a 5K race.

Hey, I split the difference! But we’ll get to that.

I was a little nervous about doing a 10K, but after last week’s 6-miler, I was feeling more confident.

I arrived early, since I needed to pick up my shirt and race bib. I walked in the front gate of CBS Studios, but there was no indication of where to go from there. (Had I parked in the parking garage rather than on the street, this probably wouldn’t have been a problem.)  I asked the guard at the gate where I was supposed to go. He asked if I was there for the event or to volunteer.

If I were a volunteer, I would have been wearing longer pants. Just saying.

Once I found my way to the registration desk, I got my number and timing chip, and wandered around the Health Fair, which was just getting set up. The Goodie Bag table had a small, nearly hidden sign, and the t-shirt table had no sign at all, leaving a few people asking if they were supposed to pay for the shirts.

The race information had said that the 5K run started at 8:00, the 10K at 8:15, and the 5K walk at 8:45. I saw a sign when I walked in that said the 10K would be at 8:30 and the 5K walk at 9:00.

I was not expecting the local pastor (who lost a family member to ovarian cancer) who led everyone in a prayer. After that, and some announcements, and the National Anthem, the Laker Girls led a brief warm-up. The 5K runners got started around 8:10. Then, it was announced that the 10K run would start in about half an hour, “after the 5K runners finish”. I can only assume that announcement meant to refer to the leaders of the 5K run, and not the back of the pack folks. So, we 10K runners meandered around, keeping warm, sampling bits of Yummy Cupcakes, sipping water, waiting, waiting, and waiting some more. Another announcement: there had been some sort of problem with the course, and 5K runners being sent the wrong way, causing a delay. Finally, the Laker Girls came back out to do another 5-minute warm-up, and then we were off at about 8:40.

The first mile was a zig-zag through the studio lot and out the gate. Inexplicably, there was a water table just .1 mile in. I skipped it, settled into a comfortable pace, and finished mile 1 in 11:52.

About a quarter mile later, I rolled my right ankle. I was running along, listening to my music, scooting over to the right to move between the person just ahead of me on the left and the curb on my right, when my foot just flipped. I ran a few more steps, then slowed to a walk. It was exactly that sort of roll that ended my marathon training in 2002, and that broke my left foot in 2001. But after a little walking, I sped back up, and finished out mile 2 in 12:08. I took planned walk/GU Chomp breaks at miles 3 and 4, as well, finishing those miles in 12:09 and 12:03, respectively.

It was somewhere around mile 3 that I realized that there was something very wrong with the course. I had set my Garmin for a “quick workout” of 10K at a 12:03 pace, so it was counting down from 6.21 miles. It said that I had 3.5 miles to go when I passed the “4” marker.

“That’s odd,” I thought.

The 2-mile marker was also, according to the signage, the 5-mile marker. Yeah, not so much.

When I crossed the finish line, I knew the time was impossibly fast for me to have actually done 6.2 miles. The Garmin says it was 4.85 in 58:16, for a 12:00 pace overall. At the Results Table, they had posted the times for the first two 10K finishers (both of whom were in my age group), who had finished in about 30 minutes.

Overall, it was a little disappointing. I was looking forward to setting a 10K PR (since it was my first 10K, you see). And running a 10K had been one of my goals for 2010. I’m going to look for another one, but it’ll have to be in November or December, after the Half-Marathon. The Higdon plan actually calls for a 10K race in a few weeks, but there aren’t any local races that weekend, so I’m planning on a 6-mile run that day.

At the moment, I’m icing and elevating the ankle, since it started hurting again once I stopped running. I’m really hoping it’ll be enough to head off a real injury.

Addendum: I’ve checked up on the official results, and my chip time of 58:12.3 placed me at 17th in my age group,  83rd among women, and 136th overall. The top man finished in 29:58, and the top woman finished in 36:19.

It’s Good to Have a Plan

A while back, I started an entry about my half-marathon training plan. I talked about how I had started out with the Couch-to-5K podcasts, then abandoned those in the last couple of weeks in favor of running for 30 minutes while listening to old episodes of Phedippidations (I’m up to somewhere in early 2007 now).  I had been planning to transition to Hal Higdon’s Novice Half-Marathon Plan, but I had chucked that training plan in favor of one built by the Runner’s World site.

But then I fell off that wagon and decided to go back to my friend Hal.

So, here I am. Week 2 of the Novice plan, although I slept in this morning instead of doing my cross-training.  And I’m registered for a 10-K race on the day it says to do a 5-K race.


I joined a gym.

It’s a tiny little gym, not part of a chain. I tried them out with a 3-day pass early in the week, then took them up on their $20/month membership offer. They’ve got your basic cardio machines and a few fitness classes. They offer Spinning and Yoga, but those cost extra. Still, I have a place to do the shorter runs on a treadmill and to put in some time on the stationary bike for cross-training.

If I can get myself out of bed, anyway.

Whatever Happened to the Knitting?

Hey, isn’t this supposed to be a knitting blog?

Is it?

Yeah, yeah, it is!

Are you sure?

Well, I think so. I mean, it even says “knitting blog” right up there in the tag line.

Oh, you’re right about that. Well, if I may borrow a line that I always wrongly attribute to Rachael, since I read it on her blog, “I have been knitting. Ok, now on to other things.”

Seriously, I really have been knitting, not that you’d know it from the blog.  I’ve been working on something I can’t show you, which doesn’t make for very exciting blogging.

No, it’s much more exciting, I know, to hear about the running. I took the new new shoes out for another 3-mile spin this morning, hitting an average pace of 11:18. Sub-11-minute miles will be mine, I know it! And when I get below 10-minute-mile pace, I’ll officially be in better shape than I was in the seventh grade. It’s good to have goals.

The Addictions are firmer than my old Sauconys, but they felt much better on this second run than they did the first day. Maybe it would have been a good idea to wear them around a bit before running in them?

They are also very, very, very white:

The New New Shoes

I’m pretty sure the first time I hit the high school track (which happens to be made of a reddish dirt) will take care of that.