Running Like A Kenyan: From Boston to Africa

img_1336-e1526069407542.pngSince I started running about ten years ago, I always wanted to run the Boston Marathon. After only one year, I qualified and ran my first ever Boston Marathon finishing in 3:05. I was stupefied – what just happened?! Could it be I’m actually talented in something like running?! What would it take to be better?

Naturally, I took it into my own hands and attempted to run faster, and faster. Little did I know, running faster (and more) doesn’t actually make you a better runner. Not only did I run myself into the ground, but I also developed a hatred for running. In those few years of self destruction, I had three stress fractures, all at the same time, torn muscles, suffered IT band and Achilles issues, and more importantly… got slower and slower. Until I stopped. I simply stopped – because finally, something got through to me. And sadly, it wasn’t until 2015.

Fast forwarding, I had left the road running community and started to trail run with the hopes of eventually road running again… once I start to “love” running again. I would keep doing one marathon a year amongst ultra racing in order to qualify for Boston each year – because maybe that spark would ignite once again. It didn’t until I met my husband and I was able to witness his BQ journey. I loved it. Of course though, my ultra  goals remained the same, but the spark to road race started to build. I started to want to race.

Inserting Boston into my ultra schedule really only left about 5 weeks of road training. I was shocked, but was able to slowly build back some speed – not quite what it was about 6 years ago, but close enough to attempt a solid time at Boston 2018. My training runs were high quality and short – something new for me. I actually loved it and it gave me a little more confidence each day leading up to April 16.

The week before the race, my husband showed me the extended weather forecast…rain. I didn’t think much of it because so much can happen in a week. Except this one time… Nothing changed, it actually got worse. Race day forecast…34-38 degrees with a head wind and pouring rain, possibly a mix. Really?

Having ran Boston a few times, I knew the course and honestly, I love it. I find it manageable yet challenging, but with crowd support, you just don’t care. And with the experience of marathoning, I knew I couldn’t go into this thinking something great would happen – I needed to set all race goals aside and just run. What does that even mean? So many people struggle with that “just run” concept – I know I did for years, but eventually as you sink into holes more than being able to climb out, you learn. So that’s what I did for 26.2 miles – I just ran.

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With raining drops shooting into my eyes, winds making it hard to do anything, I just ran the race my legs were willing to run. Could I have run faster? Yes. Could I have demanded more from my body? Yes. Could a little bit more grit been used? Absolutely. But here’s the deal – what’s the point on a day like that? Just soak it in and run.

It felt incredible to smile, run freely, and cheer with the crowds. A completely different experience than any of the other 15+ marathons I’ve completed. This was so weird feeling. What is this gushy feeling I feel? I finished with no intentions and forgot about that feeling by the next day.

It was only two weeks later when we headed to Kenya to stay in Iten, the home of champions, at the High Altitude Training Center. This experience was mostly to see Kenya but also run. We love to travel and explore on our feet countries we have never been….where better than Kenya to get that experience?!

I have so many stories of Kenya – too many for right now – but one in particular stands out… the Kenyans do not care about being judged, they do not care about pace, they don’t have devices and bottles and gear, and they certainly do not think it’s easy.

Kenyan runners, as I learned very quickly, do one thing only…they just run. There is no hidden meaning or anything behind it – they just run. I realized that these runners who we assume are just naturally gifted runners and make it look so easy, are training each day harder than any one of us…because they have to. It’s their livelihood. If your job was to be the best runner in the world so your family could eat, then you would be, just so much as you’ve become the best spreadsheet maker or proposal writer ever just to provide for your family. All they can do is just simply run their best because if they get caught up in paces and watches and body image crap, they know they will fail. They train, they eat, and they rest really well.

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Listening to runners from all around the world at Boston speak so highly of themselves, and then listening to Kenyan runners ask about my running, never once talking of their own, was incredible. It was the true picture of a someone that humbly does their job day to day; of someone that cares more about others than themselves; and of someone that just simply runs. And does it so well.

As a seasoned runner, I thought I had “seen it all” but really, I didn’t see anything until I made the journey to Kenya and learned what it meant to run, and love to run.

It’s all about perspective I suppose, and moving forward, there won’t be a day that passes that I don’t think about what it felt like to run with Kenyans. And when it hurts or rain pours in my face at Boston, I want to remember that each Kenyan runner is just simply running for their survival, which means so much more than times, paces, weather, or all the gear in the world. Get out of your heads and into your heart – and just simply run.  Cheers.

Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian living and training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for Pjur Active, lululemon, Swiftwick Socks, Altra Running, OrangeMud, Fluid Nutrition, SPOT, Bigger Than The Trail,  and First Endurance. Follow her training/racing on Twitter & Instagram: ani_weiss and Facebook: Ani Weiss.  

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