Monday, November 24, 2008

Running Like a Kenyan

Did that subject line catch you? Me too! Paul Tergat, one of the best Kenyan runners ever, is pictured at the left.

I read an excellent book a few years ago called "Train Hard, Win Easy: The Kenyan Way." The book (written by Toby Tanser) is now out of print, but he has two subsequent, updated editions. The most current edition is "More Fire: How to Run the Kenyan Way." I plan on getting this for Christmas (hey wife, you reading this?). Tanser has spent a lot of time in Kenya experiencing their culture, training, coaching, history, etc. He discusses how all the different elements come together for these elite athletes (food, genetics, culture, training, climate) to produce excellence. Without giving away any secrets, those Kenyans TRAIN HARD.

So how does this relate to me, an old slowpoke ultra runner? One of the keys to Kenyan training is starting off very slow in all their training runs and progressing to more rigorous paces only after being sufficiently warmed up. These elite runners could easily start out with 5:00 miles, but they ease into the faster paces by starting out at a slow jog (slower than 9:00 pace). Eventually, step by step, they go faster. And toward the end they are clicking on all cylinders moving at under 5:00 pace for the last miles! I have a new short training routine that emulates this while combining Maffetone heart rate training. I call it "running the zones." I start by walking 1/2 mile, then I start jogging in my MAP zone (113-133) for a mile, then I slowly increase to my MEP zone (133-143) for a mile, then I increase again to my SAP zone (143-163) for the last mile. I conclude the run by walking for 1/2 mile. The total workout is 4 miles and I go from a walking HR of about 90 at 15:00 min/mile pace to a pretty good pace (7:20 minute/mile) with a HR of about 160. It's a quick, efficient, "feel-good" workout that doesn't take much time even with the walking warm-up and cool-down. My personal "Run Like A Kenyan" plan. I hope to see my paces increase within the same heart rate zones. I have only done this workout on a treadmill, but it could work on flat trails or roads.

Are you ready to run like a Kenyan? Buy the book, eat some ugali, and start training!

PS: I missed the NCAA XC Championships for the first time in a long time today. They were in Terre Haute again, but I couldn't take the day off from work. Oregon took the men's team title and Washington took the women's team title. I'll be there next year. It's a great chance to observe some of the best young runners in the country. Some are actual Kenyans, others just run like Kenyans!

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