Kenyan Summer

The quote on Runner’s World’s Facebook page this morning was perfect for this post today. While today’s post concerns building summer running mileage, its underlying theme is motivation: Motivating and pushing yourself to get out there and run even on those [sometimes rare] days when you don’t want to. It’s about the miles, but it’s also about a mindset.

I’ve sort of been following this “regimen” this summer. Actually, because I’m a slow runner and I usually get hurt if  run more than 4 days a week, it’s more of a mindset. It all started in June when I read in the Running Times that I could have a Kenyan Summer.

What the heck is that, you ask? Good question. The Running Times–which unlike Runner’s World is really a publication for high school track and cross country athletes and/or more professional runners–challenged high schoolers to build base mileage during their summer vacation. In one of my favorite running books of all time, this is what is called the “Trial of Miles” and this is how Kenyans train from an early age. The basic premise is to run all the time but to keep each run a very easy, slow pace (easy and slow is relative to the athlete; 7 minute miles are slow for some, while 10 minute miles are slow for me).

So what exactly makes a Kenyan Summer? Here is a partial list:

Run MoreDon’t figure out how little you can run and stay fit–go for how much you can run and not overdo it. It’s more than you think. Forget moderation! You’re young and strong. Don’t put limits on how far or how often you can run.

Run Every Day: Make the question, “When can I run?” not “Will I run?” When that’s normal, try running twice a day. Doubling is an easy way to get in more miles, and particularly effective in summer to avoid the heat of the day.

Run Wherever You Are: Run when you go to camp (<– see this is obviously for teenagers). Run when you’re on vacation. Run on the days you’re staying in a cheap hotel at your little sister’s swim championship. Don’t let anything stop you from running.

Run Everywhere: Kenyans use running or walking as transportation, adding thousands of miles to their legs that Americans usually don’t get. Run (or walk) to the store, run to work, run to the pool, run to your girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s house. If your family is going to the lake for the weekend, throw a bag in the car, tell them you’ll meet them there and make it a long run.

Run Long: Once or twice a week, go long: 8, 10, 12 or more miles (more if you’re going to be running a half or full marathon in the fall/winter!). Make it interesting; find new, creative routes. Run somewhere: around the lake, around the mountain, to the top of the mountain, to the next town. At least once in the summer, run somewhere far–far enough people have trouble believing you ran there.

Eat Like A Kenyan: Find a staple dish that you eat every day to fill you up. Go all out and make ugali, or find an equivalent that’s easy and convenient. Keep your diet simple and fresh–mostly stuff you know where it came from and what it looked like before it was processed. Stockpile fruit. Eat it instead of fatty snacks and instead of dessert. Decide you just won’t eat chips or guzzle soft drinks this summer (soon you won’t miss them). Learn to love water.

Learn to Rest: When they aren’t running, Kenyan runners know how to do nothing. Americans spend a lot of energy keeping entertained. Try sitting under a tree for an hour now and then–even the virtual excitement of a video game takes energy. Learn to love naps.

Make Do: Not everything is going to be perfect. Life in Kenya is much less structured, less predictable and controllable than ours typically is. Kenyans deal with it and become better runners because of it. Some days work goes late and you can’t run when you want to–run later. Sometimes you’ll be in an unfamiliar place and you won’t know how far you ran–put in the time and don’t worry about it. Some days when it’s time to run the weather will suck–relish in running in it anyway. Some days your shoes and clothes will still be wet from an earlier run in the rain or mud (common in Kenya)–make do, run in wet clothes. Make every obstacle an adventure. This mental flexibility will serve you well in races come fall. (<– I’ve definitely had to follow this one, what with my bear experience and shitty [no pun intended there ;-)] hot weather runs)

When I read this article it really got me pumped. Usually my running falls off a bit during the summer because I hate how hot it is outside and it takes much more effort to build mileage (getting up super early to beat the heat, planning more water bottles/frozen water bottles, etc). Last summer, although I did a good amount of triathlons, I was barely running, mostly because I was fresh off my knee cartilage injury, but also because I just loathe running in the summer. So after reading this article I told myself that I wouldn’t give myself the same old excuses I do every summer. I was going to make this summer my Kenyan Summer.

Now I’m no great runner. I’ve been doing it awhile and have amassed a good amount of races, marathons, and triathlons, but I have to work with what I was given. And what I was given was an injury-prone body (this is true even though I’ve long since corrected my gait and cadence). There was a time when I was much faster but I’m afraid with my osteoarthritis those days are over. I’m also just not a natural-born runner. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love it 🙂

So my Kenyan Summer meant consistently running 4-5 days a week (rather than my 2-3 days I usually do during the summer months), not making excuses for not running, and if I did make an excuse–like I did this past Saturday–I would find a way to make up the running miles–like I did the next day, on Sunday.  My goal was to build a good base (remember, a good base for me–35-40 miles a week–might be way too easy for someone else) before the marathon training long runs got up past 16 miles. I wanted to feel like 8-10 mile runs were easy (like they start to feel at the end of marathon training every time) and effortless. I wanted my body to not feel as sore for as long after every long run.

Today is August 1st and I can honestly say that I have achieved much of what I set out to do over the past 8 weeks. If you’ve been with me that long, you’ve read a lot of my training posts. And sure, not every run has been stellar, but I’ve made do. I’ve run in some nasty conditions. I’ve fit in runs on my vacations. I’ve worked runs into and around my schedule. And I’ve built up my base mileage more than I ever thought I could during the summer months (fall/winter/spring is a different story). For that, I am super proud of myself! I have had my own personal Trial of Miles and have not burned out or become injured. In fact, I feel fresh on almost every single run and am only mildly sore for one day after my long runs (I’ve consistently been ready to go for a short 4 miler two days after my long runs). I really think I gained a lot from this Kenyan Summer philosophy and I can’t wait for the Marine Corps Marathon! So much so, that when I saw that Running Times was selling these t-shirts for  $9 I jumped at the chance to get one (it’s a good thing I did, as I got the very last men’s small!)

You’re probably already out there tearing it up on the roads/trails/treadmills, but if you aren’t, here’s my challenge to you: It is August 1st. We have about 6 weeks until the official end of summer. If you don’t have a fall marathon or race planned and just want to build mileage, have your own Kenyan Summer! Run slow, but run more. Fit it in. If you do have a race and have been or will be training, try to fit in one more day of running. Or pick one day a week, split up a longer run, and run twice that day.

The bottom line? We can all be Kenyans! (I’ll keep that in mind when I watch the women’s and men’s Olympic marathons–I’m soooo excited!)

Here are two ways to get you pumped up.

1. New Music

I love, love, love getting new tunes for my runs. Here is my latest playlist (with some good, cheesy Olympic songs). As usual it starts out slow to force me to run the first few at a warmup pace, but picks up pretty quickly. The Sucker Punch remix of Bjork gets me every time. Ooh, and Heaven by Emeli Sande. Enjoy!

2. Find Your Greatness

Have you seen this Nike commercial on during the Olympics? It’s pretty inspirational and totally relates to the Kenyan Summer mindset (we can all be Kenyans!)

“Somehow we’ve come to believe that greatness is reserved for the chosen few. The truth is, greatness is for all of us…Greatness is wherever somebody is trying to find it. ”

How do you keep yourself motivated? 

What are your current running/fitness goals? 

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23 Responses to Kenyan Summer

  1. So cool! I wish I could have read that whole article. I love the idea of training like a Kenyan,I actually follow a ton of those rules over the summer. I am pumping up the miles so this was super helpful.

  2. I love this Kenyan Running Summer philosophy! Congrats for sticking with it this summer. Also, that is a GREAT Nike ad!

  3. Melissa says:

    Loving this post Claire! That philosophy seems practical and it’s good to remind ourselves of those key points. Congratulations in pushing yourself and challenging your normal summer routine. Summertime is tough but challenging yourself and reaping the rewards of all your hard work is worth it in the end. I am not sure what motivates me to be honest…training and working hard has kind of been innate for me for as long as I can remember. It certainly has gotten more intense over the years and after my first marathon, I definitely got more addicted, lol. Also, moving to a new state with no friends also gives me plenty of extra time to train…I don’t have any races coming up but I like staying at fit as I can in case I do see a race that tickles my fancy, lol. I will continue the next 6 weeks of this Keynan Summer with you and then it’s really our kind of running weather…cool, brisk, loveliness, haha! Love the Nike Ad too…thanks for sharing!

    • Yay! We can be “Kenyans” together 🙂 Where did you move to? When I moved to Charlottesville it took me a year and a half to make a good group of friends…so that first year was pretty lonely.

      P.S. you are too cute! I love that phrase “tickles my fancy”.

      • Melissa says:

        Yay! I just realized I totally had a type up there…oops! My husband got his PhD from Cornell last May and needed to do a post-doc and he decided to take this fellowship at Rutgers in NY (central NJ). I am from Upstate NY originally, we met in college in Albany, and then lived in the Finger Lakes while he was workign on his doctorate. We’ve been in NJ for 11 months and hopefully for only 13 more (he has a 2 years minimum here). After that, we hope to go back to NY because of our families and friends and we just love it there. It’s tough though…where we want to end up, and where he will land a job, may not align…but we are keeping our fingers crossed! I picked that phrase up from my dad…he comes out with some zingers, lol. It is downpouring and storming here now…so I’ll be on the treadmill tonight…not as badass as a true Kenyan yet, lol! Hope you’re having a great day. 🙂

      • Melissa says:

        And I totally met Rutgers in NJ….not NY, lol…man, I cannot type!

  4. Love this philosophy! I’m currently training for MCM, but failing miserably at it. (I have days/weeks where I’m not motivated to run). BUT, I’m going to try to kick it up, and get in one more day of running per week!

    • It’s been crazy HOT out so it’s definitely been a struggle! You’ll still kick my ass in the MCM (I’m actually going to a wedding the night before in West Virginia so I’ll be driving back to D.C. at like 1am…nothing like running a marathon on 3 hours of sleep!). For awhile my routine for dealing with the heat was ok, but now it’s really starting to bother me that I have to go to all of this trouble just to get my runs in

  5. Claire I love this! Sounds like your training is going well. I am so excited that we are both running MCM this year! We will have to do a blogger meet up of some sort, yes? 🙂

  6. First I want to tell you that I’m beyond jealoussss that you are running the Marine Corps Marathon. You’re awesome, and I’m sure you’ll be kicking some butt :):). Secondly, I absolutely love this philosophy. Congratulations for sticking with it girl.

  7. Melissa says:

    Just wanted to let you know that I also nominated you (Lish did too) for the beautiful blogger award. The details are on my blog too. 🙂 have a great day girl!

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