Tuesday, June 2, 2015
There were a couple more interesting runs in Iten with Kemboi, including a workout at the track where a lot of the Olympic level athletes worked out. As with a lot of the Kenyan running environment, it's fascinating in that you could find a better track at just about any American high school, and yet that's where many of the world's elite runner do their workouts. I actually recognized it during a special they did on David Rudisha during the 2012 London Olympics, which was kind of a weird experience. We also visited a school in Iten that's run by an old Scottish (I think?) guy that Kemboi said still coaches a lot of the elite runners around there. To me it just underscored the point that there's nothing magical about this place that cranks out the world's best runners other than that they grow up running their whole lives, and they've got endless dirt roads at 7500 with great weather to train on.
For everything I wrote down, I'm disappointed that I didn't do a reflection post at any point in the month or two after coming back. As I've mentioned earlier in the blog, that was right during the busyness of fall quarter and cross country.
Speaking of cross country, it's interesting to look back on my senior season in light of this summer and the training I did while I was over there. I was consistently slower than the year before and fell apart at the end of the season even with the late start, so it's safe to say that training in Kenya didn't take my running to the next level by any means. It reinforces the idea that formed during my time there that their training techniques and strategies have far less to do with their international success than the athletic nature of their childhood upbringings.
What still sticks with me four years later? The relationships formed during the trip, definitely. I think Kenya is somewhere I will continue to visit for the rest of my life. Patrick's family is phenomenal, and I'm grateful to have the chance build meaningful relationships with them. As I mentioned in the post about the church I visited, I'm still in touch with them in what has been a relationship that is one of the most profound expressions of what I believe the global church can be that I've ever experienced.
I think there's something valuable about being exposed to any culture significantly different from your own, in that it gives a context to reflect on your own. There are plenty of things about American culture that I don't have reason to consider that were brought to light on this trip. Traffic, views of government, shopping, family dynamics, public service, poverty - I had experiences that didn't match with my assumptions about these things and many more. Not sure what the real takeaway is there. Maybe that anything that we think of as normal isn't necessarily normal? I don't know.
I have made one return trip since, a quick visit with my dad (and meeting up with Heather and Patrick over there) at the end of 2013 for about two weeks. While I didn't like how hectic it was to be on such a short trip, it was far more enjoyable to be traveling with someone else. It was wonderful to see all of the family again, and felt great to be able to reunite with people I already knew as opposed to just meeting new people. I'll always be grateful for their warmth and hospitality, and the eagerness with which they accept me as family. I look forward to heading back to visit again, and many more times in the years to come.
Well, I think that is about it. If you're seeing this for the first time and want to see some pictures and video, Facebook is probably the best way to see all of that. Don't hesitate to get a hold of me if you have an interest in heading over there, or if you're just interested in talking about either my experiences or about planning a trip of your own.
Monday, September 23, 2013
The last couple of eventful days started with heading to the mountain village of Iten on Tuesday afternoon. This only happened after a considerable amount of fretting and worrying on the part of some family members, who were reluctant to let me venture off without direct supervision from the family. I understood their concern, as I was in the country for the first time and leaving with a man that, from their perspective, might as well be a complete stranger, and that they felt responsible to my biological family for if anything should happen to me over here. But to me the opportunity that Kemboi offered to go to Iten was such a unique opportunity that I thought I probably wouldn’t ever forgive myself for passing it up. Only a handful of Americans have ever trained there and I would wager no one at as low a level of athletic accomplishment as me. I would be surrounded by Kenya’s elite running community and have the opportunity to train and hang out with them, watch what they do, and maybe even to form more really cool relationships. It was also an opportunity that I thought might never exist again if I stop running competitively at the end of college, which is fairly likely I might add. Also I thought that going to Mombasa or the Massai Mara would be more stressful than anything because it would be such a hassle to train in such places, and the cross country season was becoming far more important in my mind than it had been at the beginning of the summer, maybe because Kemboi had been able to fan the faint dream that I might be able to run after college. Of course there was the danger that Kemboi was a less wholesome character than he appeared to be or that something tragic would happen in Iten and I would have no one close that I could count on, but neither of those struck me as significant concerns. As far as Kemboi, while I can’t say I knew him well, it wasn’t like I had met him on the street yesterday, and there was no indication from all the time I had spent with him in the last couple of weeks, including probably at least half a dozen trips to his little house in Eldoret, that anything he had told me about himself was fabricated or that he had any intention other than to take me to train. To add to that he had been cleared by Mama Patrick, who had apparently grilled him a little bit on the phone before giving her blessing on the trip. I proceeded with the reckless mindset that had been building in my mind through the summer that if I wanted to do anything dangerous or that others thought wasn’t a good idea, this might be my best shot, while I’m traveling on my own and am young and have no one dependent on me that I would worry about if something happened to me.
Kemboi swung by the house with his stuff as I was finishing packing and we hopped on a motorcycle to head across town to the stage for the shuttles to Iten and other villages outside Eldoret. I hadn’t realized how close Iten was, less than 50 kilometers from Eldoret. The ride up was nice, similar to the ride from Kisumu to Eldoret except maybe more populated. There were many rolling fields, mostly of corn, but also buildings and huts lining the road for a good portion of the journey. Kemboi told me that all along here lived a lot of strong runners. As we approached town one of the first things we saw was the sign for the high altitude training center, which I had been told about by Roger and Mr. Mburu the day before. We stopped before reaching the main part of town and got out at a row of store fronts. We stashed our bags with the local MPesa agent (basically a banker for mobile phone money transfers, which are far more common in Kenya than the US) and to another of the cement partitions where people we packed all the way to the door and overflowing outside. Inside, a pretty standard house TV, maybe 35” or so, was showing the coverage of the IAAF World Track and Field Championships that are happening in Daegu, South Korea. For the last week on the news they have been doing athlete profiles and coverage leading up to the championships, and the main sports story every night during the championships has been how the Kenyan athletes fared, a far cry from the US where even a casual running nerd such as myself usually only heard the results of such events from the hard core running nerds (yes, I’m talking about you Will Harrison and Gavin Brand). The occasion for the hoots and hollers that could be heard and the packed past capacity crowd was the men’s 800 meter final, which was led wire-to-wire by Kenya’s world record holder, David Rudisha, much to the delight of the crowd. We arrived just in time to see the replays of the race, with Rudisha powering away from the field on the home stretch. Things emptied out after the race enough for us to squeeze into the back, where we waited to watch the women’s 3000m steeplechase final. The steeplechase is an event that Kenyans have dominated for years and take great pride in, so the race was watched with great interest and growing concern as a Russian lady took control of the race. The funny thing about watching track distance events with a crowd that is really into it is that the race unfolds more slowly than athletic events usually do. There’s no instant touchdown or goal to erupt into cheers over, only the gradual wearing down of athletes and slowly growing gaps between runners. The result, if the race plays out the way this one did, is that instead there is just a buzz of nervous murmuring and muffled cheers that grows as something slowly develops, in this case the Russian lady gradually pulling away from two Kenyans, one of whom was the pre-race favorite, who were then overtaken in the last lap by another lady, leaving Kenya with only a bronze, a disappointing result by their standards. I had never watched track in such a setting, and it was fascinating to me to see a crowd that into a race halfway around the world. Anywhere I had been if people cared about the track event enough to be screaming at the TV they were probably there in person. The other fascinating aspect of this viewing group that Kemboi pointed out to me is that probably at least 75% of the crowd are elite athletes themselves, and they’re watching people they may have seen out training or even trained with or raced against.
Most people headed out after the steeplechase, as the 800 and the steeplechase were the only events of the day that people here really cared about. A handful of them hung around in groups in the gravel parking lot talking, many of them wearing technical running shirts, running shoes, or even full matching track suits that even faintly reminded me of my “be ready to run at all times” fashion theme that dominated my wardrobe choices for much of my childhood and earned the distinction from a college age guy I knew maintained included “rain proof, bullet proof, fire proof, girl proof pants”, though I must admit that these guys could pull off the look a lot better, maybe because they could probably pull off a 14 minute 5k at the drop of a hat if they felt like it. A lot of them looked over at me curiously, but with a different curiosity than in other parts of Kenya. There enough international athletes that came to train here that outsiders aren’t so uncommon as to draw a lot of attention, but because all the people here are such high level athletes I imagine a new comer can be treated with a certain amount of curiosity as to how they measure up with the rest of the group, maybe a little bit like we always size up freshmen when they first arrive for workouts every year. There was none of the worn out, ragged foot wear that I’d seen many other places. Some were wearing running shoes, something I hadn’t seen worn at all here other than while running, some wore sandals, but Kemboi was the only one I saw wearing dress shoes. Even as we were standing out in the parking lot runners trickled out of the side streets a couple at a time, heading off down the dirt side roads for their evening runs, almost all wearing full track suits. Kemboi introduced me to a bunch of people there and I tried to remember names so I could look them up later to see which ones are legit and which ones are super legit, but I pretty quickly lost track as I met more and more people. For all I knew any one of them could be a 2:04 marathoner, all of them certainly looked fast enough for it to be believable. One of the people I met was Kemboi’s cousin and we headed up to his house up on the hill above the shopping center, which looked similar to Kemboi’s in Eldoret except that it didn’t have any electricity. I found out later that none of the houses in that whole section of town have electricity, and that one of the principal decision you make if you’re getting a house there is whether you want a house with electricity or not. I was both enamored with this and surprised by it, because it broke down my stereotype of Kenyan runners being rich because of prize money from Europe and the US as well as sponsorships and endorsements, but just like with other professional sports (and I would imagine is the case with pretty much every professional sport), there were guys here who were not necessarily struggling, but I think it would be accurate to say were living race to race, and weren’t living in fancy houses or driving nice cars; they were living in one room houses with no electricity. Still in comparison to the rest of the society the runners are undoubtedly much better off as a group, I think mostly because their pay checks are coming mostly from developed countries with higher cost of living, so the amount of money they’re making goes a long way in Kenya, where you can apparently rent one of those one room, no electricity houses in Iten for about 1000 schillings a month, about $11. Especially in that context though it strikes me as a pretty stressful way to live economically speaking, because if you really are living from race to race, what happens if you tank in a major race you were counting on a big pay check from? Worse, what happens if you have a major injury and out for a couple months? All these concerns are all the more heightened for guys who started running professionally right out of high school, and consequently running pretty much is their trade, so they don’t have all that much to fall back on, at least from my perspective. True, many of them earn enough to be able to buy farm land or invest which gives them some security, and guys that are sponsored by a company can count on a more consistent stream of income, but it still strikes me as a very fragile world, economically speaking. On the other hand, even in that quick snapshot, without really having much of an idea of what life was really like here, it struck me as something of a dream come true. Here was a group of guys (and ladies) that did nothing but hang out and train together, with everything in their life revolving around their running. For a walk on college athlete that is accustomed to balancing running, school, and work, this was almost utopian. I didn’t mind the lack of running water or electricity; in fact, to me that kind of added to whole vibe of it, living with the bare essentials in a simple room, with nothing more than what you need to train at the highest level. I was enamored enough with the overall feel of it that it suddenly seemed a lot more feasible to picture myself coming back here to rent a house for next to nothing next summer to train with some of the best runners in the world and give running a shot, which I consider a pretty strong statement because the fact of the matter is a runner with my times has absolutely no business putting other plans on hold to chase a dream of being able to run at this high of a level.
From there we headed up to see the High Altitude Training Center, which was at the top of the hill coming down into town. I was eager to see it after what I had heard from Uncle Roger and Mr. Mburu, and I must say the facility as a whole was much smaller than I had pictured. It was very nice, and had a resort feel to it, not unlike where I had camped with Roger in Kaptagat. There was a motel-looking row of rooms for visiting athletes to stay, a pool, a study/relax/sit in super comfy chairs building with an all glass upstairs that had a pretty nice view out over the fields. The main building contained a very nice weight room, a sauna, and I think some other rooms for massages and therapy and yoga and positive visualization and finding your inner self and all that good stuff. When we peaked into the weight room there were some athletes doing a circuit workout, something the gym was well configured for, under the instruction of a European coach, I believe British by his accent. There was a mix of athletes doing the circuit and I noted that over half of the group of 10-12 were Kenyan, because I’d heard that Kenyans didn’t do any weights at all. This facility in general though seemed to be built more for foreign athletes to come and train and in reality it was clear that it wasn’t designed to come anywhere close to providing access for the probably 1000+ athletes in Iten, so I’m going to go ahead and say that at least in my mind there’s nothing here to challenge the idea that Kenyans generally don’t do much/any weight work or pool work. Kemboi said that he would come to the gym once or twice a week when he was in Iten, but for the time that we’ve been there he hasn’t so much as mentioned going to the gym other than that time. Kemboi said to stay there was 4000 schillings per night, which included meals, and which Kemboi and his friends found outrageously expensive, which is justified considering you can find a place for 1000 schillings for a month if you know who to talk to (which is the real trick isn’t it?), but by American standards 4000 schillings is only about $45, which is not bad at all for a place that nice, especially considering that meals are included if you are comparing that to any hotel in the US. It still struck me as pretty impractical if you planned on staying to train, because at that rate it adds up if you’re staying for a while, and that would $1350 a month and that’s even more expensive when you consider how much more it is than the other available options. The other thing I don’t like about it is that it seems to me that the foreign athletes that stay there are almost completely insulated from the actual town. The training center itself is on the very south end of town as you’re coming in anyway, and it appears to be designed so you really don’t have to leave other than for training if you don’t want to. I guess maybe that’s what some people are looking for, but it blows my mind that you would travel that far to such a different place and wouldn’t want to have a little more exposure to the actual culture, especially considering that is the culture of the heart of the most dominant long distance country in the world.
We headed from there down through the actual town, which really is quite small. Kemboi said he thought about 5000 people lived in Iten, and judging from the size of the main town area that seems pretty reasonable to me. There’s just the one main road, the highway, going straight through town, with shops and stall all along the road and couple side streets heading up the hills containing more shops and buildings. The whole “main drag” is maybe only half a mile, and it ends pretty much at the edge of the mountain top that Iten is perched on before the road plunges down into the huge valley to the east (note: I could be mixed up on my geography here, but I think Iten is along the rim on the edge of the Rift Valley. It’s possible that even Iten is actually in the Rift Valley and that the valley you look down on from the edge of town is just a sub-valley, but it’s a pretty darn big valley you’re looking down on either way. Hopefully when I get back I’ll hit up google maps and get this nailed down). The view from there is absolutely breath taking, and I’m afraid the pictures I took just don’t do it justice. There is an immediate plunge down at least 1000 feet to a massive plateau that must be over a mile across, then another plunge to the valley floor, which is far enough down that it’s a barely visible on a semi-cloudy day like this one. Apparently on a really clear day you can see the valley floor much clearer, as well as see much farther along the valley to the north and south. Kemboi’s friend Matthew, who had been wandering around with us, and I climbed a big rock that was off to the side of the view point at the turn out in the road. Over that way there appeared to me a little bit more a nature walk area along the rim, and a restaurant area there where you could relax and sip on a coke as you took in the awesome view. On our way back I noticed that above the road there were some houses and restaurants, and at that moment building a house with that phenomenal view over the valley in the same town as the best runners on Earth sounded like a dream too good to be true. Kemboi talked me into heading down off the road and grab one of the leaves of the plants that were growing there, which turned out to be similar to poison ivy, something that got a good laugh out of Kemboi and his friends. I laughed along with them and gave them a hard time about picking on the white guy who didn’t know any better, but I was happy to be considered close enough to be kidded around with rather than someone who had to be treated with that kind of distant politeness that I’ve seen a lot of times (and treat other people like a lot) when you’ve just met them. We stopped at a hut along the road to get some porridge poured into mugs. They exclaimed that if I drank porridge regularly I would be “very strong”. They explained it was a pretty standard part of their diet, usually as a mid-afternoon tide-over that would get you through the evening jog until dinner at 8 or 9. It was thick enough to just about be a meal in itself, and we ate it with mandazi, the fluffy bread pieces that can be bought at just about any café. The other guy that was with us (besides Matthew) was Kemboi’s cousin (whose name I don’t remember), and I found that I could get much more concise and direct answers to my questions about training than I had ever been able to get from Kemboi, but still with the some of the same amusing mannerisms. As we sat talking about how strong I would become because of eating/drinking porridge and training in Iten, he laid out the standard eating pattern of the day. Like Kemboi, he wouldn’t have anything before morning training, then bread and tea when he returned from the morning training session. Lunch would be around 1 or 2, and from what I experienced that wasn’t a particularly heavy meal, usually rice or ugali or chapatis with some type of meat, or something along those lines. Porridge was taken around 4, and then dinner wouldn’t be until late, and he emphasized that dinner was almost always ugali, and yet again reiterated how strong you become when you always eat ugali. He struck me as sharing Kemboi’s simplistic view of running success, that if you just followed the program and ate lots of ugali and porridge, and didn’t let anything distract you, you would quickly become a “champion”. I have to say that I’ve been pretty impressed with the Kenyan diet, as far as facilitating training (and also with tasting good), and I don’t think I would discount it from being a factor in the success of Kenyan running, but I’m skeptical that it’s a deciding factor because, while Kenyans in general eat far healthier than Americans, among elite runners I imagine they must watch their diet much closer, so I see that more as a difference between Kenya and America, rather than being between Kenyan runners and American runners.
We headed back through town, with Kemboi stopping to chat with people all along the way. I found stopping to talk with people exciting, but also slightly intimidating because here there was a very real possibility that you would run into someone who had ran a 2:05 marathon. Another time when we were walking through town Kemboi pointed out the London Marathon women’s defending champion across the street, and another guy we stopped to talk to who he said had run 2:04, and while I don’t follow the international marathon scene close enough to confirm either of these, there certainly wasn’t any reason that those couldn’t have been true; this is the place where those kind of people train. I met one of Kemboi’s friends who runs for Qatar, something I found a surprising number of the athletes here do. Apparently they’re granted Qatari citizenship and some pretty cushy compensation for throwing on a Qatar jersey to run at the All-Asia games and the World Championships. Bahrain does the same thing, although I don’t think nearly as much. It seemed to me that these guys would be looked down upon for selling out on Kenya to make a few bucks running for a country they probably wouldn’t set foot in, other than competitions, but, at least hanging out with Kemboi, these guys were treated just as part of the group, no different from the rest of the athletes. I was alarmed over the next couple days at the number of shirts and track suits with the Qatar flag and colors on them.
On our way back up we swung by a couple running shops, which were funny to me to see since you just don’t have those kind of stores over there, and I would guess those were two of the only running stores in the country, and maybe even in East Africa for that matter. The reason the stores were able to operate here is because there’s so many runners, and many of them are traveling to Europe fairly often so there is the opportunity to get gear from there. From what I understood the shop owners basically bought the gear off of runners that they had gotten at races abroad but didn’t want, or specifically had people bring back things from Europe when they went. This method of supplying was evident in the random clothing the was available. Shirts, jackets, shoes, tights, and pants hung from the ceiling and the walls, with rarely two of the same shirt anywhere and clearly no set inventory. I was stoked, because it was a chance to get some pretty exotic stuff for cheap, but it turned out most of the gear was just generic nike or adidas gear, still nice, but nothing terribly special. What was terribly special was in the second store we went to where the shop owner mentioned that he would have some Kenyan national team warmups coming in in the next couple of days. He wanted 7000 schillings, which was outrageously expensive by Kenyan standards, but this was something that was in high demand. Even for that much, I would still be getting it for cheaper than I would in the US, and that’s disregarding the fact that I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get it in the US, regardless of price. If I could get my hands on one of those, I thought, that would be coolest thing I brought home of everything.
The darkness was quickly gathering as we headed back up toward the training center, where we met Kemboi’s friend that we would be staying with along the road. We headed down one of the dirt side roads near the training center, and up a dirt path to a clearing where a long short building was separated into four houses, one of which was Jackson’s, the guy we had met. It was little more than the one room house that Kemboi had in Elodret, with perhaps a slightly bigger main room and a small, closet size area that served as the kitchen. The only furniture in the house was a bed in one corner with a mosquito net, and a rack to store dishes and a few cooking ingredients in the kitchen, which was also littered with pots and pans. We headed out to go get food, and while we were out, Jackson and Kemboi decided to buy the small stove from one of the ladies roasting corn along the road, which we all chuckled about on our way back. They left the coals burning and everything, and Jackson just carried it back to house and started cooking immediately. True to form, we had some ugali and cabbage for dinner, then I hit the sack pretty quickly because I figured it would be an early morning for training and I would need all the rest I could get. As I was dozing off Jackson and I talked about getting a visa to head to the US, something he clearly really wanted to do. I think I’ve probably had at least 30 people on this trip ask me if I can get them to the US, which in some cases is kind of funny and exasperating when it’s someone I’ve just met, but when I think about it it’s understandable. If I’m the first American they’ve met, or one of the only ones it makes sense that they would see if I could get them to the US. It’s interesting being around all the runners, because they want to go to the US too, but for more specific reasons than just the people on the street who just see it as a place of opportunity. I know there’s a lot more to the process of issuing visas, but from a running perspective it seemed pretty selfish to me to hold Kenyan runners out of the US, I imagined for the reason of allowing American runners to win the prize money and be able to run professionally here. I don’t think that’s the actual reasoning, but whatever the reason the result is that as far as I’m concerned the level of competition in American racing is curbed because the strongest runners in the world have such a difficult time getting permission to come here.
I wasn’t sure what the plan was for sleeping arrangements, since there was only one not very large bed and the cement floor looked less than inviting. It turned out that I shared the bed with Kemboi and I think Jackson went to sleep next door. It was chilly enough that night for me to be bothered when Kemboi started hogging the blankets. The bed wasn’t all that comfortable to start with, and less so sharing it with a blanket hog has no problem sprawling out his legs, so I think it’s safe to say I’ve had better nights of sleep than that one.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
NOTE: This is the break off of the blogs I wrote while in Kenya to, unfortunately the finishing up of telling the story that I'm not getting to until December. These accounts will be more brief, partly because I want to make sure to get through everything so I don't avoid another long lag before finishing the whole thing. I have a couple other blog entries of my interactions with the church in Eldoret and the runners in Iten that I have detailed accounts of, but now that there's no urgency of immediately retaining information, I'll go back to accounting things in chronological order.
I had hoped to go for a run out on the roads around the farm in the morning before we left, but was dissuaded by Heather and Patrick, who said we were going to be trying to get out of there pretty early and I could just run back at Grandy's farm in the afternoon. The problem with getting out of there was that Heather and Patrick were the only ones with the sense of urgency, and trying to keep any sort of time schedule in Kenya is like swimming upstream against a really strong, relaxing, laid back current that it feels so comfortable to just flow with. The hazard of coming for ten days the way Heather and Patrick were doing is that everyone and their crazy aunt wants you to not only come visit but to stay for a while, without much regard for the fact that you're trying to make a whirlwind trip around half the country to see as many people as you possibly can. Eddie and Neville's mother (Patrick's aunt) was certainly no exception, but was nevertheless extremely grateful for the visit. Staying for breakfast though, meant we didn't get out of there until late morning. We piled back into the station wagon, notably minus the clucking chickens in the back with Junior and I. On our way back to Grandy's farm we stopped at a store to pick up a few things and I got out to stretch my legs. I was aware of a group of children curiously and cautiously gathering to examine me, some of which fled when I turned to talked to them. I was starting to feel pretty good with my Swahili, but still had trouble saying very much to them, but still got enough across that they at least had enough of an idea of what I was trying to say (or at least what they thought I was trying to say) to correct me on a couple of things and tell me what I should have said, all the while in various states of somewhat hidden to uncontrollable giggling. I noticed a couple of adults watching, amused by the mzungu's attempt to talk with the kids. I enjoyed it though; I was able to get enough across to feel that I was making some progress, and the kids giggling fell on the right side of that fine line I'd found between when I didn't mind being an object of entertainment and when I was frustrated and humiliated to have a crowd of people laughing at me.
We got back to Grandy's farm and I got ready to head out for my run, but was informed that it would start raining soon and that I should wait until after the rains. I brushed this off, partly because I had already seen the Kenyan unwillingness to do much of anything in bad weather and partly because I was already annoyed that I hadn't gotten to run that morning, and I knew if I left it to all the non-athletes around me to completely dictate my schedule, they would tell me to not run at all. The rain started coming down just a couple minutes into the run though, so I opted to head back. I got back just as the rain got really heavy, and it proceeded to pour down torrentially for the next half hour. I came to find during my time at the farm that the rain comes with amazing regularity, raining hard for about an hour some time between 2:00 and 4:00. It was regular enough that it was pretty much planned into the work day that you would just come in when the rains started and sit down and relax. I was frustrated by how much of a hassle getting my run in was turning out to be, but this was the hazard of working on other people's schedules, and particularly non-athlete schedules. It's one of those times where you realize how much your life revolves around something once you're around people whose lives don't revolve around that and who don't see what you're doing as all that important. To keep with your training plan becomes something like an obsession, a daily compulsion that you stick to religiously as other people tell you that you shouldn't be running so much or taking so much time with it. But I digress.
Once the rains stopped I headed out for a run, not heeding many of the warning and cautions that it was too close to dark and that I should just wait and run tomorrow. You already told me to not run earlier, you're finding out that telling me to not run at all doesn't work, I thought with some sort of misplaced righteous indignation. They had told me to take a left and head out to the main road, but the main road was only a couple hundred yards away, and I think maybe they genuinely expected I would just run to the main road and back and be okay with that. I decided to explore down another side road, which had more houses than I expected and I drew a huge crowd of screaming children. I knew I was an oddity but I didn't realize at the time that I was probably the first white person that these kids had ever seen. I was excited to run with these kids because, as much as I loved the kids I ran with down in Nairobi, this was the area where anyone of the kids I was running with just might be a future Olympian or world record holder. The funny thing here was that some of the adults yelled and waved just about like the kids. Maybe I was the first white person they had ever seen either, certainly if they had never left their farm, which from what I understand isn't completely unrealistic. The kids enthusiastically led me down through some of the corn fields and along some cow paths through the pastures, which were absolutely fantastic to run on and offered some great views of the surrounding countryside. I can only imagine how off beat of a sight it was for the occasional shepherd or farm hand we saw in the pastures and fields to see a mzungu followed by a crowd of giggling children come romping through the field. All the paths were super muddy from the rain, which just added to the care-free, fun spirit of the run. By the time the path we were following opened out of the fields onto the train tracks there were only about three kids still running with me. They ran with me along the track until we hit a major road and then stopped and said they couldn't run any farther. They spoke enough English for me to tell them I was going to run another 15 minutes then come back and asked if they would wait for me and then run back with me. They said they would and I believed they would wait since I imagined I was the most strange and exotic thing to come stumbling past their home in quite some time. I headed up the road, which led me through a small village and across a main paved road. I got quite a few hoots and hollers, and was in such a good mood from the beauty of the run that I smiled and waved and usually shot a couple words of Swahili their way, which they usually got a kick out of. When I came back to the train tracks where I had left the kids, they were nowhere to be found. I kicked myself now for not being more careful about where I was going. Up to this point I had done a pretty good job of making sure I tracked carefully which turns I had taken and made sure I knew how to get back. To think I had let my guard down because I felt like I could just follow a bunch of 7-year-olds around and count on them to get me back safely really left me pretty annoyed at my carelessness. I headed back along the tracks, and up a road from there. There was a group of kids we had passed on the way out who seemed even more excited to see me the second time than the first time, but try as I might to struggle through some Swahili to ask them which way I should go, they were as unhelpful as they were enthusiastic. I felt like I knew the general direction I needed to go, but I knew there was a long ways between me and Grandy's farm, and the light was close enough to fading that I knew I didn't have time for some rambling adventure. I headed back through the fields and along the paths in what I believed to be roughly the right direction. I realized that Grandy's farm is big enough and she is well enough know in the community that someone might be able to point me in the right direction, so I asked for directions from a couple of older farmer-looking guys standing around along a fence-line in one of the fields. They recognized the name, but basically just confirmed the general direction that I was already heading. At one point I ended up taking a wrong route on one of the paths through a corn field and ended up at somebody's hut, where they calmly but firmly told me I was trespassing and helpfully pointed me down to the path through the field I was looking for. My worry grew the more I ran, and my mind began racing through the scenarios of what I should do if it got dark and I was still stuck out on the roads. This was probably the most dangerous position I'd been in the whole trip. Just as the worries were mounting though, I popped out onto a road I recognized, not far from Grandy's, and a wave of relief and exultation washed over me. Just a couple hundred yards from Grandy's I actually ran into Uncle David, who I had only met once but who also lived out on the farm. He was talking with a couple people who I shook hands with and introduced myself to, and he took me over to a couple other houses to introduce me to people there. Walking back to the farm he told me about how if I really wanted to experience Kenyan culture, I needed to really go out and see people, not just sit at home. This guy sounded like he was a lot more in tune with the kind of thing I wanted to do than the rest of the family that seemed more worried with keeping me safe.
When I got home I got some scolding about being out too late and that the area I had gone to wasn't that safe, but I hoped I had made my point a little bit of how important it was to me to get my running in and how I didn't care as much about their ideas of keeping me safe as they did. Maybe I was little bit arrogant, but I felt I had been here long enough to understand what their standards for my safety were and to understand that my own standards were much lower than theirs. All in all I chalked it up as another fantastic experience, if not one I was pretty lucky to make it out of alright.