How running has connected two countries so different and so far apart.
The wild, bitter snow heavy tail of a Canadian winter lap at the tires of the jet as it lifts off from the runway. Many hours later the wheels of a jet meet a much warmer welcome as they touch down in Kenyan. Two different climates, two different cultures and people; but with a connection.
I am writing a slightly longer blog today – highlighting some Canadian runners and how they (among others) have helped create a link between two countries with the power of running.
It is early March and one of Canada’s top masters runners and a running star in Nova Scotia steps from a plan after a 8-hour flight from Istanbul to finally reach Kenya. One of the connections steps out. Denise Robson is a 46-year old zero body-fat runner and single mom has come to Kenya, specifically the famous runing meca of Iten, where Kenyan champions and world record holders have emerged, to train for weeks before her race at the Boston marathon.
Denise with her shoulder-length brown hair and a genuine smile has had her share of running adventures. Taking back up running after her university years she returned to win races in the masters category, turn heads and set records. She really made news in 2010 when she ran a 2:43:16 to win the masters (40+) age group category. But with success came challenges. Life threatening blood clots through her into the hospital in late 2010 at the peak of her fitness and has kept her from the start line of Boston for two years.
With a loss of sponsors but with no loss of grit and determination Denise has fought back to racing shape. In 2014 Denise was back to Bsoton and fininshed second overall in the 45-49 age group with her time of 2:53:16 on a hot day. The road back has not always been bump or turn free however. A mild scare after a marathon in the fall of 2014, left her with electrodes taped to her torso and trying to catch a cab in a hospital Johnny shirt.
Denise with young new friends in Kenya.
Grinding out runs and workouts during a decidely tough winter in Nova Scotia, with the help of friends, treadmills and an indoor track she is ready to take on Boston again. She has arrived in Kenyan not only for a once in a lifetime experience but to train hard before her April race.
I got hold of Denise a few days into her training in Kenya and asked here about it – this is her response.
“Initial reason going to Kenya was friends have been and thought the experience would be one that I would appreciate because of my love of running and of people (especially children).”
“I have been here for only 4 days and this has opened my eyes to a whole other world. There is no color here, it is simple, peaceful and beautiful. I initially came for the running and will be here for one month; however, could leave tomorrow feeling I’ve already had a life changing experience here.”
” I however, don’t even want to think about going and now look forward to the next 26 days. Making friends, enjoying the high fives the kids give me as I jog by and the giggles that follow. I videoed a group of school children playing ball today and had them come over to watch it and the laughter was just contagious. Oh yes and will not forget about all the running I plan on doing…..see what this altitude stuff is all about.”
Luke helping out with CowKenCanRun – a run that raised enough money for 3 cows which were given to the division winners of The Rift Valley Marathon in Kenya.
Many miles away, in the homey and popular running store Aerobics First in Halifax, Luke MacDonald, a once elite local runner and co-owner of the shop follows Denise’s trip online. Luke no longer wins races but has gotten himself back into solid running shape after many years and is an advocate for running and a healthy active lifestyle. A drive to win and race and the love of the speed and battle has tunred itself into something else.
Luke can be found at the store but also very often with those in the community working on such initiatives as bikes to help kids stay active and get a better education. Luke has really emerged as someone who uses running to promote good in the world and help others.
Denise is a regular customer and friend of Luke’s. But there is more to the connection. Luke has also recently helped a Kenyan man in Halifax organize a local race that helped the Halifax-Canadian community race money to buy cows for those struggling in Kenya. The cows were awarded at the awards ceremony for winners of the 2015 Rift Valley marathon.
This is in addition with helping to send running shoes to those who cannot afford them in Kenya. Luke through his connections in the running world also has a friend who has travels to Kenya and now spends time helping the Kenyan communuity through running. His name is John Carson.
Run For Life is a not for profit organization that promotes running in Canada. The man behind the idea is John Carson. John is entheusiastic , full of ideas and wants to make a difference. Another former quick runner, a passion for the sport still burns and has also become a desire to help and reach out using running. One would think that Run For Life would take up most of ones time, but in the past few years John has, among other projects, has been traveling to the Rift valley of Kenya for many years to support education, health care and and a host of community based projects. He is listed as one of the guides for a tour including of course the Rift Valley marathon and also helps promote chances for Canadian runners to come and train in Kenya.
Denise Robson with John Carson in Kenya – connections.
John oozes running, when not running, he is promoting it, organizing races and now in the heart of Kenya’s running community is connecting two running worlds. John has also teamed up with elite Canadian runners to help bring runners to Kenya, one goes by the name of Reid Coolsaet.
John Carson’s photo of the 3 cows that Luke helped fundraise for – for the Rift Valley Marathon in Kenya.
The connections continue.
Reid Coolsaet is a red-haired, super lean Canadian elite marathoner who is one of few in many years to come close to breaking the national marathon record set in 1975 by Jerome Drayton.
He is one of a group of runners including Eric Gillis, Rob Watson, Dylan Wykes, Lanni Marchant and Krista Duchene who has really motivated, inspired and put the “fire back into Canadian distance running.
Reid has been to world championships, the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics and is still looking to see how far he can push himself. To help push his mind and body as far as it will alow; Reid has been escaping for a number of weeks over the past few years to train in Kenya with some of the best in the world. Trading a synthetic track for a dirt oval and a simple existence focused purely on running has helped this Canadian runner reach new levels. Reid helped John Carson promote the Rift Valley Marathon last year.
“I first came to Kenya for an adventure and to experience training with the Kenyans. After that first stint I felt I developed as an athlete and wanted to go back. It’s fun to switch up my training a little for a couple months in the year and why not train with the best runners in the world.”
“The way Kenyans approach races is inspiring, they aren’t afraid of excellence. I even learned lot about the way Kenyans deal with lackluster races. They don’t dwell on bad races and lol forward to the next challenge.”
“Seeing the way rural Kenyans live a simple life reminds me of what is really important. It makes you appreciate all the luxuries we have in Canada.”
Another speeds Canadian runner had a different way of creating connections with Kenya.
Michael Del Monte is a young film maker and former competitive runner (3:46 for 1500 metres) who has brought together his two loves into a successful career. The Canadian runner who has appeared on the cover of Canadian Running magazine recently completed a film called Transcend about the Kenyan runner Wesley Korir. The film is about running but also focuses on the Kenyan subject’s desire to do good through his running and for his country.
The running films Michael have produced that deal with Kenya focus not merely on the running but the people, the culture and what makes Kenyan runners so good. The films also deal with the personal, the dreams and the live sof runners. The films bring those who cannot travel to Kenya, closer through film.
Rob taking a break in training in Kenya to snap a shot with Kenyan star Florence Kiplagat who broke her own half-marathon world record in 2015 (1:05:09).
Another fast Canuck runner Rob Brouillette (Runner Rob -The Canadian Mzungu, as he signs his emails) describes his Kenyan experience during the last 3 months of high altitude Kenya running training in Iten (Home Of Champions) with some of the best athletes in the world.
“Every single day every run is done on dusty dirt rocky trails, only the odd long run or very rare speed workouts are done on road, saving the street running for races, even the track is made of sand-like terrain.”
“Kenya has the highest altitude around and is really underestimated by some people because once you actually are here you feel how hard it is to breathe, making ever easy runs more difficult, therefore your pace will never be the way it was at low altitude Canada.”
“The African saying “train hard win easy” is no lie, they really do push themselves to the limits on hard sessions and the opposite for easy runs by going slower then I can even handle some days. Recovery is very important so when not running they try to stay off their feet and simply rest.”
“Training groups can get as big as 150 members unlike anything I’ve seen back home. Kenya’s are tough on themselves that if they fall off pace from the lead pack they usually drop out of the workout.”
“For the average competitive runner here it’s easy to get high mileage between the morning workouts, evening easy runs, and all the warm up and cool downs in between. I hit a high of 190K one of my weeks without necessarily going for high mileage, it just came naturally.”
Running seems to be an activity that allows people to peer within themselves. Long runs ar often times of interspection and hard workouts time to dig deep and battle with inner demons and limits. It often seems that the outcome of the running experience produces a silent kinship with other runners but also a need to share the love of the sport, and to do good with it or through it.
Canadian and Kenyan runners run on different coloured soils, at times for different reasons and many miles apart, but the love of a sport can bring people together. There is a connection now that started with the simple action of setting out for a run and has become much more.
Denise will bring her experience and the benefits of running in kenya back for her return to the Boston marathon. Reid who has been to Kenya to train a numbe of times has formed friendships and learned about what it takes to run and race hard. Luke, John and Michael will all continue to help forge connections between two countries seperated by ocean and culture but joined by running.
Run on my running friends!
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