Am I Someone’s Kenyan?

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I’ve just started my training run and I make my way northbound on Hospital Row. In the distance, about 150 metres ahead is a fellow runner. I observe her stride and the way she holds her elbows, as I do with every runner. Are they relaxed? Are they struggling? Are they holding tension in their shoulders? Elbows? Is he or she running faster than me? In this case, my fellow runner is not and in another 500 metres I’ve overtaken her. But I hear footsteps; she’s accelerated. I know this because I haven’t slowed down. And she passes me. But the effort has taken something out of her and she begins to lag. I then move up on her again and she again picks up the pace and hangs with me for another 200 metres before sharply veering westbound.

I’ve had this happen to me once before in training. In that case it was a male runner that I passed and he then sped up and stayed on my shoulder for a good 3 kilometres!

So what’s the deal? Do these runners also drive like this? We all know the type. The ones who drive slowly until we try to pass them. Only to slow down again once they’ve re-established their lead. *Sigh*! 

But then as I approached the tail end of my training run I had an epiphany.

I saw him in the distance. Lean runners’ build. Dark African skin. Powerful legs. He looked Kenyan. And he was slowing. And I was gaining on him. In my mind I could already hear the surprise and excitement as the sports commentators watched in shock and awe as

Canadian-born runner, runrodrun, is making grounds on the leader, Boston champion Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya!!!! Mutai is struggling but Rod is calm, deliberate, and with powerful strides he overtakes the faultering Kenyan!!!  These passes are usually one-way events and Rod isn’t looking back as he powers home the last few hundred metres!!!! Mutai will hold on to the silver but it’s little consolation to the proud African as in a surprising upset the Canadian will take home the gold!!!! RUNRODRUN IS THE 2013 NEW YORK MARATHON CHAMPION!!!!!

Unbeknownst to him, the runner I passed toward the end of my run played a role in making my training run fun. It was harmless. But the fantasy of turning him into an elite athlete and then passing him made me drive a little bit harder toward the finish. Something that could full well pay off down the road for me as I close off this race season. 

And that’s when it hit me. This man unwittingly became my Kenyan. And maybe, just maybe, in their own minds, that’s precisely what the lady I saw earlier today and the man who ran with me for 3 kilometres all those months ago did with me. What if I unknowingly became their Kenyan? What if I pushed them to go faster? To challenge themselves? And maybe even make themselves better, for at least a few moments.

Far-fetched? Perhaps. But I do believe we influence each other. And often times in ways stronger than we would ever know. The smile that you got as you picked up your coffee? Didn’t it make your day that much brighter? That guy who cut you off in traffic? How long did you let that one put you in a foul mood? And these are fleeting interactions with people we don’t even know and may never see again.

So what does that mean for the people we are closest to? Our families? Our friends? Our partners? Our kids? The smile we give. The “I Love You’s” we say. The time we spend picking our faces out of our computer monitors to look a loved one in the eye and genuinely listen to him. We have power that we don’t take credit for. We can help to make someone feel better, to be better. We can be someone’s Kenyan.

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2 comments

  1. I’ve found that this phenomenon (tendency? behavior?) happens almost every single time I enter the finishers’ chute of a half marathon or longer. If in that last 0.1-0.2 miles I decide to pick it up or go for an all out sprint and I pass someone, they tend to pick it up as well. Maybe it’s a psychological thing: once you see someone turn on the afterburners, then you assume it’s okay for you to do so. Once you follow suit, there’s a perfectly good competitor just a few strides ahead of you, so you might as well turn it into a duel.

    And that’s how you almost throw up after every race!

    1. Thanks for your reply Dan! I’ve seen this jockeying back and forth in a race as well but I guess I kind of find it a little different coming in a training run. But sometimes training is about recreating race day situations so if that’s the case then maybe I’ll be seeing more of this in training too 🙂

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