Run like Kipchoge (A Tale of Running Tribes)

Recently I had the opportunity to watch Kipchoge: The Last Milestone. My background in Sports Science had me fascinated with the amazing technology and science that went into breaking the 2-hour marathon. Everything including the shoes, the aerodynamics of the pacers, the degree of turns, the camber of the road, the fuel consumed, the pacing strategy, every detailed was studied and managed in minute detail as required for such a feat.

However, what really struck me was not what the technology added, but what the technology was added to in Kipchoge. Kipchoge was the product of a running culture that made it possible for such an amazing athlete to get to a point he could do something no one had done before.

Throughout my sports science education I read and studied and maybe even idolized Per-Olof Astrand, a Swedish Exercise Physiologist, one of the founding fathers of exercise physiology actually. He wrote one of the enduring books on the topic “The Textbook of Work Physiology”, a signed copy of which is one of my prized possessions to this day.

As luck would have it, in Graduate School I had the chance to go to one of his lectures (where I got my book signed) and spent a few days brushing up on my physiology so I would be able to follow him in his lecture. At this point he was very late in his career but still very active and constantly learning. I arrived in the auditorium very excited to fill my brain with the latest technology information and physiology theories. The lights went down, and the screen lit up and there he was, the guru of exercise physiology. But what’s with that slide, it’s just an African plain, and then some villages and schools with a bunch of kids running. The slides kept coming, with more groups of runners, playing the sport of running. Sure, he made a few passing references to VO2Max, and blood lactate, genetics, altitude training and all that, but by far his focus was on the people. He had been studying how they interact, how running fits into their society, how their fellow runners are an extension of their family, their tribe.

Flash forward to Kipchoge, many of the people around him talked about the technology, but Kipchoge talked about the people, his running partners, his family. Some of most impactful footing for me was him at training camps in Africa, out for a long run with his training tribe, chatting and joking and running slowly and steadily. Or at camp with a wide variety of runners going through their strength and stretch workouts. His whole look and demeanor said this is where I belong, this is my happy place, this is my tribe.

The accomplishment of the 2-hour marathon could never had happened without that influence of runner-to-runner relationship that Kipchoge enjoyed, embraced, and expanded. We can learn so much from that experience. With few exceptions, Kipchoge’s comments were about the collaboration with other runners more than the competition. Of course, in the end it is a race and he can be as competitive as anyone obviously, but he seems to compartmentalize it, somehow separating the life of running from the sport of running.

Running clubs are the tribes we develop in our own towns, they are a way to connect and to learn with, from and about each other through running. How a Club embraces each other says as much if not more about the Club than race results. It says we are a tribe; we value each other and we will achieve most by achieving together.

Embrace your Club, be a force to welcome others into the Club, work at making running accessible to everyone, create a tribe that will make all things possible because in the end, that is always what makes things possible, like a 2-hour Marathon!

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