Kenyan marathoners seem to always come from the rural areas – Nandi County, Nyandarua, Uasin Gishu, Nyeri and a few others.
Many will quickly argue that the high altitude and terrain in these regions contributes to more marathoners hailing from there. But I tend to differ.
To complete a race – which is an approximate distance from Nairobi to Thika – in record time like Eliud Kipchoge did needs lots of endurance, both mental and physical. Does it mean that urbanites don’t have the stamina to run a marathon?
Maybe. Growing up in urban areas is everyone’s dream, but that dream has its nightmares, which urbanites prefer not to talk about.
Mode of transport. Running to school five kilometres away is standard for rural folk. This not only strengthens them physically, but also mentally. They learn to take risks and push the limits, and more importantly, to fend for themselves.
In urban areas, children are driven to school; distance is not an issue to them. The sitting position in the school bus is the greater concern. How would such children ever dream of running a marathon?
Type of food. It’s unlikely that you will become a marathoner by eating processed foods, fast foods and junk. Yet in urban areas, eating such food is a sign of being ‘cool’.
Nature of work. It has been noted that the stamina rural folks develop as they grow up comes in handy even in business. They dominate in small and micro-enterprises, which demand patience and setting up systems. And rural folks are also great contributors to the disciplined forces.
Access to opportunities. Less talked about is that a marathon is an escape route from poverty in some counties. There are too few lucrative opportunities there. Urbanites have more opportunities, and don’t need to sweat themselves off in a marathon.
This leaves a nagging question: will increased urbanisation end Kenya’s dominance in marathons and long races? It appears so. Ever wondered why we have marathoners from Nyandarua and not Kiambu?
There is a clear correlation between urbanisation and economic growth. We don’t want to admit that urbanisation has its perils. It gnaws on our naturalness; it removes spontaneity from our lives, including running. Beyond losing forests and water bodies to urbanisation, we lose ourselves.
We prefer going to gyms, restricted and enclosed, listening to music composed by humans. Running in the countryside is synchronised by natural music, from birds singing to the wind blowing.
We could argue that science will take over where nature ends. But that will remove the fun from marathons and other games. That is why in the original Olympics, participants ran naked.
It also worries me that the younger generation is fascinated about breaking records without breaking a sweat. Think about the prevalence of exam cheating.