I thought she was referring to some famous race in the highlands above the Great Rift Valley, from where hundreds of Kenyans have emerged to dominate the world in distance running.
It seemed odd to me, inviting a girl to a track race, but maybe it was a bit like inviting an Indian girl to an IPL match, or any girl to a Formula 1 race. It’s not everyone’s idea of romance, but it can be special.
That’s not what the wife meant. “He wanted to go running with me, that was his idea of romance,” she explained. And that was their first date, a long rambling jog through the countryside.
We had met in a bar in one of Dubai’s nicer hotels; it was around 9 pm, early by the standards of a city that only wakes up after 11. We were the only customers in the bar and the Kenyans conversed easily.
We bought a few rounds for each other, and then I pressed into the mystery that has long puzzled me. Why do Kenyans from one part of the country, highlands 8,000 feet above the rift valley, trash the world’s best runners in distance running? 7 of the 10 fastest times in the Marathon are theirs, and over 80 of the 100 fastest.
It couldn’t be the altitude. The Nepalese should have been great runners by that argument. The Kenyan’s wife had an interesting explanation. “It’s our schools, too few and far from where we live, so everyone runs to school and back. And running is the only route to fame and some money”.
I read the other day that the Indian and Kenyan Olympic associations have one problem in common, picking distance runners for the London Olympics. Our problem is hardly any runner qualifies. Their problem is quite the opposite; too many have broken world records.