Business Day – 12 Dec 2018: “Never has one nation dominated a discipline in quite the way Kenya has come to own long-distance running. At last weekend’s Singapore marathon, Kenyans took the first five places in the women’s race and first 17 in the men’s event, in a field of 10,000.”
Most of the powerhouse Kenyan runners you read about are from the Kalenjin Tribe. To help Matungen, a Kalenjin village in Kenya, create income earning opportunities, revive and celebrate Kalenjin culture, and raise money for community projects, we want to bring running tourism to the area. We think combining running with cultural immersion will not only create a fascinating trip for hardy tourists, it will encourage Matungen youth to value and celebrate their unique culture and strengthen the community.
We have worked with Abraham, my Kalenjin friend, to develop a fun and interesting line-up of activities so they can learn experientially about Kalenjin and Njemps cultures. From herding livestock, to racing in ambach reed boats, traditional crafts, dance, and storytelling, and, of course, running training with their personal Kalenjin coach, they will stay busy and have amazing experiences.
In June, our first two families will serve as our guinea pigs. They have promised to take lots of photos and give us extensive feedback to help us work out the bugs before we officially open the camp. Of everything we have planned, I am most excited about race day. Each tourist group that comes will challenge a local high school to a 5k running race, and afterwards the whole community will be treated to a feast.
In a community which exists on subsistence agriculture, medals don’t mean much to a hungry family, so our prizes will generate a lot more honor for the students who win – a sheep for first place, a goat for second, a rooster and three chickens for third, two chickens for fourth, and one chicken for fifth (times two – since girls will be ranked separately from boys). The local schools are buzzing with excitement!
Our two American families are athletic, but they aren’t specifically runners. I was therefore eager for the local high-schoolers to leave our tourists in the dust and win all the prizes, so I was a bit disappointed talking to Abraham today when I learned, for this first race, he plans to have the families run against the 4 elementary schools in the area rather than a high school. Oh, so then the Americans will win some of the prizes, I asked Abraham?? Even over the phone he couldn’t hide his contempt. No, of course not, he said. But they are small children, I countered. How fast can they run a 5k race? It will take them no more than 21 minutes, he said. (Elementary school children average 7-minute miles???) Okay, instead of humbling our Americans by losing to the high schoolers, we are going to humble them by losing to the small children!
Secretly, I hope at least one American wins a prize. The photo-op and story will be their best Facebook post of the year! How often have their friends won a goat? And how many runners can boast they beat a Kalenjin in a race?