Life is rarely black and white, all one thing and not somewhat another. Take for instance high school football.

I say high school football, because in America that is usually the first time we get truly associate ourselves with my school, my team.

So it’s Friday Night Lights, and out on the field are 22 young men exchanging energy in a game of offense against defense and vice versa. On one side of the field a group is watching that interaction and they are cheering, smiling, and clapping, it’s wonderful. On the other side of the field another group watches that same exchange of energy and mutters, clenches their fists, and pouts.

So which is it, a happy thing or a sad thing? Or does it all depend on the bias with which you entered the stadium?

As we prepare for the TCS New York City Marathon in just over a week’s time, we are once again presented with a men’s competition featuring top athletes from East Africa, with American stars Dathan Ritzenhein, Abdi Abdirahman and some talented rookies thrown into the mix for good measure.

As history has shown, the pendulum of athletic excellence swings over a long arc of time. Just look at this year’s baseball World Series pitting the Chicago Cubs against the Cleveland Indians. The tribe hasn’t won the World Series in six decades (1948), the cubbies in a century (1908).

In decades past we have seen athletes from Korea and Japan, Norway and Finland dominate running competitions. Perhaps not as long as the current East African run of excellence, but time at the top tends to eventually run its course.

Two-time Boston Marathon champion Moses Tanui once predicted the Kenyan advantage would come to an end as the agrarian way of life disappeared. While Moses once walked 60 km from his rural village to attend a track meet as a 10 year old, his own children grew up in Eldoret city and had a very short trip to the local school every day.

Wislon Kipsang battles Lelisa Desisa for 2014 New York title.
Wilson Kipsang battled Lelisa Desisa for 2014 New York title. Desisa will compete again in 2016.

Former marathon world record holder and 2014 New York City champion Wilson Kipsang spoke of going hunting all day with his father. “And if you got tired,” Kipsang remembered his father saying, “fine, walk home.”

But Wilson recalled they were already out some 20K, so there was really no choice. Accordingly, he kept going, and at the end of the day they came home with a small antelope for the family to eat.

It’s when a Vons or Ralphs or Safeway opens in the neighborhood and meat comes red and wrapped in cellophane rather than furred and bloody in the bush, that the times will change.

And finally, Moses Kipsiro of Uganda (who will be competng in NYC) told Jeff Berman, his host at the 2015 Beach to Beacon 10K in Maine, how when he and his friends used to walk 15 km to school every day they would occasionally put a few coins or maize in a cup or bowl, and the first one to school would win the maize or coins.

It was a natural competition that helped build not just their cardiovascular systems, but honed their competitive instincts, too, at a young age. That is a hard wager to make when you take a bus to school.

Changing the culture

Before the advent of smartphones, or GPS systems, remember how one of the distinctions between men drivers and women drivers was that women would actually stop and ask for directions, while men would just get lost at a faster rate of speed?

Today we use our GPS devices so much that we have lost our birdseye view of where we are and how to get where we are going. As our sense of direction is utilized less and less, we become ever more dependent on our technologies.

We see a form of this dependence on technology in modern day runners. So dependent have we become on Garmins and other such gadgets that any disruption that might mess up their signals can completely throw our sense of pace off as folks haven’t learned to internalize pace.

So while much has been gained by our endless technological trek, so, too, have other things been lost.

And so it goes.



  1. linda, if 8 youth have died it’s because western $$ & greed has entered into the picture.of course thats a sad thing & if they truly thought that they were supplements i am SURE they came from the “west”.the point of this article is they are good now because of a natural training base that is derived from having to run 18 miles round trip to & from school or just day to day chores which will diminish if the agrarian way of life peters out.
    your point is irrelavent to this article but,…… if 8 youth have left us prematurely because of some1s greed every 1 involved ,top to bottom,from the drug manufacturer to the coaches & agents should be CRIMINALLY PROSECUTED. no exceptions

  2. Let’s not forget that Kenya is still non-compliant in anti-doping and a number of athletes have already been busted. There’s also the very recent news of 8 youth athletes that have DIED due to being given drugs they thought were supplements. Not a pretty picture, is it…

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