Paul Mbugua on Running

In the set of essays First Marathons collected by Gail Waesche Kislevitz, the story narrated by elite Kenyan runner Paul Mbugua is one of the most striking. He tells of growing up incredibly poor, running three miles to school in the morning, back home for lunch, back to school, and then after running at recess again running home — before doing his chores. He was a national champion while in high school, and in his early 30's moved up from European track racing to the marathon distance in the USA. His explicitness about the financial forces driving a Kenyan athletic career is refreshing, as are his comments about training and marriage. He concludes his tale:

My plan is to run three marathons a year and in five years when I become a master I will even be be better and make more money. Right now I spend about two months back in Kenya training. The training camps are very focused, very disciplined. It's like being in the army. We live there anywhere from three weeks to two months, training as a team. We have a different training routine for every type of race. Don't forget, running is what we are used to doing every day just to get around, so the camps take running to a much higher level, something even we are not accustomed to. The team concept is very important to us. I think it is the number one difference that makes us better than other countries. We associate only with runners. And once there, you do not leave. There are no distractions from daily life such as phone calls, kids, spouses, whatever. In other words, there are no excuses. When you wake up in the morning, and maybe you don't feel like running, you have to. Your team is making you. You cannot hide. The team gives you the support to get through the training. We rely on each other. It doesn't matter if you are married or anything. You still go the camps. And most of the elite runners are married because they want a wife to stay home and protect their money. Most of them want to build big homes and it can't get built unless someone is there to supervise. One win, which could be as much as twenty-thousand dollars, can get you a very, very big house. Men who are not married usually end up spending their money foolishly, but a good wife will take care of it while they are running marathons back in the States. We are very desirable husbands. Women wait at the airport for us when we come home to train. I could get married anytime I want. Women have their way of letting us know they want to marry us. They have their own devices.

Our diet is not much different from what you eat here in the States, but we eat more red meat. And we never worry about getting fast. That's all I hear in the States. Everyone is worried about getting fat. They think so much about their weight. Just run like we do and you can eat whatever you want and never get fat.

I would love to bring my mother over to America for a visit. I told her in the year 2000 I will take her to the top of the Empire State Building and put New York City at her feet. I think she will like that.

^z - 2012-03-27