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The Kenyan Shuffle

Updated: Feb 4

In the fall of 2013 I started Grad School at East Central University, in Ada, OK; Go Tigers. I wasn’t that into it.

It was also, technically, my third year competing in cross country and track for ECU. I had a great year. I ran 25 minutes flat for 5 miles at the conference XC championship and lost to a big kick from Harding’s Andrew Evans. Epic race. We battled back and forth the ENTIRE time.

After the season, I knew I wanted to mix things up. I didn’t want to continue grad school, I wasn’t ready to get a real job, so I bought a one way ticket to Nairobi, Kenya, in the Horn of East Africa.

I had several Kenyan teammates at Oklahoma Panhandle State University and ECU. Some of the best people I ever met. They all said the same thing. “You should go to Kenya!”, or “You can stay with my family!” They would say things like this all the time and paint this picture of a place that was insanely welcoming and inviting. They were all correct. That’s exactly what my experience was. Everyone in the country was wildly kind to me.

So one of my buddies had a brother, who knew of this little school in the middle of nowhere who always needed a lot of help. Foreigners before had done stints helping out there, so they had an open arrangement, that if you came and taught, they’d house you in a local orphanage, and they would feed you. Worked for me.

Kamangu Primary School. I spent the first half of 2014 there and it was great. Almost a 2 mile walk on dirt roads and trails to get to school. Everyday I would run either before or after school; usually before, as the sun was coming up. It was really nice BUT I really wanted to run and train with more people! I was in a very remote area and only saw people running a handful of times. So eventually I said my goodbyes and took a very long Matatu (bus) ride north, to Iten, where all the good runners are.

I have a million stories about my time in Iten. One time I was at dinner and at the table next to me was Mo Farah, Alberto Salazar, and Colm O'Connell. When I started walking home after my meal, Colm stopped and picked me up and drove me home.

It was common to see a large number of olympians at the track on Tuesdays. Elite Kipchoge, Asbel Kiprop, Mo, David Rudisha, and a bunch of others. Some of the best runners I came across no one had even heard of yet, they were just waiting for their opportunity.

Anyways, I got to run a lot up in Iten. It was awesome to observe, because East Africans aren’t just really good at running, they’re also really really smart when it comes to training. They do almost every facet of training better than we do, but one of the things I found the most interesting was how they ran EASY. What’s often known as the Kenyan Shuffle.

Kenyan Shuffle

Just like everybody else, Kenyans love to do intervals on Tuesdays, and long runs on the weekend, but for the easy days in between, they have a distinct way of executing these runs. We’d often meet super early, a touch before the sun had brought any light. It was incredibly common for the locals to be wearing a full kit; running jacket and pants/tights, even if it wasn’t cold. We usually ran for time or on a predetermined loop, so mileage and pacing did not matter one bit.

The crown jewel defining factor of the Kenyan Shuffle is the super slow start. We’d start these runs so easy, it felt like it was just a hair above a walk. It was early, and we were letting our bodies wake up slowly. This SLOW trot was never in one ounce of a hurry to get faster. It would just be as easy as you could run. Now often these runs were for a good chunk of time 50-90 minutes. Over this long time period, due to some sort of Voodoo magic the pace would increase. But what was different from these runs to others is, we NEVER ran any harder. The pace increase was always slow and natural. It was like watching a clock, obviously the hands are moving, but it’s tough to pinpoint when exactly it happened. There were many times, as we got back to the start, I would notice we were moving pretty quickly, but I hadn’t ever increased my effort level from the beginning. They were magicians at letting the body naturally warmup. Fitness would take over at some point and the pace would get to what it needed to be. Some days it would only pick up a little, some days a lot, but it was never forced, and the effort didn’t change too much.

It was incredible how rejuvenating these runs felt. It gave me a lot of confidence that I could run farther more often, and these runs also had me feeling ready for my next harder workout.

So maybe on your next easy run see just how easy you can start the run. See if you can do a whole run at the same, very low, effort level, and then afterwards you can always check to see if the body is naturally warming up and increasing the pace without you having to try. Hopefully you’ll feel fresher for your next workout too.

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