So now we know how to beat the East Africans. Simply arrange for (close) to zero temperatures, high winds, and incessant, driving rain, as happened in the Boston Marathon on Monday. Of the dozen and a half East Africans, thirteen failed to finish; and from having no US women’s winner since 1985, five of the top six places on Monday were taken by Sister Yank. And Japanese veteran of some 80 marathons, Yuki Kawauchi proved that staying power rather than speed was the order of the day; he took the men’s title.
This East African aversion to extreme adverse conditions was not exactly unknown before, but this is probably the worst example. Prior to shooting the documentary film Race For Kenya in 1998*, I’d heard stories of Kenyans (in particular) refusing to train during the rainy season; some managers despairing that this hiatus could last up to six weeks if the rains endured. The principal and justifiable reason was the high prevalence of malaria, from which many Kenyans, runners included suffer; and which thrives in such humid conditions.
However, we got what we felt was an amusing example of ombrophobia (fear of rain) halfway through the shoot. Our crew was helped enormously throughout our stay by Moses Tanui, Boston winner in the centenary race in 1996, and again two years later. Tanui was also the first man under 60mins for the half, and a world champion both at 10,000 metres on the track, in Tokyo 1991, and for the half-marathon in 1995. Tanui lent us a flat-bed truck to film tracking shots from, and escorted us personally to a grassy plain, where he trained amongst a herd of roaming giraffes. It made for atmospheric pics.
The following day, he invited us to his home in Eldoret, where we had tea with his family, then filmed a sit-down interview, prior to getting some shots of him leaving his compound for a training run. We went to other side of the suburban street to set up, and given a pre-arranged signal, he walked out if his front door, zipping up his tracksuit. He glanced up at the cloudless sky…. and immediately went back indoors. We looked at one another, wondering what had gone wrong. So we were amazed when he said it was raining. We looked at one another again; none of us had felt a drop. But Tanui had, so that was that.
As for the American mania for describing Kawauchi as a non-professional athlete – ‘Citizen-Runner,’ in Japan, I gather. Just because he has a job? I just don’t get it. Are they saying, he didn’t pocket the $150,000 prize money? Of course not! Ditto Sarah Sellers, surprise second-placer, the full-time anaesthesiologist, who gets up at 4am to fit in training before work. She won $75,000. Guys I raced against (without success, I hasten to add), from Basil Heatley to Dave Bedford trained up to 200 miles a week (the latter), and they all had full time jobs. What’s the big deal?
He’s a runner! So’s she!