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Q&A: Kenya’s Trailblazing Women Runners Chart Course to Success in New Book

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Watch almost any women’s distance running competition today and you will likely see a Kenyan near the front of the pack. Kenyan women won three of the six major international marathons in 2023, as well as 29 Olympic medals since Pauline Konga became the first woman runner to medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Former professional runner Michelle Sikes, assistant professor of kinesiology, of African studies and of history at Penn State, lived and trained with these women in Kenya for several months. While there, she spoke with the trailblazing athletes who set the course for the country’s current generation of women runners.

Sikes detailed what she learned in her new book, “Kenya’s Running Women: A History,” in which she examines how Kenya’s women runners overcame challenges to become some of the fastest distance runners in the world today.

Penn State News spoke with Sikes about her book and its implications for understanding sport and women’s roles in society.

Q: You lived and trained in Kenya while conducting your research for this book. What’s a typical day like training in Kenya?

Sikes: You wake up around 6 a.m. and do your first run of the day, typically in a large group. You gather at a meeting point in the village, the sun is just coming up, and you’ll shuffle off down the road, not at a fast pace, just to get your legs moving and get some mileage under your feet.

Then there’s a second run at 10 a.m. That’s the key workout of the day. It could be a Fartlek — varying your pacing or difficulty during the run — a steady run or intervals. Then some people return for a third run around 4 p.m. The length of the training sessions depends on your event. If you’re a marathoner, you could be out there a long time. If you’re a track athlete like me, it’s a shorter distance. It varies based on your needs.

Source: PSU Education

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