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Camp Kenya

The world’s best distance runners are from East Africa—but Santa Fe is where they train

January 7, 2009, 12:00 am

“Here, I do not leave the house very much,” Musuva says. Except, of course, to run. On an average summer day, the guys get up at 5:30 am, drink a cup of tea—except for Musuva, who must run on an empty stomach or else he cramps—and head out for a run around 6 am that generally takes less than two hours. In the winter, they do the same thing, but rise around 8 am, once it has warmed up a bit. Back at the house, they eat and then nap. Maybe they’ll run in the afternoon, maybe not. Bedtime is typically no later than 9 pm. They get up the next day and repeat.

Ndambuki runs six days a week, taking off Sundays for church. Musuva and Sawe run every day. Musuva and Ndambuki log approximately 120 miles a week, while Sawe runs perhaps 90. In the meantime, they squeeze in a few visits to the Santa Fe library to write home and read the Nairobi Times. “They train intensely and they rest intensely,” Woo says.

The day after our chapati feast, a friend and I take Ndambuki and Musuva to see the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace. While Ndambuki has trouble sitting down for the 90 minutes required of most films, Musuva is a relative cinephile who can sit motionless in front of a screen for entire afternoons. He has a particular interest in the early films of Clint Eastwood and the later films of Vin Diesel. “I like to watch the violent film,” he tells me moments after saying grace.

Like just about every adult male the world over, he and Ndambuki appreciate Bond. Still, this is only the second movie Musuva has ever seen in a theater—the first was The Wedding Singer, back in Farmington—and questions arise: Is there assigned seating? Are these movies on DVD yet? Are theaters always empty at 2:30 in the afternoon on a Thursday? Ndambuki drinks bottled water, and Musuva, the chai addict, has a coke.

Three days later, Musuva will finish 3rd at the Costa Rican marathon, and Ndambuki will finish 7th at the California International Marathon in Sacramento, a race he won in 2006. (Musuva, more fatigued after this race than any he has ever run, will not even turn on the TV before passing out. “I needed help putting on my clothes the next day,” he says. “I could not move.”) As for Quantum of Solace, the Kenyans pretty much agree with the critics: entertaining but not quite as good as the last one.

In mid-December, after 48 consecutive hours of snow, I drive across town to see how the guys are faring. They’ve been inside all day, drinking chai, watching movies, marveling at the distance they’ve traveled here to the other side of the world. There would be no training, only the beginnings of nostalgia. “I’ll miss the snow in Santa Fe,” Musuva says, laughing, “because I’ll be talking about it to everyone in Kenya every December. I’ll know what the people here are going through.”  SFR

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