Life is rarely black and white, all one thing and not somewhat another. In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Texas and Florida have been severely effected, though the full wrath of Irma’s power wasn’t felt in the most populous areas of southern Florida.

Yet as the scope of the destruction is uncovered, news reports indicate the disintegration of law and order as survivors struggle in the face of severe food and water shortages, and the absence of electricity and phone service.

Who is prepared for such hardship in a technologically advanced nation such as the USA?

Two-time 1990s Boston Marathon champion Moses Tanui once predicted the Kenyan advantage in distance running would come to an end as the agrarian way of life practiced in the country’s Central Highlands disappeared. Moses said he once walked 60 kilometers from his rural village to attend a track meet as a 10 year-old. Yet his own children grew up in Eldoret city and had a very short trip to the local school every day.

Former marathon world record holder Wilson Kipsang spoke of going hunting all day with his father. “And if you got tired,” he remembered his father saying, “fine, then walk home.”

But Wilson recalled they were already out 20 kilometers, so there was really no choice. So he kept going, and at the end of the day they came home with a small antelope for the family to eat.

And finally, Moses Kipsiro of Uganda told Jeff Berman, his host at the 2015 TD Beach to Beacon 10K in Maine, how when he and his friends used to walk 15 km to school every day, they would occasionally put a few coins or some maize in a cup or bowl, and the first one to school would win the maize or coins.

It was a natural competition that helped build not just their cardiovascular systems, but honed their competitive instincts, too. That is a hard wager to make when you take a bus to school.

It’s when Vons or Ralphs or Safeway supermarkets come to East Africa and present meat red and wrapped in cellophane rather than furred and bloody, that the times will change.

Changing the Culture

Some things never change. Remember how one of the distinctions between men and women drivers was that women would actually stop and ask for directions, while men would just get lost at a faster rate of speed?

Before the advent of iPhones, or GPS systems, the Automobile Club of America used to offer a service called TripTic Travel Planner, which gave members detailed driving directions in an easily to follow flip notebook. Today, we use our GPS devices so much that we have lost our birds-eye sense of where we are, becoming ever more dependent on our technologies.

And did you read where Cambridge University might end an 800 year-old tradition of handwritten tests, because students have become so dependent on their computers and IPads that professors can’t read their handwriting anymore. And higher mathematics like algebra and trigonometry are, to some, being considered an unnecessary school requirement, because they lead to “math anxiety” rather than math proficiency. Thus, some other means should be used to teach inductive and deductive thinking.

Of course we see a form of this dependence on technology in modern day runners, too. So dependent have we become on Garmins and heart-rate monitors and pacers that any disruption that might mess up the Garmin signals can completely throw our sense of pace off as folks haven’t learned to internalize pace.

Spend any time at one of Kenya’s rural training camps, and you will quickly be brought into a closer accord with the land. Without running water or electricity, it becomes the rhythms of the earth that give order to existence. It’s when the modern ability to turn the earth to our needs is stripped away that the hard truths of human existence are revealed.

History tells the stories of our ever more impressive advancements in the fields of medicine, science, and technology. But while much has been gained by our endless technological trek, so, too, have other things been lost.

And so it goes.


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