“When was the last time you sweat?”
The words, spoken with a thick Kenyan accent to me, an uncoordinated middle school soccer player, were my first introduction to running. On that summer afternoon, I had no idea that I would spend the next six years sweating in the desert heat through intervals, wearing a dirt groove into the outer perimeter of the park, or fine-tuning my mile splits during distance runs up and down the mountain’s trails.
Franks Munene, a tall, lanky man who wore sunglasses even when the sun had long gone down, looked every bit like a running machine. My dad and I always joked that he had legs like a grasshopper’s. (Although oddly enough, despite what the photo above suggests, I never actually saw him run – or wear running clothes for that matter! That shot was taken well before my time. Even still, I knew the guy was fast.)
But Franks knew running. The runners he trained were some of the best in the city. He had a method to his madness from which he never deviated, and you were expected to trust the process if you wanted to succeed.
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday morning, Franks would pull up to the park in his white minivan, emerge toting a laminated but worn poster full of illustrated stretches, and start my teammates and I on our warmup. And no matter if it was 105 degrees or pouring rain, he’d declare with a grin, “This is perfect weather for running!”
It wasn’t until we’d completed our warmup, stretching routine, high-knees and butt-kicks (“Windows closed! Pick your pockets!”), and strides, that he’d reveal our workout for the day. That “method” I mentioned earlier? It was all in his head, and frankly, there was no way to predict what workout was on tap that day. No pattern to follow. It was a crapshoot that kept us on our toes and gave us no time to really mentally prepare for the pain game he was about to dish out. It kept things interesting, that’s for sure!
Then we’d churn through repeats around the park, the drop of his arm starting each set. Three laps equalled a mile. Or we’d set off on one of our many routes around the neighborhood. Usually it was some combination of a loop on the roads (there was Short Loop, Long Loop, Dakota, and Small Hills) mixed with a climb up the rocky trails on the mountain to The Mine or Blue Tank. I logged every single run in a little blue spiral notebook, my first training journal.
Sure enough, despite his high expectations (and seemingly impossible split times) that would sometimes leave me feeling frustrated, I was hooked. His passion and dedication for the sport rubbed off on me whether I liked it or not. The days when I’d log a new PR on a route were the absolute best. Sneaking in a workout in the dark before school made me feel like a badass. Climbs to the top of the mountain that rewarded us with views of the city were unforgettable. The competitor within me thrived with each challenge or goal he’d put on the table for me. His high expectations for me inspired me to reach higher. I loved it.
The hard work and commitment paid off. I became one of those top runners in the city. Those efforts landed me a spot on a DI collegiate team.
So why am I telling you about Franks? Because he’s the man who started it all. Sparked a lifelong passion. Made me the runner I am today. That park? It’s where my love of running was born. I took my “first steps” there. Those routes? They still feel like home, so comfortable and familiar, even though I hardly run on them anymore.
It’s been almost six years since I stopped training with Franks. And here I am, still running (obviously) and still loving it (thankfully). If that doesn’t demonstrate the impact he had on my life, I don’t know what does. I couldn’t put into words how thankful I am that he was my coach. That he never gave up on me. That he pushed me and guided me toward my goals. The memories I have at that park, on those runs with my teammates, are priceless.
I ran into one of my teammates recently in NYC. I hadn’t seen her in years, and I nearly burst into tears with happiness. She informed me that Franks hadn’t changed a bit. The memories came flooding back. Man do I miss it.
QUOTE OF THE POST: “You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” – Steve Prefontaine