Interview: Toby Tanser

Toby Tanser is many things to many people. He is on the board of the New York Road Runners, he’s the Cross Country Coach at the Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC as well as being an honorary lifetime member of Sweden’s most prestigious athletics club – Stockholm Sparvagen. At one time he was also an elite Icelandic runner competing at the highest levels around the world for ten years.

However, many of you will know Toby from his authorship of ‘More Fire: how to run the Kenyan way’ and ‘Train Hard, Win Easy’. Both books show a passion and a knowledge for Kenya that few Westerners will ever be able to emulate. Toby has done great work bringing health care, education and peace to Kenya’s Rift Valley populations, he has also played a big part in calming inter-tribal tensions that flared up after the 2007 election cycle in Kenya.

Toby is also the founder of the Shoe4Africa charity which is a vehicle to improve the conditions in which the majority of Kenyan’s grow up in. Shoe4Africa not only provides shoes to men, women and children to reduce the spread of disease but also raises funds to build schools and hospitals for communities where these resources are scarce.

Before you read on I would encourage you to think about sending your own running shoes to Kenya to help Toby Tanser keep up the momentum of the good work being done in and around the Rift Valley. Just box them up and ship them off to:

Shoe4Africa
PO Box 6943
Eldoret, Kenya

When did you start running and did you have any particular reasons for starting?

I started running in the early nineties. I was an avid smoker and was watching the TV when I saw a friend on the screen. He was running.

If you could run with and/or race anyone, anywhere who would it be and where? Over what distance and on which surface?

I have not really been a competitive runner for many years. I enjoy my own running so much that I would not mind who was/wasn’t there running with me… and my favourite place for a run is Iten, Kenya.

Running wise, who do you look up to and who has inspired you?

Terry Fox & Dick Traum are great examples; people who overcome disabilities. There is a lady I met who could not walk from one lamppost to the next, people told her she belonged in an institution; today she has completed over 20-marathons!

What are your favorite training conditions and are they the same as your favourite racing conditions?

I lived in Reykjavik for a few years and thus do not like running in gale force winds or driving hail; apart from that I like to run in all types of weather. I have been literally blown into the Ocean, ran in Nigeria where the ground was so hot you could not stand still, ran through snowdrifts seemingly as high as me, and oddly enough all are ok! However, when I was racing I preferred the cool Scandinavian summer evening with no wind and a setting sun.

What is your fondest memory of running and, conversely, your worst?

Because I have run for twenty years, and almost every day, my memories are far too many to pick out something! However, in 2010 I ran from Mombasa in the ‘sea’ (an island on the Kenyan coast) to the top of Kilimanjaro ‘the stars’ and that was kind of ‘fond memory-ish’. A hard day was on day one of that run!

Where do you see yourself in six years?

I have had an odd life where many life changing decisions have come from snap decisions (like moving continents, like deciding to build East Africa’s first public children’s hospital), hence in six years I hope I am still being snappy.

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