Have you ever traveled, told someone you were from Canada and had them respond:
"Oh, I met [insert random first name] from Canada. I think (s)he lives in [insert Canadian city]. Do you know him/her?"
You smile, then shake your head with regret. You explain that there are 33 million people in Canada and that your home city is actually several hundred kilometers away from their friend's city.
On rare occasions, however, you discover a connection.
It's thrilling. It's satisfying. It rekindles memories. It takes you back in time to another part of your life.
* * *
In 2004-2005 I was an intern with Honey Care Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. One of the highlights was "running with the Kenyans" (or more precisely, running in their dust).
For several months, I trained with Sam. On weekdays, we'd meet at 6:00am in the Nairobi Arboretum. The Arboretum was a short mile or so from Kat and my apartment in Westlands; Sam's place was 10km away. We'd run a workout together. He'd pace me through intervals, fartleks, easy runs, hill runs, etc. On the occasional weekend we'd do a long run, a special hill workout or a training session at the airport. He'd give me running tips about clothing (the Kenyans have known about the benefits of compression workout and recovery attire long before compression gear surfaced in North American running stores), nutrition, sleep, etc.
My workouts with Sam were the "easy" part of his training regime. I think he enjoyed the challenge of teaching a "mzungu" (white person) how to run. After our morning sessions, he would run home (another 10km), rest a few hours, then do his "real" workout.
Sam can run a sub-60 half-marathon. That's fast. Really fast. The world record is 58:23.
* * *
After finishing the marathon I wander around Quezon Memorial Circle, sample running nutrition products, enjoy a short post-race massage. Near the stage, a live band entertains a large crowd of families. It's only 8:30am.
A group of African runners sits at the base of a small monument. They look cool and refreshed, having already changed out of their racing singlets and shorts. They don't look tired. I'm in awe. African runners are to me what Maurice Richard, Wayne Gretzy and Sidney Crosby are to Canadian boys.
Like at every race, I scan the faces, hoping for a familiar one. No luck.
I approach the group. After exchanging pleasantries and politely asking about their races, I inquire if any of them are Kenyans. Everyone nods.
Then I pop the question.
"Do you know Sam from Nanyuki? He trains at the airport in Nairobi and does workouts at the big hill. The one where you can see zebras and giraffes - it's about a 45 minute matatu ride from the Nairobi Arboretum."
It's a long shot. There are 39+ million Kenyans. Still, the circle of elite runners can't be that big.
There's a pause, then a young man nods.
"Yes, I know Sammy."
We swap stories. He tells me that he's from Nanyuki. He trains both in Nanyuki (to reap the benefits of high altitude training) and in Nairobi. He does workouts at the airport and the hill outside Nairobi. He runs with Sam.
Before parting ways, he takes my hastily scribbled note and agrees to deliver it to Sam.
On the walk home, I marvel at how small the world is.
* * *
I'm looking forward to trying the workouts my new friend promises to send. And I'm especially looking forward to testing them with my running partner back in Montreal.