For many years, runners from the East African nation of Kenya have excelled in world marathon events. Their stamina and endurance in these grueling events are so significant compared to runners from other parts of the world that many people have asked what makes them so good at running. Some of the keys to finding the answer lie in the extreme training they do as well as the environment they live and train it. Scientists are asking these and other questions to find the secret behind the world’s fastest marathon runners.
Winning the Marathon
There are many famous marathon events around the world. One of the standout competitors is a man from Kenya names Eliud Kipchoge. His achievements are remarkable, and he is considered the greatest marathon runner of our times. Of the 12 marathons that he has raced in, he has come out on top in 11 of these. In the race that he didn’t win, he came second to another Kenyan marathoner. He has also broken world records for completing the 26 miles race in a little over 2 hours. This happened in the 2018 Berlin Marathon.
Kipchoge’s success in marathon running makes him standout. Although he is an outlier, he is one of many talented Kenyan marathon runners. In many marathon runners around the world, Kenyans have excelled and demonstrated an unparalleled level of endurance.
Dating back to the 1960 Olympics held in Rome, Kenyan athletes have dominated the world record tables in long-distance running. In all the events from 800m right up to the marathon, they have enjoyed huge success and dominance. In Olympic events, road-racing circuits, and world cross country events, Kenyan runners and runners from their neighboring country, Ethiopia, have done extremely well. The only question is, what is their secret to such success?
The Kenyan Success Story
The extent of the Kenyan dominance in marathon events has been shown to extend beyond one man and beyond one time period. This shows that it goes beyond a certain trainer or group of individuals. There is more to the story. One of the questions to ask is if their training is so much more intense than that of runners from other parts of the world.
There may not be one answer to why Kenyan and even Ethiopian runners do so well in long-distance running, but there have been several scientific and non-scientific suggestions given over the years. Studies have been done on their demographics, training, background, genetics, and diet to find the secret. Here are a few of the findings and suggestions.
One of the major discussions has been around the physical environment and terrain where Kenyan runners train. There are many mountainous regions in Kenya. Training at higher altitudes allows runners to get used to conditions with less oxygen supply. This builds resistance and stamina.
Scientists have also found that Kenyan runners have great natural physiology. This contributes to great metabolism and aids in their ability to take up oxygen, which is a major factor in long races. Their diet is also important. These diets are high in carbohydrates but much lower in fats. Their main diet is the normal staple diet of cornmeal mash, green vegetables, and different types of meat.
Some scientists believe that genetics has a role to play in all of this. They have been running studies to find links in the genetic makeup of Kenyan athletes that could explain their natural abilities. So far, there is a suggestion that perhaps these athletes have more red blood cells, which means optimal oxygen uptake.