East African athletes dominate endurance running, with every men’s world record from 800m to the marathon and every female record from 1500m to the marathon held by runners from East Africa. What is their secret, and should the rest of the world just accept their dominance?
Let’s look at a few factors.
Many people suggest being born and living at altitude gives them an advantage. Certainly, the thinner air develops the aerobic system and most elite athletes benefit from periods of training at altitude. However it poses the question why East Africans and not Mexicans, Venezuelans or others living up in the clouds.
Could it be the simplicity of their lifestyle. It has been said that Africans are 10000 miles ahead of their Western counterparts by the stage they reach Running maturity, by running to school and living a more physical lifestyle. Certainly our upbringing has changed over recent decades with children far less active, and less emphasis on physical activity at school.
As a consequence of our lifestyle we have witnessed a greater intake of processed foods. The Africans have frugal diet but it is rich in natural ingredients and in the case of the Kenyans for example is made up of 70% complex carbohydrate, great fuel for endurance running.
Do they possess a greater hunger for success. The rewards are high particularly in marathon running and success allows them to provide not just for themselves, but for their whole extended family. We live in a much easier society and it could be claimed that in general we have become soft and lacking in the drive to be the best.
Finally, could it be specificity that sets the Africans apart. Since the early 60s when Bikele and Keino broke through on the Olympic stage, endurance running has been the national sport. These role models then engender generations to follow. This happens in other countries, ice hockey in Canada, cross country skiing in Norway, cricket in the West Indies to name three. Sadly when these sports are diluted the dominance disappears, West Indian cricket being a good example. Equally countries enjoy periods of dominance , Finnish distance runners in the 20s and 30s and again in the 70s, Britain in the 80s or American marathon runners in the 70s.
There is no question East Africa are way ahead of the rest of the world in endurance running but they are not another species and it is possible to beat them once again, so this is my tongue in cheek steps to do so:
1) get rid of television, the news is invariably depressing. If you have to watch it, watch commercial tv so that during the ads you can do some squats or st ups. Only 1 in 50 Kenyans own a tv.
2) sell your car and become a rich pedestrian. Buy a bike, 5 mile of cycling is worth about 1 mile of running. 1 in 3 Kenyans own a bike.
3) Cook your own food, fast food is not big in Africa. Obesity in Kenya affects about 1 in 200, in Britain the ratio is around 1 in 20.
4)abolish or reduce benefits. In Kenya they have learned that mans destiny is to work. ( controversial)
5) don’t buy children computer games. In 100 years are heads will be twice the size and our bodies will be the same size as our heads.
6) schools should alter their modus operandi to 4 hours of study in the morning and 2 hours of sport in the afternoon, everyday of the week.
7) don’t watch overpaid sportsmen perform, instead, perform yourself.
8) Burn down shops that sell tobacco and alcohol to under age.
9) get away from technical jargon in running training. In Kenya they think micro cycles are a type of Japanese motor bike.
10) train at altitude a month at a time, 3 times a year.(!!!)
11) make 80% of your running aerobic.
12) be carried off the running track once a week on a stretcher.( not literally).
By TRP Head Coach – David Chanter