It’s not surprising to see a Kenyan, more specifically a Kalenjin, cross the finish line first in about every long-distance running competition. Why are they seemingly unbeatable?
“There are 17 American men in history who have run under 2:10 in the marathon. There were 32 Kalenjin who did it in October of 2011.” – David Epstein, NPR.
Here are some theories:
- Hard work. Jobs and educational opportunities are lacking in Kenya, motivating them to train with incredible heart and intensity. Interestingly, they don’t run for fun, but treat it as a job.
- Running barefoot to school as kids, often 7 to 10 kilometres a day. What American child does this?
- Higher altitude in the Great Rift Valley, the region of Kenya where many of the elite runners come from.
- VO2 max (maximum oxygen uptake) in kids was found to be incredibly high.
- Skinny ankles and calves means they have less weight farther from their centre of gravity making it easier to swing their legs.
- Painful circumcisions and initiation ceremonies means these kids grow up in a pain-embracing society unlike Americans.
Listen to the story on NPR here.