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.

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