The Impact Of Your Training Environment

Altitude Running

Kenyans have won 25 medals over the last 2 Olympics. All of them were from long distance running events.

In the marathon, Kenyans own 8 of the 10 fastest times recorded in history.

In fact only one American Ryan Hall has beaten the 2 Hour 5 minute benchmark time while 30 Kenyan runners have done it.

Almost all the world champion runners from Kenya come from a sub-group of the Kalenjin tribe called the Nandis.

Why are Kenyan runners, particularly those from Nandi, consistently dominating the world of long distance running?

1. High Altitude

Elevation in Kenya is 2,700m above sea level and is ideal for high altitude training. Kenyan runners have developed the ability to run long distances with thinner air.

This lack of oxygen produces more red blood cells and improves their VO2 max.

By the time they descend to low altitude areas such as Beijing or Boston, the thicker atmosphere can be seen as given the Kenyan runners an advantage.

2. Lifestyle

Although Kenya has slowly grown into a progressive state with more access to public transportation, generations have gone through decades of running cross-country to get to their destination.

Communication for example, was widely delivered on foot from one village to the next. Today, Nandi children run an average of 7.5km to school every day.

This lifestyle of running 7.5km back and forth resulted in Nandi kids having a VO2 max that is 19% higher than urban kids in Kenya.

3. Healthy Diet

Kenyans also subsist on farming. Most of the foods they eat are harvested from the ground.

These are unprocessed; natural and organic. The typical Kenyan meal consists of:

  • Ugali – a type of cornmeal porridge
  • Sukuma Wiki – collared greens
  • Ndengu – stewed mung beans
  • Potatoes, Root Vegetables

A 2004 study showed that 76% of a Kenyan runner’s meal consists of carbohydrates mostly from healthy grains and vegetables.

4. Physical Advantages

Studies have also pointed out that runners from the Nandi tribe aside from being lean have very thin calves and ankles.

By having lesser body mass means less weight to carry and more efficient energy output per stride.

Over the years, Nandi have naturally developed a running technique where they land on the forefoot.

This technique has been studied to be more energy efficient and produces less force on the knees. Researchers have traced this approach from years of running bare feet.

It is expected that the continued growth in Kenya’s economy may slowly erode some of these advantages.

But as long as Kenya maintains its current running programs, you should expect them to dominate the distance events in the 2020 Japan Olympics.