Tuesday , March 2 2021

The reasons why Kenyans always win marathons are in a region

And at the New York Marathon on Sunday, a Kenyan rookie defeated her country's rock star in the women's race. Joyciline Jepkosgei ruined compatriot Mary Keitany's chance to win the fifth women's title in the competition, but the second came second. And Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor won the men's race, his second victory in the New York Marathon.

They are all from the Rift Valley region. And people are taking note – marathoners from around the world go there to train before the big races.

East Africans – especially Kenyans and Ethiopians – have dominated marathons for decades, crossing the finish lines while their exhausted competitors barely made it. In the process, they overturned their own records or those of their fellow citizens.

Kenyan marathon runners are such a phenomenon that research organizations have studied why they dominate long distance running.

And experts say it's a mix of several things.

Mary Keitany (left front) trains her husband and coach Charles Koech (right front) in Iten, Kenya.

Most elite runners are from the same region

Most of Kenya's elite runners come from the same ethnic groups known as Kalenjins and Nandis. The groups represent only 10% of the country's 50 million population – but they bring most of the country's marathon medals.

"Internationally, Kalenjin runners have won almost 73% of all gold medals in Kenya and a similar percentage of silver medals in major international racing competitions," says Vincent O. Onywera, professor of sports science and exercise at the University. Kenyatta in Nairobi.

They have passed the passion for running through generations, turning the Rift Valley – especially the small town of Iten – into a mecca for the country's long-distance runners. There, children start running at a young age.

Many young people in these areas grow up surrounded by successful runners. Most of them see racing as a way to make money, says coach Bernard Ouma, who trains Kenya's elite runners.

"You see your neighbor run and win, it motivates him to run and win," he says. As a result, their communities have a deep tradition of management excellence built over the years.

They train and live in a high altitude area.

Most Kenyan runners who dominate marathons around the world train and live in the high altitude Rift Valley.

Iten, one of the cities that produces elite runners, is almost 8,000 feet above sea level in western Kenya. Training at high altitudes contributes to the mastery of running, which makes running at lower altitude play, says Onywera.

"There is a widespread belief in the athletic community that altitude training can improve sea level athletic performance, with at least three independent studies showing that altitude training increases maximal sea level oxygen consumption and performance." race, "he says.

Geoffrey Kamworor and Joyciline Jepkosgei pose with the Kenya flag after the New York Marathon.

So there is diet and constant motivation.

Iten has become internationally known as the place where long-distance champions are made. So much so, runners from around the world go there to train before the big races.

Affectionate and writer Adharanand Finn spent a lot of time in the city trying to figure out the secret for Kenyan marathoners. "I was fascinated for a lifetime with Kenyan uninhibited racing style and always wanted to know the story behind their amazing athletes – I wanted to know what their lives were like. And when I saw that there was no book, or at least no movies, On the subject, I decided to go there and write one.

Your book "Running with the Kenyans" gives more information about what he found out. And there is no big secret, he says.

"As David Rudisha's famous trainer, Brother Colm O'Connell, says, the only secret is that there is no secret. It's not a thing, but a perfect storm of elements that come together in the Rift Valley region of Kenya. to make people there so strong in distance running, "says Finn.

There is the location, the way of life, the environment.

"To begin with, you have the altitude, the difficult rural education and the fact that children run everywhere. Then there is the simple diet, the lack of junk food and the perfect running ground – hills, dirt roads – – everywhere, "he says.

And if that doesn't appeal to you, there is the proximity of international elite runners to motivate someone.

"The race offers a great chance to make good money, transform lives, even transform entire communities," says Finn. "This is made up of hundreds of examples everywhere. Almost every village has someone who has returned from abroad with victories, and these stars are very accessible and open to support younger athletes."

As a result, everyone who can run aspires to be a runner, he says.

"You end up with thousands of people training together, putting pressure on each other, helping each other, inspiring each other. It attracts agents, sponsors, coaches … and keeps growing. With all that momentum, some great athletes will emerge from the other side. "he says. "So really, it's not a simple answer."

Mary Keitany

Some wonder if genes have a role to play

There is so much speculation about why Kenyans and Ethiopians continue to crush marathon competitions, the phenomenon that has long been studied. Organizations like the British Journal of Sports Medicine have concluded that it is unclear whether genes have anything to do with it.

"The periodic mastery of medium and long distance running across different regions of the world is not a new phenomenon," he says. "Researchers have not yet confirmed a genetic or physiological advantage because they are middle or long distance runners from East Africa, and the reasons for their success are more likely to be many."

And while many physiological and anatomical factors have been suggested to explain the dominance of East Africa, the research has revealed no definite advantage, the study says.

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