Kenyan athletes have a long history of dominating marathons events. Whether it is the World Championships or Summer Olympics, Kenyans have repeatedly made the podium and clinched the top spot.
Why are Kenyans so good at long-distance running?
Before we delve into the question, let’s recap the fastest runners and times in marathon history.
This certainly points to the fact that Kenyan runners have a distinct edge over other competitors. But why so?
1) Skinny legs
One key to Kenyans’ superior endurance is their skinny legs. Skinny legs that we all want, but don’t have.
On average, a Kenyan’s leg is 400g lighter than their European competitors, which translates to an energy saving of 8% when running. Over long distances, this small genetic advantage can really give Kenyans a leg up.
2) Kenyans are accustomed to high altitude environments
Another reason that explains the stellar performance of Kenyans is the high altitude environment they live in. Located in Africa, Kenya is a mountainous country with The Great Rift Valley running through it from North to South. With plateaus reaching an average height of 1500m, Kenyans get to experience “high-altitude training” daily, and such an environment lends itself well to running.
At higher altitudes, air is thin and oxygen is scarce. The human body thus adapts by producing more red-blood cells to capture the limited oxygen around. Lungs also increase in capacity to inhale more air with every breath. Consequently, Kenyan athletes have more powerful lungs and are more used to anaerobic respiration than other runners.
3) Their drive to succeed
Above all else comes a simple factor. Kenyans succeed in athletics because of their motivation and hard work. Every year, many Kenyans train to go professional because of poverty in their country, which pushes them to chase after every opportunity they can get.
This ties in with the fundamentals of athletics, which is all about pushing the boundaries of the human body. One’s genes and living environments may affect his performance, but far more important is the amount of work and training he puts in.
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