Why do Kenyans Make Such Great Marathon Runners?

There’s no denying that when it comes to endurance running, Kenyans rule. But why?

There’s no denying that when it comes to endurance running, Kenyans rule. But why? One theory is that it’s because most of the country’s top runners come from the highlands. Training at a higher altitude where the air is thinner helps the athletes develop powerful hearts and lungs, giving them a marked advantage when they compete at sea level where oxygen is more plentiful.

Another factor could be their diet. When Nderi trains outside of Kenya, he makes sure to carry plenty of ugali (made from maize flour). Mixed with water and a bit of salt, ugali provides plenty of carbohydrates. Nderi has a saying: “No ugali, no power.”

A third, slightly more controversial factor, could be genetics. Kenya’s four running tribes traditionally rely on cattle herding for their livelihoods. Centuries spent chasing after livestock might have helped these tribes evolve into better runners.

Some people draw a link with poverty but there is no evidence to support this. In the Rift Valley, children have to run for dozens of miles to get to school as few families can afford bicycles or cars. This could give them a headstart to becoming great marathon runners later in life.

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