The Secret Behind Kenya’s Marathon Success
The Kenyans across the world looked on proudly as Ezekiel Kemboi won the nation’s first gold in track and field events at the London Olympics. The gold for the 3000 meter steeplechase was back in Kemboi’s hands after eight long years. Kenya, a developing nation of Africa has made history in the recent times by clinching almost all long and middle distance races held in the world arena. The feat of the Kenyans gave the country a reason to be proud of when they won an astounding 14 medals in different disciplines related to running at the Beijing Olympics just four years before. But what is it that makes the poor, impoverished people stand out when it comes to long distance running? Is it in their genes or is there some external factor that works for them? Let’s find out how the Kenyans succeed in outrunning everyone…
The Great Rift Valley is the place to be in if you want to be a long distance runner. This particular area in Kenya located in the highlands, is famous for developing talent when it comes to running. Accosting a large group of runners on the way isn’t at all surprising here. Most of them look lean and fit with not an ounce of extra fat on their athletic bodies as they go past you running to find glory and wealth. So what is behind the hunger that keeps them running? “I want to be rich” is the common desire that most young people have and the way to achieve it is to excel in sports mainly running long distances. Kenyans see their runners buy land, obtain property and live a comfortable life after a successful stint at the world class games. And they all want to beat poverty in the same manner.
Reasons For Success
Westerners also feel the charged atmosphere here. The high altitude of 8,000 feet above sea level helps in empowering the blood circulation and the athletes have to run uphill for 6 km every day which is definitely a better way of building up muscles as opposed to sophisticated gym equipments and constant monitoring by means of modern machines. The runners are a dedicated lot, united by their ambition of getting rid of poverty and they are willing to train 6 days a week, most rigorously. St Patrick’s School in the area is renowned for developing young talent in Kenya and can certainly boast of its accomplishments having sent out 10 runners to the Seoul Olympics a few years earlier.
Run-Fast is a training camp for the Olympic aspirants. It has basic amenities but nothing like the high class sports training camps in USA or the developed countries around the world. The mud compound has corrugated fencing with the rooms for the athletes being decorated with the posters of their heroes, the long distance medalists of Kenya.
Basic bed, training and healthy but wholesome food along with functional running shoes are all that the camp provides. There are no protein shakes or fancy equipments nor are there any places to unwind. However, this is the best facility as it accepts men with a minimum time of 2 hours and 10 minutes in marathon races.
Diet For Trainees
Nutrition and diet are equally important when it comes to sports that require long hours of training and energy. There are no supplements or energy drinks for the Kenyans though. Most of them make do with very simple meals consisting of kale, beans, and corn with meat being available only occasionally. Ugali , the national food of Eastern Africa is a bland tasting blend of maize and water which is used as an accompaniment to stews or greens. The collard greens and kale are rich sources of Vitamin C, A , iron and calcium while the ugali is high on carbohydrates but low in fat. Limited amount of meat and glasses of whole milk provide the runners with the required quantity of fat and proteins. Two meals a day help to sustain the trainers who have to make do with fruit if they feel hungry in between meals. No expensive candies, protein bars or fast food for them and being a predominantly Muslim Country there’s a ban on alcohol consumption as well! A couple of boiled eggs along with some bread is the only other food available for the long distance runners who train for extra hours. It is this unique combination that helps to egg the Kenyan on and Western coaches have been so impressed by the outcome that an European Training camp has decided to import ugali on a regular basis now.
Hellen Kimutai, the winner of the Rome City Marathon attributes her success to 6 Km of running daily, a distance she had to traverse back and forth every day while going to school. Robert Cheruiyot has won the Boston Marathon thrice but does not keep a record of his time. He states, “when the lion is chasing the antelope, he doesn't look back. He has to eat,” a trait that describes his fellow compatriots from the same nation- A compulsion to end poverty!
Do take a look at the video below and decide what makes the Kenyans tick. Do you have it in you to overcome the challenges that life throws at you? Do tell.
Image Credit- blog.foreignpolicy