By Erik van Leeuwen, – Wikimedia

Why are Kenyans so good at running Marathon?


This training regime for marathon runners in Kenya is not for the faint-hearted.

The training takes place in high altitude area with the steep hills of the Rift Valley culminating to an intense workout.

Majority of Kenyan runners come from the Rift Valley region of Kenya. Their excellence in the global scene has made many international athletes want into their secret.

This led to the rise in numbers of foreign athletes arriving in Kenya and heading straight to Iten or Kaptagat. These two areas are where most Kenyan athletes train at.

Iten is at 2,400 metres above sea level and its about 300 kilometres north of Nairobi. There are several training camps where both local and foreign athletes stay.

Here are some of the reasons why Kenyans are so good at running marathons.

High Altitude Area

Photo Courtesy of the High Altitude Training centre-Iten Website

High altitude training has been attributed to the exemplary performance of Kenyan marathoners.

When training above the sea level, one’s tolerance is increased.

Other factors that contribute to tolerance while in a high-altitude region are maximal oxygen uptake, the higher ability of the body to convert certain fats to energy.

The high elevation of about 7,000 feet helps Kenyan runners develop lungs capable of functioning in thinner air.

When they drop away to the relatively low-elevation courses in places like Boston or Beijing, the thicker air there gives them a sustained oxygen boost.

This, therefore, explains why they develop physical traits better suited for running.

This is particularly during a prolonged period and the ability to efficiently consume oxygen.

The Diet of the athletes

Sports scientists have linked the success of the Kenyan athletes to their diet.

It typically consists of high carbohydrates and low in fat. The protein intake of Kenyan athletes matches that of other elite athletes.

The main diets of Kenyan runners include ugali, green leafy vegetables, milk, kidney beans, and eggs.

Genetic Makeup of the athletes

By Fishing moratorium – Wikimedia

Genetic makeup is another contributing factor to the success of the athletes.

This is because the majority of the Kenyan long-distance runners were born and raised in high altitude areas.

Their bodies, therefore, produce more and larger red blood cells due to being in an area with a higher sea level.

This increases oxygen levels to their muscles and in return boosts their performance.

Young Kenyan athletes go for training only for a few months. When they are out to compete, they outperform some of the best international professional runners.

This has been said to be a physical advantage that is common to the community the athletes come from, making it a probable case of genes.

Kenyan athletes start early

Most Kenyan schools, both primary and secondary, are a long distance away from home. These schools do not have buses or vans to shuttle students to school and vice versa.

This means therefore that most students walk to school. In most cases, they run hence engage in this sport early.

The students would also go home for lunch and come back within an hour. This means that they had to be quick on their feet and not get late.

They would then proceed to participate in school sports and the majority of them would catch the eyes of team scouts.

Sports scientists believe that this has largely contributed to the development of their high aerobic capacity.

It also means that the athletes’ bodies take in more oxygen and use it more efficiently to generate energy.

Kenyan athletes have a psychological advantage

By Eckhard Pecher – Wikimedia

Sports scientists have observed that Kenya’s long-distance runners have a psychological and social advantage in the global scene.

This is because for decades they have been holding the fort when it comes to marathons and other long races.

These athletes, therefore, see themselves as being unbeatable on the global stage.

Having a psycho-social edge over other long-distance runners has developed among Kenyan runners.

It has given them an air of insuperability, both in their mind and their opponents’ minds too.

The body mass index and bone structure

To fully understand this, sports scientists carried out two separate studies.

The studies sought to find out the physical difference between European marathoners and Kenyan marathoners.

The studies found noteworthy differences in body mass index and bone structure between the European professional athletes and the Kenyan amateurs who had bested them.

Kenyan athletes had less mass for their height, longer legs, shorter torsos, and more slender limbs. These qualities made them more efficient runners, especially over long distances.