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Track and field


Long distance race

Why do Kenyans always win marathons? The answers lie in these 5 major reasons.

A marathon is no joke. At 42.1km, a marathon is essentially like jogging the insane third mainland bridge (11km) 4 times over. Have you seen how long third mainland bridge is? Good. Now you get.

However, despite the sheer distance of marathons and the massive effects on the human body, marathons continue to be dominated by mostly the Kenyans.

The world record for a marathon was unofficially broken a few weeks ago by Eliud Kipchoge who finished a marathon in 1hr 59mins 40secs. It was previously thought that it was impossible to finish one in less than 2hrs.

Kipchoge is from the Kenyan Rift Valley region.

A day after Kipchoge, Brigid Kosgei destroyed the female marathon records at the Boston marathon.

She's also from the Kenyan Rift Valley region.

At the recent New York marathon, Mary Keitany was running to win a fifth women's title but had it taken from her by Joyciline Jepkosgei. Miss Keitany finished in second. Another Kenyan, Geoffrey Kamworor won the men's race. They're all from the Rift Valley region. 

Noticed any thing they have in common yet?

In fact, yet another Kenyan, David Barmasai Tumo won the Lagos marathon recently, taking home the $50,000 cash prize.

So, why do Kenyans, especially from one region win so many marathon medals? Experts say it's due to many reasons. Let's begin

1) The Rift Valley: The place 

Most of the world's best long distance runners are from the tribes that live in the Rift valley. Some of them are people from other tribes but live and train in the rift valley. Even foreign long distance runners have made it a point of duty to come to the rift valley months before a race to prepare themselves. 

What's so special about the Rift valley?

Well, for starters, it's 8000ft above sea level.

That's twice as high as Zuma rock. Imagine a city on a hill two times the height of Zuma rock.

Essentially, there is less oxygen at higher heights above sea level so their bodies learn adapt to use less oxygen and to bind to oxygen efficiently. This then makes them even more excellent at athletic activities done in normal heights as the normal oxygen levels feel like high oxygen levels for them.

2) The Rift Valley: People

Most of the best Kenyan long distance runners are from two ethnic groups, the Kanenjins and the Nandis. They make up 5% of the population combined but bring in most of the medals.

In fact, only the Karen Jin tribe bring in 73% of Kenyan Gold and Silver marathon medals.

They've passed the art of running down as a generational gift. Surrounded by great runners as examples and role models, most of them see running either as a way to greatness or a way out of poverty.

As a result, they start running from a young age.

Parents let their children run. They actively encourage it.

They train each other and pass on this tradition to younger generations.

3) The Rift valley: Diet

Iten, a city in the Rift Valley has become known internationally as the place where marathon runners are made. The Kanenjins are from Iten.

As it so happens, the diet is a factor. The relative poverty in some parts helps mould the people. The diet is simple, consisting of mainly fresh, local, unprocessed foods. They also eat a number of starchy foods, also unprocessed, because people need starch energy for long distance races. Financially, the financial level of some families there means that some people grow up doing some runs on an empty stomach which makes them tougher.

4) The Rift Valley: The terrain

Since it is a hilly town, a lot of the terrain is rough, dusty, difficult to navigate etc. This doesn't stop the Kenyans from running along all of these areas. Running on top of hills is one thing, but when the hills aren't flat but are rugged and designed to make you sweat, it makes you stand out when you run on the comparatively flat roads of the marathon.

5) The Genes 

Scientists have always wondered if genes had anything to do with the people from Kenya and Ethiopia excelling so much at long distance races.

Turns out that if it is, it's not just one gene.

The Kanenjins due to generations of high altitude living have genes that allow their bodies to produce more erythropoeitin, a substance that makes the body produce more red blood cells to carry oxygen.

They also have genes that increase 2,3DPG, a substance that helps the body use oxygen more efficiently by holding onto oxygen molecules better.

Now, there might a number of other genetic reasons and as time goes on, scientists will uncover them.

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Content created and supplied by: Elforbes (via Opera News )

Brigid Kosgei Eliud Kipchoge Kenyan Rift Valley Mary Keitany Miss Keitany


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