Why Kenyan marathoners are the fastest worldwide

Why Kenyan marathoners are the fastest worldwide


The great number of sporting wins of Kenyan athletes has been inspiring the runners’ community for many years. How do they manage to handle long distances so easily?

The history of running starts in the ancient Greece, where, as one of legends has it, a warrior named Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of the military victory of the Greeks over the Persians. As an element of the sports discipline, the length of the marathon distance constantly changed, until in 1921 the International Amateur Athletics Federation established an official length of 42 kilometers 195 meters. Representatives of various countries have won in this sport, but over the past sixty years, runners from Kenya have become absolute champions.

From 1958 to 1960, the world champion in the marathon race was Sergey Popov, and before that, the 25 best athletes included only one runner from Africa. Today things have changed. London, Berlin, New York, and Tokyo are just a few venues of the international marathon race won by athletes from Kenya last year. Six of the last ten world records belong to the natives of Kenya, including the latest one set by Eliud Kipchoge at the Berlin Marathon race in September 2018. He covered the distance in 2 hours 1 minute and 39 seconds.

The success of Kenyan athletes in long-distance running are related to many factors. These include physical predisposition, living conditions, training approach and nutrition.

Body specific

Most of all Kenyan marathon race winners are natives of the Kalenji tribe, which makes up 12% of the country's population. In ancient times, the ancestors of these people lived in the hot lowlands and then migrated to the highlands. Their constitution changed, and their body acquired unique features. Kalenjin people typically have long thin limbs and short stature. Another specific feature is that their bodies consume oxygen in a more efficient way. This change occurred as a result of living in the highlands, at an altitude over 2,000 meters above sea level, where the air is thinner.

Approach to training

Western athletes often focus on technical innovations – heart rate monitors, smartphone apps – and this heavily distracts them from the main thing. Kenyans believe that you just need to listen to your body and run. It is your own body that can tell you about the changes occurring in it, and the difficulties that arise after long workouts, better than any doctor will. In addition, in Kenya, they practice group training sessions attended by both award-winning athletes and beginners. This allows young sportsmen to learn from international champions, and marathon veterans to keep up with the pace of the young talents.


Athletes eat very simply. The Great Rift Valley provides them with rice, corn, beans and green vegetables. This food is rich in fiber, carbohydrates and contains little fat. Their principal dish is Ugali, a corn porridge. It is quickly digested by the body and is highly nutritive - this dish will provide you with enough energy even if you do your morning workout before breakfast. Kenyans use no sports supplements or energy drinks. The only drink they consume in large quantities is tea, which grows right here, preparing it with milk. The tea stimulates, invigorates, cleanses the body, and also boosts perspiration thus reducing the body temperature. According to Kenyan runners, if you drink a cup of Kenyan masala tea after a workout, it will relax your muscles and reduce the pain the next day after the training.

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