It isn’t just your imagination. Yes, East African runners have a tendency to dominate every running record on the books with reason. It isn’t just that their lifestyle is quite a bit more difficult than other cultures, often requiring that they work long and arduously strenuous manual labor hours. But, it also may be in their genetic makeup and evolution.
Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes have held the top spots in running for the past five decades, first coming on the scene at the 1969 Mexico City Olympics. It isn’t that their average times are that much faster than the average gold-winning runner, it is that they have an uncanny ability to sprint to the finish line at extreme speeds, the likes that no one has ever been capable.
It may be in the endurance that they hold that holds their secret. To win a marathon, you have to have the energy at the finish line to beat out anyone else around you. Typically it is the last couple of miles when winners are made or lost. The winner usually breaks out from the pack somewhere between the eighteenth and the twentieth mile. During the last few miles is where they begin the sprint that pushes them over the finish line.
It is those last couple of miles when the body is on autopilot and all the training, nutrition, experience, athleticism and genetics begin to kick in to overtake the person and the race. What is it genetically that Eastern African runners possess that other runners don’t? Typically they have thin ankles and skinnier calves than other running cohorts. Since they live in high-altitudes, it conditions them for endurance.
There appears also to be a component that has throughout the ages made the fastest of those living in Eastern Africa the most successful. Since running commodities from tribe to tribe is essential to make a good living, the fastest runner wins the economic race. That gives them both the endurance and the competitive drive, along with centuries of evolution, that all combine to make them extreme endurance athletes.
What also seems to be at play is their early training. In most Eastern Africa locales, children walk an average of 5 miles daily. That leaves their average BMI somewhere around 15.5, which in America would be tantamount to child abuse. That also means that their anaerobic and Vo2 Max thresholds are the highest of any other children or people on earth. Not only do they have very little body weight, but they are also tall with lanky legs, which all combine to make them excellent and flawless runners.
As if they needed one more thing on their winning side, their nutritional habits make them the healthiest runners on the globe. Getting almost all their nutrients from vegetables with protein-rich foods like beef only being eaten four times a week. A high-carbohydrate diet seems to aid in their running.
You would just assume that they spend most of their days running the countryside, but that simply is not the case. On average, they spend only about an hour a day running and only about 23 minutes of that hour is spent on any real quality running.
The truth is that it is a combination of evolution and habit that has allowed Eastern African runners to lead the pack for close to a century. With other areas of the globe having an increasing BMI, there is very little likelihood that any other region will be able to beat them anytime soon. Although, that does unlock some secrets that can help those from foreign lands train smarter, eat better, and beat their own personal best.