04 March 2010

East African Runners

During my hiatus from running (week 6, now), I can't exactly have random thoughts while running. Ideas for this blog haven't just popped up. However, today, I read another blog that I wanted to share.

One of the enduring mysteries of distance running is Why do middle and long distance runners from East Africa completely dominate these events? Davie, from Scotland, addressed this question in a blog post in September, Glasglow Running Seminar 2009, Part 1. He followed that post with 2 more on the rest of the seminar. His report makes for interesting reading -- he gives a good summary of the information presented on East African runners. His style is informal and non-technical, making it easy to read.

Summarizing the conclusions of one of the presenters, Dr Yannis Pitsiladis, FACSM: Research Scientist based in Glasgow who acts as Scientific Adviser to Global Sport Communications, regarding the domination of East African distance runners, Davie said:
  • Solid base - 60% of E African elite runners report running to school as children
  • High Altitude camps
  • Non scientific approach - natural instinct
  • Aerobic training
  • Interval training (known to them as bone-breakers)
  • Altitude training different from western approach; (E.African athletes live at varying heights from 2,400m to 3,000m, but when they leave home to run they start by climbing even higher. They do drop down to do speedwork but generally the rule is "Live high, train higher) as opposed to our athlete's rule of "live high train low")
  • Cross country training
  • African diet (86% vegetable, 14% animal and 77% carbohydrate. Much of the diet is maize, 64%, eaten in the traditional form of Ugali. Staple drink is tea.)
  • Non scientific approach to training (no drugs, supplements or technology) only high tech apparatus is a stopwatch - no Garmins!!!
  • Superior fatigue resistance
  • Low body weight (average Kenyan runner's weight is almost 10kg less -- 22 pounds -- than the average US runner)
The most important conclusion, though, seems to be mental -- East African runners have the attitude that they can run long and fast. Davie covered this in more detail in Part 3. In Part 2, he summarized information on hydration and heat build up in the body.*

Seems to me that there are lessons in this for those of us who are (much) less than elite runners.  My summary: Eat right and simply, train hard and simply, train your mind. Frankly, I think I run better when I take a more simplified approach to training versus a more regimented approach. What about you?

Run well, y'all,

*Unlike the presenters in the seminar, I can't and don't attribute the running abilities of humans to evolution. This is a complicated subject, so what I say here will be overly simplified -- a sound bite -- but, while evolution seems logical as an overall theory, the devil's in the details. When I read explanations like the first part of Davie's Part 2, I find it just makes more sense that humans were created this way, not that we "developed" these abilities. But, that doesn't change the validity of the explanations for the dominance of East Africans in distance running.