East African runners have dominated distance running events for over 5 decades. Some explanations have been advanced to explain why such a small population has dominated distance running events over time. Suggested reasons include among others, a genetic predisposition, diet living at high altitude as well as socio-cultural background.
The continued excellence of East African athletes in distance running events continues to produce a lot of debate and interest across the globe. In fact, there has been an overabundance of opinions and theories aimed at explaining the phenomenal athletic prowess of the 'East African running machine.
Runners from the eastern part of Africa nevertheless continue to enjoy unrivalled success in distances ranging from 800 meters to the marathon.African Top Treasure Safaris brings you to the heart of the Kenyan Highlands Where the world running michines originate from,we enable you mingle with anumber of training groups, which include international athletes, in local areas, Opportunities to train alongside an Olympian or World Champion, Remember, Beijing also served up a glut of 14 Kenyan medals, including five gold led by Wilfred Bungei (800m), Samuel Wanjiru (marathon) and Brimin Kipruto (steeplechase) and, crucially, backed by their first two female Olympic champions in Pamela Jelimo (800m) and Nancy Lagat (1500m).
Even more remarkably almost three quarters of all of Kenya's athletics medals have come from one tribe - the Kalenjins - who live in the Kenyan Highlands.
The Kalenjins compose a little over one tenth of the Kenyan population and just 1/2000ths of the world population. Yet their success is dizzying. From Kip Keino to Henry Rono through to Wilson Kipketer and Paul Terget as well as reigning Olympic 800m champions Wilfred Bungei and Pamela Jelimo - all are bound by Kalenjin blood. Some of the reasons put forward why the Kalenjins also known as the 'Running Tribe' are so good are:
The diet and way of life of East African Runners
Nutritional supplements are still largely unknown among most East African athletes. The staple diet of 'ugali' accompanied by traditional vegetables 'isochot','osuga' and 'isakiat' are considered good for energy. Ugali also sometimes called sima or sembe is a cornmeal product and a staple starch component of mamny African meals, especially in East Africa. It is generally made from maize flour (or ground maize) and water, and varies in consistency from porridge to a dough - like substance.At your request we arrange for you all local food to power you up during your trainig. The drinking of milk and blood is still common among some communities in Kenya, especially the Kalenjin and Masai. Breakfast consists of 'uji' - a porridge made of millet. There is for example no 'junk food' no chocolate, and no ice cream in Kenyan villages. Children living in these villages are also not aware of there foods.
Most young athletes in East Africa run barefooted. In fact, shoes are still a novelty in most parts of Africa. We cannot forget Christopher Kosgei during the Grand Prix meets in Europe and Peter Chumba who won two gold medals during the first world Juniors Championships in Athens in 1986 bare feet. The entire junior women's gold medal winning team at the 1993 World Cross Country Championships in Spain competed bare foot. It is believed that direct contact with the hard ground strengthens the feet of the runners right from an early age. Although injuries are inevitable in any sporting event, East Africans have their own traditional way of managing them. Some of the traditional remedies for injuries include:
- Bathing wounds in salty hot water
- Applying the cream of the milk to remove a thorn
- The Kalenjin tribe rubbing the leaves of the 'irokwet' tree to a bruise
The only cure that is used by many runners especially in the rural areas for stiff muscles or soreness is rest or rubbing Vaseline, animal fat, the bark or leaves of certain trees on the stiff or sore muscles.
During the time preceding the 1980s, few schools in Kenya could afford their own track and none had a gymnasium or indoor facility. Athletes trained on the dirt tracks and pathways. They also used crude and/or improvised equipment. Today, many still refer to the javelin as a 'spear' and the shot as 'the stone' - a reference to what was used several years ago. Stopwatches were a novelty for many until recently. Few athletes knew their times or splits. We are fairly sure that there are few or no stadium records in Kenya. The idea of electronic timing is still a dream except, perhaps, at the national senior championships or trials. For the purpose of weight training, specific exercises and monitoring equipment, schools like St. Patrick's High School located in Iten at 8,000 feet above sea level, had to do with improvisation and guesswork. It is worth noting that St. Patrick's High School has, over the last 30 years, produced world-class long distance athletes. Some of the alumni include Ibrahim Hussein, winner of three Boston Marathons and one New York City Marathon; Peter Rono, a 1988 Olympic gold medalist at 1,500 m; Wilson Boit Kipketer, a 1997 world champion and 2000 Olympic silver medalist in the 3,000 - meter steeplechase. Athletes used 'homemade' weights with little reference to accuracy or safety. Heart rate monitors, treadmills, let alone GPS locators, are items that are only read about in books.
Advantages of such a situation
The above scenario had some advantage. It prevented coaches and trainers from setting limits to workouts and programs, from measuring and waiting to be told by a machine what you already knew through common sense and instinct. Do you need an instrument to tell you that you're training too hard or that you're tired? Or what you have an injury to a knee? Learning to listen to their bodies and how the athletes feel was and still is an important part of a monitoring and evaluating process in Kenya. St. Patrick's for example has no track or gymnasium. They depend on a dilapidated stadium about 4 km away from the school, with a poorly maintained dirt track which becomes muddy during the rainy season. They have to make full use of the open countryside, its quietness and isolation, the closeness of nature, the dirt roads, the hills and forests.
The present Scenario with Regard to Training and Preparation of Athletes
Kenyan athletes have stuck to the past ways of living and training. They still cherish the lives lead by the likes of Mike Boit, Abebe Bikila, Kipchoge Keino and Amos Biwott among other pioneer runners. Most African athletes and coaches have not appreciated the role and place of science in boosting their performance and excellence on the track and in the field.