Monday, September 9, 2013

Want To Run As Fast As The Kenyans?

Want to run as fast as the Kenyans? You may need to lose some more weight. A new study suggests that Kenyan runners are fast because of their extreme thinness (and not just due to living / training from young at altitude).

For a long time it was thought that the success of Kenyan runners were due to their walking/ running long distances on their way to school while growing up. In comparison, our kids now get a ride in fancy cars from their parents or the school bus to school and play computer games after. And, of course struggle to keep up in major marathons and get their behinds kicked.

Renown scientists Yiannis Pitsiladis and Daniel Lieberman were among the group of researchers who tested the early training theory and to their (and mine) surprise found that there was not sufficient evidence supporting that. These mostly thirteen year old Kenyan kids were really active and they covered around 7.5km to and fro in their daily trips to school and back. They also did not eat any junk food. The kids who ran and walked the most to school did not actually have the highest Vo2 max scores.

Rather, what actually stood out in their research was that the kids had a really low BMI (body mass index), i.e. they were really thin. Being fit and skinny means you'll have a high Vo2 max. These "untrained" kids were found to have the potential to run a 2:18 marathon for the boys and 2:39 hrs for the girls! And these are just the groups' averages.

So bad news for the rest of the world as Kenyan runners will probably continue to dominate distance running for a while yet.


Gibson AR, Ojiambo R, Konstabel K, Lieberman DE et al (2013). Aerobic Capacity, Activity Levels and Daily Energy Expenditure in Male and Female Adolescents of the Kenyan Nandi Sub-Group. PLoS One. 8(6) : e66552. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0066552.

*Picture from

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