Kenyan Athletics: A Deep Dive into How They Train - Part V: Training Structure

Training Structure & Workouts

Kenyans running 8x1000 meters at altitude

For the moment you’ve all been waiting for…the secret training that makes Kenyans such dominant runners across all distance running events.

Well, here's the secret: Kenyans train A LOT, then recover DEEPLY.

Many more details for the nerds like me are listed below:

Kenyans keep training very simple, they run hard when they feel good, and run easy when they are tired and need to recover. They listen to their coach, trust their process, and are never afraid to dig deep when the chance to perform comes up.

As for a general structure that many Kenyans follow from the middle distance all the way to the marathon, here were my observations.

  • Kenyans train 3 times a day (3-4 days a week)

  • Morning (12-18km), Mid-Morning (12km), Afternoon (“Always 40 mins”…8km on flat dirt), which adds up to about 30-35km (18-21 miles/day)

  • Workout days include a morning workout, and an afternoon 40 min recovery run again.

  • Long run days are the only time a commercial athlete in Kenya runs once a day.

After just about every run Kenyans will complete 4x10-15 sec strides, and they will also do these strides before and after track workouts to flush and “refresh” their legs.

I got to observe many workouts in Kenya and spoke with plenty of local coaches about their workout philosophy. Here are some specific sessions and more general points about the workout process.

  • Lots of hill reps (Long & Short) are administered in time, not reps.

  • 40 mins of 500-meter hill repeat with jog down rest

  • 30 mins of 50-meter hill sprints with walk rest.

  • Fartleks, especially for cross country and track foundation.

  • 30x 1 min/1min

  • 20x 2 min/1 min

  • 15x 3 min/1 min

  • Ons are run hard

  • Offs start easy, then get progressively more steady

  • Not everyone finishes these workouts, they just go until they drop

  • Progression or Alterations within long runs

  • Similar to the fartleks above, but more controlled so they can complete the duration.

  • Start out relaxed and slowly crank down the pace

  • Ladder track workouts, lots of 400-meter reps

  • 25x400 @67 w/60 sec rest

  • 4x(4x400 @63-61 w/60 sec rest

  • 3x(1000, 600, 300, 200) w/200 meter jog

  • 1x(1600, 1200, 800, 400, 200)

  • 5 min hard, 2km tempo, 4 min hard, 2km tempo, 3 min hard, 2km tempo, 1 min hard done on grass loop and dirt trail. Rest was auto-regulated by athletes, but it always seemed to be about 2-3 mins of walking in the shade. (This one looked especially brutal).

  • All track workouts are lights out, fast, smooth, hard training.

  • Dirt tracks keep their legs healthy, happy, and strong. I suppose cranking 60 second 400s on the dirt makes running on a real track feel easy.

  • Most, if not all of the “training runs” become progressions

The bottom line is that there is no one secret to Kenyan success in distance running, it's a multifactorial blend of nature, nurture, patience, consistency, desperation, obligation, time, and effort. Try not to fixate on any one of these items of the success factor, as it's not the individual ingredients that make the difference, but rather the way in which the Kenyans cook it all together that makes it all pay off.

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