Over the past month, I've had the good fortune of living and training in Kapsabet, Kenya—which some of you running historians may know is the birthplace of the famed sub-2-hour marathoner, Eliud Kipchoge.
Although most runners see Iten as the mecca of running, Kapsabet is the less explored training grounds of many incredible world-class athletes, like Peres Jepchirchir, who is the reigning Olympic Champion in the Marathon and currently held the women's half-marathon world record of 1:05:06 from the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon in 2017. I was even fortunate enough to have a cup of tea at her house and pick her brain about all things training and racing, we’ll talk more about that later on.
Needless to say, I have gained many insights into the Kenyan running culture, mindset, lifestyle, and training structure firsthand. Although much of this information has been released on the internet before I think there have still been some new aspects that have surprised me. As for the items I already knew about, well seeing them firsthand is a different beast entirely.
In this series, we will cover 5 subjects that seem to have the greatest impact on Kenyan performance: 1) cultural mindset, 2) training environment, 3) nutrition, 4) running form, and of course 5) training structure and workouts.
Oftentimes it feels like westerners (namely Americans and Europeans) have a fetish for understanding how Kenyans train. This is completely natural, as the horn of Africa has produced unfathomable amounts of dominant runners from middle distances all the way up to the marathon for decades now. However, after spending some time there I have come to the conclusion that while we may be focused on the correct details, we are still examining and implementing them in a different way.
I think of it like cooking, we Americans tend to look at the ingredients (training, diet, recovery, etc.) and the recipe (lifestyle, culture, etc.), but we often neglect to examine how the meal is actually cooked. This is the biggest difference I’ve noticed, to reiterate, there is most definitely a difference between following a recipe, and actually understanding how to cook. To further serve this analogy, Kenyans absolutely understand how to cook.
With all of that in mind, buckle up for what we hope is a fun and enlightening series on how Kenyans train.