White Men Can't Run, Either?
So, "how come all these hundreds of Kenyans are racing at a
faster pace than everyone else?" Martin asks. Is it the loaded issue of
genetics, or the more likely answer: training?
In that same study of Scandinavian runners, a muscle biopsy was
done of all the athletes, and no genetic difference was found, leading the
researcher to propose a training-related phenomenon, says Martin. "The
Kenyans tend to train at a higher, or faster pace," he explains.
Most runners tend to train below race pace, says Martin,
whereas the Africans run at the higher pace at all times. "If you train at
that pace, you'll adapt to that pace," he says, and use less oxygen while
resisting lactic acid.
The Kenyans are known for training among hills and high
altitude. Although both these things are present in other areas of the world,
too, Martin points out that Kenya does have "long hills." He says,
"It's a combination of many factors."
Also, Martin says, many Kenyan kids grow up running to school
in bare feet, which also tends to build long-term injury protection because of
lower limb flexibility. It's a process that can build the ultimate runner.
"These athletes are running machines by the time they start
thinking about serious running," Martin says. By that point, they're more
resistant to lactic acid accumulation, more resistant to fatigue. "It's
like having a fourth gear instead of third gear," he says. "They've got
"Whether they lift weights, run hills, or whether they run
from childhood, I would think those would be the three likely contributors to
running economy," Martin tells WebMD. "It's not all that complicated.
These athletes are a product of their environment, just as our American
athletes are a product of their environment."