By: Vanessa Forbes-Pateman
Meep, meep watch out, coming through. Did you see her dust, ladies? Keitany is now the undisputed second fastest NYC marathon out there in the history! Did you know that first place is also held by a Kenyan? Margaret Okayo of Kenya holds the record of 2:22:31, which was set in 2003. However, mad props go out to Mary Keitany, the Kenyan who won this year in 2 hours, 22 minutes and 48 seconds. Even with a slew of acme products, none of the other runners could pull a Wily Cayote and catch Keitany, even though there were a stack of American runners with good odds. Runners World tipped the American women, Flanagan (4-time Olympian), Linden (2018 Boston Champ and Olympian), Huddle (3rd NYC 2016 and Olympian), Keiffer (5th NYC 2017) and Seller (3rd Boston 2018) as front-runners to watch and beat. Insert screaming laughter here…because…in my Tina Turner voice… let the church choir sang the chorus….“Big wheel keep on turnin’, Proud Mary keep on burnin’, Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river”. In this case Keitany just kept on rolling down the NYC streets. Keitany won NYC four times in the last five years, yet somehow she wasn’t tipped as a woman to watch in 2018’s race, given that she’d already won 2014, 2015 and 2016.
David Lieberman, Harvard Professor of human evolutionary biology and author of The Story of The Human Body: Evolution, Health and Disease, says that “while it’s impossible to measure exactly what makes for marathon gold, Kenyan runners may possess certain qualities that drive their ability to win” (www.npr.org). Lieberman says of Kenyans and Ethiopians that it’s a “mixture of culture, biology, determination and training”. Keitany wasn’t the only Kenyan to dominate in NYC or recent races, we’ve seen dominance by Kipsang (who won NYC Men’s), Jemima Jelagat Sumgong, Dennis Kimetto. Wilson Kipsang, the Kenyan winner of Sunday’s New York City Marathon, told reporters after it was over. Kenyan winner of NYC’s Men’s race told reporters that “he’d had to slow down, to exercise a lot of patience; as he logged the first miles of the 26.2-mile race”.
What Runners World failed to acknowledge, but what most professional runners will tell you, is that Kenya is primo training ground for anybody who’s serious about their professional abilities in terms of runners whose niches are from the Quarter-Mile to the Marathon. The Kenyan environment is ultimately the best training ground for that. Ladies, you’ll note that in terms of Kenyans who have made a name for themselves internationally, they’ve all come from a specific region of Kenyan called The West Nile Rift. We all know that in some parts of Africa, the socio-economic situation is not great, but that’s a whole other conversation. Due to this, most children do not have transportation to school. How do they get there? They run of course, and they do so bare-footed. The effect is quality long-distance running, because well schools ain’t close by. Kenyans do get goo, gel or sports drinks, they train natural; basically, from the moment they leave the cradle. One of the wonderful things about running bare foot, is that your heel strike is from the fore-foot or mid-foot which leads to way less injuries over time. I was able to improve my running times as soon as I switched to training bare-footed on beach sand, wayyy less pressure on the knees, feet, hamstring and ankles.
The other reason that Kenyan runners are so great is that high altitude, Kenya at its highest point is 5,197 above sea level at Mt. Kenya and at it’s lowest is at sea level on the Indian Ocean. Kenyan has extremes of elevation. It’s been found that young Kenyans have incredible oxygen level uptakes (VO2 max), especially because some rural Kenyan kids travel on average 4.3496 miles (7 kilometers) to 6.21371 miles (10 kilometers) to and from school, often times running. Another important feature is that the Kenyan diet is not a processed one.
In 2013, it was noted by the scientific community that one Kenyan tribe produces the world’s best runners; they have dominated distance running for a long time. David Epstein, former senior editor at Sports Illustrated, investigative reporter for ProPublica and author of the book The Sports Gene elucidates that “if you look at it statistically, it sort of becomes laughable.” Epstein says that while most of the world looks at Kenyans as great distance runners, all levels of their runners are good and are known to be from the Kalenjin tribe, which is a small minority of approximately 5 million people. However, as small the tribe is, Kalenjin runners are the most dominant of Kenyan distance runners; they are the swiftest and sure of feet. Kalenjin people have physical attributes such as thin ankles and calves and the body-type of Nilotic tribes who near the equator. Here’s a group of internationally famous Kenyan athletes, some of whom are Kalenjin, one of which won at the 1964 Olympics and the world took notes from then (face2faceafrica.com).
Busienei Pamela Jelimo
Catherine Nyambura Ndereba
Nancy Jebet Langat
Eunice Jepkorir Kertich
Kalenji kids just run with the wind in the village of Iten, in the forest of Kaptagat, and in the backroads of Kapsabet, and we are here for it. Ladies, literally right across the street from campus is the most scenic running trail and bike path for you. It’s free, as I have tried to make sure that any recommendations I make are student-pocket friendly. Even with the weather changing and winter threatening to come early, you can still get in a good run over there. Channel your inner Kalenjin Kenyan and run like the wind! Don’t forget to join me in this space next week for something interesting from the international world of sports.