It’s no surprise that Kenyans took the top spots at yesterday's White Rock Marathon -- or that they beat our pathetic Matt Pulle, who finished a measly 17th because of “hamstring problems” and a “lack of support along Swiss Avenue” and “Ross Perot Jr." Anyone who has ever watched even a smidgen of competitive long-distance running knows that Kenyans more or less dominate the sport. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that a lot of kids in Kenya run an insane amount of mileage, as Alexander Wolff recently pointed out in a Sports Illustrated profile of marathoner Alberto Salazar
“In Kenya there are probably a million schoolboys 10 to 17 years old who run 10 to 12 miles a day. ... The average Kenyan 18-year-old has run 15,000 to 18,000 more miles in his life than the average American -- and a lot of that's at altitude. They're motivated because running is a way out. Plus they don't have a lot of other sports for kids to be drawn into. Numbers are what this is all about. In Kenya there are maybe 100 runners who have hit 2:11 in the marathon -- and in the U.S. maybe five.
With those figures, coaches in Kenya can train their athletes to the outer limits of endurance -- up to 150 miles a week -- without worrying that their pool of talent will be meaningfully depleted. Even if four out of every five runners break down, the fifth will convert that training into performance...”
On his blog, Malcolm Gladwell pointed out that these stats should put to rest the argument that Kenyans are genetically superior runners.
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“These are staggering numbers. A million 10 to 17 year olds running 10 to 12 miles a day? I'm guessing the United States doesn't have more than 5,000 or so boys in that age bracket logging that kind of mileage. 70 miles a week is an enormous amount of running--even for an adult. I ran middle distance at a nationally competitive level as a teenager, and never got close to 70 miles a week."
Gladwell goes on to point out that no one ever claims:
“Canadians are genetically superior to everyone else when it comes to hockey, or that Dominicans have a genetic advantage when it comes to baseball. We all accept the fact that those two countries succeed at those sports because they draw their elite talent from a developmental pool that is simply larger -- in relative and in some cases absolute terms -- that other nations. It's a numbers game. If Kenya really has a million kids, doing that kind of mileage, then we scarcely need any other explanation for their success.”
So don’t blame it on your genes, Pulle. You were just born in the wrong country. --Jesse Hyde