Why Are The Kenyan and Japanese Runners So Good?
I have been fascinated with these two countries since I began running at the age of 15 and I knew about their marathoning prowess far before than. Why I didn’t start younger is beyond me. I had a discussion with an online poster yesterday which made me want to dig into the differences between the two running powerhouses. Of course, if you are a beginner or have been in the sport for the majority of your life like me, you probably have at least once seen or hear about a runner from Kenya or Japan breaking a course record or winning a marathon somewhere in the world.
Ken Young of the Association of Road Racing statiscians did a study this year which showed that 719 Kenyan men broke 2.20.00 for the marathon distance in 2011. Pretty good huh? Check this out ….they brok 2.08.00 47 times, 2.07.00 31 times, 2.06.00 15 times. Luka Kipkemboi Chelimo, a 34 year old Kenyan broke 2.20 7 times this year, more than any other Kenyan. This is staggering. Dave monti of Race Results Weekly went into further detail in his article, Kenyan Marathoner Show Impressive Depth for 2011.
I am speaking on elite marathoners in these countries but there are countless others, I am sure, who have not been shown, who have under 2.20 or better for the marathon distance. It is, I believe, especially when you are extremely fit already, more of a pschological barrier to run under 2.20.00 than it is physical. I have trained with numerous elite Kenyans over the years and have learned quite a bit from their mindset. Gilbert Rutto, Daniel Cheriyot, Joseph Chirlee and Robert Cheseret (my teammates while I was with the Army World Class Athlete Program, to name a few. The major similarities that they all have, as to all people who want to truly succeed at anything, is an undeniable belief in themselves. There is 0 doubt that they can be the next world champion or olympica gold medalist. It doesn’t matter if they have a bad race, they continue to train and prepare for the next race.
Joseph and Robert taught me real quick, fast and in a hurry how bad Kenyan runners want to get better while I trained with them in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Why are they so good? They are HUNGRY!. I don’t think runners at this level are any different any successful entrepeneur, company etc. The similarities are the same. An extreme will to get better. An unstoppable focus on the end goal, whatever that is. There is no doubt, no ‘what if’s’. These are the types of people, military members, business personnel that I like to be around. Are you in business? I came across a great write up written by Coach Wei who talks about how many marathoners out there are business-minded. The kenyans I have trained with are no different than any other success entrepreneur in another area. They are determined and focused. Robert probably put me in more pain as I was training to break my 2.19.35 best while in Colorado Springs, than any other runner I have ever trained with. He is the brother of, Bernard Lagat, a multiple time Olympian for the United States. I had to be determined and extremely focused to train with these guys.
Weldon Johnson, co-founder of LetsRun.com wrote a great article which goes into depth about the level of training volume and dedication the Japanese marathoners are willing to commit to be successful for their country and designated teams in Training Japanese Style. He states while on one of his trips to the country one of the coaches of the Japanese running teams had mentioned that some of his runners run as high as 185 miles a week (300 kilometers), possibly even more. THAT is discipline. The highest week I ever did was 142 miles and that was only once. I am not so much of an advocate of such high mileage. You do not have to be running over 100 miles a week to run at a high level (and of course, this will be debated forever in the running community). Yuki Kawauchi, the Japanese amateur marathoner I mentioned in the past, works full time and due to his work schedule, can only run 90-95 miles per week and yet he is running faster than most of the big Japanese corporate running teams. I actually broke 2.20 while running 95 miles a week while I was as a staff Soldier within the Army W.C.A.P. Structure isn’t always a bad thing!
“This is completely individual. One may feel that running 150 miles a week makes you more prepared to run a fast time, whereas someone else may work better on 80 miles a week. If you work full time, which the majority of us do, trying to fit in that amount of mileage on top of other responsibilities could be quite daunting to say the least. Kawauchi is the perfect example of will, determination and how structure in our lives can, in most cases, work out the best for us. Brett Larsen, who heads up a great blog called Japan Running News is the go-to source for all road racing and Japanese running within the country. I have always appreciated the level of information he brings from the United States.”
Yuki Kawauchi made a short but effective video clip trying to motivate other runners who are working full time to keep running and I include it here because it doesn’t matter how fast you are as a runner. Motivation helps a lot and hearing from someone who is getting world attention in Japan for not following the crowd is what I wanted to end this post with.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Please feel free to leave a comment. I hope this was helpful. Please send me your feedback as to what areas of training you are would like written about. Any area I can assist you with.