Back in August 2013 I wrote a blog post called How To Run Like A Kenyan, where I touched upon some of the things that made Kenyan runners so fast.
A similar version of the same article appeared in Triathlon Plus magazine around that time. It was one of my favourites.
A few weeks ago I finished reading a book on a similar subject called “Running With The Kenyans” by Adharanand Finn. It’s an entertaining book and a great way to learn more about how to improve your running.
The thing that struck me about the Kenyan running methods is that they’re all so simple and obvious. It’s like we all spend ages looking for some magic formula or new gadget, when the answers are staring us in the face all along.
Whether you’re an Ironman triathlete, a marathon runner or a complete beginner, you’ll learn some important running lessons from this blog post.
Run On Soft Ground
At the beginning of the book the author (Finn) visits a group of Kenyan athletes living and training in London. He goes for a training run with them and is surprised when they opt to walk the first couple of kilometers to a park simply to avoid running on hard surfaces. They do this because they believe it helps them avoid injuries.
Back in Kenya they also avoid running on hard surfaces, preferring to train on dirt roads or forest trails. This helps the Kenyan runners avoid the high injury rates experienced by Western runners, enabling them to train more consistently.
The Kenyan Diet
In the town of Iten, where the majority of the best Kenyan runners train, you cannot buy pizzas, burgers, chocolate, fries, crisps, beer and all those other things that we all get tempted into having from time to time.
The Kenyans diet consists largely of Ugali (boiled maize-meal), vegetable stew and beans. They eat very little meat or fatty, sugary processed foods.
Which explains why the athletes that Finn meets are very light. For a similar height, they are around 20 kg (44 pounds) lighter than he is. Bare in mind he’s a 38 minute 10k runner himself, so hardly overweight.
Running is essentially a series of small leaps, so the less weight you carry they less energy you expend for a given pace. And that’s one of the reasons the Kenyans are so fast.
When a Kenyan wants to get fit, they leave their home for several months at a time to join a training camp where they can dedicate themselves 100% to running. They don’t try and balance their training around their job and home-life, like you or I might do.
We’re not just talking professional runners either. We’re talking about any aspiring amateur who dreams of racing abroad one day. On these camps they live cheaply and simply, without luxuries. They train early in the morning, rest all day and then run again in the late afternoon. It’s nothing complicated, but its effective.
This is also something that the multiple Olympic Gold Medalist Mo Farah has incorporated into his training, since living with a group of Kenyans in London in 2005. He’s a devoted family man now, but he still leaves them behind for three months at a time to train in the basic surroundings of Kenya or Ethiopia.
Keep It Simple
Kenyan athletes do not have Garmin GPS watches, underwater treadmills or heart rate monitors.
At most they have a simple stopwatch to time their interval sessions. They learn to pace themselves by listening to their bodies and by striving to keep up with the people around them.
If you think money is the answer to your running goals, think again.
It may surprise you to know that Kenyan athletes do not train barefoot as a rule. They train in normal running shoes in order to protect themselves from stones in the roads.
It is thought that running in cushioned shoes encourages you to land heel-first, which acts as a braking force and contributes to injuries.
However, the author notes that the Kenyans all land on their forefeet and not their heels, despite wearing shoes. He believes it’s because they spent a large part of their childhoods running around without shoes. And when you run without shoes, you naturally land on your forefeet.
So the Kenyan's ability to run efficiently is ingrained in them from a young age, rather than specific technique coaching.
That's all for this fortnight's Serious Triathlete Blog. If you want to learn more about Kenyan running secrets I highly recommend the source of this blog post: Running With The Kenyans by Adharanand Finn.
And if you liked this post please share it with your friends.
Thanks. Phil Mosley.
The simple running test that’ll help you train smart for years to come…
If you want to keep getting faster at distance running you'll need to get smart with your training. And to get smart you need to know what your current fitness levels are and which training intensities you should be training at. Thankfully there’s a really simple way to work this out. In some cases you don’t even have to step foot out the door.
Before I introduce this particular method, let me explain the advantages of run-fitness testing so you can decide if its something you’re interested in:
5 Benefits of Testing Your Run Fitness
The simple test I’m talking about is known as the VDOT method. It was developed by coach and author Jack Daniels as a way of estimating your current VO2max - the optimal rate at which your heart, lungs and muscles can use oxygen during exercise.
A VDOT test involves a maximal 3km time trial (see below for details). Once you know your best current time for a 3km test, you can enter the results into an online calculator or consult a VDOT chart (see below). These will help you calculate your personalised training zones and predict your race times over a variety of distances from 800 metres to marathon.
In fact, you may not even have to do a 3km time trial. Some online calculators allow you to enter a recent race time (for example, 5km) to estimate your VDOT, current race times and training zones.
The beauty of the VDOT method is that it’s a quick and easy test that you can perform every 6 to 10 weeks. It gives you an up-to-date idea of the paces you should be holding in training, as well as a good idea of the optimal pace strategy for your next race.
15mins easy run, including 4x100m accelerating from easy to hard.
Run a 3km timed maximal effort.
5mins easy run
3 Sample Workouts
NOTE: Make sure you include a 15 minute warm up and a 5 minute warm down for all of these sessions:
2x10mins at Threshold Pace, with 60secs rests
9x400m at Interval Pace, with 90secs rests.
Two sets of 7 x 200m at Repetition Pace, with 3 mins rest between sets and 30 seconds rest between reps.
5 Top Testing Tips
By Phil Mosley.
Click Here For Phil's Training Plans
Essential advice about the optimal running pace, heart rate and perceived exertion to run a fast Ironman marathon.
Did you realise that by the time you start the marathon run in an Ironman triathlon, you’ll have already been racing from anywhere between 5 hours 30 and 12-hours?
You’ll be tired and low on energy by then, so your pacing strategy needs to reflect that. The best outcome you can realistically expect in an Ironman marathon is to maintain an easy or steady pace throughout, without having to stop or continually walk. That is the secret to achieving an excellent Ironman result and in this blog we'll show you how...
What is The Perfect Ironman Run Race Pace?
There is precious little research on the ideal pace for an Ironman but there is one particular study that sets the tone of this blog. It appeared in the journal PLoS One and was based on athletes who competed in one of the world’s most challenging ultra-marathons, the Tor des Geants in Italy. This gruelling event involves running 200 miles over mountains, with 24,000 metres of elevation change. The researchers compared these hard core athletes with another group who’d taken part in a shorter Alpine ultra-marathon – a mere 103 miles in length.
The findings showed that runners in the longer race had lower levels of muscle damage and inflammation, despite the fact that they ran almost twice the distance as those in the shorter event. The researchers were led to conclude this: “Such extreme exercise seems to induce a relative muscle preservation process, due likely to a protective anticipatory pacing strategy during the first half.”
How does this help you?
Well it implies that the athletes in the longer event paced it more carefully from the start, compared to those doing the shorter event. And that even with distances of 100 miles and 200 miles, small differences in exercise intensity can make a big difference to your muscle fatigue levels.
So bearing that in mind, here's how to set yourself a realistic pacing plan, using three different measures...
1. Ironman Run Heart Rate
You should start your Ironman run at 65 to 70% of your maximal heart rate. For example, if your max heart rate is 170 beats per minute, start running at 110-120 beats. Sounds low right? Keep this up until halfway and then you can increase your pace slightly if you feel fresh enough (but the chances are you won’t).
2. Ironman Run Perceived Exertion
Based on your perceived exertion your Ironman race pace should feel like a 2 or 2.5 out of 10 on the intensity scale, with 10 being your all-out maximal effort. On a good day this might be described as being an “Easy" pace.
3. Ironman Run Pace
If you know you recent best time for a 3km, 5km or 10km race or time trial, you can use this Matt Fitzgerald Running Zones Chart to estimate your Ironman run pace. Look up your recent race time using the left hand columns of the table. Then trace your finger right until you get to the column that says "2: L Aero". This column gives you a range of paces that you should stick to during your Ironman run. This pace would feel super easy on a normal day, but is an ideal intensity for Ironman.
Just make sure you base your pace on real results from a 3km, 5km or 10km - done in the last 8 weeks. DO NOT GUESS!!!
Final Ironman Run Tips
By Phil Mosley.
Triathlon Plus Coaching Editor & Ironman Certified Coach.
Founder of My Pro Coach.
For information about triathlon coaching, click here.
For Phil's Ironman training plans, click here.
Copyright © 2016 Philip Mosley
The Serious Training Blog
Train Smart. Race Fast.
Phil Mosley is a triathlon coach and writer.