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Kenya, the answer to distance running lies within.... or maybe not!

  • Two Kenyan distance runners are shown running on a dirt road in preparation for an athletics meet. Kenya is the most notable nation in the world for distance running.

Guardian Sports Editor

Published: Sep 19, 2013

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There’s little doubt that Kenya has the best distance programs in the world, and by extension, the best distance runners in the world. The real question is: Do distance athletes themselves have to travel that far, just to experience success?

A number of the world’s best athletes do just that, seeking to discover the source of Kenya’s athletic prowess, and partake in the programs there. Even Bahamian distance runner O'Neil Williams has ventured to the African state to mix with the world’s best runners, and hopefully improve his times.

According to reports, several high altitude training camps in the African country aid to the overall development and endurance capacity of distance runners.

However, one Bahamian distance runner in particular, female Hughnique Rolle, believes that travelling all the way to Kenya to train, is not necessarily the answer. She said that, first and foremost, athletes should just make the best out of their own surroundings.

“I think you can train anywhere. You just have to put in the work,” said Rolle. “Of course training in Kenya has some advantages, but even there, if you don’t put in the work and don’t have the right coaching, you won’t really see any different results. I feel as if you can go to an island and focus on your training and do the same thing that you would do in Kenya, but just with different resources. For example, you can train in any mountainous area, if that is what you desire, for about three months, and then return home and train on the sand, hills, grass or whatever else. You have to be mentally prepared and focussed on what you have to do.”

Many believe that Kenya’s long distance success is due to their thinness as a people. Others believe it goes all the way back to the days of slavery, and the endurance that was built up as a result. In other words, the great distance runners of today got their speed and endurance from their ancestors. Many also believe that it has to do with the mountainous landscape of Kenya, and of course the high altitude camps.

Whatever it is, there’s no doubt that the programs work.

Kenya won two Olympic gold medals, and 11 medals in total, in distance running at last year’s Olympic Games, including a world record run from David Rudisha in the men’s 800 meters (m) - 1:40.91. At the recently completed Moscow World Championships, Kenya won five gold medals in distance running, and 12 medals in total.

“Distance running is a funny thing. It can wear you out mentally, so you have to be mentally strong,” said Rolle. “If you can form a group of elite distance runners together, you might be surprised of the results. Right now, since we don’t have much to choose from in The Bahamas, I feel as though we should just grab all the distance runners, and those interested, from all of the clubs, and form one training camp. This way it would ensure not only hard practices, but everyone will be able to motivate each other because they all share the same interests. You have to love distance running to do it. Having people who love what they do is what makes anything fun and competitive.”

Rolle is the only Bahamian who currently holds three individual senior national records - the women’s 1,500m (4:39.09), the women’s 3,000m (10:26.39), and the women’s 5,000m (18:05.05), all set last year. The ‘B’ qualifying times for the Moscow World Championships in the 1,500m and 5,000m events were 4:09.00 and 15:24.00 respectively. The women’s 3,000m wasn’t contested.

As for Kenya, to say that their program is branching off into the other events might be an understatement. The country nearly won its first ever global outdoor medal in the throws at the Moscow World Championships when Julius Yego finished fourth in the men’s javelin with a national record setting throw of 85.40m (280’ 2”). Wow, now they’re excelling in the field events.

Kenya finished third, in total, at the world championships behind the United States and Russia. The warm and humid country that lies on Africa’s east coast is certainly a global powerhouse in athletics, and it’s only getting better.

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