What Makes Kenyan Runners So Fast?

  • By Duncan Larkin
  • Published Apr. 15, 2013
  • Updated Apr. 15, 2013 at 10:42 AM UTC
Kenyan runners like Geoffrey Mutai dominate the world racing scene. Photo:

The answer may not be straightforward.

With a population of 41 million, Kenya is a running giant.

According to a year-old, yet still-relevant article from the Atlantic, approximately 70 to 80 percent of long-distance races since the 1980s have been won by runners from this East African country.

As a specific example of this domination, since 1988, 20 of the 25 first-place male winners at the Boston Marathon have been Kenyans. Kenyan women started later, after 2000.

So what’s the reason for all this success?

Two separate European-based studies found that young men in a small western region of the country, where most of the top talent comes from, were able to “reliably” outperform most top Western males.

These studies also found differences between the body mass and bone structure of the two groups.

Specifically, the Kenyans had less mass for their height. They also had longer legs and shorter torsos — all key traits for distance runners.

For More: The Atlantic

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Duncan Larkin

Duncan Larkin

Duncan Larkin is the news editor at and a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first running book, RUN SIMPLE, was released last July.

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