Sleep as a champion!
How did it happen that one Ethiopia village, Bekoji, with 30.000 inhabitants produced four gold winners in middle distance running at the latest Olympics? And how has one Kenyan tribe, The Kalenjins, managed to win all Olympic gold medals ever at the 3000 metres steeple chase? We use to explain the East African’s running success with hard training. Based on my journey into the Ehtiopian and Kenyan gold mine, I believe there is one factor even more important: recovery. Recovery is one of the most overlooked factors of the East Africans world dominance of middle and long distance running.
During my stay in Iten, Kenya I frequently spoke to European runners at camps in the area and I kept hearing how they improve their standard every time they come to Iten. This is not because they train harder or do so differently, but because they adopt the Kenyans’ lifestyle. Train, sleep and eat, and nothing else!” As Kenyan half-marathon World Champion, Lornah Kiplagat, says:
“During the periods when I train hard list, I spend 16 hours a day in bed. It is difficult to adopt this kind of lifestyle in the West, where there are far more distractions and stress factors. Mobile phones, television, and the Internet are only a few of the things that can disrupt your focus.”
Until 2002, practically nobody in Iten had a mobile phone. Even today, only one in 100 people has a television set, and few indeed have ever heard of the Internet. That means: NO distactions!
On top of this comes the fact that it is altogether difficult to practice an austere lifestyle in the West because it craves full commitment. You can’t work on the side. In Iten, where it is possible to live for two dollars a week, far more people can live like this. With that amount in your pocket you’d be bankrupt after 10 minutes in London. In other words, Kenyans have the opportunity to dedicate themselves in a way few Westerners can, which is why Iten is teeming with athletes between the ages of 14 and 40 who do nothing else but run, eat and sleep. They have a lot to win and very little to lose. As the Swiss 5,000 metres champion, Christian Belz, said to me:
“For me, my athletics career is a financial risk. For the Kenyans it is a chance for life.”