Ethiopia is one of the few countries that have defied odds by dominating international athletics, especially long distance races.
Like Kenya, Ethiopia is also a country surrounded by hilly landscape. Both countries have enjoyed success in athletics competition and are senior members of the international athletics body.
Athletes from East and Central Africa particularly those from Kenya and Ethiopia have dominated distance running to an unprecedented degree over the years, leaving observers searching for an explanation.
The common aspect among Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes is their will to win and their willingness to train incredibly hard. Athletes from other countries compared to those in Ethiopia and Kenya is that they can not accept only running in their life.
They must do other things, and this makes them tired. They train very hard and sleep the rest of the day to recover. There is no second job or social time. They are much disciplined and work very hard, because they realize this makes them come first or become the best in the world.
Many people including scientists from different parts of the world have been trying to determine whether it’s nature that fuels East African dominance in long distance running.
In terms of nature, Kenyans and Ethiopians share a proximity to the Great Rift Valley, which runs north-south across East Africa for 5,000 kilometers at an altitude of 2,000 meters or higher.
But even though most of Ethiopia’s altitude is good for endurance runners, the vast majority of Ethiopian runners come from a region called Arsi, which accounts for about five percent of the country’s population.
Research done by scientists also showed that many of Ethiopia’s top marathoners traveled more than 5kilometers to school on foot each day when they were young.
This reveals that Ethiopian runners have an extra about ten years or more of easy aerobic endurance training compared to the average western runners.
Altitude is enough to explain the differences, though many western runners have tried to match this by training at altitude. Like the Brazilians in football, the competitive nature of the Ethiopians seems to be instilled from a young age.
Like any patriot, Ethiopians hate losing and have made it hereditary habit .This competitive attitude has encouraged success and those who achieve it are rewarded.
Formerly, an Ethiopian athlete who wins a major championship medal would be rewarded with a piece of land from the Ethiopian government.
To boast the sport in the country, even regular club athletes could receive a salary from the government that is enough to live on, so they can focus on training to reach a higher level. Along with financial compensation, the great Ethiopian athletes have been natured and become top sporting personalities in the world.
If you have ever watched the rhythm of Ethiopian athletes, you realize special tricks in the approach of their game. They can learn how to catch your breath after the typical Ethiopian warm up run, where you start jogging at a pedestrian pace and progressively accelerate until you are running at your threshold pace for the last few minutes.
This entire warm up is very important so that the first interval of a workout or the start of a race does not come as a shock to the body.
Another major aspect of their training is short, fast hill repeats with lots of rest that helps maintain speed and explosiveness throughout the year, even when doing a lot of endurance training.
Based on the Ethiopian philosophy, it is important to run on soft ground in the forest to make sure you go slow enough to really recover. They do not worry too much about their pace, but instead about getting good oxygen from the trees and soft ground for the body.
It’s also a must to run single-file and weave in and out of the trees to teach your body to change directions and pace, like you would in a race. Another extremely important aspect of recovery is plenty of sleep, common to all Ethiopian athletes doing when they are not running or eating.
Mr. Joseph Kamugisha is a professional youth soccer coach and holds a bachelor’s degree in general medicine.