SELENIUM (Se) EFFECTS ON ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE

Photo by Nicolas Hoizey (Unsplash)

Exercise increases oxygen consumption to levels between 10 and 15 times above values at rest.  The main biological product of exercise are the oxygen reactive species, or ROS, which damage cell membranes and skeletal muscles. ROS are counteracted by the antioxidant defence systems of the body, for whom Selenium (Se) is an important factor.

Selenium is a minor, or trace element, in mammals, that can be found in seafood, lentils, beans, whole grains, organ meats, dairy and vegetables. It has two important functions:

  • Antioxidant, as protective of oxidative damage, specially through the enzyme glutathione peroxidase.
  • Modulation of the immune system, with a protective role against viral infections.

Se dietary intake has been set at 55 micrograms/day, with usual dietary supplements offering levels between 180 and 240 micrograms/day, usually in the form of selenomethionine or sodium selenite. Levels above 400 micrograms/day are known to cause selenosis disease, characterised by an increased breakability of hair and nails.

Because of the properties of Se it could be useful to improve athletic performance, fasten muscles recovery and increase defence systems. Thus, Se supplementation is often used as an aid for sports. But does it really offer any improvement in performance?

A recent meta-analysis studied the available scientific literature to answer this question. From all articles available, only 6 complied with the inclusion criteria.

 

Remarks

Data showed no evidence of beneficial effects on aerobic or anaerobic performance while using Se supplementation.

Despite this lack of performance improvements, Se supplementation could contribute to keep optimal antioxidant levels on active individuals, help in the recovery process and prevent viral infections.

The article points out to the importance of optimal Se levels in blood as a preventive strategy against viral infections, such as the one from Covid-19.

Keep healthy and active and see you soon.

 

Bibliography

The Role of Selenium Mineral Trace Element in Exercise: Antioxidant Defense System, Muscle Performance, Hormone Response, and Athletic Performance. A Systematic Review. Fernández-Lázaro D, Fernandez-Lazaro CI, Mielgo-Ayuso J, Navascués LJ, Córdova Martínez A, Seco-Calvo J. Nutrients. 2020;12(6):1790. Published 2020 Jun 16. doi:10.3390/nu12061790

Foods rich in Selenium (Se)

Book: EPIC RUNS OF THE WORLD (various authors, 2019, 328 pages)

“The journey is always the destination, not the time, distance, pace and other stats that your watch feeds you”.

Brian Metzler.

We got this book at a time when most of us had traveling impeded, at some level or another. It was the chance to let the mind travel, as the book says, to some of the most “epic runs of the world”.

The book comprises runs in every continent, so even if you are not a runner and/or traveller probably there is still the chance of having one of them not very far from you. You have 200 to choose from.

Some of the runs are proper races, encompassing all distances and levels: Easy, Harder and Epic, according to the classification used in the book. Everyone has the possibility of running one. But there are also other non-racing runs included, usually chosen because of the surroundings, going from amazing landscapes, to waterfronts, coastal paths and many more.

Every chapter is focused on one run explained in depth by an author, accompanied by other 3 thematically similar races explained more briefly. Accompanying the explanations there is a short and useful informative section with advices on how to get to the course or where to sleep. Additionally, complementing the text there are very beautiful pictures, sometimes at double page. That would be a good reason to go for the paperback book instead of choosing its electronic version.

Patagonian marathon in southern Chile (Fernanda Paradizo/Shutterstock)

From the 50 races explained in more detail America and Europe are the best represented continents, with 17 and 13 races respectively. Among them some very well-known races:  Badwater 135, Barkley Marathon or the Boston Marathon. Asia only had 8 races in this list, the same than Oceania, and ahead of African 4 epic runs.

Wherever you have run before, you will always find a “dream run” to add to your bucket list: Who would not want to run the Comrades Marathon in South Africa? Or the Athens Marathon departing from the mythical town of Marathon? Or a race so extreme as the North Pole Marathon, if you can afford its hefty registration of 16000€?

A great addition to your running library. If you can´t travel now, this book will offer you an alternative, and new ideas for your next running adventure.

Advice 1: never forget to pack your running shoes in your next trip. You don´t know if an epic run is waiting there for you.

Advice 2: go for the paperback version of the book.

Woman running on the sidewalk next to Bondi Beach, New South Wales (stevecoleimages/Getty Images)

CARBOHYDRATES AND PROTEINS ON ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE: TOGETHER BUT NOT MIXED?

Photo by Jana Werschay (Pixabay)

Restoration of energy stores and recovery of muscle damage are key factors determining the performance in endurance events. Therefore, nutrition aimed to fasten and help in these processes has received a lot of attention lately and is the focus of a recent meta-analysis comparing the effects of carbohydrates CHO and carbohydrates+proteins CHO+PRO ingestion on athletic performance.

Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles and is a major energy source during long moderate/high intensity exercise. Low muscle glycogen concentration leads to fatigue.

Restoration of glycogen levels usually takes 24 hours, if there is enough supply of carbohydrates. For short-term recovery (less than 8h) is recommended to consume 1.2-1.5g of carbohydrates per kilogram of weight and hour. Moreover, it has been suggested to start taking carbohydrates immediately, within 30 minutes of finishing the effort, and at frequent intervals onwards. Doing it so keeps high the levels of glucose and insulin in plasma, maximizing muscle glycogen synthesis.

For athletes participating in endurance events lasting more than 1h, carbohydrates are recommended at levels of 30-60g/h and intervals of 15-20 minutes.

Regarding the simultaneous consumption of carbohydrates and proteins the articles found differed greatly in many aspects such as: protocol design, duration of recovery, preceding exercise to deplete the muscle glycogen levels, or exercise type, among others. Additionally, many studies used Time-To-Exhaustion or TTE, while others used Time-Trial performance, or TT, a test usually considered more physiological and reliable.

Co-ingestion of carbohydrates and proteins (CHO+PRO), significantly improved athletic performance when compared with carbohydrates (CHO) alone. TTE was 2.2 minutes longer in the athletes that used CHO+PRO. Thus, there is an ergogenic effect of CHO+PRO, with performance benefits present when protein is added to an optimal amount of CHO.

And this improvement in performance by combining the ingestion of both substances was only evident during long-term recovery periods, longer than 8h. On the contrary, no significant effects were found using both substances when the recovery period was shorter than 8h.

 

Conclusion

  • IF you have more than 8h recovery time: combine CHO+PRO ingestion, during and/or following an exercise bout.
  • IF you have less than 8h recovery time: there is no difference between using CHO and CHO+PRO, but you should ensure to replenish adequately glycogen deposits.

 

Bibliography

The Effect of Ingesting Carbohydrate and Proteins on Athletic Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Kloby Nielsen LL, Tandrup Lambert MN, Jeppesen PB. Nutrients. 2020;12(5):1483. Published 2020 May 20. doi:10.3390/nu12051483

Photo by Peggy Marco (Pixabay)

THE MARATHONS THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN: CONFESSIONS OF A MARATHON WITHDRAWAL SYNDROME

The worldwide Covid-19 crisis has sent most of our running plans overboard in the last few months. Nowadays, for many, is enough to run outdoors, after strict confinement protocols.

Racing is seen each day more sceptically. Major-cities marathons are cancelled every day, and from the six Major Marathons that should take place in 2020 Chicago, New York, Boston and Berlin were already cancelled, Tokyo took place only for elite runners, and London is still on the cards for October 4th at the time of writing, although it will probably be cancelled too.

Onekmore had planned to cross the 100-marathons barrier in 2020. It seemed an easy achievement after entering into the new year with 86 marathons, but things soon got a wrong turn in marathon number 88.

Looking back to pre-Covid times, some marathon plans fell apart too. With time for reflection, it comes the regret of those races that didn´t happen for one reason or another. If including those “missed” opportunities the 100 marathons would have already happened.

A short list follows:

  • In 2012: Milton Keynes, Cambridge Boundary Run and Trionium Picnic marathons.
  • In 2014: Fairlands Valley Challenge and Lanzarote, cancelled because of a heavy storm.
  • Berlin Marathon twice, in 2011 and 2015, because of a wedding and a moving between countries. Luckily, we run the 2014 edition.
  • In 2020 pre-Covid: Marrakech, due to illness.
  • In 2020 post-Covid: Valdebebas; Badajoz and Aguilar de Campoo (cancelled); Madrid (postponed to November?); EcoLisbon (to 2021) and Vienna (to 2022).

With the racing calendar on hold it is difficult to plan any future races, even more if they imply moving some other place.

The running world has tried to adapt and move towards the “virtual” challenges. Although it may look as a way forward for some, we don’t think is for us. Registering to run in your backyard or a nearby road trying to convince yourself that you are running, let´s say, the Berlin Marathon, feels like playing a role-game. Doubtfully, the feeling of achievement after completing a virtual race will be like the “high” of a real-world race.

But we are nobody to tell what is “real” or not. If people decide to pay a registration fee in exchange for a medal and a t-shirt: let´s do it. It will always help to keep organising companies afloat until things get back to normal.

As for us, in the meantime, we will set our own challenges. There is no need of further recognition, beyond our own, and the feeling of gratitude for being able to run outdoors.

Greetings.

THE ROLE OF RUNNING AMONG THE TARAHUMARA

Copper Canyons Marathon, in Urique

The Tarahumara came to worldwide attention specially after the book “Born to Run”, by Christopher McDougall, which was published in 2009. More recently Lorena Ramírez was in the front cover of Vogue and got her own Netflix´s documentary “Lorena, light-footed woman”.

A recent article has focused again on the Tarahumara community, or Rarámuri as they call themselves, and from first-hand interviews got a deeper insight in the practical, social and spiritual roles of running, that was widespread among other Native American nations too (Navajo, Hopi, Apache, Yurok and Tohono O’odham).

The Tarahumara got their name from the Sierra Tarahumara, a part of the Sierra Madre, in North-western Mexico, a remote and extremely mountainous area, still far from main roads. Their ability to run long distances have contributed to a wrong stereotype of being immune to pain and fatigue.

We will see the different roles that running does in the Tarahumara community.

 

Persistence hunting

Nowadays persistence hunting has almost disappeared, threaten by ecological change, tourism, roads and towns expansion, drug trafficking and migration. In its origins its strategy implied hunters to target an individual and chase it on foot over long distances until they collapsed from heat stroke, exhaustion, or fell in a human-made trap. This type of hunting implied a high level of endurance, tracking and cooperation skills, and an appropriate knowledge of the landscape.

Humans evolved adapting to run long distances at moderate speeds. We already talked about this in a previous post. The estimate length of Tarahumara´s hunting runs was 12-36k, at a running speed of approximately 9.6 kilometres per hour and frequent walking periods, especially in steep ascents. These hunts were always done in groups (3-15 participants) and wearing huaraches, sandals made from yucca (or rubber tires now) and a loincloth or tunic. They drank pinole, a traditional beverage of dried corn, mixed with water from streams.

 

Footraces

Footraces can be rarajípare, it they are for men, or ariwete, if they are for wome. They are still practiced today, but not very often, as they are being replaced by traditional western-style ultra-marathons.

In its origin races were organized between Tarahumara pueblos. The organizers, or chokeame, had to supply corn beer, or tesguino, and if they lost three times in a row were not allowed to organize more races.

Courses vary greatly involving various laps of around 5k, with lengths oscillating between 25-30k for the shorter ones, to 150k for the longest ones. Usually the ariwete races (women-only) are shorter.

In the rarajípare races, teams of runners (5-20 runners) must kick a wooden ball, called komakali, along the course, to distances as long as 50 metres in open terrain. Losing the ball or touching it with the hands means losing the race. Each team is formed by the runners, a coach (cabecia), assistants (apuntadores) and healers (owirúame). Additionally, there is a support team, called woman power, or poder de mujer, where a group of women surrounds an exhausted male runner, chanting alongside and matching his strides. Friends and family can run along, giving the runners support although not allowed to kick the ball. In the ariwete races the runners are usually your women, aged 10-20 years, who do not have children.

Therefore, race participation is nothing like in Western-style races. It is not about competing with the others or yourself, but a community´s event. No adult Tarahumara train to improve their running skills or stay fit.

And yes, Tarahumara runners also get tired and suffer from cramps or injuries. As the race continues only the stronger ones remain. The extreme exhaustion can induce an altered state of consciousness, or “trance”, in some runners. Therefore, rarajípare and ariwete are somehow seen as a form of prayer.

 

Dancing

Another common leisure activity of the Tarahumara is dancing. But here also they show a level of endurance difficult to achieve. Each dance lasts between 12 and 24 hours! And communities may have 30 of these dances per year!

The lead dancer, or monarco, is a role usually performed by the best runners. It requires a high level of endurance, as they can not stop from start to finish.

 

Final remarks

As it has been shown, for the Tarahumara long-distance running is only one of the activities improving their endurance capabilities. Besides it, hard-daily working routines, involving long distance walks in mountainous environments, and their dancing “marathons” are also key contributors.

Running evolved from the necessity of persistence hunting to a social event with an intense spiritual component for many.

Although reasons of the Tarahumara for running may seem strange, they are not so far of the motivations behind many runners around the world, or the reasons behind the organization of many big-cities marathons.

Thanks for reading until here.

 

Bibliography

Running in Tarahumara (Rarámuri) Culture: Persistence Hunting, Footracing, Dancing, Work, and the Fallacy of the Athletic Savage. Lieberman DE, Mahaffey M, Quimare SC, Holowka NB, Wallace IJ, and Baggish AL. Current Anthropology 2020 61:3, 356-379

Two Tarahumara males, photographed in Tuaripa, Chihuahua, Mexico 1892

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN FINISHERS AND NON-FINISHERS IN ULTRA-ENDURANCE EVENTS

Photo by Massimo Sartirana (Unsplash)

Ultra-endurance events are among the most demanding sport specialities, at both, physical and psychological levels. Despite this hardness, ultra-endurance events have become very popular in recent years.

Performance in these races depends on many elements. A recent research article decided to analyse differences in psychophysiological parameters between finishers and non-finishers of a mountain ultra-endurance event.

 

The study

Seventy volunteers (46 finishers and 24 non-finishers) male athletes were analysed. They participated either in the 2016 Canfranc-Canfranc ultra-endurance mountain race (100k and 8848 m of positive change of altitude) or the Gran Trail de Peñalara (112 km and 5100 m of positive change of altitude).

 

The results

  • Lower marathon times were correlated to greater performance in ultra-endurance events above 100 km. The capacity of running at higher intensity would allow these athletes to have a better aerobic metabolic system.
  • Finishers presented a smaller consumption of fluids the day before the race when comparing with non-finishers. Previous works highlight the importance of appropriate fluid intake DURING the competition instead of greater fluid intake BEFORE the race. Incorrect hydration can lead to hyponatremia or dehydration and alter performance.
  • Finishers presented greater experience in this type of race events compared to non-finishers. Experience contributes to better levels of self-knowledge.
  • Finishers showed lower values of systolic blood pressure when compared to non-finishers. It is reported as a physiological adaptation to aerobic training.
  • Lower BMI (Body Mass Index) values were linked with better performances.
  • The nutritional analysis during the week of the race did not present any differences.
  • No differences in oral health, as opposite to other studies that found relationships between poor oral health and sport performance.
  • No differences between finisher and non-finisher athletes regarding perceived stress or mental health in general.

 

Conclusions

  • COMMON EFFECTS of an ultra-endurance mountain race: dehydration, lower systolic blood pressure, weight and leg strength muscle values and an increase of heart rate.
  • FINISHERS vs. NON-FINISHERS: lower values of systolic blood pressure, weight, BMI, marathon time and fluid intake before competition day in the finishers group.
  • PREDICTORS OF PERFORMANCE: BMI, pre-race hydration, and performance in lower distance races could be used as indicators of performance and help to improve training schedule and nutritional/psychological interventions.

 

Bibliography

Multidisciplinary Analysis of Differences Between Finisher and Non-finisher Ultra-Endurance Mountain Athletes. Belinchón-deMiguel P, Tornero-Aguilera JF, Dalamitros AA, Nikolaidis PT, Rosemann T, Knechtle B, Clemente-Suárez VJ. Front Physiol. 2019; 10: 1507. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2019.01507

Canfranc station, start and finish of the Ultra Canfranc-Canfranc (Photo by Marc Pascual)

MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (XXV) – Barcelona 1992: HWANG YOUNG-CHO (1970-)

Hwang Young-Cho crossing the finish line (Photo by Chris Cole/Allsport)

After several attempts, Barcelona finally hosted the Summer Olympics of 1992.

In men athletics, Fermin Cacho won the 1500 metres beating the overwhelming favourite, Morocco´s Noureddine Morceli. Doing so he earnt Spain’s first-ever Olympic gold medal in a running event.

The men´s marathon was to be the last event of these Olympics. The course was point-to-point. It was mostly flat until kilometre 25, but later it became tougher, as runners had to get to the Olympic Stadium in Montjuic, at 147 metres above sea level. In the women´s marathon, using the same course one week earlier, Valentina Yegorova had won the gold for Russia in 2.32.41.

Scheduled on August 9th at 18.30, 112 athletes were ready for one of the toughest Olympic marathon courses yet. Europe and Africa were well represented, with 36 and 32 runners respectively.  Among the marathoners present were the top 5 finalists in Seoul 1988 and the top 4 of the last World Athletics Championships, celebrated in Tokyo in 1991. Besides these potentially “favourites”, other nations that couldn´t qualify any athlete below the 2h16m threshold could register one runner each.

Hwang Young-Cho was born in Samcheok, South Korea. He moved to the marathon in 1991, after winning the Seoul Marathon at his debut in the distance. On that same year he won also the marathon´s gold in the Universiade. Already in 1992, he finished second in his next marathon attempt, in the Beppu Oita Marathon, in Japan. Just behind Mexican Dionisio Ceron (2.08.36), Hwang clocked a PB of 2.08.47, setting a new national record and getting a spot in the South Korean team. He was young and arrived at Barcelona with his sight on fighting for the medal positions.

Once the marathon started runners, aware of the difficult course and warm conditions, decided to take things easy. The 10k was crossed in 31.59, a similar time to the 31.55 run in the Olympics of Helsinki 1952. The lead pack had still 50 runners! At the front was Hwang, accompanied by the Japanese Koichi Morishita. Alongside a lot of familiar faces from Seoul 1988: Gelindo Bordin, gold for Italy, Douglas Wakiihuri, silver for Kenya and Hussein Ahmed Salah, bronze for Djibouti, among others.

The pace didn´t fasten much yet. The halfway point was reached in 1.07.22 with a group of 30 runners remaining at the front pack. At the 22.5k drinks station one of the Japanese runners, Hiromi Taniguchi, tangled and fell, losing a shoe. Bordin, just behind, managed to save him, but strained a muscle and was out of the race. The dream of repeating his victory from Seoul 1988 was over, and his marathon career too, as he retired immediately after Barcelona.

With the course entering Barcelona the number of spectators grew. By the 30k (1.34.42) positions were not clear yet. Several runners, mainly Asian, were still together. Getting to the 35k Morishita and Hwang had opened a gap of 11s with German runner Stephan Freigang, and a further 4s with Japanese runner, Takeyushi Nakayama, and Italian Salvatore Bettiol. It was time to ascend Montjuic. Its hard slopes could determine who was the strongest among them.

Hwang and Morishita raced side by side, crossing the 40k in 2.06.33. Taking advantage of a short and flat tunnel section Hwang managed to open finally a 20 metres gap. Behind them a similar duel was taking place between Freigang and Nakayama.

Thus, Hwang entered the stadium to the cheering crowds and claimed his deserved gold medal in 2.13.23. Morishita, entering 22s behind him, had to settle for the silver medal. After them, in a sprint finish, Freigang got the bronze, only 2s ahead of Nakayama, that was out of the podium again, after been fourth also in Seoul 1988. Nobody had been so close to the medals as Nakayama.

Despite the hard steeps of Montjuic, the second half of the marathon had been faster than the first one. From the 112 runners that started the marathon, 87 finished it, with 37 doing so under the 2.20.00 threshold. Because of the closing ceremony was scheduled at 21.15, only 2h and 45 minutes into the race, five athletes had to be redirected to an alternative finish line, just outside the Olympic Stadium.

Hwang Young-Cho won the second gold medal in marathon for South Korea, although he was the first in achieving Olympic glory under his own flag. As we already told in a previous post, Sohn Kee-Chung won in Berlin 1936 competing for Japan, as Korea was under Japanese occupation.

After Barcelona Hwang did not compete much. He placed fourth in Boston 1994, improving his PB to 2.08.09, and won the Asian Games title. Injured, he failed to classify into the South Korean team for Atlanta 1996, and decided to retire when he was only 26 years old.

Neither the other two medallists, Morishita nor Freigang, were able to shine in the international marathon scene after Barcelona 1992. Even when they had been the youngest medallists´ trio since the Olympics of Paris in 1900.

Our next Olympic stop will be Atlanta 1996, where a new set of marathoners was eager for Olympic glory.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1992_Summer_Olympics

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hwang_Young-cho

https://www.olympic.org/young-cho-hwang

“The Olympic Marathon”, DE Martin & RWH Gynn. Human Kinetics, 2000.

Official Barcelona 1992 logo
Monument to Hwang Young-Cho located in front of the Barcelona Olympic Stadium
Hwang Young-Cho and Koichi Morishita running side by side

KENYA vs. ETHIOPIA: WHICH IS THE BEST MARATHON COUNTRY?

To answer this difficult question, we have checked historical records and considered the following marathons and achievements:

  • World-record (WR) performances.
  • Olympic Games and World Athletics Championships marathons: first 5 places.
  • World Marathon Majors Series, comprising Boston, Chicago, New York, London, Berlin and Tokyo: first 3 positions.

Although the Majors Series only started per se in 2006 we have considered all available results.

Marathon comparison: Kenya vs. Ethiopia

MEN

WR

For Kenya, 5 different runners have broken the WR, all of them in the Berlin Marathon: Paul Tergat (2003), Patrick Musyoki (2011), Wilson Kipsang (2013), Dennis Kimetto (2014) and Eliud Kipchoge (2018).

For Ethiopia, Abebe Bikila did it twice, to win the gold medal in the Olympics of Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964, while Haile Gebrselassie did it consecutively in the Berlin Marathons of 2007 and 2008. Additionally, Belayneh Dinsamo broke the WR in Rotterdam in 1988.

Both countries have broken the WR 5 times: TIE

OLYMPICS

Kenya has won two Olympic gold medals: Samuel Wanjiru in Beijing 2008 and Eliud Kipchoge in Rio 2016. There also 3 silvers, 2 bronzes and a 5th place.

As mentioned previously, Ethiopia won the Olympics of Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964 with Abebe Bikila. In 1968 Ethiopia got a third consecutive victory with Mamo Wolde in Mexico 1968. Ethiopia´s latest victory was with Gezahegne Abera in Sydney 2000. Additionally, they have 1 silver, 2 bronzes and a 4th place.

Although both countries have been very successful at Olympic level: Ethiopia WINS in this section.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

Kenya has won the title in 5 occasions, with Ethiopia winning it only in 2. In total numbers Kenya added 3 silvers, 1 bronze and 1 5th place, while Ethiopia added 5 silvers, 3 bronzes and 3 4th places.

Considering only victories, Kenya is ahead, although Ethiopia compensates considering its results globally. We consider it a TIE.

WORLD MARATHON MAJORS

It is in this section that there is the biggest difference of them all.

Kenya has won 94 Majors since its first victory in 1983, with a total of 253 podium positions. And the impressive numbers don´t finish here. Since 1987 a Kenyan athlete has won at least one of the Marathon Majors every year. Furthermore, in 2007, 2014 and 2017, Kenya won 5 of the 6 annual Majors. In the 40 years going from 1981 to 2020 there has been 206 Major Marathons: Kenya has won a 45.6% of them.  His best athlete in this section has been Eliud Kipchoge, winning by himself a total of 7 Majors, and breaking the WR in Berlin 2018.

Ethiopia has won a “mere” total of 24 Majors. The best athlete in these events has been Haile Gebrselassie, winner of 4 consecutive editions of the Berlin Marathon between 2006 and 2009, breaking twice the WR.

Winner in this section: Kenya WINS.

 

OVERALL RESULT MEN

Despite the Olympic advantage of Ethiopia, and because of the massive difference in the World Marathon Majors section, KENYA would be the WINNER of this marathon duel in male category. 

Some of the best marathon runners from Kenya

WOMEN

WR

Kenya has broken the WR in 4 occasions: Tegla Loroupe did it twice (1998 and 1999), Catherine Ndereba (2001) and Brigid Kosgei (2019).

No Ethiopian woman has broken the WR yet.

Kenya WINS clearly this section.

OLYMPICS

Women´s marathon only entered the Olympics in Los Angeles 1984. Both countries have won one Olympic title: Tiki Gelana did so for Ethiopia in London 2012 while Jemima Sumgong did the same for Kenya in Rio 2016.

Kenya also got 3 silver medals (Catherine Ndereba in 2004 and 2008, and Priscah Jeptoo in 2012) for 0 of Ethiopia. They have similar 3rd and 4th places, with Kenya having a 5th place.

Although tied in victories, due to the number of top 5 positions, Kenya WINS.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

Kenya has won 5 titles. Catherine Ndereba (2003 and 2007) and Edna Kiplagat (2011 and 2013) did it twice, while Ruth Chepngetich won the last title in 2019.

Ethiopia has won only 1 world title: Mare Dibaba in 2015.

Additionally, Kenya could count also with 4 silver medals against 0 for Ethiopia-

Kenya WINS clearly this section also.

WORLD MARATHON MAJORS

Not as markedly as with the men but there are also important differences in this section.

Kenya has won 53 Majors since its first victory in 1994 and occupied the podium 144 times. The country has had many top athletes over the years: Mary Keitany has 7 victories until now, the same number of triumphs than Eliud Kipchoge. We could also highlight Catherine Ndereba with 6 victories and Joyce Chepchumba with 5. Kenya has won a 25.7% of the Marathon Majors from 1981, but considering only the last 25 years, from 1995 to 2020, the percentage of Kenyan victories is 38.4% (as there were no many Kenyan women participating previously).

Meanwhile Ethiopia has won 35 Majors in women, for a total of 99 podium positions. The best athletes in these events are Aberu Kebede, with 4 victories, and Fatuma Roba with 3. It looks that Ethiopian women has been less consistent in these Majors over the years.

Winner in this section: Kenya WINS.

OVERALL RESULT WOMEN

With more difference than in the men´s marathon, Kenyan women rules over her neighbours from Ethiopia, dominating in every marathon section.

KENYA would be the WINNER of this marathon duel in female category.

Some of the best marathon runners from Ethiopia

FINAL REMARKS

Despite the highest population of Ethiopia when compared to Kenya, and the big names of some well-known Ethiopian athletes, Kenya wins in the comparison at both, men and women levels.

Some Ethiopian figures such as Abebe Bikila and Mamo Wolde competed in a time where many athletes uniquely focused on Olympic events, taking place every 4 years.

Additionally, more recent runners such as Haile Gebreselassie or Kenenisa Bekele, or even Eliud Kipchoge, only moved to the marathon distance later in his careers, at 29, 32 and 28 years old, after impressive careers in shorter distances.

The most important duel in sight should be the Olympics of Tokyo 2021, although nobody knows if an unexpected rival decides to take the crown and start writing a new chapter of this history.

See you soon.

WHAT MAKES ETHIOPIAN AND KENYAN LONG-DISTANCE RUNNERS TO STAND OUT?

Kenyan runners Geoffrey Mutai and Dennis Kimetto at the Berlin Marathon 2012

For quite some time runners from Kenya and Ethiopia have shone in athletics at international level, especially in long-distance running events, such as the marathon.

From Olympics to World Championships their success has been unquestionable. But, is there anything that makes them stand out from their opponents?

With this post we start a special about Kenyan and Ethiopian runners. In this one we will explore the different factors that could give them that “advantage”.

 

Genetics

Most successful athletes come from ethnic subgroups within their respective countries. The Arsi, in Ethiopia, and the Kalenjin, in Kenya.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is uniquely maternally inherited and allows to determine the ancestry lines by studying specific sections of the chromosomes called haplogroups.

Investigating the genetic ancestry of the elite East African runners no genetic differences were found that could explain their success. Kenyan and Ethiopian populations were not genetically isolated in East Africa during evolution. The typically Eurasian haplogroups M and R were present at a frequency of 10% in Kenya compared with 45% in Ethiopia.

Regarding some performance-enhancing genes appear two candidates:

  • The angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), with two alleles:
    • L – associated with endurance performance and altitude tolerance
    • D – associated with power performance
  • The alpha-actinin-3 (ACTN3) gene, associated with physical performance.

However, no differences were observed between elite runners and the general population. Thus, it looks that genetics would not be the reason behind Kenyan and Ethiopian runners’ success.

 

Maximal Oxygen Uptake (VO2max)

It has been postulated that extensive walking and running from an early age could enhance VO2max. 86% of Kenyan and 68% of Ethiopian international-level runners run to school as children, with distances up to 20 kilometres.

Comparing VO2max from Kenyan with Scandinavian or German elite runners at sea level no differences were observed. Once again it looks that VO2max would be unable to explain these runners’ success.

 

Running efficiency

The Kenyans are characterized by long, slender legs that are typical of central and southern African tribes. The Ethiopians, in contrast, have physical characteristics from northern Africa with some European and Middle Eastern physical traits:  more light-skinned, shorter and with a greater thigh circumference than Kenyans.

Kenyan runners could benefit from these differences by being more “mechanically efficient”.

Maybe running efficiency is a contributing factor for these runners, especially Kenyans.

 

Blood composition and skeletal muscle fibres composition

No differences were observed when comparing these characteristics between elite runners of these nationalities and other ethnic backgrounds.

 

Traditional diets

Traditional Kenyan diet is composed of 10% protein, 13% fat, and 77% carbohydrate, a composition consistent with recommendations for endurance-sport athletes. Carbohydrate comes from vegetables, fruit, rice, unrefined sugar and a traditional maize dish, ugali, with very high glycaemic index. Also, they use a traditional tea, called chai, immediately after training and with their meals. Its high glycaemic index helps to recover glycogen stores.

Traditional Ethiopian diet is composed of 13% protein, 23% fat, and 64% carbohydrate. The carbohydrates come from vegetables, fruit, rice, bread, pasta, and unrefined sugar.

These diets do not appear to be very different from the training diets of most of their competitors. It doesn´t look that they would give Kenyan any distinctive competitive advantage.

 

Living and training at altitude

Most of the successful runners from Kenyan and Ethiopia were raised at an elevation of approximately 2000 to 2500 metres in Eastern Africa. They “live high” and “train high”. Other nationalities´ athletes do training periods at altitude but seem unable to do it consistently for long periods without breaking down.

So chronic altitude residence and moderate-volume/high-intensity altitude training could contribute somehow to their exceptional performances? Although it doesn´t explain why other countries such as Nepal or Bolivia don’t produce also so many great runners.

 

Motivation to achieve economic success

Kenya and Ethiopia still show high levels of unemployment and people living below the World Health Organization poverty line. Success in distance running is a way of economical and societal progress for them and their families. Economic success was the primary reason for training and competition for a third of Kenya´s elite runners.

Thus, motivation could join the reasons behind Kenyan and Ethiopian success.

 

In summary, Kenyan and Ethiopian distance-running success appears to be the result of a series of favourable characteristics:

  • exceptional biomechanical and metabolic economy/efficiency,
  • chronic exposure to altitude in combination with moderate-volume/high-intensity training (live high + train high),
  • and a strong psychological motivation for economic and social advancement.

 

Bibliography

Kenyan and Ethiopian Distance Runners: What Makes Them so Good? Wilber RL & Pitsiladis YP. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, (2012), 7(2), 92-102.

A runner at the EVERY ONE race in Ethiopia (Photo by Great Ethiopian Run)

Book: CON LOS PIES SOBRE EL ASFALTO (Itziar Matamoros, 2019, 240 pages)

The story of Ramiro Matamoros, known as the “king of popular races”.

As added to the title itself, we have a biography of the runner Ramiro Matamoros, written by his own daughter Itziar, journalist and writer.

It is a very easy to read book, written from a close distance. It surely contributes that his own daughter writes it. Hence the number of funny anecdotes that populate its pages. On the other hand, the fast and direct style contributes to making it a “quick” book that can be read almost in one go. In addition, it is structured in 42 kilometres/chapters in a nod to the marathon distance.

Summarizing, the book tells us who Ramiro Matamoros is. For whom is not familiar with his name, he was one of the best Spanish runners for more than two decades: from the late 70s until well into the 90s. His multiple victories gave him the nickname of “king of popular races”.

For Spanish runners around 50 years old, his name was a constant in the media. However, for those of us who are a little younger and who did not get to compete in “their time”, this book brings us closer to one of the most interesting characters in the Spanish running world. As in so many places, “the running boom” changed running from an activity for a minority to a “mass sport”.

Ramiro Matamoros was born in a small village in Ávila, Navarrevisca, in 1957. We follow his footsteps as a child until he moves to Madrid for working reasons. He started running by chance, and without counting on the means of other athletes who were exclusively dedicated to running, he began to compete with great success, while combining his work as a snack’s deliveryman for a well-known brand. Hence comes another of his nicknames as “king of the potato chips.”

Throughout the book we follow his sporting and family steps, accompanied by his inseparable wife Begoña, and numerous family and friends throughout the country and beyond.

Among his most outstanding achievements he won the San Silvestre Vallecana Popular in its first edition, in 1978, competing the next day in the San Silvestre for elite athletes, where he finished among the top 20. He won this race on 6 other occasions, the last time in 1994.

In the marathon distance, he won the 1985 Valencia Marathon in debut in the distance, and the 1986 Madrid Popular Marathon (he was also second in 1994). In turn, he participated also in the Chicago and New York marathons.

However, injuries impeded him greater successes. These in combination with long working hours, without following adequate food and rest, that other athletes without such demanding work requirements could afford, possibly deprived us of who could have been one of the best Spanish athletes in history. To have an idea his best times were:

  • 000: 29’11’’,
  • half marathon: 1h03’49’’,
  • marathon 2h16’56’’ (when the Spanish national record was 2h11’10’’)

He had a highly competitive level, although after his injury he left, suddenly and without warning, to stop being part of the group of the best.

The book introduces us to other well-known and successful athletes and friends of him, such as Fabián Roncero or Abel Antón, among many others. They give also some valuable opinions.

Once the injuries separated him from racing, he found his motivation, once again unexpectedly, in two projects linked to athletics: the Athletic Club of Alcobendas (later on San Sebastián de los Reyes)/Clínica Menorca, and the group Correr en Rosa (Run in Pink), to bring sports practice closer to breast and ovarian cancer patients.

In short, a highly recommended book to understand how amateur athletics and life was, and in which many runners of a certain age can see themselves reflected. And not least, also the portrait of a mythical figure in the Spanish popular scene: Ramiro Matamoros, the “king of popular races” and the “king of potato chips”.

We finish with one of the last sentences of the book:

“He doesn’t know if he has been a good athlete, but what he sure did achieve was being a person who lived true to his personality. Not thinking about what they will say, but looking at all costs for his happiness and of those around him”.

To find more information about the book and the author:

https://conlospiessobreelasfalto.com/