3. Here Come the Kenyans

Everybody knew Kenyans could run. Nobody knew they could run like this.

Patrick Makau en route to setting a new a new world marathon record, 2:03:38, at the Berlin Marathon

Patrick Makau en route to setting a new a new world marathon record, 2:03:38, at the Berlin Marathon     Photo: Dirk Ingo Franke/Wikimedia

It’s no news that Kenyans win marathons, but 2011 presented something unprecedented in the sport: A Kenyan man dropped the course record at each of the year’s five major marathons, often by hard-to-believe margins, four Kenyans ran under Haile Gebrselassie’s old world record of 2:03:59, and Kenyan woman swept all six of medal positions in the marathon and 10,000 meters at the world championships, something no country has ever accomplished. 

Two things are happening: First, men’s marathon running has become more competitive, thanks to dwindling opportunities for distance track racers, a shift in training philosophies, and a belief that the marathon can be raced more aggressively thanks to Sammy Wanjiru. Second, economic development in Kenya and the advent of government-funded primary and secondary school education have begun to boost Kenyan women’s opportunities to pursue running as a career.

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