In the first part of this article, we learned about how the unique culture, climate, and attitude of Kenya contributes to their superb distance running abilities. We also accepted that we aren’t going to magically become as talented as a Kenyan simply by doing as they do (they say imitation is the highest form of flattery). However, we did point out four things that Kenyans do when training that you can apply to your own. We’re back today with four more points that will help you improve your form, your speed, and help prevent injury.
Mix it Up. Kenyan runners are constantly changing their runs. Even if you don’t have that luxury, there are things you can do. Try to run on soft surfaces and not concrete all the time. If you usually run on a sidewalk on the left side of the road, run on the right side. Do long, slow runs. Do short sprint workouts. It’s similar to lifting weights, you need to change things consistently if you expect your body to adapt and improve.
Diagonals. Scott Douglas, a senior editor of Running Times, also traveled to Kenya to learn about their training methods. He discovered that Kenyans often do a specific drill called diagonals. You can do it too, and it’s pretty easy. Head to a public high school and hit the soccer or football field. Run slowly along a goal line. When you reach the other end, run at 80% of your top speed diagonally across the field to the other corner of the goal line. Repeat, running in a crisscrossing pattern on the field. Make sure you stay relaxed and pay attention to how you can run faster by relaxing. Focus on form for both the slow and fast stretches. Do this for a set time period, like 30 minutes. It teaches good form at all speeds and is widely used drill to teach runners how to “kick” at the end of a race. Your goal is to learn how to run fast, loose, and with good form – and how it feels.
Hills. Sorry. The Rift Valley is appropriately named, and the mentality of Kenyan runners is to attack those hills. The attitude of most recreational runners is to ease up on hills and take it slow. Unfortunately, the only way to get better at hill running is to keep doing it. You will not like it, but keep a positive attitude. The more you do it, the more you will improve. Hill workouts are one of the best ways to improve your endurance.
Real Warm-ups. Mose people skip warm-ups, or warm up too quickly. When I was younger, my coaches typically started either with a stretch, or about a mile of running at a slow pace before we actually started our practice. Kenyans actually blend their warm-up into their run. They start out and run several miles at a slow pace, gradually increasing their speed. Suddenly, they are on a tempo run. This is a great way to warm-up. If you’re not feeling well that day – stay slow. If you are, keep increasing your speed. Kenyans also work form drills into their warm-ups (such as diagonals). While they never lose the natural gait humans are born with, they also actively practice their form.
To wrap things up: If Kenyans are the best runners in the world, and they actively practice their form, then there is no reason that you and I shouldn’t take cues from them. So run more, work in a long, slow warm-up, incorporate hills, do drills, and know that even still – you’ll probably never run like a Kenyan. And that’s okay. You’ll still improve a ton, enjoy running more, and stay healthier.