Running in East Africa

At the last three Olympic Games, athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia have won two-thirds of all gold medals in the running disciplines from 800m upwards. The rest of the world, with all its facilities and sports science, cannot come close to matching the runners from East Africa. In marathons, the dominance has been even more pronounced over the last 20 years. So what is the secret? Well, the answer is that there is probably not the one big secret, but a whole bunch of factors that all combine to form the perfect recipe for the continuous growth of top long-distance runners. Firstly, all the major training centres such as Iten, Kaptagat and Eldoret in Kenya or Bekoji and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia are located at high altitude where the thin air makes running difficult. This is an obvious training advantage, and elite runners from all nations spend part of their year at altitude to improve the capacity of their lungs to become faster and more enduring. But the benefits of being born and raised at altitude, like most East African athletes, are even greater. If you ask Kenyans and Ethiopians why they are so good, they are sure to tell you how far they ran to and from school every day.
If you watch top East African runners in a race, they seem to glide and barely touch the ground. The top East African runners almost invariably come from rural backgrounds where they had to herd cattle, fetch water or dig the soil after running to and from school every day. This tough upbringing gives them the basic fitness and strength. In other countries around the world, there are certainly equally talented runners who have had a tough, rural upbringing at altitude. But for them, running is not necessarily a real career or life option. In some places in Kenya, Ethiopia or Uganda, however, running is the only option.

About High-Altitude Training

Training at high altitude – usually between approx. 1’700 and 3’000 meters above sea level – is like legal doping, thanks to its ability to boost oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Most coaches recommend spending at least two weeks at this altitude, but it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition: Even if you’ve got only a week to spare, training in the mountains can trigger physical and mental benefits that may last for several weeks after you return to sea level. Attending a one-week camp, away from the demands of everyday life, with elite coaching and a rejuvenating change of scenery, could do a runner as much good as the altitude itself. Even short stints at altitude offer an advantage because the lack of oxygen makes the training feel harder. You can push hard and learn to tolerate greater discomfort without the added stress on your joints and muscles that would result from running faster or farther at sea level. Best of all, there is some evidence that non-elite athletes, who have lower levels of hemoglobin to start with, may experience an even a bigger and quicker boost than elite endurance athletes do.

Our High-Altitude Training Camps

We conduct training camps at Yaya Athletics Village in Sululta, near Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, at an altitude of 2’700 meters above sea level. The camps are targeted to individual athletes and groups of all levels and include accommodation, food, running guides and the use of facilities such as gym, steam bath, sauna, horse riding, football fields, running lanes and more.
You will follow the training plans that lie behind Ethiopia’s running success stories, meet some of the world’s best distance athletes (usually also Haile Gebre Selassie) and talk to recognized experts on the subject.
Whether you are a beginner that needs a full training schedule or an experienced runner looking only for a few key tips, you can count on our experienced staff and our running guides who can show you the best trails and will help you pace your interval workouts if required. While you are free to chose the duration of your stay at the training camp we recommend at least 2-3 weeks in order to have a good benefit from the altitude. We usually schedule the training camps 4-6 weeks before the spring and autumn marathon seasons in Europe / USA.