Malcolm Gladwell riffs on comments in Sports Illustrated by Alberto Salazar where Salazar theorizes that Kenya’s dominance in distance running is largely due to the massive numbers of kids running big miles at an early age.
We’ve always known that running is culturally important in Kenya, in a way it isn’t anywhere else in the world. But these are staggering numbers. A million 10 to 17 year olds running 10 to 12 miles a day? I’m guessing the United States doesn’t have more than 5,000 or so boys in that age bracket logging that kind of mileage. 70 miles a week is an enormous amount of running–even for an adult. I ran middle distance at a nationally competitive level as a teenager, and never got close to 70 miles a week.
The numbers game makes sense to me. While there may be some genetic advantages for distance running associated with being Kenyan, it still takes a tremendous amount of training to reach international dominance. That’s where the numbers game comes into play.