Africans vs. Western Runners:
Part 5: Putting theory into practice.

Over the last four blog’s I’ve tried to point out some of the differences between high level African runners and American runners. Let’s briefly look back at some of the lessons that we’ve learned.

Basic Speed- Basic speed is good for Africans, but not out of this world. Our athletes have comparable basic speed.

Specific Endurance- Our athletes do not preserve that basic speed as well, especially from 400m to 1,500m.

Kick- Africans can finish faster because they are essentially running at a steady state for much of the race and then have the ability to summon up their anaerobic capacity much more so than we can.

That’s a very brief refresher of some of the topics I’ve covered over the past series. Next let’s see what the implications of these observations are, and how they apply to an American runner.

MaxLass- Implications for the American Runner:
The main theory of why some Africans can create this MaxLass (maximum Lactate Steady State) at such fast speeds is the amount of general endurance work they have. There huge background lays the foundation on which to develop the specific work. While, the specific work is often what we all look towards when analyzing a training program, it is important to remember that it is just one step.


What that means is that because of a Kenyans active lifestyle and natural training, he has a much greater foundation on which to build. We are not just talking about running to school, although that would certainly help. We are talking about the active lifestyle that comes from growing up in their society.

It is this foundation that allows many Kenyan athletes to come out of seemingly no where. Most of our initial reactions are to point out how talented the athlete must be to come from almost no where to world beater with only a bit of formalized training. However, we completely forget about or ignore the natural training that was done.

Look no further than one of America’s best runners for evidence of this. Alan Webb established a huge level of general fitness and general endurance via competitive swimming and other athletic activities when he was younger. Because of this general fitness, it was with relatively little specific running training that he was able to set a then national sophomore record in the mile.

So what do we do?
In order to create a MaxLass, we need a very high level of general endurance, a high lactate threshold, and good strength endurance. In order to bridge this gap of lacking general endurance/training, we need to focus on a couple of things. Let’s look at physiologically what we are trying to do:

1. lower lactate at race pace.
2. maintain/increase max lactate at the end of race.

The first goal is to establish a larger foundation of general endurance and general strength. Without this foundation, you are not going to get as much bang for your buck with the specific work. Without the general foundation you can NOT convert it to specific endurance or strength endurance. So how do we establish general fitness without completely changing our culture and how our athletes grow up?

Work at the extremes in High School or during the base period. That means lots of easy to steady running, high end aerobic workout combined with neuromuscular work such as short sprints, hill sprints, and cruise 100s-200s. These extremes will provide a base or foundation of work on which to build upon. In addition, general strength work should be added gradually to the program. That should serve as the basis of the HS athletes training. Obviously, our HS athletes are still trying to run fast and they can run very fast off of almost exclusively that kind of stuff, but small spices of faster/specific work will do wonders at that level. In addition small periods of emphasis on specific work are to expected, but the key is not to spend 4 months doing specific track work for a HS. You’re doing the specific work with no foundation of general stuff on which to work.

For the non-HS kid how do you increase general endurance while still racing well? Modulate things. Focus on general endurance with small spices of faster work. Have specific blocks where you spend a couple weeks on specific work. Or, during the competitive season, have small blocks of what I call an “aerobic refresh,” where you revisit that general endurance work for a short period of time. In addition, add general strength and sprint work almost year round.

After general fitness is established:
The goal is to slowly be able to integrate and handle more and more specific or almost specific work over time. The goal is to have more diversity from recovery up to sprint work in the program instead of just straight easy mileage and straight hard intervals. That being said, once general endurance is improved where do we go to reach our goal of lowering lactate at race pace?

If we look at how Canova’s athletes went from having steadily increasing lactate levels to steady ones, we get a blueprint of where to go. We have to convert that general endurance to strength and specific endurance.
Thankfully, I’ve covered both topics before, so check that out.

Specific Endurance:

Strength Endurance:
Part 1-

Part 2-

You CAN NOT progress to the above without a couple things:
1. A HIGH level of general endurance
2. A high level of general strength.

What do you get when you combine them………a high level of strength endurance.

But what is general strength? Well, that will require another post, but for now it can be thought of non specific strength work. That includes anything from body weight exercises, to running easy uphills, to even sprinting.

Next, we’ll cover kick development.

Get My New Guide on: The Science of Creating Workouts


    1. Alex on March 2, 2009 at 10:03 pm

      This blog just keeps getting better, hopefully your training lets you do the same. Best of luck and thanks!!!

    2. Anonymous on March 3, 2009 at 4:15 pm

      steve any chance you can talk about the GS Raczko has you doing each week and how it progresses throughout the season? Just an idea for a future post

      Awesome stuff so far, good luck this season!

    3. Anonymous on March 5, 2009 at 2:34 am

      Great information-keep it up and good luck to you man.

    Leave a Reply