Endurance athlete Dr Andrew Murray yesterday completed an epic journey across East Africa in search of the secrets behind what he labels “the single greatest, most concentrated production line of world-class talent in sport”.
Dr Murray, along with former Royal Marine Commando Donnie Campbell, ran up and down the 5,895metre / 19,341feet Mount Kilimanjaro in a day, did the same with 4,985 metre Point Lenana, running over 50km at significant altitude every single day for 18 consecutive days and over 900km in total, traversing national parks, tropical rainforests as well as running and spending time with the athletes and coaches that make Kenya the pre-eminent force in middle and long-distance running globally.
Murray, a Sports Medicine doctor with the sportscotland institute of sport, also spent time with Olympic and World Champions such as John Ngugi, Yobes Ondieki, and Edna Kiplagat, as well as experts including Colm O’Connell, who has coached over 20 world champions.
Additionally, he observed the 2013 Kenyan World Championship trials, where Olympic and World champions like Ezekiel Kemboi and Linet Masai both finished sixth, behind emerging stars.
At the last Athletics World Championships, in Daegu 2011, Kenyan athletes won a remarkable 17 medals, with 11 of those going to athletes resident in Iten, a village of only 4,000 people.
Murray, 32, from Aberdeen, said:
“Running Mt Kilimanjaro and covering fairly chunky distances each day at considerable altitude is difficult, but applying knowledge from the Kenyan champions, and the experts at sportscotland made it a fair bit easier. Seeing buffalo at close quarters also makes you run faster.”
“Given Kenyan athletes are so dominant in middle and long-distance running, people assume there is a genetic link to success and that you have to be from Kenya or East Africa to be successful in these events.”
“Neither myself nor any experts I spoke to can find any truth in this. There is no secret. It’s about doing absolutely everything right, coupled with a determination to succeed.”
“Scottish athletes can win gold in Glasgow 2014 and Rio 2016 by making ‘being the best’ the clear focus of their ambitions, involving the right expertise, and learning lessons from these world-beaters. It was great to see the Scottish team enjoy our most successful British trials for 25 years.”
John Ngugi, a five-time World Champion, and Olympic Champion, who now coaches leading prospects, added:
“It is not easy to be the best. It is necessary to be disciplined, to eat well, and to train hard with no excuses. My moto is ‘train hard and fight easy’ – if you have trained hard the race will be easier. Scottish runners can win also, if they do these things.”
Edna Kiplagat, the current World Marathon champion, stated:
“Discipline, determination, and heart are key factors in achieving success. Eating well and being dedicated are also important.”
Colm O’Connell added:
“Most of the Kenyan champions come from poor, rural backgrounds, and there are many fine, dedicated athletes here, but the UK dominated middle-distance running for a while, with Coe, Ovett, Cram, and Scotland’s Tom McKean, while British Cycling have shown a talented group, all doing well.”