Sunday, 6 September 2009

Glasgow Running Seminar 2009 Part 1

Glasgow Athletics Association, in conjunction with Glasgow University, organised the Glasgow Running Seminar 2009, and I was privileged to attend it yesterday
In 2009, the fifth anniversary of the first East African Running Conference held in May 2004 will be celebrated, and the focus is once again on East African Running.

The presenters were to be:

*Professor Timothy D Noakes, MBChB, MD, DSc, FACSM: Founding Member: International Olympic Committee's Olympic Science Academy; Fellow: American College of Sports Medicine; 1992 Elected Fellow of the University of Cape Town for sustained excellence in original scientific work; 2001 Ministerial Commission into High Performance Sport in South Africa; Author; Lore of Running

*Dr Yannis Pitsiladis, FACSM: Research Scientist based in Glasgow who acts as Scientific Adviser to Global Sport Communications.

*Mr Tolosa Kotu Terfe: Former National Coach for Ethiopia. Has coached Meseret defar, Genzebe Dibaba. He "discovered" Kenenise Bekele and worked with Heille Gebresellaise for eight years.

*Dr Bezabih Wolde Hataou: Former Secretery of the Ethiopian Olympic Committee and the Ethiopian Athletics Federation. Dr Hataou has worked with Elite Athletes advising on injury rehabilitation, nutrition, providing physiotherapy and sport massage services.

Dr Hataou was a non-arrival but we were told that Tolosa Kotu Terfe would incorporate much of the content into his talk. Unfortunately the Ethiopian was a let down (IMO). He was intent on telling us more about himself in very rambling talk that was saved by Yannis Pitsilidis running his slides for him allowing us to take the "meat" of his talk down in notes.

The first speaker was Pitsilidis who hosted the event. He works in Glasgow Uni and his research has taken him on several visits to South and East Africa with PHd students. He also spoke at the previous Glasgow Seminar in 2004 where the (theoretical)genetic differences between the E. African elite runners and mere mortals with white skin was suggested as the reason for the huge gap in running standards.
His research has since taken him into contact with all the top runners who readily agreed to supply DNA for examination. The task - to find the performance gene. They have examined the general population in Kenya and Ethiopia as well as elite runners in 5k,10k, and marathon. They also examined the socio-economic circumstances of both the control and elite runners and their school travel habits! After all, it is said that the reason East Africans are so good is due to the aerobic base laid down by running to school.
To cut a long story short, they found that the DNA of all humans is 99.9% identical!
Scientists in Japan are in the process of examining the genome that will probably confirm the finding that there is NO genetic difference in these athletic types.(Examination of West African origin sprinters showed no genetic difference in them either!)

Yannis then went on to examine the school travel habits of the general population.
The general population were taken from the students of colleges and universities they were visiting who were not athletes. They found that 24% ran to school, 60% walked and the remaining 16% traveled by other means (car, bus, cycle).
In the elite athlete sample, 60% ran, 29%walked and 11% used transport. It was also noted that nearly all Kenyans and Ethiopians who were elite athletes lived in small areas at altitude. Indeed 80% of Kenyans were from the Rift Valley of whom 40% were from the village of Nandi and 80% were from one tribe: the Kalanjeni. (sp?)
He showed an amazing video clip of a 10 yr old boy running with a VO2max measuring mask and electronic gauge. This boy ran at 16km/hr before exhaustion came as he attempted 20Kph! He had no training background!
Older students who did the same test, again ran at fast pace of up to 20kph with no training background.
How could this be?
The answer was fairly simple. When asked how he could do it, the runner simply thought that was how you ran! This was a theme - faith in his own ability- that recurred later in the seminar. East Africans run that way because it is a natural instinct, born of evolution.
Mike Boit was interviewed as part of the research. His belief is that they are great runners due to:
Solid base;
High Altitude camps;
Non scientific approach - natural instinct;
Aerobic training;
Interval training (known to them as bone-breakers);
Altitude training different from western approach; (E.African athletes live at varying heights from 2,400m to 3,000m, but when they leave home to run they start by climbing even higher. They do drop down to do speedwork but generally the rule is "Live high, train higher) as opposed to our athlete's rule of "live high train low")
Cross country training;
African diet;
Non scientific approach to training (no drugs, supplements or technology) only high tech apparatus is a stopwatch - no Garmins!!!
Superior fatigue resistance.

As regards the diet,it is summarised as 86% vegetable, 14% animal and 77% carbohydrate. Much of the diet is maize (64%) eaten in the traditional form of Ugali.
Staple drink is tea.
Breakfast and dinner are eaten only after training (30 - 60 minutes after). (NB. In a later part of the seminar on hydration it is suggested that most of the fluid drunk each day should be taken with the main meal.)
It was noted (and again later in Tim Noake's presentation) that the E. Africans are so much lighter than their western counterparts. In 2006 it was noted that they were under eating by 9%. However their diet did include all the major micronutrients required to train effectively. They were NOT dehydrated.

One other point that Yannis made was that, in 2004 it was considered relevant that the lower leg morphology of the E.African was important in considering the superiority of their runners. That is to say very skinny legs. However that has been discredited in spectacular fashion. Just look at Bekele's legs!

Part two later.....
I apologise for an inaccuracies in this account. Blame my memory and handwriting!


WHW Runner said...

Fascinating stuff Davie. I was really interested to read that the DNA profile of most people is the same - it really backs up my view that the reason the Africans are better endurance runners is because they train better and eat better, with a bit of help from altitude. When a European is able to replicate this (such as Paula Radcliffe) then they are able to compete successfully. In a nutshell, I don't think our men work hard enough (and did a French runner not win a medal in the 3,000 SC at the recent world champs?)

Looking forward to part 2.

John Kynaston said...

Thanks Davie. I would have liked to have been there so to read your report was really good.

Thanks for taking the effort! Much appreciated.


Davie said...

No problem guys.
John, There was even a bit about faith, so keep reading.


The Sunday Adventure Club said...

really interesting, look forward to part 2, thanks for writing it up