Boost your endurance running by emulating the world’s best running nation, says Phil Mosley.

It’s hard not to notice how brilliant Kenyans are at running. Each year hundreds of them run sub-2:15 for a marathon, whereas in the UK that same figure is usually in the single digits. Clearly they’re doing something we’re not, but what is it? Here are some of the simple lessons you can learn from them.

Run softly, softly

Kenya doesn’t have the same network of roads and pavements as the UK, and so nearly all of their running is done on dirt trails. It’s less harsh on your legs and means you can rack up more mileage without succumbing to unnecessary soreness and injury. There’s no benefit in making a run feel hard for the sake of it. If you can reduce impact stress by running on trails, you’ll recover quicker too.

Go hard, go easy or go home

There’s not a lot of middle ground in a Kenyan’s training. They’ll either be running fast or tempo efforts (around three times per week) or else racking up huge mileage by running two or three times per day at a surprisingly slow pace. This builds them a great base of endurance, while leaving them fresh enough to hit the key sessions hard. Adopting this approach should save you wasting time on ‘junk miles’.

Train together

Kenya’s training Mecca is a small town north west of Nairobi called Iten. Many European and American athletes have been there to train, and they’ll tell you that it’s very unusual to see a Kenyan running alone. Whether it’s a speed session or an easy run, you’ll always see them in big groups. We all know that running with others can make a hard run seem easier. Kenyans always use this to their advantage.

Get the best of the rest

Kenyan runners are great at minimising any stress outside of training. They have regular naps and go to bed early. They have a culture where relaxing is encouraged, and not seen as laziness. They eat a simple, healthy diet of meat and vegetables from local organic farms and their main source of carbohydrate is a dish called ugali, made from cornmeal. Even 2012 Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m gold medal winner Mo Farah eats it when he’s training with Kenyans.

Start slow

African runners, not just the Kenyans, are great at warming up gently. The first mile of any run is done at a snail’s pace, and then the pace builds very gradually over the next few. The idea is to ease the body into the rigours of running, giving the muscles a chance to heat up and become more elastic, and for the blood to get pumping around the working muscles. It’s a fact that warm muscles work more efficiently than cold ones.

Run more

Unfortunately there’s no magic formula that will turn you into a world-class runner overnight. Kenyans earn their speed by consistently running two or three times per day, often over long distances. They’ve built up to this volume over a period of years, and they can sustain it because they incorporate all of the other advice within this feature (running on trails, having a good diet, getting lots of sleep). In other words, they’re clever about how they do things, so that they minimise any needless stress on the body.

Make it work for you

Session 1: tempo hills

You don’t need the famous Kenyan altitude to mimic their hard hill sessions. After an easy warm-up jog to a long, gradual hill (that takes you five or six minutes to get up), do 3-4 hill reps at tempo pace (Zone 4 – see page 12) with a jog back down to recover.

Session 2: group speed

Use friendly competition to build speed with a group fartlek session. Take it in turns to shout “Go!” for intervals of varying lengths and intensities.