Over the last decade, Ethiopian female runners have consistently
outperformed crushed non-African female distance runners. Yet, studies on the so-called ‘performance gene’ has failed to directly link genetics to athletic status in Ethiopian distance runners.
Ethiopian Female Runners Better Partly Because They Are Motivated in A Different Way to Run
Therefore, genetics is ruled out, which leaves geographical location and training technique.
Ethiopia is at higher altitude, the air is thinner, so that is one minor strike against their non-African competitors.
Perhaps, Ethiopian female runners train more consistently due to better biomechanics as many Ethiopians ran barefoot -just compare the running styles of Tirunesh Dibaba and Kara Goucher, you’ll see what I mean.
Another underlying factor driving Ethiopian women to excel in running is to provide a better life for themselves, and their family.
I’m a Canadian girl, I run everyday to stay healthy. This is what motivates me to run and I’m sure it’s the same motive for most female runners in North America.
However, Ethiopian female runners are not running solely to stay fit; they are running because is a ticket out of the grinding poverty of Ethiopia, often fleeing horrific situations such as being married off at age 12 by their desperately poor parents.
- according to UNICEF, Ethiopian girls are more likely to die in childbirth than reach grade 6, not to mention the country has one of Africa’s highest rates of AIDS
If someone told me I had two choices in life: #1. become an elite runner or #2. get married at age 12, have kids and have my life under the constant threat of danger, I think I would pick #1 and train like no other.
Sadly, according to an article published in the 3rd issue, 2012, of Canadian Running Magazine, many Ethiopian girls throw themselves into training, believing that becoming a professional runner will allow them to escape early marriage, stay in school, and control their own fate. However, many of these girls who do not make the team, end up living on the streets, or forced into the sex trade.
The Take Home Message
The great success of many Ethiopian female runners extends WAY beyond hard work, altitude, diet, and genetics. For many Ethiopian women, all that hard work and dedication is the best strategy for a better life.
More From Run Forefoot:
Banish running injuries with barefoot running.
The do’s and don’ts of forefoot running.
Forefoot runner profile: Paula Radcliffe
Who is Tirunesh Dibaba and how can we learn from her running form.
Most popular running shoes among forefoot runners.
Reference: Canadian Running. Vol 5 (3). Trail Special, 2012.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.