Learn to Apply the Kenyan Approach to Run Training

Aug 26, 2012   //   by Neil Scholes   //   Triathlon And Endurance Coaching  //  2 Comments

In this second article, based on my observations working with the Kenyan Olympic Team, I wanted to highlight three elements of their training that we can all bring into our own sessions: namely their dedication; discipline and determination.


The first construct of dedication doesn’t necessarily mean devoting your life to running in a monastic way, nor does it mean having to run excessive mileage. It means that when I saw the athletes at the track they stuck to the agreed session with a committed level of intensity.

The mantra of “Whatever you do in life do it well” applies to their and your training. If you want to run well, it is imperative to be dedicated to the sport – or at least to the session you are doing.

If your coach has set you a main session of 5 x 2 minutes fast with 1 minute recoveries then that is all that matters for the 15 minutes it takes. You can think about what you are going to have for dinner or how tired you are or how stressful your day was after the session. Dedicate yourself to what you and your coach have agreed upon.

I have been lucky enough to work with NASA Astronaut Alvin Drew who flew Shuttle missions on STS-118 in 2007 and STS-133 in 2011. As a former test pilot he talked to me about focus and that when flying at 500 mph all that matters is the area in front of you because you are going to be there in a very short space of time. What he was going to have for dinner was not important; if he didn’t dedicate himself to the task in hand he wouldn’t be there!

This was a similar level of dedication I saw in the athletes when the sessions were being conducted. Afterwards I saw a lot of laughter, relaxation and enjoyment and the athletes seemed to be able to switch this focus on and off.


The second facet was discipline, and not the strict rule discipline you may be thinking, more the discipline of giving running the respect it deserved.

If your coach has set you a long run or a tough interval or tempo workout then ensure you are rested for this session. This is the choice you have to make. The more disciplined the athlete the better the results.


Thirdly, an asset that should be worked into your running is determination. Try at all costs to see the set through, 10 x 400m means 10 x 400m. Run to the 400m line, do all 10 reps.

Some days there are moments when you feel like quitting after number 4, some days there are moments when you want to turn it off and just run slower. Don’t do this – be determined.

What I observed was a single minded determination to sport that I am sure is not just present in East African runners. Very few people enjoy the thought of grinding out repeats on a darkening Tuesday evening and the Kenyans were no exception to this. They are disciplined, determined and dedicated however and so can you be.

The Fourth “D”

The fourth and final “D” which should be avoided is distraction, I often advise my athletes to get up early and get their training completed prior to the distractions of the day so consider this an option.

Paul Tergat, the Kenyan gold medalist from the World Half Marathon Championships in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and 2:04 marathon runner used to ask “Can I give a little bit more” – well can you?

About The Author

Neil is one of the most knowledgeable endurance coaches you'll ever be likely to meet, both in terms of qualifications and valuable experience. He's well into his second decade in the sport of triathlon and third decade as a competitive runner.

In recent years Neil has worked with Runners, from those looking to complete their first 5k through to Elites racing the Olympic Marathon, and Triathletes, from those looking to finish their first ever sprint event, through Age Group medallists at World Championships, Ironman Age Group winners to the Elite Squad at University of Bath.

As an accomplished Ironman triathlete, Neil races for Royal Navy Triathlon and has represented Great Britain at Age Group Level across various distances.

2013 has seen him run a sub 3hr at the Rotterdam Marathon, then complete his second 56 mile Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa in June; he is now making his return to racing Ironman Triathlon.

Neil is available for Triathlon & Running Coaching.



  • Your comment about finishing sets is interesting, and I’m very often reading about East African workouts where only the elite of the Africans are capable of finishing the set.

  • I love this! This is what I try to do… The discipline one in particular. I was training for a marathon recently and coincidently someone at work was doing the same one. He was out drinking most Saturdays while I was tucked up in bed. My long progression runs on a Sunday were a victory in themselves. His were a battle against hangovers. I had a great race and dropped nearly 10 minutes off my PB. He cramped up in the last mile and after pulling himself of the tarmac staggered his way to the end. Lesson learnt: do not compromise the quality of your most important training sessions! If you want something, you need to apply yourself from all angles.

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