Journal of Human Sport and Exercise

Performance of Kenyan athletes in mountain versus flat marathon running: An example in Switzerland

Clemens Harm, Beat Knechtle, Christoph Alexander Rüst, Thomas Rosemann, Romuald Lepers, Vincent Onywera



The purpose of this study was to compare running performance of Kenyans in a flat city marathon and a mountain marathon in Switzerland. Running times of top three overall Kenyan runners were compared with running times of top three overall runners of other nations in a mountain and a flat marathon held in Switzerland between 2003 and 2011. In the mountain marathon top three male Kenyans achieved with 199±23min the 11th fastest running time behind athletes from Italy (177±1min), Switzerland (179±0min), France (186±5min), Great Britain (189±3min), Mexico (189±3min), Germany (192±5min), Czech Republic (195±13min), Morocco (195±7min), USA (196±6min) and Hungary (198±8min). Female Kenyan athletes did not even participate in the mountain marathon. In the city marathon top three male Kenyan athletes achieved the second fastest running time (130±1min) behind Swiss athletes (129±1min), Kenyan female runners had the fifth fastest running time (158±4min) behind athletes from Russia (153±2min), Ethiopia (154±2min), Switzerland (155±2min) and Poland (155±4min). To summarize, Switzerland, Kenyans achieved not the fastest running times in a mountain marathon while they attained the second fastest running times in flat marathon.


East Africa; Altitude; Mountain; Long-Distance run


BAILEY DM, DAVIES B. Physiological Implications of altitude training for endurance performance at sea level a review. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 1997; 31:183-190.

BÄRTSCH P, GIBBS JSR. Effect of altitude on the heart and the lungs. Circulation. 2007; 116:2191-2202.

BEALL CM, DECKER MJ, BRITTENHAM GM, KUSHNER I, GEBREMEDHIN A, STROHL KP. An Ethiopian pattern of human adaptation to high-altitude hypoxia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2002; 99:17215-17218.

BEIS LY, WILLKOMM L, RAZMY R, ZERU B, BEZABHE W, FUDGE B, PITILADIS Y P. Food and macronutrient intake of elite Ethiopian distance runners. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2011; 8:7.

BILLAT V, LAPRETRE PM, HEUGAS AM, LAURENCE MH, SALIM D, KORALSZTEIN JP. Training and bioenergetic characteristics in elite male and female Kenyan runners. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2003; 35: 297-304.

BONETTI DL, HOKINS DW. Sea-level exercise performance following adaptation to hypoxia: a meta-analysis. Sports Medicine. 2009; 39:107-127.

BRUTSAERT TD. Do high-altitude natives have enhanced exercise performance at altitude. Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism. 2007; 33:582-592.

CHAPMAN R, LEVINE BD. Altitude training for marathon. Sports Medicine. 2007; 37:392-395.

EICHENBERGER E, KNECHTLE B, RÜST C, LEPERS R, ROSEMANN T, ONYWERA V. The aspect of nationality and performance in a mountain ultra-marathon-the `Swiss Alpine Marathon`. Journal of Human Sport and Exercise. 2012; 7:748-762.

FAVIER R, SPIELVOGEL H, DESPLANCHES D, FERRETTI G, KAYSER B, HOPPELER H. Maximal exercise performance in chronic hypoxia and acute normoxia in high-altitude natives. Journal of Applied Physiology. 1995; 78:1868-1874.

FUDGE BW, WESTERTERP KR, KIPLAMAI FK, ONYWERA VO, BOIT MK, KAYSER B, PITSILADIS YP. Evidence of negative energy balance using doubly labelled water in elite Kenyan endurance runners prior to competition. British Journal of Nutrition. 2006; 95:59-66.

GRATTON C, SHIBLI S, COLEMAN R. The economic impact of major sports events: a review of ten events in the UK. The Sociological Review. 2006; 54:41-58.

Hoppeler H, Vogt M. Muscle tissue adaptations to hypoxia. The Journal of Experimental Biology. 2001; 204: 3133-3139.

HUNTER SK, STEVENS SK. Sex differences in marathon running with advanced age: physiology or participation? Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2013; 45:148-156.

JOYNER MJ, RUIZ JR, LUCIA A. The two-hour marathon: who and when? Journal of Applied Physiology. 2010; 110:275-277.

LARSON HB. Review Kenyan dominance in distance running. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology. 2003; 136:161-170.

LARSON HB, CHRISTENSEN DL, NOLAN T, SONDERGAARD H. Body dimensions, exercise capacity and physical activity level of adolescent Nandi boys in Western Kenya. Annals of Human Biology. 2004; 31:159-173.

LEPERS R, CATTAGNI T. Do older athletes reach limits in their performance during marathon running? Age (Dordr). 2012; 34:773-781.

LUCIA A, ESTEVE-LANAO J, OLIVAN J, GOMEZ-GALLEGO F, SAN JUAN AF, SANTIAGO C, PEREZ M, CHAMORRO-VINA C, FOSTER C. Physiological characteristics of the best Eritrean runners-exceptional running economy. Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism. 2006; 31:530-540.

Masters K, Ogles B. An investigation of the different motivations of marathon runners with varying degrees of experience. Journal of Sport Behavior. 1995; 18:69-79.

Moore B, Parisotto R, Sharp C, Pitsalidis Y, Kayser B. Erythropoetic indices in elite Kenyan runners training at altitude. East African Running. 2007; 199-214.

ONYWERA VO, SCOTT RA, BOIT MK, PITSILADIS YP. Demographic characteristics of elite Kenyan endurance runners. Journal of Sport Sciences. 2006; 24:415-422.

ONYWERA VO. East African Runners: their genetics, lifestyle and athletic prowess. Medicine in Sport and Science. 2009; 54:102-109.

ONYWERA VO, KIPLAMAI FK, TUITOEK PJ, BOIT MK, PITSILADIS YP. Food and macronutrient intake of elite Kenyan distance runners. International Journal of Sport and Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2004; 14:709-719.

PROMMER N, THOMA S, QUECKE L, GUTEKUNST T, VÖLZKE C, WACHSMUTH N, NIESS AM, SCHMIDT W. Total haemoglobin mass and blood volume of elite Kenyan runners. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2010; 42:791-797.

SALTIN B, LARSEN H, TERRADOS N, BANGSBO J, BAK T, KIM CK, SVEDENHAG J, ROLF CJ. Aerobic exercise capacity at sea level and at altitude in Kenyan boys, junior and senior runners compared with Scandinavian runners. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 1995; 5:209-221.

SAUNDERS PU, TELFORD RD, PYNE DB, CUNNINGHAM RB, GORE CJ, HAN AG, HAWLEY JA. Improved running economy in elite runners after 20 days of simulated moderate-altitude exposure. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2003; 96: 931-937.

SCOTT R, PITSILADIS Y. Genotypes and distance running clues from Africa. Sports Medicine. 2007; 37:424-427.

SHONTZ L. Fast Forward: The rise of Kenya's women runners.

SIMIYU NJOROAI WW. Distance running in Kenya: athletics labour migration and its consequences. Leisure/Loisir iFirst. 2012a; 1-23.

SIMIYU NJOROAI, WW. Global inequality and athlete labour migration from Kenya. Leisure/Loisir. 2012b; 34:443-461.

WESTON AR, MBAMBO Z, MYBURGH KH. Running economy of African and Caucasian distance runners. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2012; 32:1130-1134.

WILBER RL, PITSILADIS YP. Kenyan and Ethiopian distance runners: what makes them so good. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 2012; 7:92-102.


Copyright (c) 2013 Journal of Human Sport and Exercise

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.