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African cycling: dormant to dominant?
  1. Jarrad Van Zuydam1,
  2. Jonathan Patricios1,2,3,4
  1. 1Morningside Sports Medicine, Johannesburg, South Africa
  2. 2Sports Concussion South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa
  3. 3The Section of Sports Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
  4. 4Faculty of Health Sciences, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jonathan Patricios, Faculty of Health Sciences, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of the Witwatersrand, P.O. Box 1267, Parklands 2121, Johannesburg, South Africa; jpat{at}mweb.co.za

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2:02:57

That is the current world marathon record for men. Since 1960, the record has fallen regularly and the 2 h mark is now talked about as a target rather than a barrier. African distance runners have repeatedly lowered this record, especially in the past decade. Among the 100 fastest marathon times ever, 99 are by African-born athletes.

Born to run

African distance runners do not seem to have superior aerobic abilities but they have better running economy than their Caucasian counterparts, even when matched for race time.1 The oxygen consumption cost of running is lower in African runners and perhaps this is related to their anthropometry. Eritrean runners have lower body mass indexes (BMIs), smaller maximal calf circumferences and longer shins.2 In Kenya, it is not unusual for school-going boys to have BMIs as low as 15.5 kg/m2, and many of these children will walk and run over 10 km to school and back each day.3 Heavier legs come at great cost to running economy, but the effect is even greater …

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