Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Mara Marathoners

I am no newbie when it comes to long distance running. I ran my first marathon my junior year of high school, my second just last year, and a handful of half marathons between the two full ones. Yet I am also a Massachusetts native, and have almost exclusively run at or around sea level, so one of the biggest adjustments to life in Kenya for me has been training my body to run at over 5,000 feet in elevation. Needless to say, it has been a struggle.

That being said, my jealousy for the hyenas is very real. Hyenas are the marathoners of the Mara. Once they have selected their prey, spotted hyenas can chase them for several kilometers, potentially reaching speeds around 60km/h. They have a number of physiological advantages that allow them to be such superb runners. Their claws are non-retractable, giving them good traction and allowing them to make sharp turns. Compared to their body size, they have a very large heart, giving them incredible stamina. They also have a long snout filled with blood vessels. As they breath, the exposed air vessels help to cool their body temperature, allowing them to run farther without overheating than many other runners in the Mara.

While the Mara holds these amazing distance runners, Kenya itself is also famed for producing some of the best distance runners in the world. Particularly, the Kalenjin tribe is famed, with one member, Wilson Kipsang (pictured below), setting the record for the fastest marathon time ever recorded—26.2 miles run in 2 hours 3 minutes, which averages to 4 minutes 42 seconds per mile. Diet and a lifetime of living at a high altitude certainly help explain why people from the Kalenjin are such phenomenal runners, but they, like the hyenas, have physiological adaptations that appear to give them an advantage. They have remarkably thin ankles and calves. When running, the leg acts as a pendulum, and having as little weight as possible at the bottom makes it easier to swing, which could make a runner faster. For more information on Kalenjin runners follow this link: http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2013/11/01/241895965/how-one-kenyan-tribe-produces-the-worlds-best-runners

 Wilson Kipsang has the fastest marathon time ever recorded, running at roughly 13 miles per hour for 26.2 miles straight. But even he would be outstripped easily by the hyena. So in my own personal opinion, spotted hyenas are some of the best marathoners in the world.  

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