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Photographing the Kenyan Valley That Produces the World's Best Runners

The Great Rift Valley in Kenya is home to some of the most talented runners in the world. VICE Sports traveled to the country's highlands to photograph them and document their daily lives.

by Eva Verbeeck
Oct 11 2016, 3:01pm

A moment's rest during an intense workout.

This article was originally published by VICE Sports Netherlands

The Great Rift Valley in Kenya is home to some of the most talented runners in the world. Earlier this year, I traveled to the country's highlands to photograph some of them. Staying with their families, I documented their daily lives as they prepared for international competition.

The alarm rings each morning at 05.50. Everyone gets seven minutes to put on some clothes and another three to make their way downstairs. At six o'clock the day begins with a long morning workout. While the athletes walk across the dirt roads of Kapsabet, the sun rises and wakes the rest of the village. Children making their way to school on foot watch the best runners in the world as they run past.

For years, people have sought to explain the success that runners from this region achieve. Studies have focussed on geographic location, diet, genetics, even the influence of the daily walk to school. There is probably some truth in each of these theories. In Kenya, a broad combination of factors seem to work together perfectly.

The athletes themselves have a far simpler explanation: they believe that they are so successful because they work hard. Running is their escape from the poverty in which they were born. They put in the hours and take care of their bodies, staying away from alcohol and getting their sleep. You won't see any heart-rate monitors, power gels or energy drinks here. They just walk, often without shoes, every single day.

Marathon training.

A runner drags a tyre to improve his strength.

Virginia Nyambura Nganga is a promising young runner, training at altitude far from her family.

Virginia's home in Kapsabet.

Athletes here are groomed for international competitions, training three times a day.

Milcah Chemos rests after a long training session. She mainly runs the 3,000-metre steeplechase. Milcah was world champion in 2013 and has four Diamond League victories to her name.

The home of Leonard Komon, the world record holder at 10 and 15 kilometres. His first appearance in the half-marathon was the fastest debut ever.