Home Health & Wellness Why Black Athletes Win Marathons All the Time: Exploring the Genetic and Environmental Factors

Why Black Athletes Win Marathons All the Time: Exploring the Genetic and Environmental Factors

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Marathons are some of the most prestigious and demanding races in the world of sports. Covering 26.2 miles, they test an athlete’s endurance, strength, and mental toughness. In recent years, one trend has emerged in marathon running that is hard to ignore: Black athletes tend to dominate the sport. The top finishers in major marathons around the world are often Black, and many of the current world records are held by African runners.

Genetic factors

There is no denying that genetics play a significant role in an athlete’s ability to excel in distance running. Many researchers have studied the physiological differences between Black and White runners, and have found that Black athletes tend to have certain physical advantages that make them better suited for long-distance running. For example, Black athletes tend to have longer legs and a higher proportion of slow-twitch muscle fibres, which allow them to maintain a steady pace over long distances. They also tend to have a lower body fat percentage, which means they can carry less weight and run more efficiently.

Another genetic factor that may contribute to black athletes’ success in marathons is their ancestry. Many of the world’s best distance runners come from countries in East Africa, such as Kenya and Ethiopia, where running is deeply embedded in the culture. These countries are also at high altitudes, which may have a positive effect on an athlete’s ability to perform in endurance events. Additionally, many Black athletes come from rural areas where they must run long distances just to get to school or work. This early exposure to long-distance running may give them a head start in developing the physical and mental stamina required to excel in marathons.

Environmental factors

While genetics certainly play a role in an athlete’s success in marathon running, it is important to note that environmental factors also play a significant role. In many cases, black athletes come from countries where they must run long distances on a daily basis simply to access basic necessities such as water or food. This type of training can have a significant impact on an athlete’s endurance and mental toughness. Additionally, many black athletes grow up in poverty, which means they may not have access to the same resources and training facilities as athletes from wealthier backgrounds. As a result, they may be forced to rely on natural talent and determination to achieve success.

Another environmental factor that may contribute to Black athletes’ success in marathons is the role of culture. In many African countries, running is deeply ingrained in the culture and is seen as a way to achieve success and escape poverty. This cultural emphasis on running may encourage more individuals to take up the sport and develop their skills. Additionally, the close-knit nature of many African communities may provide a strong support system for aspiring athletes, which can be crucial in helping them achieve their goals.


The dominance of black athletes in marathon running can be attributed to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. While black athletes may have certain physical advantages that make them better suited for long-distance running, they also face unique challenges such as poverty and limited access to training resources. However, it is clear that the cultural emphasis on running in many African countries has played a significant role in developing the talent and determination of many successful black marathon runners. As marathon running continues to grow in popularity around the world, it is important to recognise and celebrate the diverse range of athletes who are pushing the limits of human performance.

Ellen Diamond, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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