Let me get this out of the way right at the top. This post has absolutely nothing to do with racism, i.e. there is no evidence (VO2 max, red blood cell counts, etc) that genetics plays any part in why modern running events are dominated by East Africans.
With that said, here is what it takes:
- Starting as an infant, run often, e.g. 6 miles to and from school every day, and do it mostly barefoot.
- Put yourself in an extremely competitive racing environment. Running in Kenya is equivalent to the NFL+MBL+NBA+NHL combined. And winning a major city marathon means more money than the majority of your countrymen will earn in their lifetimes (by far).
- Work incredibly hard. Run between 125-150 miles per week. One sample workout would include 20 reps of 440 meters with less than 45 seconds jogging breaks.
- Be very skinny. Carrying extra weight of any kind (including unnecessary muscle) makes you slower, is harder on the joints and requires extra oxygen.
- Train and live at altitude, with rolling hills, and on dirt. When we think Africa we think hot and flat, but in fact a huge portion of elite runners come from the Rift Valley in Kenya which is actually cool most of the year, and is roughly 7500’ high.
Okay, so what does this mean for the rest of us?
- Kenyan children have an advantage in that they are building strength and neurological connections to their feet that we are missing. The Western industrial shoe-complex is seriously flawed. Most running shoes are really engineered for a style of running closer to “walking fast” than proper technique and is inefficient and likely to lead to injury. Buy some Vibram Fivefingers to build strength and look to “flats” with low heel-to-forefoot ratios and are less than 10oz.
- Fortunately, in New York City, in any given month there are 2-3 races offered by the NYRR club that will have a minimum of 4,500 runners including teams that field some serious runners.
- Run every day, sometimes twice. Run the 20x440 w/ 45 seconds rest and try not to throw up.
- Eat really well. Ethiopians are particularly fond of Teff, a hearty grain.
- American elite runners either live in places like Boulder CO, Mammoth Lakes CA or sleep in hypobaric chambers which simulate altitude. Most of us aren’t willing to take those kinds of steps, but we can rotate the surfaces we run on. Central Park has the bridal path, the reservoir loop, the great hill track and the northern hill trails which are all soft surfaces.
Charlie has a Poking the Bear post up where he suggests among other things disbanding the meetup as is.
Rather than comment point for point, I’ll just take a second to write up a couple of my own points.
The meetup as it stands today does do a few things very well and any future events/organizations will need to keep these in mind.
- Presenting at the meetup, even if it is not egalitarian, is still a significant milestone for a company seeking to gain exposure in the New York tech scene.
- It puts a diverse set of people in a room. One of the problems with relying on small, nimble groups of people is that it reduces the chances for fortuitous connections that might not occur at “Technical CEO/founders with blue eyes meetup”
- As mentioned in Charlie’s comments, it serves as the front door to the community.
The dynamic between nimble, flexible events as championed by Charlie/NextNY and the recurring, established meetup seems to indicate, clearly, there is a place for both. This new infrastructure and leadership of the meetup should focus on:
- Help organizers put on small events that work. Hold workshops for new organizers. Create a library of best practices. Manage the collective intelligence, even if it just means being the stewards of a wiki.
- Coordinate. Gary’s Guide is the closest thing we have to a comprehensive list of upcoming events, but there should be some dedicated energy to making sure that there is not too much overlap between events. We’ve all seen way too many of the same prolific presenters that go from event to event pitching to anyone that will have them. There also needs to be an easy way to provide better context for the events.
- Cultivate the conversation. One thing that NextNY does really well is police the threads for spam, self-promotion and non-helpful contributions.
- Fight the bottom-feeders. There is a fine line between offering “services” to the community versus being a pest. Building a reputation system for these events whereby getting banned is a possibility and is appropriately damaging is needed.
Overall, I feel like many in the community feel like that because the meetup group is going to have more structure and potentially going to get bigger that it is going to suck. It doesn’t have to be so.