Bolivia should produce World Record Holders – why doesn’t it?

Hi all,


Up the top of La Paz

 I’m always conscious of not trying to make my blogs all about me as a) I think it’s a bit boring for you lot reading and b) it’s a bit lazy. So instead of writing about me this time I’m going to give a largely mis-informed, inaccurate piece about distance running in Bolivia, with a lot of guesswork. Amelia and I just came back from our honeymoon here, this isn’t plucked out of a hat.

Bolivia is a country that has had it’s fair share of political turmoil (they had 6 presidents in one day once!), economically underdeveloped, and with many communities living at altitude between 2,000 – 4,000m. Ring any bells? Similar to Kenya and Ethiopia no?

Yet Bolivia as a whole is rubbish at running relative to the aforementioned powerhouses and in fact relative to most places. Their male marathon record is 2.17.49, set by Juan Camacho in 1984, and their female record holder is Sonia Calizaya, with a 2.45. I took some satisfaction in noticing I’d have every national record from 3,000m upwards! So why is it that a country with so many communities at altitude and a lifestyle that in many ways mirrors the rural ways of East Africa, that they fall so short when it comes to distance running?

Well I certainly don’t have the answers. But there are a couple of ideas. One is that culturally, running has just never caught on. No-one wants to run and they don’t have the ‘heroes’ to bring some success that would spark an interest. Another of course could just be genetics. The average Bolivian looks very different to the Kenyan and Ethiopian distance gods – much shorter and stockier in general.


You see that city down there? That’s where the marathon starts….

These two factors on their own could satisfy most people, and could well be the answer. After all it makes sense that if they don’t have largely share the genetic gifts of the East Africans, and no-one takes an interest in distance running, well, you won’t get thousands of kids out running! So I took a look at what races existed in La Paz and there aren’t many. Running is not hugely popular in Bolivia – as we thought. However, the La Paz marathon was launched in 2013 with 2,500 runners and the male winner ran 2.33. Pretty ordinary no? Well I just went to La Paz and I can tell you, I don’t think I could run 2.33 there. For a start it’s at 3,600m. Secondly, it is HILLY. The first 9 miles of the course goes up about 300m in elevation and I think that in itself would kill me. Jeez, even our taxi could barely get up the hill when it took us to the airport. I thought that 2.33 was a pretty remarkable time to be honest. The hills must be worth nearly 10 minutes on their own, before you even factor in the huge elevation. So that comes the question, what could this guy run on the flat, at sea level? I looked him up – his name is Eduardo Aruquipa and he is not a full-time athlete. He has a PB for the marathon of 2.26, and a half PB of 64.47. His half marathon was run at 2,600m, but his marathon was set in Caracas, at just 900m. To be fair I know nothing about Caracas and maybe it’s super hilly (I’m too lazy to try and find out), but considering he ran 2.33 on a super hilly course at 3,600m+ you’d expect something better than 2hr26m at 900m.

This phenomenon isn’t just unique to Eduardo – many Bolivian athletes seem not to perform much better at lower altitude than they do at altitude. WHAT IS THIS MADNESS? Well, having just read David Epstein’s amazing book – “The Sports Gene”, I think he explains this amazingly and it wasn’t something I was aware of. It is that different communities have adapted to altitude in varying ways. Andean natives have adapted to altitude by creating more haemoglobin (i.e. red blood cells), making their blood more viscous, and this doesn’t help much when down at sea level….

By contrast, the East Africans have been at altitude for a far shorter period of time and so their adaptation isn’t genetic, it’s physiological, similar to when most Europeans travel to altitude to train. So while the effects are similar in some ways – more red blood cells, oxygen carrying capacity, etc it’s much more transient and dependent on the environment, not our genes. In short, my red blood cell count wouldn’t be as high as a native Bolivian, and my adaptations (and the Kenyans/Ethiopians) would be more useful when back down at sea level.

So the effects of altitude aren’t actually that helpful to native Bolivians (relative to Kenyans, Ethiopians, and me), and this is because they’ve lived at altitude so long that they have genetically adapted to this environment, and this adaptation doesn’t assist them as much as you’d expect at sea level.


Me struggling along the Salar de Uyuni at 3,700m!

Combined with this of course, is that actually a lot of Bolivia is perhaps a bit too high at 3,000m+ and so the benefits of training this high up are less pronounced than between the sweet spot of 1,500-2,500m.

In summary:

1. Bolivians don’t like running

2. The altitude doesn’t help them as much as you’d expect so it’s not such a hot-bed of talent as somewhere like Kenya

3. 3,000m+ is too high anyway. Come down about 1,000m guys and you may get some better results. Bring your llamas, it’ll be ace.

If anyone reads this and I’ve got any of this wrong, please correct me. I claim no authority on the knowledge here…. I do know that I tried running at 4,000m on the admittedly incredible landscape of the Bolivian salt flats and while it was amazing, it was also VERY hard!!! Cool place to do a training camp though….

Commonwealth Marathon Reflections

Well I’m now back in Australia and awake at 4.45am and so am putting my jetlag to good use with a few feelings about my race last Sunday. I finished in 14th place, in 2.16.50, and was behind my other 2 England teammates (fact for you – apparently the oldest ever trio of Commonwealth teammates – combined age of 109 and I’m the young one!). Coming into the race I’d had some very mixed form, with a pretty disappointing 12k XC and a 30.13 10k. However, my longer stuff had gone pretty well and I’d not suffered any big interruptions to my build-up so the fitness was there, I was just struggling for form over the shorter distances. I’d also made a few changes to my training and diet – incorporating more of longer efforts at marathon pace and less carb reliance, and the point of this was to make me more of a ‘diesel’ engine which would actually explain the drop in form over shorter distances.

One of the difficult things with being in the athletes village building up to a race is the amount of time to think and you have to really focus to not let the negatives creep into your thoughts. The rest and recovery is a definite positive, but it’s a tough test mentally I think. I definitely had moments when I doubted my ability to run a good race and had to force myself to think rationally and positively. The way I dealt with that was not to think about the time I wanted to run, but just to think of it as a race, and take out the mental pressures of all the splits I need to run. I’d also had a tight hip flexor for 2 weeks but there’s nothing I can do about that on race day so just pushed it to the back of my mind.

So, to the race. It was a 9.02am start so I got up at 5.45 and got some food and then got the bus with the team to the race start, where we sat and waited. It was a nice drizzley day –  a relief after the hot days we’d had previously! Finally, the days of waiting were over and we got underway. My plan was to try and get in a group that was moving at a pace that felt comfortable enough, and for the first 5k, that was the lead group as the race started cagily. We moved through 5k in 15.45 or so and the pace felt ok. Not super easy, but ok. There were a couple of moments where the lead group surged a bit and slowed, but soon after 5k, they surged away and left a group with the 3 English guys, Derek Hawkins (Scotland) and Martin Dent from Aus. I knew there would be a few casualties from the lead group so I sat in this group, not really thinking about the pace we were running at, but just what felt comfortable. As it was, we were actually running at sub 2.14 pace, so reasonably quickly.

IMG_025510468026_10152656121035786_6527339620950002992_o (1)

I still didn’t really feel comfortable at this pace. I knew I had to stay with the group, but it didn’t feel super easy, and that was worrying me a bit. Steve and Nick seemed pretty comfortable, but there were times when I would drop off by a few yards, and then work to get back to the group. All I was telling myself was to back my strength, and to stay calm. I wasn’t looking at my splits – I didn’t want to know if I was slowing down. I wanted to just think of it as a race and not a time trial, as this made me feel more confident and positive.

The crowds were amazing all of the way round but as we looped back towards the end of the 1st of 2 laps we hit the crowds again and the noise was amazing. I was trying to identify familiar faces in the crowd and was getting a lot of shouts but there were so many I couldn’t do it! There were a few moments that were real hairs on the back of your neck moments and I’ve only ever experienced that before at London marathon. Certainly a far cry from the 14 spectators and a monkey at Delhi!! At one of the points Steve surged a bit and gave a fist pump to the crowd. I was thinking ‘keep calm Steve, long way to go yet’, but clearly as it turned out he had things well under control!

As we hit halfway, this was the first time I looked at the clock – 66.50. I was now dropping off of the group and was finding things tough. The course is 2 13.1 mile loops and I actually quite liked it. IT had a few short hills in, but the final 10k of each loop is a gradual downhill. I knew I was going to find 20-30k quite hard, with the hills and the breeze that was getting 1547914_10152656121645786_1816168415355164899_o (1)stronger. As I started running on my own the negative thoughts came back. Should I drop out? How bad is this going to get? Is my hip flexor going to hold up? The answers were: you don’t drop out, whatever happens. You can’t let people down by dropping out. As to how bad, well just run at the pace that feels manageable. Hip flexor – forget about it. It hurts a bit, but it’s doing ok.

Somewhere between 20-30k I passed Marty Dent who had a bad day, but the other guys were pulling well clear of me. I kept telling myself that everything can change in the final 10k and just hold it together. I struggled up the hills and the windy sections and knew I was slowing down but now just wanted to get to the final sections of the race. Weirdly, something Steve said to be at the start of the week came into my head: think how happy you’ll be on your honeymoon (I head to Bolivia this week!) if you can sit back and think you gave it everything. That was all I thought about for a few km – being satisfied with myself and not giving in.


I got to 35k and thought – I’m not dying, this feels ok. A couple people started coming back and now I told myself I could push hard and try and pick people off. I could see in the distance that Nick Torry was coming back, but Steve and Derek were a long way ahead. I rallied a bit in the last 5k and picked off 2 Africans and was gaining quickly on Nick but eventually ran out of road and finished 15 seconds behind him.

As I finished I saw Mike Shelley vomiting but with a flag draped on him and asked Liam Adams how he did who told me he won. An incredible run. Another incredible run was from Steve Way – 2.15 for a 40year old and another big PB. Legend.

I’m still not sure what to think of my race. On one hand, 1 minute outside my PB on a course that isn’t super fast and with a slight lack of form, isn’t bad. On the other, people ran PBs and I still feel I’m not getting the marathon performance I should be capable of. It was a tough slog for me and I never really felt great – unlike Fukuoka where I felt incredible for so long. My hip flexor was very sore afterwards but will assess it when I get back into running and see if it’s ok.

The atmosphere was amazing – and I actually really enjoyed the course too. Enough variety to keep things interesting without making it super hard! Highlights on the course were spotting several people I didn’t expect to; being shouted “Go on Wales!”; several people trying to say ‘Moreau’ and failing; and someone obviously thinking I was French and shouting “Allez, allez allez!”…!

I’m extremely proud to have made it to two Commonwealth Games – I would never have thought that was a realistic thing to happen. It’s also been a privilege to have Nick and Steve as team-mates, and to have had so much support on race day and the build-up was fantastic.

In any case, I have 2 weeks in Bolivia to reflect and not run, so will enjoy that greatly 🙂


5k – 15.49
10k – 15.45
15k – 15.51
20k – 15.46
Half – 66.50
25k – 16.29
30k – 16.56
35k – 16.34
40k – 16.26

Results here

Commonwealth Preview!

Hi all,

Well, less than 2 days to go now and less really is more, in that the less time there is to go, the more real it’s becoming!

I’ve had a few days in the village now and got to take part in the opening ceremony which was a great experience. I missed out on this in Delhi and wasn’t overly bothered by that as I don’t get overly excited when I watch them on the telly, but it was a thrill to be in the stadium and I got a lot of messages from people saying they spotted me!

opening ceremony



 Beyond that excitement I’ve tried to keep this week as boring as possible. A few massages, regular meals, and plenty of sitting around and chatting with my England teammates. The male marathon trio are all sharing the same room and that’s been great – no ego clashes amongst teammates in the marathon camp! Most of our “race chat” has been about what stats fields will be on our Garmins rather than psyching anyone out. Although I would like to point out I didn’t partake in the Garmin chat, that was beyond even my statty inclinations.

IMG_0244What’s been interesting is our very different taper approach. I basically just run less, and slower, and eat a bit more carbs. Fairly standard and safe.
Steve on the other hand drops carbs COMPLETELY for 3 days or so and runs short and hard through it, before then opening up the carb floodgates 3 days before the race, an ’80s approach known as “the diet”. Nick is somewhere in between, but 48 hours before the race will do a 3minute flat out effort and then fill his face with jelly babies and Turkish Delight, to promote extra glycolysis.

Friends and family start arriving tomorrow. Amelia has been in Glasgow all week but has been ill so I’ve not been able to see her, which has been really disappointing and I’m hoping she’s better by race day. I’m trying to encourage my friends not to base their enjoyment of the trip around my race so as to avert any pressure! Back in Australia my training team-mates and club-mates are gathering at the pub to watch. Again, get smashed lads and lasses so there’s something to enjoy beyond my performance!!

As to the race itself, I won’t reveal my plans but the weather has been so hot that there may well be something else to think about on race day, although it’s due to cool down a bit. I try and keep race plans pretty simple and as it’s a Championship I’ll definitely focus less on the time and more on getting in the mix in a group, as long as things pan out that way. I actually feel less pressure if I do’t focus on times so that will help me I think. I know the field reasonably well with my anglo-aussie relations so that may work in my favour!

Right, well, more sitting to do, hot chocolates to drink, Queens to dine with. Tough Stuff. Catch you all later!

Village Sports – landed in the village!

I don’t think I’ve ever written 2 blogs so closely together but I thought I may as well add another update to populate this blog with some content!

Team England Athletic team is now in the Commonwealth Games village! The England team is the biggest here across all sports with something like 500 (I can’t remember at all) and the village holds about 6,000 in total! I could tell space was a bit of a premium – we have 3 in our modest room and our house in total holds about 30. The communal areas hold about 4-5 and are mainly full of junk like poles for pole vaults and hammers and stuff. Why can’t every other athletic discipline just need a pair of minimal racers and racing kit. Speaking of racing kit, I still don’t have any shorts – more are being flown up apparently…


Outside of our housing block, the village is really exciting. Amazing team tracksuits everywhere (I really need to get me a Cook Islands hat decorated with flowers, or a Swaziland tracksuit), and a real buzz about the place. The food hall is open 24/7 and there are a good range of choices. There’s also a BBQ and smoothie garden, which smells amazing.

IMG_0223 IMG_0224

There are also communal recreational areas with pinball machines, TVs, video games, pool, crazy dancing machines to REALLY knacker yourself out and various fun things I probably won’t do but will watch and take photos of. As above. There are also the various national anthems written out, of which Swaziland is my favourite. Clearly Swaziland is the place to be here, they rule.

So after a load of induction meetings and stuff, I got my 8 mile run done along the river Clyde – which was very pleasant, although running with accreditation is surprisingly tough! Also getting back into the village was interesting, having to take off watch and heart rate monitor to put through security, but it’s all very smooth and easy.

My 3rd team-mate Nick Torry has just arrived so we have our full quota now which is great. Within the past year we have all run within 90 secs of each other and all PBs so it would be great to work as a team who are in form and confident. I don’t know the other guys’ race plans yet but I expect we’ll consider our own plans in coming days and then have a chat and see if we will be working together or on totally different schedules!!

I shall blog more on the actual race in coming days!




Some sort of outdoor theatre…

 IMG_0217  I like the Bahamas tracksuits.

Commonwealth Games Looms!

Hi all!

With the demise of Runnerslife and my previous blog site, the life of this runner goes on and so I have created a new blog site to continue my ramblings and updates. Feedback welcome as I’ve not created one of these before! It’s still very much in progress but I’m just getting blogs up for now.

I’m currently in the incredibly exotic (this is sarcasm) Ashton under Lyne with most of the England Athletics team before we head to the  athlete village in Glasgow. My journey here began in style. Cringeworthy style. II ordered an UberX taxi (this isn’t a porn site – it’s a taxi app) and when my driver informed me he was here, I left my apartment to be greeted by a man with a limo. I did not request this service but then endured the embarrassment of arriving at Sydney airport where my wife was waiting. I think she thought the occasion had got to me…..

The film selection on the flight was poor so we got into a very good French supernatural thriller series called The Returned. It’s good. Watch it.

bed30 hours later I touched down in Manchester at aforementioned exotic riviera. At the hotel, which is located in a big car park with nothing nearby except a ‘Leisure village’ where the leisure that can be conducted is Nando’s followed by bowling, I am sharing a room with fellow marathon team-mate Steve Way. We are sharing a room which can be best described as cosy. However, there is all we need really – good food options specially put on for the team, team physios, a communal area to chill out in. The running options are good enough – a canal is nearby, although Steve has chosen to do laps of a car park instead on some runs so he doesn’t get his precious little shoes muddy!


I have collected my kit, which is mostly way too big – even the XS, and am missing my race day kit, but apparently there are spares for exchanging kit. Hopefully this is true or I’ll look like I’m wearing hand me downs from an older brother and racing in long shorts and tops.

Well I have acheieved a lot today – an easy run, a massage, mastered the smoothie machine, ‘treated myself’ to a Starbucks (I’m such a coffee snob now…) and now set up a blog. Excellent.