Last week I read More Fire: How to Run the Kenyan Way. Reading it feels like having a long one-sided stream-of-consciousness conversation. The book is very anecdotal. Certainly not a book for everyone, but full of quality tidbits about high-level training. Given how rare it is to find training grounded in observations of genuine elites players, this makes it worth a look (too many, myself included, claim knowledge based on nothing more than amateur, college-level running).
Reading it, I was noting some of the similarities and differences between Kenyans and Americans in their daily habits. The most obvious similarity is mileage: both groups tend to run between 100 km and 250 km a week. A big difference, however, is in the treatment of those kilometres. Americans prefer to keep rigorous track of their distances, whereas Kenyans tend to guesstimate based on rough periods of time. Americans also prefer to 'chunk' their mileage into larger pieces. This explains why Kenyans cope so well with two or three runs a day: none of these runs are particularly long.
Typical Kenyan day:
6AM - Easy 40 min jog
10 AM - Slightly faster 60 min, or a hard workout
4 PM (optional) - 40 min easy jog, and/or plyometrics
While most would think of running three times a day as more tiring than two, another perspective is that three runs make for three rest periods. Analogously, would moving from three meals a day to two make a difference? Very possibly it could.
The 'typical' american runner is more likely to group runs into two sessions, perhaps running long warmups before workouts, grouping plyometrics with the morning sessions, or extending the evening run. Americans also love measuring their total miles, despite that values necessarily fluctuate for an unlimited number of legitimate reasons.
Typical American day:
9 AM - 60-75 min easy run (probably too fast), 6 - 10 miles
5 PM - 30 min warmup, stretches, 30-45 min workout, 20 min cool-down, 8-12 miles
I've noticed, too, that it's more typical of americans to work out in the evening. I should point these numbers are not necessarily true for any one person. That said, they're typical enough in many an elite running diary (see, for instance, Ryan Vail training American-style, and Reid Coolsaet training while in Kenya).
Somewhat amusingly, many travel to Kenya to train, but only for a matter of weeks, maybe 6-8 total, or less than two months. The idea being that running at altitude is the real benefit, not the intangible lifestyle changes than make running three times a day advantageous over two.
Consider Zane Robertson, who recently ran a sub 60 minute half marathon. Zane trains in Kenya, but not just for a few weeks; he lives there, as he puts it, "until the rainy season starts" (i.e. April), then racing in Europe.
Can one emulate the three-a-day training in Europe or America? Assuming, that is, one desires to do so. I think yes, but it might take some tinkering. Let us assume the runner in question is holding down a full-time desk job with semi-flexible hours and an understanding boss.
6AM - Wake up, throw on running shorts and immediately jog out from your front door. Return for breakfast by 6:45, eat, and sleep until 8am.
8:30 - 9:30 AM - Dress, commute to work, and ready your day plan. Answer emails, sign things, do short-term work stuff.
11:30 - 12:30 AM - Go for a second easy run or workout
12:30-1:00 PM, short lunch break.
1- 5PM - Work
5:30 PM Workout or easy run, either before going home or after
7PM PM arrive home
7:30 PM - Eat and/or finish day projects
10 PM sleep
As you can imagine, american environment does not fit easily with this lifestyle. It's possible, but perhaps just barely. Americans are loathe to admit their entire daily ritual is flawed. It's not really, but surprisingly ill-suited for many activities considered 'normal' in other countries.