Training with Kenyan marathon runners

Eliud Kipchoge
Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge has medaled in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2004 Athens Olympics

As a resident of Fort Collins, I see plenty of joggers each morning. The runners of Fort Collins range from the people taking a short walk for daily exercise, to the ultra-marathoners training for their next 100-mile race. After becoming so apathetic to runners in my neighborhood, my interest was spurred once again as I got to interview and “train” with some of Kenya’s best runners.

The Culturs Multicultural Global Magazine team and I set off on a six hour drive from Nairobi, Kenya to the western town of Eldoret to meet Viola Kibiwot and Eliud Kipchoge for an interview. Viola is a Olympic athlete who has competed in several World Cross Country Championship events. Eliud was the winner of the Chicago Marathon last year, and he won a silver medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a bronze medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics. After the interview was over, we were invited to meet Viola and Eliud in the morning and get photos of one of their training sessions.

The next day, may alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. and I soon made my way to the car. After a 15 minute drive, we met Eliud and Viola, who were with some other runners they trained with. I checked the time; it was 5:45 a.m. and the runners were almost done stretching and warming up for their training session.

At 6:00 a.m. the runners set off for their “light” 15km run. As they left the parking lot, I managed to grab a few photos of them in the early morning light. The temperature in the morning was in the low 60s. In addition to the nearly optimal temperatures, the elevation in Eldoret is over 7000 feet, so the runners get the benefit of high altitude training. These factors combined make Eldoret one of the best places for the Kenyan runners to train.

After getting the first few shots, I knew I needed to get ahead of them to get the next series of shots. As I ran with the runners they all chuckled as I started to pass them. When I created enough separation to allow me to get my camera settings right an compose a shot, I realized I was exhausted. My adrenaline wore out, and I was left gasping for air. I grew up as an athlete, but I just received a stark reminder of what happens when you go months without exercise. As the runners went by, I grabbed a few shots  and immediately decided that I would use the car to get ahead of them for the next shot. Upon getting into the car, the little amount of respect I gained by running with thew athletes was instantly lost.

My repetitive cycle of driving ahead of the athletes and getting photos continued for about 45 minutes. As I took time between shots to evaluate the scene, I realized these world-class runners have nothing that is not available in Colorado. As Viola said in the interview, she feels as though it is just a matter of determination and dedication.

Viola Kibiwo
Kenyan runner Viola Kibiwot has competed in several World Cross Country Championship events

Over the course of the trip to Kenya, I feel as though I got an understanding of Kenya’s athletics. Since we spent a considerable amount of time in Nairobi, I was expecting to go to a sporting event or at least tour some of the country’s premiere stadiums. After talking with several locals, I quickly learned that some of the more popular sports like rugby, soccer and basketball are not as prominent as they once were because of the economic struggles of the country and corruption within the top leagues. As a result, sponsorships are dwindling, and training facilities are not as good as they could be. This has limited Kenya’s athletic presences on the international stage.

However, with running, the athletes don’t necessarily need state-of-the-art facilities and equipment. They are sponsored runners, and running is their full-time job, but the climate in Kenya fosters year-round training. Since the Kenyan runners have established such a strong reputation amongst the international community, they have been implicitly designated as some of the most prominent representatives of the country.

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