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Learning 2012

Expectations which arise from impressive performance or a spell of great training, can result in an athlete’s target race going either one way or the other. Team GB and Kenyan performances from London 2012 provide plenty examples of how some athletes thrive under extreme pressure and others, for whatever reason, are unable to produce the goods when it matters. Despite not yet being at that level of competition, I am able to relate to and draw comparisons between the London 2012 Olympics and my own season.

Firstly, what an incredible Olympics it was – certainly the best I have witnessed in my 23 years on the planet. From organisation to determination and the inspirational to the spectacular, London 2012 had it all and was undoubtedly a resounding success. The added bonus for me is that I have a gut feeling that the Paralympics will inspire me further more.

Sir Steve Redgrave kicks off London 2012 by passing on the Olympic flame to stars of the future

As always with positive and successful events in life, there are always going to be negative people clutching at straws to find faults and criticisms. Thankfully these straws were the small kind you get with Ribena packs and the pessimists were drowned out by the billions of people who have been thrilled, inspired and motivated by the performance which London put on for the world. The stage was well and truly taken and I believe a generation has been inspired.

Whilst trying not to sound hypocritical, the only negative area which I will touch upon is that thankfully drugs cheats grabbed much less of the headlines than in previous years, however they were still there. It amazes me how Nadzeya Ostapchuk could have been naive enough to think that she would not get caught doping in this day and age. It baffles me equally as much that she could take satisfaction from winning a tainted medal and therefore deny other athletes their reward for years of hard work and sacrifice. Articles are going to be about the only ceremony Gong Lijiao of China will receive after she was bumped up from 4th to the Bronze medal position as a result of the Belarusian’s cheating in the women’s Shot Put competition. Valerie Adams of New Zealand was rightly promoted to Olympic Champion and Evgeniia Kolodko of Russia was moved up from bronze to silver.

Ostapchuk (centre) with her tainted medal

Anyway enough of the negative. What was most inspiring for me was that at one point during the Games, the north-east of Scotland would have been sitting 10th in the medal table had they been a nation. The reason this provides me with increased motivation is not because of some misguided pro-Scottish feeling, but because living in Kenya has showed me that when your neighbours achieve great things, this automatically raises the bar and sets the standard for others to go and at least match.

For whatever individual reasons, the Kenyan team did not enjoy the success they had hoped for and which they have become accustomed to. It was lovely to see that the message coming out of Olympic Marathon favourite (but finished 4th), Mary Keitany’s camp was along the lines of “win or lose, it will always be together.” Another example was in the men’s Marathon where pre race favourite, Wilson Kipsang (bronze medallist) said afterwards: “some days you win and some days you don’t.” We can learn a great deal from the Kenyan attitude despite their relative lack of success in London 2012, as I am sure it has played a huge role in their past triumphs.

My summer track season started promisingly after returning in late May from 3 months of altitude training in Kenya. I enjoyed 5-6 weeks of personal bests and winning performances but unfortunately suffered from chest infections and bugs for the best part of a month after that. Now back fully fit and training well I felt disappointed after relatively good performances in the Division 1 British Athletics League match on Saturday just past in Windsor. Having had a few days to reflect and take on board advice from my Dad/co-coach, Mel Edwards and my other coach, Grant Smith I have realised that you cannot expect personal bests in every race just because you are feeling in great shape. With 2 races left this season (BMC 800 metres tonight in Watford and BMC 1500 metres in Bedford on Saturday) I aim to relax, stay positive but not overly optimistic and just go out there and enjoy my racing and hopefully a personal best or two might come in tandem.

Maybe, and I hope, one day there will be no need for me to draw these comparisons between the world’s best and my own.

David Rudisha leads home the fastest 800m race in history in what was ‘only’ one of two gold medals for the Kenyan team in London

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Reflecting on three incredible months in Iten, Kenya – Home of Champions

Mary Keitany winning the 2012 Virgin London Marathon,becoming the third fastest of all-time.

As I sit on the roller coaster-like bus journey from Eldoret to Nairobi, it gives me time to reflect on the 3 month trip to Iten, Kenya as a whole.  In between getting thrown from window to window and launched off the roof in jack-in-the-box fashion, I realise that I have definitely taken being able to train injury free for the whole trip for granted.  The fact is I have just been enjoying it so much and relishing the opportunity to push myself to new limits.  But that is what you do when you are happy, you go for it and do not look back.

However, when I think back to what the previous trip between August and November last year was like due to shin problems and the worries I had before this one as a result of that, it really sinks in how grateful I am to be training injury free thanks to my physiotherapist, Ron Coutts.

Blogs and interviews have been a lot less frequent this time around as a result of me actually doing what I was here to do – run.  It is a sacrifice I have been more than happy to make and hope it pays off on the track this summer.  Nevertheless, I have been lucky enough to conduct two of the best interviews of my journalism career, which more than made up for the lack of other articles.

Spending time training and relaxing with Kiwi twins, Jake and Zane Robertson was a ‘Macced-out’ experience.  After leaving home aged 16 in 2006, the pair are now on the cusp of the highest echelons of the sport.  They are living proof that if you make sacrifices and follow your dreams to the bitter end then you will succeed.  As I concluded in my article with them in VO2 Max Magazine earlier this month, these boys prove people wrong for a living.

Jake and Zane Robertson, per 1500m final in Kitale, Kenya.

Two days ago I was also incredibly lucky to interview the charming and charismatic double London Marathon champion, Mary Keitany for the second time in my career.  What made this interview all the more special for me was that not only did it focus more on the personal side of her life than the running but she trusted me enough to ask any question I wanted despite one journalist not so long ago abusing this trust and writing unpleasing material.  This was made possible largely thanks to Jeroen Deen, one of the world’s top physiotherapists who is based in Iten.  Without Jeroen, I would not have achieved half the success I have done in the profession today.  He and Mary will be friends of mine for life.

There have been far too many people to name that have contributed to success and enjoyment of this trip.  One friend in particular was instrumental in helping us get set up in Kenya last year.  Both myself and Dan will miss his company and horrendous humour now that we are heading home.  Both trips would not have been the same without him.

From left to right: Ciaran, Nelly Masai, myself, David Rudisha, Dan, Linet Masai.

As an individual and as an athlete I feel very solid mentally and always have a positive mindset. Having had my fair share of injuries over the past few years I have often felt like I just needed the physical side of my running to catch up with the mental side.  During the first few weeks of this trip I had a handful of sessions with Klemens Weigl, as part of a sports psychology programme and already I am feeling the benefits. The sessions have filled me with belief that I can take the mental aspect of my running to an even higher level and as a result I am certain my times on the track will improve. His techniques and thought-provoking advice really gives you the feeling that you have an extra weapon in your artillery. I feel empowered and I look forward to a long and successful partnership with Klemens, even if it is via Skype.

Iten truly is a place where you can realise your dreams.  That said, you have to have a higher than ever commitment and desire to achieve your goals.  I came to Kenya knowing the results I wanted on return but would have to admit that to a certain extent, I naively thought it would come almost magically just by being here.  In week one something my training partner, Dan Mulhare said really hit home: “No one coming to altitude is going to improve unless you train harder than you would at home.”

My attitude has always been spot on thanks to my Dad’s inspirational advice over the years, but at home as a result of injuries and distractions which I won’t go into, my application and commitment has been lacking. Not now. Not ever again. This is the time I make sacrifices, work to fulfilling my potential and put smiles on the faces of those who support me.

Dan has definitely had a big influence on my training and commitment over the past 3 months. Anything I achieve this year would not have been possible without Clockwork Mulhare’s 6am screams at me: “Myles are you running this morning or what?” Had he not been here I would probably still be in bed rather than writing this article or running anywhere near the times I feel I can this year.

Dan and myself during track session at Kamariny Stadium

Gideon Gathimba is a Kenyan international athlete and world record holder (4x1500m relay) who won the mile race in Aberdeen for the opening of the Sports Village in 2009.  He kindly invited me to live with his family and train with him for 5 days in the middle of my trip.  It turned out to be the best 5 days of my life – filled with some incredible experiences.  We met his 122 year old Great Grandmother who had never seen a white person before.  As I entered through the gate at the bottom of her garden and she caught a glimpse of me, she started dancing around and shouting ‘mzungo, mzungo’ –  a term that many Kenyans use to refer to white people.  It was heart warming to see how delighted she was that a mzungo had come to visit her and also brought her some small gifts.  It is an experience which I will take with me to the grave.

Myself and Gideon’s 122 year old Great Grandmother, Adelaide

Gideon plays an active role at his local church when he is not jet setting around the world as part of his life as an international athlete.  By taking me along to Sunday service as his guest, we created a little bit of history.  No white person had ever attended and again their welcoming warmth towards me was inspiring.  Little did I know they were expecting me to get up on stage and give a mini speech.  I through in as much Swahili as I could muster and thanked them for their kind welcome and greetings.  It seemed to go down ok and I quickly migrated back towards my pew.

Myself, the Pastor and his daughter at Sunday service

In the final part of my trip we both competed in the Athletics Kenya track meeting in Thika.  My first race on Kenyan soil and I was the only mzungo in the whole stadium.  Racing in Kenya gives you a tougher than ever mentality that makes nerves in Scottish championship  call rooms fade into insignificance.  All eyes on were on me.  Thankfully this inspired me and made me more determined.  I knew I had been training hard and most importantly I knew that I had more ability than almost anyone in the stadium thought I had.  Racing below race distance at 400 metres, I ran 0.5 seconds outside my lifetime best and placed 4th out of 8.  I am told the announcer shouted on the microphone, halfway in to the race: “who is this mzungo and why is he beating our boys?”  We hope to raise sponsorship to get Gideon into the Aberdeen Union Street Mile road race this year.

Gideon taught me the importance of ‘shape’.  ‘Shape’ to Kenyans means more than just being in good shape, but being in shape to compete against anyone on any given day.  Previously I had been naive and in some ways lazy, thinking that 4 weeks of hard training with some weights and core mixed in would get me into prime shape.

Right now I am the fittest I have ever been but what Gideon and Kenya to a certain extent too has taught me is that there is no reason why this is anywhere near my limit.  It gives me huge confidence that if I could run 1.53.07 for 800 metres last season, off the back of 6 weeks hard training which had been preceded by months of messing around, then this year can be hugely improved.

Day 1 of the 2011 trip, not in ‘shape’

You can learn a lot from the Kenyan athletes.  You can also learn how not to do things.  So many train in groups that follow the lead/fastest runner’s programme.  These are not suited to everyone and it is why many runs themselves into the ground and into an early retirement. The rain here is indeed far worse than home. Almost every road is un-run able at times when the skies decide to open. However, they need to toughen up and run in the rain sometimes, they think we are crazy when they see us running in only a small bit of rain.  Another way that this can be looked at is that they do not feel the same pressure as we do at home to complete every session that is planned for them.  It is flexible and they can easily miss one here or there.

Coming into ‘shape’

Thanks to BodyHelix I was able to organise a mile race at the Kamariny Stadium in Iten.  It was a huge success and we hope to build on it greatly next year.  With winning times of 4.14 for the men and 5.00 for the ladies, there was a high standard turn out which was great to see.  It felt fantastic to give something back to a place which has given me so much.

The BodyHelix Men’s Mile 2012

Things could not have gone any better for me this time around.  I recorded my biggest ever weekly mileage week at 75 miles in week 10 of 12.  Whilst my Dad urges me to not get too fixated on mileage like he did it is hard not to get excited but I remain careful and hold back when necessary.  The track sessions I have done here give me real hope that I can run the times I want to this year.  I was pleased to be hitting fast times in sessions on the slightly too long dirt track at 8000 feet above sea level.  My last 2 weeks have included some quality sessions but reduced mileage and I am beginning to feel fresh as the races approach this weekend. I will line up to run the British Milers Club Grand Prix 800 metres on Saturday followed by a 1500m and 4x400m relay in Aberdeen on Sunday in my first outing as club captain.  It will be fantastic to see my Mum again when she kindly collects me in Manchester and drives me back to sunny Scotland.

It’s clear to see that I absolutely love it out here in Kenya and I could easily live here.  However, it is a strange feeling to have that I still really, really want to come home.  I am looking hugely forward to seeing family and friends again but the burning desire to be home again comes from wanting to produce the results that all this trip’s hard work was designed to do and that many people have supported me in doing so.

Yesterday I completed my final track session on Kenyan soil.  It was only 5 x 200 metres and with a long-ish recovery to get the legs ticking over for Saturday’s race.  I was determined to hit one of them in 24 seconds and the first 4 went by in 25, 25, 25 and 25.  I said to myself before the last rep: “you will hit 24, now GO!!” Coming down the home straight I was thinking to myself ‘push as hard as you possibly can and leave it all on the track, you will not have another opportunity to rectify this if you don’t push hard enough now’.  I crossed the line in 24.94 and as I put the brakes on I went up onto the bank of the track and was confronted with the most incredible view across the Great Rift Valley.  It was one of the best moments in my running life.  That is the magic of Iten, Kenya – Home of Champions.

Elated at hitting the elusive 24 second rep!

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Kenya: Where dreams become aims. What motivates the Kenyan athlete?

Photo courtesy of Rob Henwood, BodyHelix Europe.

By Myles Edwards.  Reporting from Iten, Kenya.

Interview published on runnerslife.co.uk Wednesday 21st March, 2012.

Every athlete has a goal.  However, the motives behind each individual sportsman and woman dedicating such large quantities of their lives to sporting pursuits vary enormously.  Whether it be in search of fame, money, a sense of achievement, weight loss or a way to vent and release stress or frustration which has arisen from other areas of their lives – millions of individuals all over the world choose to push their mind, body and souls to the limit in search of their ultimate goal.

Having spent five of the past seven months training at altitude in Iten, Kenya in pursuit of my personal goals in the world of athletics, it has become clear to me that these reasons and motives not only vary depending on the individual but also derive from the athlete’s country of origin.

A question I am often asked is why do so many Kenyans opt to pursue a career in athletics? Is it for financial benefit?  To be the best they can be? Or simply to fill in time? These are just a few of the many questions which follow up the original.

Kenyans see athletics as the fastest, most realistic and, in some cases, only vehicle to a better life.  ‘Making it’ takes on a whole different meaning to a Kenyan athlete compared to that of their British counterparts.  Starting out as a competitive athlete in the UK, aged 9, I wanted to win, have fun and do my parents proud.  In Kenya it can be a matter of life or death.  For this reason it is not surprising that without fail, 3 times each day you will see large groups of athletes stampeding along the red dirt roads of Iten, trying to run their way to a better life.  They can see all around them, the financial success that can be achieved through running and in particular marathon running.  They see the big cars, the land and the status which their neighbours have achieved through running.  They say to themselves ‘I am Kenyan, I can do this too’.  One race can set you up for life.

Reports suggest that Samuel Wanjiru, a hero to many Kenyans but who’s life sadly came to a tragic end in 2011, was earning up to 2million Kenyan shillings (over  £15,500) per month as a teenager from his Toyota contract alone.  A good quality acre of farming land in Kenya can cost around 300,000ksh (around £2,200).

While there is no doubt that the financial side of the sport is a hugely influential factor in motivating Kenyan athletes to be the best and drive them out of poverty, there is still a very special characteristic which is evident in every top runner I have spoken with during my time here.  Despite the vast levels of success that many have enjoyed, they still continue to push themselves to new limits and chase new world records when they could quite easily sit back, relax and enjoy their wealth.

Speaking with the second fastest marathon runner in history, Wilson Kipsang, he said:

“We as athletes have aims and expectations which become higher and more ambitious as we achieve.  Now my ambition is the world marathon record.

“It takes discipline and hard work.  I am a very focused guy, when I want something I go out there and work hard to get it.”

World half-marathon record holder and reigning London Marathon champion, Mary Keitany, also possesses this infectious, burning desire to succeed at the very top of the sport.

Her coach, Gabriele Nicola, provided great insight into the reasons behind her success and emphasised just how important this determined attitude is when chasing new feats:

“Mary is talented, she is light and she has a big engine.  Some people are born to run fast.  However, on top of this she has a professional attitude and great discipline.  There is no secret.  Talent is useless for people if they do not have the correct attitude.”

Kenya and its people continue to teach me that in order to achieve your goals in athletics and indeed life, you need to push yourself to new limits – but crucially, to also train smart in order to avoid injury.  Finding this balance is key and it is something which many of the athletes I have met place a paramount level of importance on.   It truly is a special country and a place which can help turn your dreams into realistic, concrete aims.

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An insider’s look at life on the ground in Kenya

ROGER ON RUNNING: A DIARY FROM ITEN
 
An insider’s look at life on the ground in Kenya
 
By Roger Robinson and Myles Edwards
As featured in the Web Only issue of Running Times Magazine.
 

My friend, Myles Edwards, a 23-year-old, national-class 800m runner from Scotland, is living and training in Iten, Kenya. The following are edited selections from the email diary he sent me in September and October. Not only do they give a glimpse of what a visiting runner encounters while training in Iten, Edwards’ entries also give telling insights to some of the world’s top runners.

Watching Dan Mulhare at the Ndalat Cross Country

My neighbor is Linet Masai! When she got home from the world champs, the celebrations went on until it was time for their 6 a.m. run. For such a slight lady, she has a huge amount of laundry – hogging five washing lines today with all her kit from the worlds and Zurich. Haven’t spotted the Daegu bronze medal hanging there! My room is basic — power comes on and off, no furniture, and it took three days to get a bed. But who cares? The people are terrific. Theo the taxi driver waited three hours at Eldoret when our plane was late.

Runners are everywhere. It’s like living in World Running HQ. I watched the world champs 800m on TV with Brother Colm, Rudisha’s coach. He was so relaxed! He just sat there. All he said was, “Easy, OK.”

Can’t wait to get back running. The shin is improving, and Lornah Kiplagat’s camp is great — this morning did gym, aqua-jogging, and a killer one hour on the exercise bike. Then at the physio, my appointment came between Augustine Choge and Mary Keitany. Jeroen, the physio, is a great guy, very modest, who has treated everyone from top soccer players like Robin van Persie to Mo Farah. My only problem is Simon, a neighbor, a 2:10 Ugandan marathoner, who laughs at me because I get up late in the morning. They have all run two hours or more before I appear at 8 a.m. But wait. I’ll show them.

It would have been impossible to have secured the place we have and had all these experiences without the help of a mutual friend of mine and my training partner out here, Dan Mulhare.

During my appointment with Jeroen today, Abel Kirui came in with Wilson Kiprop, and every one started dancing and celebrating Abel’s world champs marathon victory. I was on the table and he shook my hand as he danced round. That doesn’t happen every day!

The streets are like nothing I have seen before. Roads are pretty good, driving is appalling. The taxis drive on whatever side of the road they feel like. The people don’t have much in material things. I walked into a store called “Runners Point,” and it was like a charity shop, just shabby second-hand clothes, and some adidas apparel from before my time. The “London Marathon Shop” sells eggs and not much else. Some of the local runners, Kenyan and Ugandan, have begun to hang about asking for things. Very friendly at first, but now they seem to assume that we are wealthy and can give them everything from watches to food. But I didn’t work so many hours for this trip to give away my equipment to a full-time athlete with a manager.

Ran over 40 minutes yesterday, my longest run yet, because I misread a sign that I thought said “Iten 3K.” It was a fantastic loop. Until then, I’d run the same out and back on the road to Eldoret. Pretty sure some of the kids I passed have never seen a mzungo before. I gave them high-fives, said “Jambo,” and did my Usain Bolt imitation. Jogged down to the track, where there were around 150 athletes bashing out sessions of 400, 600, 800 and 1,000 reps, mighty impressive at that altitude. One European runner who has set up as a coach was loud and unpleasant to his athletes, who were “only” doing 1K reps in 3:06. The whole track heard him shouting at them, and he ended up sending two home. I felt like putting an arm around and saying don’t listen to him, well done, and stick to it.

Moses Mosop ran 45K today and went through 26.2 miles in 2 hours 16 minutes. At altitude! He plans to run Chicago but not try for the world record because he has some disruptions. Mary Keitany has been away at the Lisbon half, and will be doing New York. I’d better not say how she plans to run it. But she intends to win and won’t be waiting around. It looks likely she will be wearing my watch in NYC. I had dinner with Jeroen the physio and Mary’s coach, Gabriele Nicola, who is really helpful to me and incredibly knowledgeable, an absolute fanatic when it comes to knowing times and splits. He analyzed every split from Mary’s Lisbonrace to see where she can improve. He really cares about all his athletes. And Jeroen has become such a good friend I’m giving him my Aberdeen F.C. top. (The way they are playing this season, it might not count as a gift.)    




One really good friend is Enoch. I helped him set up an email and Facebook. He’d love to go to university but there’s no way his mother can afford it. Lornah and her husband, Pieter, have a great program that sends outstanding Kenyans to American colleges.   

The bad news is my running has stopped again, as the shin is far too sore. Did 100K on the gym bike yesterday, inspired by when Dad requested a treadmill in his chemo isolation room in 2007. [For Myles’ dad and his response to cancer, see “Roger on Running: Running Old and New.”] I hit the wall at 92K, but still did my 2-minute Ks target. No point in being down. I have a great physio who is far cheaper than home, and all the time in the world to work out and get mega fit. Bad things happen to everyone, it’s how you deal with them that sets you apart. 

Today I was sitting in the sun when Linet Masai shouted for my help. I ran over and in her living room a socket and extension cable was sparking. I made sure she was well away from it and got her to turn off the power. The plug had melted in the socket and snapped when I tried to pull it out. So I got a friend who was going to Eldoret to buy a new plug and socket, and dropped it off tonight after my stretching class with Jeroen, to Linet’s very shy sister Maggie. Five minutes later Linet came over, smiling but shy, asking how much she owed me, but I said nothing, it’s for a neighbor. When do you get opportunity to do a favor for a world-class athlete? Her smile went from ear to ear. It’s amazing to get to know her as an ordinary person at home, after reading about her, things like your magic description of her running, “Roger on Running: The New York Mini 10K.” I showed Linet her fan site on Facebook, which she had never seen. Some days I watch soccer with her and all her sisters. Linet supports Chelsea and her sisters support Man Utd, but no one is perfect.  I hope to one day take them to a West Ham United match.

Berlin and Chicago — wow! All Kenya is very happy. According to Canova, Mosop was only in 85 percent shape. Before the race, he said Moses would run “around 2:05:40,” not a bad prediction. [Mosop won Chicago in 2:05:37 on Oct. 9.] In the gym on the way to the shower I got chatting with a guy who after about five minutes casually mentioned that he was one of Patrick Makau’s pacers in his Berlin world record. I also talked to Wilson Kipsang. He told me, “As athletes we have expectations and aims. As we accomplish these, they change. Now my expectation is the world marathon record, and my aim is to do that in Frankfurt on Oct. 30.” Gilbert Kirwa will be at Frankfurt, too, and Agnes Kiprop could win the women’s. Then comes New York, with Mary Keitany. It goes on and on. This is an incredible place!

Three nights ago I picked up severe food poisoning and lost so much weight in 12 hours I was taken to hospital. Now I weigh the same as a Kenyan. Iten District Hospital was great, the staff were impressive and friendly. I was home in time to leave at 7 a.m. (see, I said I could do it!) for a local cross country race. Great trip, as Maggie and her friend Chemtai were running, and others from the Masai family came along. They are incredibly friendly and helpful people, and they laugh, laugh and laugh some more all day long. The race was like no event I have ever seen — kids everywhere, big fields, incredibly fast. Chemtai was 3rd in the Senior race and my training partner Dan ran 40:29 for 12.8K /7.95 miles, and only came 94th! He was first mzungo, and the kids had never seen a white man. I lost count of the number who asked me to sponsor them.   

Today I walked one hour, increasing the pace, and ran in the pool, which tests the breathing — and NO PAIN. Will try running again soon. My plan now is to get injury-free when I’m home, get a job to save some more money, and then come back here in March. I’ve made amazing new friends here, like Enoch, Jeroen and Linet. It’s opened up so many things I would like to do with my life, like coaching, and freelance journalism, and helping people find good therapists. I’ll do some of it here. This is a special country.

Roger Robinson has done many things in a lifetime in running, including racing for England and New Zealand, setting masters records at Boston and New York, and working as stadium announcer and TV and radio commentator. Most of his jobs involve finding words to describe or analyze running. The first of his successful books, “Heroes and Sparrows: a Celebration of Running” was reissued this year. Senior writer for Running Times he has won three U.S. running journalism awards. “Roger on Running” appears monthly on runningtimes.com. Read all of Roger’s articles here.

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Keitany Express heading for London via New York

Winning London Marathon 2011. Photos courtesy of The Telegraph.

By Myles Edwards.   Reporting from Iten, Kenya

Interview published on runnersworld.com Thursday 13th October 2011

Mary Jepkosgei Keitany, the 2011 London Marathon champion, ran her first race in 2006.  The Shoe4Africa road race, a 10k (but now a 5k) awarded prizes to the first 20 finishers. Mary was 21st. It could be argued that this result provided the catalyst for the altitudinal heights which the 5 ft 1” Kalenjin’s career has now reached. However, it was evident when speaking with her in Iten,Kenya, on Saturday that her granite-like determination was engrained in her long before that race.

Coached by Gabriele Nicola, Keitany is now a multiple world record holder. Growing up as a child inKenya, Mary was not short of role models and she states Paul Tergat and Tegla Loroupe as her idols.  Having athletes such as these to look up to not only planted the seeds of inspiration but instilled a burning desire for Mary to try and match their achievements.

Photo by Victah Sailer

Her coach, Gabriele Nicola, provided great insight into the reasons behind her success:

“Mary is talented, she is light and she has a big engine.  Some people are born to run fast.  However, on top of this she has a professional attitude and great discipline.  There is no secret.  Talent is useless for people if they do not have the correct attitude.”

Speaking with both of them earlier this week, it was clear to see the huge amount of mutual respect and admiration they have for one another.  Mary said:

“Gabriele does a great job as our coach and his training is very good. The best thing is that he is always with us and is very supportive when showing us what exactly to do.”

(By ‘us’ Mary is referring to the elite group which contains Sharon Cherop, Helena Kirop, Agnes Kiprop, Lydia Cheromei, Peninah Arusei and Hilda Kibet. These athletes are coached by Gabriele Nicola and some managed by Gianni Demadonna.)

With already world records galore to her name, I quizzed Mary on whether she saw Paula Radcliffe’s world best of 2.17.42 as an achievable target.  She responded in her typical modest but confident manner:

“It is maybe possible.  Now that Florence (Kiplagat) has also run 2.19 there is competition there to maybe do it sometime.”

Mary was unsure as to whether Radcliffe’s world record should stand.  The time of 2.15.25 was controversially deemed ineligible by the IAAF last month due the presence of male pacemakers:

“I am not sure.  It is a good time.  What I do believe is that a male pacemaker does make a difference when you are looking to run that pace.  It will not be possible to get a woman to pace for 2.15.”

With her sights set firmly on victory in next month’s ING New York City Marathon, Mary feels that she has improved a lot since her third place finish in the race last year:

“I have worked very hard since last year. I want to go faster. I want to control the race from the start and make it quicker.”

Winning the 2011 London Marathon stands out as Mary’s favourite achievement to date, but she would not be completely drawn on whether it would be enough to guarantee selection for the 2012 Olympics:

“I will do New York first, that is what I am focusing on. After New York, I can think about the Olympics but until then it is very important to have complete focus on my next race in New York. If I run well there, then I think that the two performances will be enough.”

Gabriele elaborated on Mary’s thoughts regardingKenya’s 2012 Olympic selection:”The problem is not with selection.

“The aim is to be ready and stay free of injury for the Olympics. We hope that Mary will stay okay from now until then. You cannot predict what will happen between now and then but the three most likely to be selected are Mary Keitany, Edna Kiplagat, and Florence Kiplagat.”

Although the focus of this cheerful, pocket-sized rocket is firmly set on the streets ofNew York, be under no illusions that barring injury or illness, she will unleash her artillery of weapons on her favourite course in 2012.

 

Mary Keitany career record

In 2007, she made her mark internationally with a second place behind Lornah Kiplagat (who won in a world record half-marathon time) in the IAAF World Road Running Championships inUdine,Italy. Following the birth of her first child in June 2008, her first race back was the World 10km inBangalore,India, in May 2009, where she finished a very close second behind Aselefech Mergia ofEthiopiaand ran a personal best 32:09. Four months later she won the 2009 Lille Half Marathon inFrancein a time of 1:07:00–making her the seventh fastest ever over the distance. Next was the 2009 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships inBirmingham, which Keitany won, breaking the Championship record with a 1:06:36.

In 2010, she broke the world record for 25 kilometers inBerlin, winning in 1:19:53 and also scooped first prize in the Abu Dhabi Half Marathon.  This year she went on to break the world half marathon record in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE with a time of  1:05:50, breaking a record along the way for 20k (1:02:36) and setting world bests at 8k and 10 miles. Keitany then earned her emphatic win inLondonin April, covering the 26.2 miles in 2:19:19.

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