Eldoret, The City of Champions

 

My home town marathon attracts participants from every part of the country and the rest of the world, but the competition here is usually perceived to be amongst Nandi County, “the source of champions”; Uasin Gishu County, “the city of champions” and Elgeyo-Marakwet County, “the home of champions”.

Judging from the crowd gathered at the finish line, it’s hard to argue with the boastful county titles. There are Mary Keitany, London and New York City marathon champion and Eliud Kipchoge, 2015 London and Berlin Marathon champion, both recovering from their latest victories, and just here to watch. I see Ezekiel Kemboi — two time Olympic and four-time world champion, Asbel Kiprop — Olympic and three times world champion, Vivian Cheruiyot — multiple world champion, Ednah Kiplagat — multiple world champion, Julius Yego — world javelin champion, and Wesley Korir — the 2012 Boston Marathon champion and the only elite runner in the world who is as well an active member of parliament.

And those are just the active athletes. The legendary Kipchoge Keino, now head of the Kenyan Olympic Commission, is also present and uses the occasion to urge athletes to continue running clean like he himself used to run during his heyday. “I even used to run without shoes, and I was still able to win and make my country proud,” Keino said.

This is the crowd at the Kass Marathon, held annually in Eldoret, is an event organized and sponsored by Kass Media Group, owners of a local radio station, the Kass FM, that broadcasts in the Kalenjin native language, hence commanding a huge number of audiences across the Rift Valley region and beyond.

The race starts in Kapesbet, which is a natural marathon distance away from Eldoret. I stood amongst this throng of legends watching the marathon progress on two large screens at the Eldoret Sports Club.

The two large screens were some of the new developments at this marathon that keeps getting bigger and better each year. Also different from last year was the new use of timing chips that relayed the times of athletes to the screen as they crossed the finish line.

Valary Jemeli Ayabei opened up a big gap in the last stages of the women’s 42km and stayed clear ahead of the rest until she crossed the finish line in 2:43.19, almost two minutes ahead of Loice Chebet in second at 2:45.06. Sylvia Tenai finished in third position.
The men’s race was much more closely contested, with five athletes finishing within one minute of each other. Albert Korir won in 2:21.14. Bernard Kitur took second in 2:21.26 and while many past winners of Kass Marathon usually fail to come back, Weldon Kirui who had won the 2012 edition came back and took third in 2:21.40.
Nichodemus Kipkurui and Alice Aprot won the men and women 10km races in 30:10.5 and 33:28.8 respectively.

The times might seem slow until you consider that the athletes ran through rolling hills to finish the race at 2,100 meters (6889 feet) elevation, 200 meters (650 feet) higher than the start. It’s truly a gruelling race and the type of terrain and altitude that prepares runners here to go out and take on the world.

 


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