Sunday, June 15, 2008

Double Win at Bellin Marks Fine Farewell

John YudaA women’s victory and the top three spots on the men’s side of yesterday’s Bellin Run highlighted the last spring appearances of many of our road racers. In Green Bay, Wisconsin, Millicent Gathoni notched another dominating win, taking the Bellin Run 10K in 32:51, more than 2 minutes ahead of 2007 Chicago Marathon runner-up Adriana Pirtea. On the men’s side, John Yuda and John Korir both recorded times of 28:47, with Yuda getting the nod for the victory. Charles Munyeki completed the KIMbia sweep by placing third in 29:20.

At the Steamboat Classic in Peoria, Illinois yesterday, Luke Kipkosgei finished his spring season in fine form, running 18:18 for the 4-mile race to finish second, just one second behind Ridouane Harroufi. Richard Kiplagat took fourth in the strong field by running 18:20. Elva Dryer took fifth in 20:44, and Jane Gakunyi was one place and 2 seconds behind Elva.

Johns Yuda and Korir, Luke, Charles, Millicent and Jane will return home later this week. Some of them, as well as KIMbia stalwarts like Gilbert Okari, will return later in the summer for the height of the U.S. road season.

Bellin Run 10 results | Steamboat Classic 4-mile results

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Millicent Gathoni Wins Bolder Boulder

Millicent Gathoni en route to victory.Millicent Gathoni kept the women’s Bolder Boulder title in the KIMbia family for another year, taking the Memorial Day 10K in 32:49. She battled Ethiopia’s Amane Gobena for most of the race before pulling away for a 4-second victory. Her victory also helped Millicent lead the Kenyan women to a second-place finish in the international team competition behind a strong Romanian contingent. Returning to action after last month’s Olympic Marathon Trials, Elva Dryer ran 34:39 and was the second American behind Deena Kastor.

Running as part of the British Commonwealth team, John Yuda placed fourth in 28:48, one place and 9 seconds ahead of John Korir, who was the top finisher on the Kenyan men’s squad. Charles Munyeki was eighth in 29:12. Ethiopia won the men’s team title, followed by Kenya and the Commonwealth.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Korir, Chepkurui Produce KIMbia Sweep at Bay to Breakers

John Korir repeats as Bay to Breakers champ.John Korir and Lineth Chepkurui won this morning’s Bay to Breakers 12K in San Francisco, often called the world’s largest road race (once you factor in the thousands of unofficial entrants–it is San Francisco, after all). Korir ran 34:24 to repeat his victory of last year. For good measure, he was also the first man to the top of the infamous Hayes Street Hill. John Yuda was third in 35:03, behind Moroccan Ridouane Harroufi (34:28), who won the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler last month over Johns Korir and Yuda. Our Julius Koskei was 4th in 35:56.

Lineth won yet another major American race, adding the Bay to Breakers title to victories at Cherry Blossom in April and the Bloomsday 12K two weeks ago. She ran 39:22 to keep the women’s title in the KIMbia family one year after Edna Kiplagat, who recently gave birth, won here.

Lineth was among the elite women given a headstart of 4 minutes and 40 seconds over the rest of the field. Korir caught her in the last mile to win the race-within-a-race equalizer bonus.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Chepkurui Wins Bloomsday

Lineth Chepkurui continued her winning ways on Sunday, taking the title at the Bloomsday 12K in Spokane, Washington. The race just happens to be the largest timed running event in the world. Lineth pulled away from the pack, which included Olympic medalist Catherine Ndereba, on the toughest part of the course, Doomsday Hill. She increased her lead in the remaining miles to win in 39:47, 25 seconds ahead of Ndereba. Four weeks ago, Lineth won the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in Washington, D.C.

KIMbia had two former Bloomsday champions in the men’s race. John Korir finished third in 34:17, behind Micah Kogo (33:51) and Ridouane Harroufi (34:14). Our other former champion, Gilbert Okari, returned to action by placing 12th in 35:11. John Yuda was 6th in 34:39, and Luke Kipkosgei was 15th in 35:49.


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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Even the Gardeners Here Are Faster Than Me

In Kenya for the next few months on behalf of the KIMbia Foundation, Peter Vigneron has a few thoughts about running in the Rift Valley.

I’m staying at Silgich Hill Academy now, where even the gardener is a better runner than I am.
On my morning run Sunday, as on many of my morning runs since I’ve come to Kenya, a group of children playing near the road fell in alongside me as I passed by. This morning one boy raced me, and he almost won. Before he dropped I was wondering how long I would last if he didn’t get tired very quickly. I realized when I finished that since my arrival to Kenya in early March, this boy, this nameless, anonymous child, is the first Kenyan who couldn’t hang with my pace. I don’t think he was older than 12.

James Koskei and Timothy Cherigat run a hard 25K in Iten, with a little help from their friends.There’s been a lot written about the successes of Kenyan runners over the last 15 years, some of it by very smart people. I may not have much to add to the discussion, except to say that I think there are a lot of reasons why Kenyans are so good and why they are so good in such numbers. I think that in Kenya there exists a perfect storm of reasons, that there are layers of explanations and some work for some athletes and don’t work for others. I’ve read that Kenyans are fast because all Kenyans run or walk miles to school everyday, and that no American will ever be able to match that type of childhood aerobic development. Then I read that Paul Tergat rode the bus as a kid.

One afternoon early in my trip Paul Koech pointed to a group of children playing soccer at a local school and told me that probably one of them could be a world record holder. “It’s just a matter of organization and encouragement,” he said, “the talent is here.” That talent isn’t in the United States or Europe, or even Uganda or Tanzania, Kenya’s neighbors to the North and West. In must exist to an extent in Ethiopia, a country that has produced the world’s two best male runners, but Ethiopia’s depth is not comparable to Kenya’s. The talent is very much right here, in Rift Valley Province. Paul was exaggerating about the children playing soccer. There cannot be a potential world record holder every 100 kids, as he boasted, but I’d believe it if that ratio always produced a runner who reached world class.

There are significant, identifiable reasons for Kenya’s sustained success at distance running, of course. In fact there is an abundance of identifiable reasons, and the stories about walking and running miles to school everyday have a lot of truth to them. The Rift Valley is where Kenya produces most of its corn, and like farm communities worldwide, population density here is low. A school might have to cast its net miles to find enough children to justify hiring teachers, and there are few cars and buses to carry children those miles to class. Not every Kenyan walks 10K to school everyday—there are buses at a lot of private schools, some kids cycle, and some must live next door, after all—but many do. Even so—children run and walk to school the world over. Kenya isn’t the only poor country with farmland.

Wednesday afternoon I found myself chatting with a young man called Sammy. He had seen me go for a run that morning from Silgich, and he wanted to know about my training. Sam is the gardener here. He came because he is an orphan, and after he completed 8th grade the family he lived with turned him out, reasoning that he was old enough to fend for himself. (Incidentally, he may have been. I’d say he’s 19 or 20, and class is a notoriously unreliable way of estimating age in Kenya. A lot of kids don’t finish high school until they’re 22 or 23.) Paul houses and feeds Sammy in return for his labor, and perhaps pays him a modest wage.

It’s gotta be the food, right? John Yuda and Peter Tanui prepare ugali.In the course of our conversation, I learned that Sammy is a marathoner. He runs every morning at 5:00 before going to work at the school all day. Last year, at 5000 feet, Sammy ran 2:25. He asked if I wanted to join him for training the next morning. For the most part, I’ve been guided by an “always say yes” policy since I came to Kenya. I reason that most of the worthwhile experiences here are going to make me a little bit uncomfortable, and most of the people I’m around are intelligent and unlikely to make me do something I cannot or should not do, so I said yes.

I’ve read that the Kenyan diet is they key to their success. I’ve read that it’s the altitude, and I’ve read that it’s because they lie down and sleep in the grass everyday between runs. I’ve read that it’s because they do so much mileage, that it’s because they run twice a day every day, or even that it’s because they run thrice a day everyday. A rowing coach I met in Colorado told me it was because they sprinted all their runs. He was certain that they didn’t do high volume. I’ve read that it’s because they are poor and desperate and view running as a way out of poverty. I’ve read that it’s drugs. I’ve read that it’s genetics, and that the rest of us should just forget about beating them.

I don’t know if any of this is true. Distance running is a greatly understudied activity. Part of the confusion here is probably because we don’t know empirically if a high-volume program gets better results than a low-volume one, for example. We have loads of anecdotal evidence for what works, but it’s tough to tease apart the components of success in this sport, even on what should be a basic question like mileage. It would be one hell of study that controlled for sleeping in the grass everyday.

Timothy CherigatWhen Sammy and I began running Thursday morning the moon was shining and I had a terrific view of the stars. We started at a jog. The footing was difficult in the dark, but starting slowly seems universal to Kenyan runners, regardless of conditions. The first half mile is never, ever, faster than 4 minutes. Each time I run with them I get artificially confident as I warm up, and then the pace drops and suddenly I find myself fighting for every stride, running the tangents, and wondering if today will be the day I don’t get dropped. On Thursday I made it 55 minutes before I called it a morning and waddled home to school. Sammy added another loop and still beat me back. On Friday I found that my achilles had tightened, and I took Saturday off. Sunday saw my glorious victory.

Sammy is the rule in Kenya, not the exception. On Thursday morning we passed 5 guys just like him, all wearing faded Nike gear from the early 1990′s, training in torn shoes, most wearing winter hats against the early morning cold. When the sun rose we could see Mount Elgon, the site of a month-old government counterinsurgency campaign against a violent rebel group, looming ethereally against the fading dawn of Western Kenya and Uganda.

At World Cross Country in Scotland last month, a guy nobody had ever heard of named Leonard Komon took second behind Kenenisa Bekele and ahead of 2007 champion Zerseny Tadesse. I don’t mean nobody in the West had heard of him (which is certainly true), I mean nobody anywhere. None of the athletes I’ve talked to recognized his name beyond seeing it on the roster for Worlds. The Sunday Standard reports that another athlete discovered him in 2005 training in jeans and leather shoes. He finished 3 seconds behind Bekele, the greatest distance runner in the history of the world.

I’m a betting man, and I bet altitude has a lot to do with Kenyan success. I bet poverty is a powerful motivator, I think their diet helps, and the type of training they do should be studied and replicated further. But I also think that being the best in the world at something means that everybody else is not as good, and I’m not certain that the Kenyan dominance can be easily distilled and copied.

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