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Posted: August 21, 2013  

Athletics: Unique Partnership Brings Kenyan Unknowns to Toronto

By Paul Gains

Caroline Jepkoech may not be rated amongst the world’s best marathoners yet but the Kenyan mother of four will line up with them at the 2013 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon October 20th, thanks to a unique partnership with a Kenyan race.

Organisers of the IAAF Silver Label race are helping to bring Jepkoech and Ezekiel Kemboi, winners of the inaugural Great Rift Valley Marathon, to Toronto.

Jepkoech won that event in 2:44:04 although it appears the course might have been as much as 1,500 metres short of the full marathon distance. But taking into consideration it was run on dirt roads and along hilly trails, at an altitude of more than 7,000 feet above sea level, clearly she has exciting potential.

Nevertheless, her curriculum vitae is unlikely to cause Ethiopia’s Dinknesh Mekash (2:25:09 personal best) or fellow Kenyan Flomena Cheyech (2:24:03 this year) any nervous loss of sleep. Both are confirmed entries for Toronto. But she may very well stamp her own impression upon the 2013 Toronto race.

The male winner Kemboi, not to be confused with his namesake, the three time world steeplechase champion, was timed in 2:10:32 but has reputedly run a similar time in a race in Rwanda. These two athletes will do their utmost to take advantage of this opportunity presented to them.

Jepkoech lives with her husband, their twin 12 year old girls and two boys, aged 9 and 7, in a village near the town of Eldoret and says she is delighted to be racing outside of Kenya for the first time. For the past few months she has been training in Kapsabet in an organised training group with elite athletes, according to John Carson of Run For Life, the organisation that founded the Rift Valley Marathon.

“The purpose of the event was to showcase the community work Run For Life was doing in the village of Tebeson about 30 km west of Eldoret ,” Carson explains. “Since 2005 about 65 volunteers from Ontario have visited that village. We also wanted to offer some local athletes the chance to participate in a Canadian race and foster cultural exchange between runners from Kenya and other parts of the world.”

Run For Life has a global outreach program that connects Kenyan school children with their counterparts in Ontario using the internet. They have also provided some of the villages with solar powered water pumps which bring clean water to the villages. In addition they have built cattle dips which are used to fight infection of cattle, the mainstay of village life.

Carson says a prominent Toronto based IT company, Quartet Services, is providing the two athletes with the air tickets while organisers of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon are providing accommodation, meals, visa support services and other amenities accorded elite athletes.

“They were thrilled.” Carson said of the two winners’ reactions to the invitations, “Caroline especially. She was running neck and neck with two other women until the last kilometre and then there was a flat out sprint.

“She has been in touch with me a number of times since then requesting training shoes and a track suit. We kind of take for granted some of the basics of training but it’s still down to shoes and clothing for these athletes.

“The marathon was a trail marathon, dirt roads and trails. This is what they train on year round. So we would really like to expose foreigners to this at next year’s race. By running our race you get a real look at what they train on.”

The race was a collaboration between Run For Life and local community leaders including Laban Rotich who was a world class 1,500m. Rotich earned the 1,500m silver medal at the 1999 world indoor championships. Carson brought Rotich to Canada to compete in the Cambridge Mile an event he manages in Cambridge, Ontario and the pair became friends. The Great Rift Valley marathoners owe their Toronto trip to this friendship.

Kemboi says his hero is former world marathon record holder Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia. Now training full time for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon he hopes to run under 2:10 in Toronto. He is involved with an elite training group in Eldoret. Just four months ago he got married and sees the Toronto event as his chance to break through to the world class ranks and earn some money.

Both Jepkoech and Kemboi understand the significance of this opportunity. In a country where poverty is rife they have seen the country’s top distance runners go overseas to earn money and then invest in farms and small businesses. Come October 20th we will see if they can fulfill their dreams.

For further information and entry to Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, see STWM.ca.


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