By Paul Gains
As the fall marathon season approaches many of Kenyaís top runners are huddled together in rustic training camps deep in the Great Rift Valley training hard while their managers negotiate their entries into the lucrative races.
Two of them, Philemon Rono and Nicholas Rotich, have agreed to run the 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 16th a decision greeted warmly by the organizers who are eager to see Derissa Chimsaís 2013 course record (2:07:05) beaten. Toronto Waterfront is an IAAF Gold Label race.
The pair train in a 30 person group in Kaptaget near Eldoret under the direction of renowned Kenyan international Patrick Sang, the 1992 Olympic 3000m steeplechase silver medalist.
Amongst Sangís athletes is the reigning Olympic marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda, Geoffrey Kamworor, the reigning IAAF world half marathon champion, and the man favoured to win the Olympic marathon August 21st, Eliud Kipchoge.
Clearly both Rono and Rotich have benefited as well as been influenced by their association with the group and with Kipchoge in particular.
"Eliud is a lot of inspiration for me and the same applies for the group we train in," says Rono, who sports a personal best time of 2:07:07 recorded at the 2014 Hamburg Marathon. "I want to be like him and thatís my dream which I hope to achieve one day."
"We are reporting each Monday to the camp and leave again on Saturday afternoon. We have a break on Sunday and spend the time with our families. Our first training starts at 6 am. Eliud is the one who wakes us every day at 5.45 am. It depends on the training. It can be a long run from 30-40k or track training. Otherwise itís a 1 hour 20 minute long run."
Rono, 25, shares a room with steeplechaser Brimin Kipruto, the 2008 Olympic champion, when he is at the camp.
"We always take our breakfast after training. We like to have chai with bread," Rono adds.
"We have a chef who cooks for us every day. Our menu is very balanced.
"We do have electricity at the camp. After dinner I like to watch a video and then we go to bed early to get enough sleep for the next dayís training."
Without question the atmosphere in the camp is focused completely on generating world-class performances and thereby providing a good lifestyle for the athletes and their families.
Earlier this year, Rono was selected to represent Kenya at the African Cross Country Championships - he had raced the previous year for Kenya at these championships - but turned down the invitation in favour of a half marathon race on the roads the same weekend. The African Cross Country Championships would not be an earner, and as Rono has put his career as a qualified policeman on hold to chase athletic excellence, he needs all the financial support he can secure to support his family.
Another member of this magnificent training group is Laban Rotich the 2014 Toronto winner. He too has been helpful in advising the athletes on his trip to Canada.
"I am training with Laban," Rono adds. "He told me about Toronto and he said itís a very good race. So I am looking forward to go there myself. I heard it has a flat course and has great fans. My goal is to win the race."
While Rono has had to rely on Korir for his Ďintelí Rotich, just 19 years old, has at least been to Toronto and run 30 kilometres of the course. A year ago he was a pacemaker for the menís A group, comfortably taking them through half-way in 63:45 and 30k in 1:31:23. This yearís race will mark his debut at the full marathon distance.
"Yes, it will be my marathon debut. My training partners advised me to be patient and persevere," he reveals. "I am nervous as it will be my first race. Although I paced several marathons, finishing is something new to me. But I hope to be among top three in Toronto."
Rotich joined the group in 2013 and has great aspirations in marathoning, also pointing to Eliud Kipchoge as his mentor. And, if he had not been encouraged to take up running during primary school, like so many other Kenyans, he knows he would struggle to earn a living as a farmer.
Marathon racing can be lucrative and is one of the prime motivators for these runners. The prize money in Toronto for instance is $25,000 Cdn to the winner of both the menís and womenís races, $15,000 for second, $8,000 for third down to $2,000 to the eighth place finisher.
Although the Olympic marathon is being run on a Sunday and the athletes return to their families on Saturday afternoon, the group are hatching plans to watch Kipchoge go for Olympic gold either in Eldoret or in the town of Kaptagat on the 21st.
Should Kipchoge win the Olympic gold, as most experts predict, Rono and Rotich will certainly be further inspired as they prepare for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. And we may well see that course record shattered by one of these two.
For More Information and to run with the Kenyans: STWM.ca.