By Paul Gains
Rejected by another autumn marathon Jackson Limo turned up in Beirut a year ago a welcome addition to a world class field and one determined to prove his detractors wrong. The Kenyan certainly did that and more, winning the IAAF Silver Label race by close to two minutes in a new course record of 2:11:04.
Now the 28 year old will return to defend his title with fingers crossed he can do so in a faster time.
Limo has a personal best of 2:09:04 recorded at the 2014 Paris Marathon. But he clearly has much more in him. With five weeks remaining until the Beirut race he has victory on his mind.
"I want to win again and improve my time," he reveals. "This means I would break the course record as well. I don't think anyone ever defended his title in Beirut. So let me the first one. I liked the course. It seems my body adapts very easy to the conditions there."
Indeed the temperature at the 7:00 a.m start time a year ago wasn’t ideal - a balmy 19 celsius - although there was a breeze blowing in from the Mediterranean. He ran alone from 35 kilometres onward and dominated the race all the way to the finish. Clearly he can go faster.
For the past few years he has belonged to an impressive training group based in Kaptagat and coached by three time world championship steeplechase medalist, Patrick Sang. Led by Olympic marathon champion, Eliud Kipchoge they spend much time together in the training camp.
"I do still train with Eliud although his preparation was a bit different because of his Olympic marathon," Limo reveals. "So this time we have been training less together but I still train with greats like Emmanuel Mutai, Bernard Kipyego, Bernard Koech and Lucas Rotich.
"My training (for Beirut) is going well, I am peaking at the right moment it seems. I do around 200km per week, sometimes 210km. I do live in the camp, mostly from Monday to Saturday. But sometimes I stay the weekend as well. My wife isn't happy with that but she has to accept these sacrifices for me to be successful."
Limo says he was inspired by watching Kipchoge’s Olympic victory.
"Of course when someone wins a race it raises the morale of everybody in the same program. I watched the Olympic marathon with many of my teammates," he remembers. "People were shouting with happiness when Eliud broke away and won the race."
Like all professional runners Limo races to better the lifestyle of his family, his community as well as himself. Winning Beirut a year ago earned him $10,000 USD first place prize money plus $4,000 USD for beating the course record. Evidently he put that money to good use.
"I bought some land and built some houses for my younger brothers," he explains. "Also I used some of that money to pay school fees for family members. It's completely normal to bring up the people in my circle as I am not the only one who is responsible for making me succeed.
"Of course all must help for the family to be successful. We succeed as a family not as an individual. That's how we approach life in Kenya. It's one for all and all for one.
"I still have one sister and four brothers in school. They are in between form 1 and form 4. So soon some will graduate. Some of them might continue to go for a professional education. But they don't know yet where their interests are."
Winning Beirut helped earn him an invitation to return to the Paris Marathon this past April. But a dodgy hamstring flared up during the race and he was unable to finish. Though he was disappointed he took time off to rehabilitate and then prepare for his Beirut title defense.
"I was focusing on running on a faster course to improve my time but unfortunately I got injured during my race in Paris and I did not finish," he recalls. "My hamstring was bothering me in the week before the race but I thought it wouldn't be a problem after the last ten days training was little and I thought recovery would be okay."
"My coach doesn't believe in time trials but I can see from what other athletes are doing in the group that I am on the right path now. By the time of Beirut I should be better than last year. I am fit and have no lingering pains. Therefore I feel that with five more weeks I am going to be in a very good shape."
Limo will arrive in Beirut brimming with confidence. Should the pacemakers and, perhaps more importantly, the weather cooperate he may well lower his course record. And that would further emphasize his decision to run Beirut last year was a very good one indeed.