TORONTO (19-Oct) -- Betsy Saina, the former NCAA star for Iowa State who became the third-fastest Kenyan woman of all time at 10,000m, was in top shape in advance of last Sunday's Bank of America Chicago Marathon. After her build-up she flew from Eldoret to Nairobi with a friend, sharing meals at both airports, before flying through Dubai on her way to Chicago. All was going according to plan for the sub-2:23 marathoner when disaster struck.
PHOTO: Betsy Saina of Kenya after placing second at the NYRR New York Women's 10-K on June 13, 2015 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"I was getting ready for Chicago and on my way to Chicago I started having food poisoning in Dubai," Saina said at a press conference here yesterday. "So, I thought it was going to get better, but I just get to Chicago and it kept getting worse every day."
In a follow-up interview, Saina said she wasn't sure if she ate the offending food in either Eldoret or Nairobi, although she suspected it was "fried meat" she ate in Nairobi while her friend --who didn't get sick-- enjoyed a vegetarian dish. She wanted to make it clear that the problem had already struck before she arrived in Chicago.
Hoping for the best, she and her agent Tom Broadbent informed Chicago Marathon executive race director Carey Pinkowski of the problem. Saina said Pinkowski was "really supportive" and left it up to her as to whether she should start the race. She knew it would be a big gamble because she simply couldn't eat and build-up her energy stores ahead of the race.
"By Saturday night when everybody else was sleeping-in and getting read for the race, I was getting really sick to, like, three in the morning," Saina lamented. "But then I told myself, like, let me go give it a shot."
Saina said that she drew inspiration from her friend Eliud Kipchoge who, earlier that day, became the first man to break two hours for the marathon distance at the special INEOS 1:59 Challenge in Vienna.
"I want to be tough," Saina said. "Like Kipchoge would always say, like, you run in the mind. So, I was trying to do that but, unfortunately, when you are dehydrated --like I didn't eat for three days-- I knew from the start that there was no way I was going to go."
Nonetheless, Saina ran bravely and at a high level. She split 16:10 at 5 km and 33:10 at 10-K, right on 2:20 pace. Although feeling an intense need to use the toilet, she pushed ahead and split halfway in 1:11:11 where she was still in fourth place. Feeling miserable, it all became too much, and she darted off the course to use the toilet, then abandoned the race.
"I just ran, but I knew that I was going to get another race," said Saina who hoped to recover quickly and re-boot for another marathon which would be sympathetic to her plight. First getting Pinkowski's blessing, Broadbent contacted Alan Brookes, the race director of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, and secured a start for Saina here on Sunday. She's grateful for the second chance.
"Thankful that Toronto is this weekend," she said, looking at Brookes who was sitting in the gallery at the press conference. "Thank you so much Alan, and Scotiabank for the sponsorship of this race. I am so happy to be here, and it's a pleasure for me to come here and see what I can do."
Saina will face stiff competition at this IAAF Gold Label Road Race. Kenya's Ruth Chebitok, the defending champion, ran a 2:23:29 personal best here last year, while Ethiopia's Biruktayit Eshetu won last January's Chevron Houston Marathon in 2:23:28. Seven women have run 2:26:15 or better, including Saina, who ran her 2:22:56 personal when she won the Schneider Electric Paris Marathon in April, 2018.
While upset with what happened in Chicago, Saina is nonetheless upbeat about tomorrow's race here. She's also trying not to look too far ahead and stay within the moment.
"For this race my biggest goal is to be very competitive," Saina said, answering a question posed by the press conference moderator Geoff Wightman. "I like to win races, to be honest. When I was coming here, like, I don't want to think further. I just want to think about this race because it's the most important thing. So, I'm just excited to compete with the amazing women here on Sunday. We'll see what happens."