From the ground Up: The story of my comeback
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“I’m quitting! This half-marathon was a mistake, getting into running was a mistake!”

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I shouted to my brother on the phone when I hit the wall at the 17th km of last year’s Tripoli’s half marathon. “No more boring long runs, no more obsession with the demanding running lifestyle, no more trying to be something that I am just… That I am just not!” The truth is, I wasn’t really tired. I just didn’t want to do this anymore. Reading this, you would think I was a newcomer to the running field. Well, you would be wrong. I was already a two-time marathoner. In fact, and just about 3 weeks before, I had completed the Rotterdam marathon with a new personal best. But sadly, everything I was throwing at my body by force was coming back to me with interest. And voices inside of my head kept on repeating: I hate running with dark passion!

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The period that followed the half-marathon wasn’t any easier to deal with. In fact, a lot had changed since I first started running by joining the third edition of the 542 program in 2016. Those glory days included me completing two full marathons in Beirut and Rotterdam as well as three half marathons in a period of six months. And a lot of reasons that pushed me to hang on to running were becoming the reasons I was slowly letting go of the sport. Injuries and unfortunate personal reasons had pushed some of my closest running buddies away from running and the team. And for the two unique times I felt like getting back on track in the summer, the universe gifted me with a truly terrible running pace, and two consecutive heat strokes. I was finally convinced that it was about time to hang my running shoes for good.

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It didn’t take long before I was back to my sedentary lifestyle. In fact, I had just started a new (and my first ever) job, and while things didn’t really pick up as desired at first, I relied on a few tennis practices to get me through this transitional phase. However, I knew it was all about to change when a friend of mine approached me for suggestions as she was chasing a new challenge in her life. Without second thoughts, the 542 program was my option to her. After all, this whole marathon experience was life-changing for me. Soon after, my cousin who had already signed up for the program asked me if I could pace her in the 4th long run of the season. That day, I was running at a much slower pace than my usual. However, with every drop of sweat going down my face, everything was coming back to me: the highs which complemented every increase in the mileage, the lows that escorted all the sacrifices I had to make for this commitment, the fun and the friendships I developed on the streets and pavements of Beirut, the finish line glory… In the end, and for once, it was something that I wasn’t doing for anyone else; I was doing it just for me. And here it hit me:

 

Am I really ready to give up on what defined me for almost a year now and gave me the greatest sense of achievement in life?
Am I really ready to give up on what put my tennis comeback at stake?
Am I really ready to give up on what made me acknowledge for the first time that giving up is never an option?

No, not this time.

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That run made me realize that there was so much more to running than just pace, speed and number of races. I became too obsessed with my performance lately that I stopped listening to my body and took this whole issue way too far. I forgot the fun of it; that the true achievement lies in completing the distance or even better, helping someone else complete it. I woke up the next day at 4:30 am, left my Garmin at home, and went on what turned out to be the most liberating 10 km I have ever completed. Soon after, I found myself regularly back to my Sunday long run rituals. Throughout the journey, two key people were present by my side: Claudia, with whom I ran every single step of the 42.195km in Rotterdam and who, just like me, had some motivational struggles in the beginning, and Ghaith, a co-worker in the company I had just started working for and who was looking to complete his first marathon (we ended up running the whole distance together.) Because of those two people, the journey this year was second to none.

 

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All of us have had moments in our lives where we felt the need to give up and walk away. The old days were amazing but nobody said the upcoming ones weren’t going to be any better. And for something to be reborn there has to be an acknowledgement of something that died. You just need to let go and believe that you can do it no matter what. Sometimes, what you really need is a break to help you look at the issue from a whole new perspective. Well, a break and maybe a small kick in the butt! On November 12,

2017, I became a three-time marathoner (in less than 1 calendar year). And I definitely haven’t peaked yet. I am not even close to my peaking.
Dear Europe, I’ll be rocking your streets in 2018 while breaking the 4-hour mark on the clock. Watch me!

The Marathon Story | By Cassandra kfoury
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The tears wouldn’t stop even though it had ended. I was in the arms of Ali:

“You finished it why are you crying?” he asked in a very joyful voice.

I want my medal.” I managed to whisper between the cries.

He laughed so hard at that moment and went to get me the bronze piece of accessory. In the real world, it had no significant value but to me it was my proof, a means of validation. I ran 42.195 kilometers in less than the seven hours limit.

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After a sleepless night, I woke up on Sunday November 13th 2016 at 5 a.m. just like I had been doing every Sunday for the past 4 month. Today was the big day. I couldn’t believe that when I first joined the 542 training program, I thought a marathon was 10 kilometers – the distance I was aiming to be able to run. I could barely jog from my room to the kitchen at that time. But then here I was putting on my tights, my orange 542 shirt and my first ever running shoes.

Are you ready?” asked Karen, my running buddy while we were goofing around at the starting line. She was scared, I guess we all were. We agreed to do this together and I thought we would.

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I just smiled at her and kept dancing and singing with the pre-marathon entertainments. A few fleeting moments and the race had begun. A marathon isn’t really a race, however, it takes endurance rather than speed and so we were managing our pace at a very slow one for the first half of it. Karen and I were having our regular small talks. When the conversation got a little tiring on our breath, we would each enjoy our playlists, customized specifically for this big day. The parades and cheering stations were super encouraging and we would stop for quick pictures with them. I really wanted to enjoy this first of its kind experience. Making good memories out of it was all I really cared about. But then, it all went wrong. At 30 kilometers, my stomach started itching and my tears were rushing down my cheeks. Then, I would suddenly stop crying and start laughing like a complete crazy person. I had hit my wall. I lost control over myself and the pain was atrocious. Never had I ever felt something like this before, even though I ran for 36 kilometers in one of the trainings. To make things worse, I twisted my ankle and sprained it shortly after I had hit the wall. Karen couldn’t run next to me anymore, I was too slow so I asked her to leave. She did but asked a former runner, Fabienne, to finish the race by my side.

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You ran most of the distance, there’s only the seaside road, Mar Mikhael street and then the finish line” I said to myself. By the end of Bourj Hammoud I was nauseous however, and vomited, so much for my body helping me! But I did keep going, Fabienne was my co-pilot on the ride, holding my water, my gels and guiding my way.

“ Yalla khalsina, khaliya tensehib aam tetghandar, hayda ma esmo raked, badna neftah l tari2.” I heard someone screaming at me from his car. I got myself together and politely stated that I was going to finish the race as slowly as I needed to, and that he couldn’t do anything about it. Obviously, he left and the moment he did I burst into tears again- so much for trying to be tough. I had one more hour to run the last 6 kilometers, they felt like an eternity. My mind flew back to the old me, before I signed up for this training program. I was doing okay. However, something was missing: a sense of fulfillment. Once I was in the program I got to practice a sport I never thought I could take part in. I met some amazing people that gave me the motivation to keep running not only on the roads but also in my personal life. I never wanted to run a 42.195 km long marathon at first. When all of these thoughts were rambling through my head while I was in pain, I didn’t want to run it either. I was just doing it because I can, a motto I came to adapt in my life ever since that marathon “Do it cause you can.”

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“Cassandra hurry! You have 10 more minutes or you’ll be disqualified.” The words of my assistant coach Karim hit me suddenly. My whole body clinched, I was enduring so much suffering for the past 6 hours 50 minutes and wanted my medal. I had half a kilometer left. On my best day I would finish it in five minutes. I wasn’t even close to my best at that moment. But you just forget everything and transcend into a feelingless state where it’s only you and the road. I heard the cheering of my dear friends but all I could say was: “move out of my way” (sorry Claudia I forgot my manners). It all ended when the clock hit 6 hours 54 minutes 50 seconds with May Khalil (the BMA founder) holding my hand and crossing the finish line with me- the last finisher. And then I fell into my dearest coach Ali’s arms.

My marathon story isn’t the most pleasant one, to say the least. Yet, every time I think of it a smile draws itself on my face. I’m absolutely and completely in love with every bit of that once in a lifetime experience. I couldn’t explain how so much pain can cause so much pleasure at first. Now I know and that’s why I’m sharing it so that everyone preparing for it can know. The marathon isn’t a distance you run, it’s a feeling that builds up from the moment you start training for it, while you’re running it and forever onward. Feelings are everlasting. You might not feel it anymore but you most certainly remember it. The marathon feeling is so intense that you cannot but fall in love with it. On a last note, no matter how prepared you are, the marathon is something you cannot really be fully prepared for and that’s okay. Do it, cry if you need to, crawl if you must, finish it and then feel it.

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Dominic Ruto To Challenge Field at BLOM BANK Beirut Marathon
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A podium finish would suit Kenya’s Dominic Ruto Kipngetich just fine when he lines up for the 2017 BLOM Bank Beirut Marathon November 12th. But victory in this IAAF Silver Label race would be even sweeter.

 

Although the 27 year old Ruto is amongst the fastest in the elite field he is proceeding with caution knowing that in the marathon anything is possible.

 

rutoEarlier this year, he recorded a new personal best time of 2:09:08 at the Rome International Marathon knocking 20 seconds off his previous best, also recorded in the Italian capital a year earlier. Clearly, he will be in a position to offer defending champion Edwin Kiptoo, a serious challenge on the streets of the Lebanese capital.

 

“My training for the Beirut marathon has been quite good so far,” Ruto says. “At the beginning of the season I was scheduled to run a marathon in China, in September. But I got a tendon injury and I had to reschedule my plans. Recent workouts have gone well giving me a feeling that I can try to be competitive. I ran an average of 180 kilometers per week.

 

I am not much aware how competitive Beirut marathon will be this year. I only hope to have my body responding well on that day and, of course, I will try my best. I am not really after any final time but I hope to be competitive enough to finish on the podium.”

 

Since turning professional Ruto has trained in a group alongside such marathon stalwarts as

Amos Kipruto (2:05:43 personal best), Dickson Chumba a former winner of both the Tokyo and Chicago Marathons and who holds a personal best of 2:04:32, and Evans Chebet (2:05:31), among others. Their sessions are planned and overseen by famed Italian coach Claudio Berardelli. All are managed by agent Gianni DeMadonna.

 

Like many Kenyan runners Ruto was introduced to running as a school boy. Seeing the elite Kenyan runners training on the rural roads near his home left an impression on him as did seeing the championship races on television.

 

“I went to Moisirgoit high school in a place called Mosoriot which is 20 kms from Eldoret,” Ruto explains. “During that time we were many running during school competitions but I think I am the only one of that generation who managed to become a professional runner.

 

“I started training seriously together with Philip Sanga. He is a 2:06 runner now. He is the one who introduced me to the idea of running as a profession.

 

“When I was young I used to go to the main center to watch races because we didn’t have television at home. I remember being excited watching Martin Lel (a past New York and London marathon winner) and (2008 Olympic champion) Samuel Wanjiru. I use to admire how they could be always very competitive in any race they showed up at.”

 

As a professional Ruto uses his race earnings to prepare for a future after his running career comes to an end. At the moment he owns about 26 acres of farmland upon which he grows vegetables, especially maize. In addition he has some animals. Earnings from Beirut would be turned into his home and could come at a particularly useful time. He is getting married in December.

 

“I don’t know much about the Beirut marathon,” he says. “I think it is not really a fast course but I heard it is getting bigger and bigger. I believe winning Beirut marathon might give me a good exposure for my future races.”

 

This year’s course changes have made the chance for faster times possible. Indeed, the event record of 2:11:04 set in 2015 by fellow Kenyan Jackson Limo would earn a further $3,000 in addition to the winner’s purse of $10,000. Should the victor come in under 2:10 that first place prize climbs to $15,000.

 

As the BLOM Bank Beirut Marathon grows in popularity, it attracts an even stronger elite field. Dominic Ruto could well be the name on everyone’s lips come November 12th.

 

by Paul Gains

Eunice Chumba Chasing Beirut Marathon Record
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If her recent performances are any indication Eunice Chumba will be odds-on favourite to challenge the Blom Bank Beirut Marathon event record when the race kicks off for the 15th year, Sunday November 12th.

 

The 24 year old Kenyan, who now represents Bahrain, ran a superb personal best time (2:24:27) in Rotterdam April 9 to finish second in this IAAF Gold Label race. Most impressive, however, was her superb victory at the Copenhagen Half Marathon where she knocked almost two minutes off her personal best setting an Asian record of 1:06:11.

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Just two weeks ago she shocked most prognosticators with a victory at the Lisbon Half Marathon with a time of 1:08:48. It seems the Beirut event record – 2:29:12 set by Mulahabt Tsega of Ethiopia – and the accompanying bonus is ripe for the picking. Beirut is once again an IAAF Silver Label race.

 

“I’m ready for it,” Chumba declares with justified confidence.

“It is my first time in Beirut. I don’t know much about it. I just googled Beirut Marathon and learned more, like the course record time. It depends on weather conditions but my aim is to break the course record.”

 

The winner receives $10,000 USD but if the finishing time is under 2:28:00 that prize goes up to $15,000 USD. An event record pays another $3,000 USD.

 

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With some changes to the course, including the elimination of a 14% grade climb along the Mediterranean Sea coast, which many runners cursed, it should be more likely to see the record fall. Last year’s champion Tigist Girma has already confirmed she will be back in the Lebanese capital to defend her title. This matchup should prove interesting as Chumba is clearly a tougher opponent than the Ethiopian has faced before.

 

“I was born in the village of Septonok in Nandi County,” says Chumba, “but since August 2014 I have represented Bahrain. I consider this (running for Bahrain) an opportunity because in Kenya there are many athletes with good times compared to Bahrain. Also it was another way round looking for greener pastures.

 

“My father inspired me to run, he was a runner. He usually encouraged me. For example he used to tell me about (Olympic champion) Eliud Kipchoge and Prisca Jeptoo (a past London and New York winner) because they lived near our village. Because I come from a family where my parents are farmers I hoped one day i would become successful and help my family.”

 

Although she runs for Bahrain much of her training is completed in Eldoret, Kenya with her husband and some pacemakers under the watchful eye of coach Nicholas Kipkemoi Kirwa. When she is finished training for the day she enjoys reading novels and watching movies two pursuits that allow her adequate recovery.

 

It is apparent that her intense buildup for the Blom Bank Beirut Marathon is going well. On October 15th she won the Lisbon Half Marathon in 1:08:48.

 

With time on her side and many more years of running Chumba hopes one day to be ranked amongst the greatest marathoners of all time.

“My target is to run the world record in the half marathon and the marathon,” she says of her ultimate goals. For now she will be content with a victory in Beirut to add to her already impressive curriculum vitae.

 

By Paul Gains

Tigist Girma To Defend BLOM BANK BEIRUT MARATHON Title
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Securing the services of the defending champion is normally a sign that a race is in fine shape. So, it is, that Tigist Girma, winner of last year’s Blom Bank Beirut Marathon, will return to the Lebanese capital for this IAAF Silver Label race, November 12th.

The 24 year old Ethiopian surprised many with her victory a year ago running the second half of the race pretty much alone and in temperatures that soared above 22C. It was also her third marathon of the year. Still, she recorded a time of 2:32:48.

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“It was good race for me,”she says from her training base in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.

“I had been working hard to win this race. I did win so I am happy that I met my goal. It was very difficult to run a long distance without a strong competitor who can push me to run a fast time.”

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Earlier this year, June 11th, Girma was invited to run the Lanzhou Marathon in China. Again she finished on the podium claiming second place in a new personal best time of 2:32:15. Clearly, though, she is not satisfied with her times and has ambitions beyond 2:30.

 

“Winning the 2016 Beirut Marathon,” she reveals, “gave me good inspiration to keep fighting and I followed the same training program I used to prepare for the 2016 Beirut marathon. I was also training to run a fast time.

 

“The Lanzhou marathon had the perfect conditions for me. But I still didn’t accomplish my target. So I am training to beat the Beirut marathon course record this year. My target is 2:28:00 this year.

 

“Right now I am doing all the training in the program my coach gave me and I run 172 kilometres a week.”

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That Beirut event record is 2:29:15 set in 2014 by her compatriot, Mulahabt Tsega. Changes to the course, including the elimination of an infamous climb along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, should help Girma in her quest for a new personal best if not an event record.

 

Girma lives with her boyfriend in Addis. She moved from her childhood home in Sheshemane to Addis just two years ago to pursue a professional running career and trains under the guidance of veteran coach Haji Adilo. When she is not training or recovering from the hard sessions she enjoys watching movies at home or attending church.

 

Among the elite runners she regularly trains with are Amane Gobena (2:21:51 at the 2016 Tokyo Marathon) 2015 world champion Mare Dibaba and recent Berlin marathon winner and three time Olympic champion, Tirunesh Dibaba.

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“This is one of my biggest advantages to train with experienced and successful athletes and I have learned a lot from them,” she declares. “Amane, especially, advises me on every aspect. She advises me how to regulate my weight and how to train to run a fast time. Amane always told me that I am talented and young and I must train hard to unlock my potential.”

 

With the 2016 Beirut men’s champion, Edwin Kiptoo, having already announced he is returning to the race the organizers are delighted in having both champions on the starting line. It certainly indicates this marathon is becoming stronger than ever and should experience a bright future.

 

 By Paul Gains