Success breeds success and with its IAAF Silver Label status organisers of the Banque du Liban Beirut Marathon are attracting a higher class of athletes every year.
Leading the field for the thirteenth edition of this annual race (Sunday November 8) is Kenya’s Elijah Kiprono Kemboi, a proven winner and certainly one of the most consistent marathon runners in the world.
Since debuting at the 2008 Nairobi Marathon the now 31-year-old Kemboi has earned victories at the 2011 Antwerp and Kosice Marathons and lowered his personal best to 2:07:34 at the 2013 Frankfurt Marathon. But those facts and figures fail to provide the full picture.
In each of the past four years he has beaten the coveted 2:08 mark which tips the scale in judging an athlete’s value. Beirut organisers, therefore, can expect him to come ready to race after preparations in his group’s training camp these past several months. It is the camaraderie within the camp that most contributes to athletes like Kemboi getting through the arduous training sessions.
“I am training in Kaptagat and Kitale with a small group,” Kemboi says. “I train with Leonard Komon (world 10k and 15km record holder) and Abraham Cheroben under coach Juma Ndiwa.
“I run about 130 kilometres in a week with two speed sessions and a hill training session. After the morning session we take tea. Mostly we do our sessions early in the morning at 6.00 a.m., come back for tea and then do a new session around noon. At 6:00 p.m. the day is over as it is getting dark.”
Earlier this year Kemboi ran in the Warsaw Marathon finishing 6th in 2:08:29, just thirty-two seconds behind the winner. Asked to compare his fitness then and now he holds his cards fairly close to his chest.
“I feel OK,” he offers. “The only bad luck I had was a minor sickness in early September. There I lost some training. But my preparation is going well. I did the pace work in the Eindhoven Marathon (October 11th) leading until 23 km (passing 21km in 1:02:23). I am on schedule now. Based on the long runs, some as long as 32 kilometres, I can measure my current shape.”
Kemboi is fully aware that the winner will receive $10,000 USD with time bonuses added to that. The course record set in 2011 by Ethiopia’s Tariku Jufar (2:11:13) also comes with a hefty bonus, depending on how much it is beaten by. Should Kemboi get under 2:09:00 and prove victorious there’s another $13,000. And, if in Beirut he extends to five the number of consecutive years in which has achieves a sub 2:08 clocking there’s $25,000 more.
Also racing in Beirut is the Ethiopian Edeo Mamo whose 2:09:41 personal best belies his immense ability, Jackson Limo of Kenya and Bahrain’s Isaac Korir.
“I would like to come to Beirut to win the competition,” Kemboi declares. “I will do my best to improve the current course record. I heard also that the course is slightly changed in a faster way.”
Elite athlete coordinator, Hussein Makke, a Lebanese-born American sports manager, has assigned two pacemakers to take the field out at course record pace. Ideally they will take Kemboi and his competitors to 25km and beyond. A course record would give the event more shine.
Like most Kenyan professional marathoners the money he earns from racing abroad contributes to his future. Kemboi was born in the shadow of Mount Elgon in the same region as his training partners. It is near the border with Uganda. There he took inspiration and encouragement from his older brothers who introduced him to running.
Having achieved financial success through his road racing he now feels an obligation to provide for those less fortunate than himself. And, adding to his responsibilities he was married near the end of last year. His earnings thus far have been invested in a small farm for a future beyond his athletic career.
“Kenya is my beloved home-country. I am proud to be a Kenyan and to represent my country abroad,” he says.
“Running is a way of life in Kenya. I enjoy it also, to provide for my family a better way of life due to the prize money I can gain in competitions like Beirut. I am thankful to the organisers that they invited me. It is my aim not to disappoint them.”
When he takes his place alongside more than 700 other on race day on Damascus Street and runs along the Beirut shoreline overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, it will be with a great deal of focus. The temperatures in Beirut even in the early morning are likely to be quite warm. But Kemboi has a task in mind. And his success will further enhance the Beirut Marathon’s reputation as a jewel of the Mediterranean.
By Paul Gains for the Banque du Liban Beirut Marathon