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A dummies guide to running a marathon: The story of 55-year-old George Rutto

ATHLETICS By Elvince Joshua | December 20th 2021 | 5 min read

George Rutto (55) is a bank auditor and recreational runner [Courtesy]

If running a marathon is on your bucket list, this article is for you.

Fifty-five-year-old George Rutto is an auditor in a bank. His day job involves reviewing numbers and asking many questions. Physically, he has a distinctive trademark look: a white beard, a moustache and a clean-shaven head. It is hard to tell that he will be turning 56 years old in 2022 and that at one point, he weighed 106kgs.

“I am young at heart, but if you insist on looking at my birth certificate, then I am 55 years," Rutto discloses when asked about his age.

Rutto is an ordinary Kenyan. He does not come from a family of athletes. The only sport he has ever played in his life is golf.

Struggle with obesity

“Can you believe at one point in my life I was overweight? I was very huge,” he said during an interview with The Standard at his office.

“I realised I had a problem when I struggled with simple tasks like tying my shoelaces,” he reminisces.

Then, Rutto weighed 106kgs. At 5’11’’ he was obese as per the body mass index. He knew there was a problem.

After trying several options to lose the extra weight, Rutto decided to stop going to the gym and instead took up running. Before he actively started running, Rutto had a gym membership and his weight plateaued at 95kgs. After he started running, within no time his weight reduced to 77kgs.

Rutto admits he used to spend his weekends on the golf course after which he would sit, drink and enjoy copious amounts of nyama choma with friends. Part of his transformation included changing his lifestyle.

“It’s not easy but you have to sacrifice. I could not imagine waking up at 4 am. At some point waking up at 6 am was early enough. But after I started running, these days I easily wake up at 4 am.”

Recreational running

Rutto is a recreational runner on a mission. His ambition is to join the club of six-star generals in the next three years. Six-star generals are a few and daring Kenyans who run for fun. The goal is to compete in all the Abbot World Major Marathons (WMM).

The big money WMM include New York, Chicago, Boston, London, Tokyo and Berlin marathons -- the top-six most lucrative marathons in the world.

Rutto has so far only participated in one. In October 2022, he ran in the Chicago marathon. To get to the six-star, Rutto knows he must take part in the other five majors. “I want to run in at least two races (World Majors) every year,” Rutto says.

Unlike Eliud Kipchoge, the world marathon record holder who gets paid after running, Rutto pays to run.

Marathons are gruelling 42.195 km long-distance races that require endurance. A runner needs mental strength, discipline and strategy to navigate the punishing routes. Marathons can humble those who partake of it with arrogance. You have to prepare well.

What it takes to run a marathon

It takes an elite runner at least three months of intense preparation, to put up a fight in a competitive race. In the run-up to the 2017 Berlin marathon, for example, Kipchoge reportedly covered 916km in five weeks before running in Berlin. In 2018, he shattered the world record. To date, no other human, the world over, has ever run a sub-2:01:39 in a competitive race.

For breaking the record, Kipchoge took home Sh6.4 million in addition to the Sh5.1 million reserved for the top finishers. Running a sub-2:03:30 in Berlin, which Kipchoge did, also saw him rake in an additional Sh3.8 million.

While athletes like Kipchoge put in the hours for a premium prize, there are ordinary people like Rutto who run for fun.

Apart from the Chicago Marathon, Rutto has also taken part in the Kilimanjaro marathon (Tanzania), an ultra-run (56km) in South Africa and most recently the Standard Chartered marathon that was held in Nairobi.

“I set myself a target at the beginning of 2021. This year I was to run 2,500 km. I have done about 2,300.”

A normal day for Rutto starts at 5 am with a 30-minute run in and around estates before he heads to the office. There are days he covers up to 30km.

“Sometimes I do 10kms, 20kms or one to two hours of running in the morning,” says Rutto, who also runs with the Urban Swaras over the weekend. On weekdays he runs with his wife-cum-training partner.

“I run every day. Sometimes I do 30kms, then skip a day or two, then do 15-km and skip another day. However, I tend to push myself a little more over the weekend,” he says.

Like most novices starting out, Rutto admits he learnt the art of running the hard way. “I remember my first time on the course, I sprinted out from the gun and burnt out in a few kilometres. In a marathon, the race starts after 30kms.”

To anyone looking to get into marathon running, Rutto advises: “Make sure you have invested in good running shoes. Shoes are everything. A bad pair of shoes can cause injuries to your knees, especially if you run on the tarmac road.”

Diet and nutrition

Rutto has also "infected" his wife and adult children with the running bug.
“I still socialise with friends and colleagues. Once in a while, we go out for a drink and nyama choma but, it is not what you eat, it is what you do after eating that matters. I will eat nyama choma or pizza without fear because I know that I will burn it the following day,” he says.

Diana, Rutto’s wife of over 20 years, says her husband's determination has had a great impact, so much so that she also took up running. “I used to be a size 15, now I’m a size 10 and I feel great,” says Diana, who, unlike her husband, does not eat junk food.

“We don’t do fast food in this home,” says Diana, a civil servant. Their dining table is littered with ripe bananas, mursik (traditional Kalenjin fermented milk), and mangoes. That is what they were having for breakfast on the day I visited.

There are a few days left before the end of 2021. Have you done your New Year’s resolutions? How about running marathons?

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