After successfully planning and delivering a number of local road races, two-time Boston Marathon champion Moses Tanui thought it was ripe for Kenya to stage a 42km race with a good international standing.
And in 2015, the retired athlete mooted the idea of the Eldoret City Marathon.
However, it was until 2018 when the first edition of Eldoret City Marathon was staged, after three years of by meticulous planning and some false starts.
On Sunday April 10, the fourth edition will be run and is expected to electrify Eldoret, once again.
Eldoret, christened the City of Champions because it is believed to have produced, and is hosting innumerable road race medallists in the world, is yet to be elevated to a City like Nairobi, Mombasa and Nakuru, but Tanui hopes it will attain that status soon.
Tanui, who is the race director, says he approached Uasin Gishu county government and the governor (Jackson Mandago) supported the idea.
“We started slowly by slowly since 2015 because you can’t start a marathon and it takes off immediately. You need to have sponsors and a lot of technical issues are involved,” Tanui, the first man to run a half marathon in under one hour, says.
“After three years, the first edition was run. And I am seeing it growing. Our thought was to grow this marathon to an international level.”
It was after the Uasin Gishu County administration supported it with Sh18 million that the idea gained traction. The amount has elevated the Eldoret City Marathon to one of the highest paying races in Africa, says Tanui.
Winners in both the men’s and women’s marathon will walk home with Sh3.5 million each.
By the second edition, Tanui says, the marathon had been recognised by the Abott World Marathon Major (WMM) series. It became the first Kenyan race to be recognised.
The county has been the race’s biggest sponsor since the first edition, paying Sh18 million annually which is the marathon’s prize purse, Tanui says.
He says the Eldoret City Marathon idea also, partly, resulted from persistence by athletes in Europe, America and other continents, who determinedly questioned why Kenyan athletes were winning in races outside their country, but had no local races that met global standards.
“The marathon is now attracting the whole world. When we used to run in Europe, athletes from other countries kept saying that Kenyans came to Europe to run in Europe and return with prize money yet they don’t have their own races,” he says.
“I took the challenge and I thought that to answer them, we had to stage an international race that they can come and try to win and return Kenyan prize money back to Europe and the US.”
Tanui’s love for Boston Marathon, where he triumphed twice, also played a role in the birthing of the Eldoret City Marathon.
“You need to associate yourself with something that has lived for a long time. For example, Boston marathon has been run for over 120 years. We need to be associated with them (Boston Marathon) so that we learn from them how the organisation is done, in a style where everybody is participating,” he says.
“That is why when you see all our Local Organising Committee sub-committees, you will discover that there are individuals drawn from different sectors, from government to private sectors.”
On why retired athletes are taking charge of crucial areas in the preparation of the Eldoret City Marathon, Tanui says, the men and women who wrote history in the country’s athletics journey are the reason the marathon is gaining international recognition.
Among retired athletes and athletics tacticians in the Eldoret City Marathon planning are: former Olympic 3,000m steeplechase silver medallist Patrick Sang (Eliud Kipchoge’s coach), former 5,000m world champion Benjamin Limo, former 800m Commonwealth Games champion Japheth Kimutai and former African champion Leah Malot among others.
Three-time Boston Marathon winner Ibrahim Hussein is taking charge of the course.
“The technical part of this marathon is being run by the athletes themselves because they know all the corners. They know what it takes for an athlete to run this race, and their safety. What is paramount for us is to see that the young athletes are safe on our roads, in running and medically,” Tanui explains.
He says international athletes worked with hospitals and health personnel in Eldoret to mobilise medical supplies ahead of the Sunday race.
“The retired athletes are giving back to the sport. They want to see other athletes coming up. When we organize this race, many athletes who have been training for many years without managers and sponsors (shoe companies) will make breakthroughs,” he adds.
He says he had a training camp in Kaptagat just before his retirement from athletics, but soon after retirement, he joined a number of corporates in preparing for top races in Kenya. Some of the roads he took part in preparing are; Standard Chartered Marathon, Kass Marathon and Family Bank Half Marathon among others.
“I quit training budding athletes after I discovered that endeavor was difficult for me,” he reveals.
Tanui had a vision of growing the training camp to churn out more world beaters, but changed his mind.
The retired athlete had trained some athletes, which he says started competing from 2005.
“You needed to have huge sums of money to establish a training camp and a lot of sponsorships. At some point, I got discouraged. The worst part that I didn’t like as a retired athlete is the doping menace; that you train an athlete and all over sudden, because you don’t know who the athlete meets and then you hear they have been injected with prohibited drugs and decided not to continue with training athletes,” Tanui says.
His fear, he says, has been association with athletes who have been banned for doping allegations.
After that painful decision, Tanui says he began working with corporates, but still had a dream of a road race that would rival the Boston Marathon.
He says the idea was all about giving back to Kenyan athletes and runners from across the globe.
Tanui says he encapsulated the Climate Action campaign in the race after discovering that forested areas where athletes have been training for years had been degraded.
“When I was training in Kaptagat, the forest cover was so good that you could get inside the forest during the day and you would not feel high temperatures and the air was fresh, but now the effects of deforestation are being felt that is why we started a marathon whose theme is Climate Action. Eldoret City Marathon is championing tree planting,” Tanui explains.
“When an athletes train in high altitude they need oxygen to manufacture red cells and prepare them to run well at low altitudes and at sea level. Those are some of the issues that informed the idea of starting the Eldoret City Marathon.”