Top runners relish time in Iten marathon

Women runners during the Iten international marathon, on Sunday. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

It was not only about winning and walking away with the Sh1 million prize money, but building strength in readiness for 2023 was key for winners of the first edition of Iten international marathon on Sunday.

Former Zagreb Spring Half Marathon winner Samuel Naibei and 2018 Edinburgh Marathon champion Caroline Jepchirchir emerged top in men’s and women’s category respectively.

Naibei and Jepchirchir ran 2:08:43 and 2:28:33 respectively, but to them, the up and downhill 2400m-elevation course was a blessing.

“The course had many up and downhill sections and for me, that came with benefits. It was one of the best buildups for an athlete to gain strength in long distance running,” said Naibei, who ran as a pacesetter at the Rome Marathon in March this year, and ended up placing seventh.

He said running 2:08 in Iten meant he was ripe for a faster pace. Naibei, who also finished seventh at the 2022 edition of Copenhagen Marathon in May, said he was eyeing the Lisbon Half Marathon in March next year.

“For me, it was a great opportunity to gauge my strength ahead of  international races in 2023. I am proud because from the start, I wasn’t expecting to win, but after 15km, 21km and 30km, I realised that there was a great opportunity for me to run and finish among the top five.

“After 37km, I realised that my colleague was struggling to catch up with me, and I tried to push a little bit and that is how I ran alone after that point. I am now eying the Lisbon Half marathon because I ran 61 minutes at the Nairobi Standard Chartered Half Marathon and the possibility of me running 60 minutes or 59 minutes is now higher,” Naibei said.

Jepchirchir, who has previously won Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon (2019) and a 21km in Eldoret (2015) described the course as one of the best in preparing for any global road race.

She is preparing to compete at the Vienna Marathon in April next year.

“The course was familiar because I train in Iten. The prize money is good, and the race was the best in my preparations for Valencia next year,” Jepchirchir, who comes from Uasin Gishu, said.

Amos Kipkalya, a cross country athlete representing the General Service Unit said the fast paces displayed at the Iten marathon was indication of strong talent Kenya has.

“I train in Iten as I prepare for the Police cross country championships at the Ngong Race Course on January 6,” he said.

Athletics trainer, Collins Memwa whose protégé David Maru finished 16 in the race, described the marathon as one of the toughest local races in Kenya.

Memwa said many local and international athletes prefer to train in Iten because the tough conditions in high-altitude areas makes it easy for them to compete in races held in lower altitudes.

“The altitude is high and it's the most suitable for preparations for top marathons in the world,” he said.

“After the Iten Marathon, my team of athletes will be preparing to take part in several road races in the Netherlands.”

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