Why Kwambai faces stiff challenge from Lodepa at Lewa Marathon

Safaricom Brand and Marketing Director Zizwe Awuor (left) presents a dummy cheque to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy Chief Programmes and Partnership officer John Kinoti, and Tusk Trust Director of Programmes Sarah Watson in Nairobi. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The 25th edition of Lewa Safari Marathon will be held at the Lewa Conservancy in Isiolo on June 29, 2024.

The organisers are targeting 1500 athletes in the registration process set to start on Thursday.

Expected to defend their titles are last year's men and women's champions John Mitei and Mercy Kwambai.

Mitei, who finished second in the men's cutthroat race, was elevated to the top of the leaderboard last season after race champion Phillip Kigen was disqualified for cheating.

Kigen flouted the competition rules by having another participant run under his identity.

Kwambai, who is hopeful to defend her women's title, faces an uphill task as she will have to battle six times champion Fridah Lodepa from Iten.

Lodepa, who finished third last year, is optimistic she will reclaim a seventh title in Lewa.

"I'm preparing well for the race, I do 20km in the morning and 10km in the evening. On Saturdays, I do either 40 or 45km. I feel my body is in shape," stated 42-year-old Lodepa who trains under coach Elkana Rono who has mentored her for over two decades.

The former Commonwealth bronze medalist has used her proceeds from the Lewa Safari Marathon to pay school fees for her kids, buy land and properties and has also invested in grade cows.

"I was brought up by a single parent, so I didn't go to school beyond primary due to lack of school fees, but I would love my children to go to school, that's why I invest part of the prize money into their education," says Lodepa who was inspired into running by her childhood icon Tegla Loroupe.

Lodepa has no plans to retire from athletics any soon. She admits her secret to her winning ways in Lewa is training hard, taking lots of meat and drinking lots of water.

"I love Lewa Safari Marathon because the climate there always favour me," Lodepa underlines.

The organisers are targeting to raise USD1 million (Sh140 million) this season which will be used in conservation efforts across Kenya.

This year’s race will be run under the theme 'Connecting Generation Through 25 Years of Conservation.'

On Tuesday, mobile phones services providers Safaricom came on board to support the race to a tune of Sh25 million.

While handing over their check, Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa stated: "Since the very beginning, Safaricom has been an integral partner of the Lewa Safari Marathon, demonstrating our commitment to the well-being of our environment and ecosystem. The marathon provides a platform for us to showcase the impact of past, current, and future technologies driven by the Safaricom brand in contributing to the development and creation of sustainable initiatives in the Lewa Landscape.

"We take pride in our 25-year involvement with the marathon, as it has not only offered sparks of inspiration but also provided solutions to thousands of Kenyans, enabling them to shine and transform their dreams into reality. This year, we are equally excited to extend our support for the event, committing Sh 25 million to its success."

Other partners on board include Huawei, Access Bank, Safarilink, Tusk, Icea Lion, Amref, African Original, GardaWorld Kenya, Location Africa among others.

While commenting ahead of this year's race, double Olympic marathon champion Eliud Kichoge who once honed his skills from the race stated: “To me, a running world is a happy world. We are all part of the human family and we must keep strong and stay fit for our wellbeing. By running together, we can also conserve our environment, empower our communities, take care of our wildlife and support those at Lewa working for a future for us all.”

Since its inception in 2000, the race has raised over USD 9 million (Sh1.3 billion) in support of conservation and community initiatives throughout Kenya.

Over USD 4 million (Sh558 Million) have been invested in the direct protection of endangered species, other wildlife and their habitats.

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