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Eldoret; the town that is 'running' away from poverty

By Gibbs Alexx | August 31st 2016

Eldoret It is 8am in the morning. The low clouds conjoined with morning fog are fast clearing. The wet rust-colored earth of the track shines in the leisurely rising angled sun. From far in the midst of fog, she appears a ghost but a closer walk towards me reveals her true identity; she is an athlete Mlapataji famously referred to by many in the region. Faith Jepkoech is jogging, her backs and shoulders steaming as the sweat evaporates. The 24years has just completed her 25km morning run through the beautiful fields and terrains of Eldoret.

She is heading to her rented room for a cup of fresh milk and a plate of ugali simultaneously with isochot a kalenjin traditional vegetable. “This has been the norm, I usually do it daily. I sleep, I wake, I run, and I eat. I do hope that one day I will win big international games” said Jepkoech amid laughter.

Lying at an altitude of about 7,000ft (2,100 meters) above the sea level, Eldoret has been a key hub of nurturing international athletes who have put Kenya on global map when it comes to athletics. For anyone who understands athletics very well, Eldoret… oh I beg your pardon, City of Champions has been the heart of the extraordinary phenomenon for athletics.

 Eldoret was once just a sleepy backwater town in an upcountry farming community that never hit the headlines other than the matters pertaining to food. It was a farming town and many enterprises were farming related; the feed and fertilizer shop, the seed shop and the tractor shop was prominent.

 Today the town is currently at the heart of a number of financial ‘empires’ thanks to the new source of wealth largely attributed to the power packed limbs of its famed long-distance runners. To many, nothing has contributed to the development of Eldoret more than the kwariat investments from the athletes. Eldoret is currently experiencing a property boom, with growth rates of almost 8%, three times the national average.

The changing skyline shows the continuing investment of runners in commercial real estate. The impact of such massive infusions of cash on what remains a poor rural community is enormous. In and around the city of champions, Athletes have built office blocks, hospitals, clinics, apartment complexes, shopping centers and petrol stations. Many of these structures are normally named after the races which funded their construction. “Our people participate all over the world, and then invest everything back home. It has majorly transformed our town” said Ben Kemboi a local businessman. Surprisingly in many schools across the counties of Elgeyo Marakwet (Home of champions) Uasin Gishu (City of champions) and Nandi (Source of champions) respectively, there is only one career choice that is rapidly gaining popularity among the students.

“Very few want to be engineers and doctors, they all want to run! They see the successful athletes with their classy cars, apartments and so on, so it is a role model to them” said James kosgei 45, a head teacher and coach. Kipchambai the son of a mere subsistence farmer is typical. From his childhood he has been running. He used to run barefooted from home to his 18km primary school then back in the evening. The rangy policeman and a farmer only started seriously training in his mid-20s and since then, Kipchambai has won over 10 international races recently being Chiba Ekiden race in Japan.

This, he said has enabled him acquire a space in the city of champions and put up an upcoming sky scrapper. With large sums of money being invested in the area, the town is prospering. I can say it is on the ‘run’ just to complement the good work of its Investors, largely comprising the runners that is the athletes. Despite this, some observers say it is unlikely Eldoret can sustain its astonishing tradition of running simply because now days, fewer children run long distances to school. This according to them has made many lazy and unable to effectively participate in future games. But according to Kipchoge Keino, the Olympic team leader has no doubt the dominance of Eldoret and Kenya will continue for decades and he can’t see any reason for alarm for now.

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