September 2nd, 2015
By Megan Black
One of the first lines that come out of most new runners mouths is “I’m not a runner”. That’s a problem. All too often, individuals who run see running as an exclusive club or title, that they disassociate themselves from claiming to be an athlete of the sport. Enter “the running club”. The popularity of running groups has soared and attempted to bridge the gap between elite-level runners, weekend warriors and running novices. However, thats not to say it’s not without its critics.
The conversation surrounding running groups is two-fold. To begin, the biggest problem is that the running community can be very exclusive from the outside, when in fact it ought to be the most inviting and open to all. Running is one of the natural sports for human kind. If you run and have running related goals (whether your hoping to make it to the next lamppost or training for an upcoming marathon). You. Are. A. Runner.
But not so fast. The growing running community – which includes groups, clubs and teams – is positively reconceptualising what it is to be a runner. The community ranges from niche beer loving running groups to diligently dedicated Boston Marathon qualifying clubs. All too often people assume that you need race or have a speed goal in mind to be considered a “runner”. Running groups have opened the playing field for a more inclusive running environment.
While many people criticize running groups for being elitist, exclusive or glorified social groups, they often fail to see the point that regardless of the flaws that may arise, all running clubs centre around the love of running. Should we not be celebrating that? Sure we can all get a little obsessed or high strung about the small details (like our annoyingly specific hydration routines or mile splits). But, if we strip away all of that “fluff”, the simplistic sport running truly shines.
Running in groups has proven to be overwhelmingly beneficial to individuals. Theories such as “pack mentality” and the phenomenon of “social facilitation” demonstrate that individuals perform better in the presence of others. A running community provides accountability, consistency and motivation on every level. For most runners, simply feeling a sense of social obligation drive their behaviour to run more.
What’s more, the rise in social media platforms has completely altered the concept of a physical face-to-face running community. From websites such as Strava where people share their training routes to apps such as Instagram that provide motivation following hashtags like #instarunners, the modern runner has never been so uniquely equipped to make personal connections and enjoy motivational camaraderie.
The rise in both competitive and non-competitive running groups has changed the running landscape. Individuals seize the opportunity to develop friendships but also get to experience a competitive edge. Even the least victory-hungry of us can be pushed by running with others. So before bashing running clubs for “diluting the competitive sport of running” or “being annoying”, lets celebrate the fact that the running community is growing. No matter how slow or social a group may be, they’re lapping everyone sitting on the couch!
What do you think of running groups? What part of the running community is your favourite?
September 1st, 2015
Mountain climbing, music festivals, food, and a marathon in Canada’s
first National Park.
By Anna Lee Boschetto Photo: Pam Doyle
I’m awestruck. Even as the mountains gradually come into view in the open, clear blue skies during my hour and a half drive from Calgary, it wasn’t until I walked up Banff Avenue, that I was taken by the town’s picture postcard views. Situated within Banff National Park, the town of Banff is enveloped by the Canadian Rockies including notable Sulfur Mountain, Cascade Mountain and Mount Rundle. And although it’s short in elevation, Tunnel Mountain is popular among locals and tourists (myself included) for quick runs and hikes, taking you to the summit in about 30 minutes. From Banff’s iconic bridges to the Bows River Valley to the Upper Hot Springs to the views from the gondola up Sulfur Mountain, you can’t possibly take a bad photograph. In fact, it’s the endless span of blue skies, punctuated with crisp white cumulus clouds that attract more than three million visitors each year.
The night before the Banff Marathon, I’m reviewing the park’s Response Plan. With the possibility of wildlife sightings including grizzly bears, there’s a part of me that regrets not picking up bear spray earlier in the day. At the same time, with a race route that weaves through Banff National Park, it’s the opportunity to see caribou, elk, big horn sheep or mountain goats along the racecourse that is a major draw for runners. Speaking briefly with the marathon race director Paul Regensburg earlier in the day, it’s clear that he’s also excited for runners to experience the full route.
Part of the fun of building a vacation around a race is about experiencing the destination like a local, and that means enjoying the food. At 9:30 p.m. on a Friday in June, the sun is still shining brightly, offering plenty of time for capturing Instagram-worthy photos, not to mention sampling from the incredible eatery menus. With more than 130 places to dine and drink, many of which are owned by chefs who offer up menus of seasonally available, locally sourced foods, Banff’s food scene is as expansive as its mountain views.
While you might expect menu offerings to include Alberta beef (and many do) unexpected bistros such as Nourish, offer vegetarian menus with a healthy number of vegan options and at Toque Canadian Pub, servers will breakout board games for young families allowing parents to enjoy the restaurant’s quirky Canadian inspired menu and perhaps enjoy one of the signature creations from the restaurant’s Cesar Bar.
On race day, the mountain views keep me motivated as the use of headphones aren’t permitted for safety reasons; you’ll want to hear the approaching wildlife. Although elevation changes, contrary to what some runners might believe, hills aren’t part of the course. Instead marathoners, half marathoners and 10K runners continue to experience the naturally captivating beauty of Banff, winding along the legacy trail, up the iconic Bow River Valley Parkway towards Lake Louise, then loops back into the centre of town.
Unlike my experience during other races where I’m hyper-aware of my pace, I’m basking in the quiet serenity of the Vermillion Lakes. At the 14 kilometre mark of the half marathon, I find myself increasingly aware of the natural rhythm of each stride. Maybe it’s the realization that it’s unlikely I’ll be chased down by caribou or bears during this race, but in my ease of movement it seems as though I’m finding myself at one with nature.
Although runners don’t have their personal playlist pumping on the racecourse, Banff’s Performance in the Park, an annual two-day music festival held during race weekend, is an opportunity for runners (and non-runners) looking to chill out and unwind prerace. Incorporating performances from a range of musical genres this year, Performance in the Park featured rap, folk and rock from artists such as k-os, The Rural Alberta Advantage and Hannah Georgas. With on- site barbecues, and mid-afternoon to early evening performance times, it’s also a family and runner-friendly way to spend time in the park’s Cascade Gardens.
At a time when big city races are a go-to for runners, for many of us a run in the park might be just what we need. Whether you’re trekking your family or running solo, the sense of community, one that extends well beyond race day in Banff, will keep you enthralled and engaged. And the town’s distinctive picturesque beauty will have you wishing that every race day could feel this natural.
Anna Lee Boschetto is iRun’s managing editor. She writes frequently about travel, beauty and health at iRun.
August 30th, 2015
Many of us have already created running and non-running memories of summer 2015. This week I asked our Saucony #FindYourStrong athletes to share a summer highlight with us. It is notable that all the highlights that were shared with us involve running and/or physical activity of some kind. Now, go make some memories of your own and share them with us on twitter @iRunNation @sauconycanada @christadavidson, using #FindYourStrong!
“Running the Pan Am Marathon for Canada, in front of an amazing Canadian cheering squad! This race will remain a highlight for me for a long time.” –Catherine Watkins
“So far, the highlight of my summer was flying out to Vancouver to run the Vancouver Half Marathon with my dear friend Rose. I first met Rose a little over two years ago when I was training for my double Boston Marathon to raise funds and awareness for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Rose and her partner live on the west coast, but they had been following my story in the news and on social media.
It was about a month before Boston and I was making my way to my starting corral at the Yonge St 10k when someone reached out and grabbed my arm and asked: “Hey, are you JP, that guy running the Boston Marathon twice in the same day?”
Turns out, Rose and her partner were here in Toronto on business, so we exchanged emails, and arranged a dinner together a few weeks later. Since that time, Rose and Paul have become very special people in my life, as they have encouraged me to pursue a writing and advocacy career. Having the opportunity to fly out to Vancouver this summer to spend a few days with Rose and Paul and to finally get the chance to run beside the lady who has stood behind me through so much these past few years, well, I have no words to describe that feeling other than to say it was another beautiful ‘gift’ that running has brought into my life.” –Jean-Paul Bedard
“My highlight so far, is getting back to the basics, the reason I love running. To me, it’s about spending time running in amazing places, with great friends. My highlight has been running some amazing traverses and developing closer friendships in the process. These friendship runs have taken me all over the Pacific Northwest and the Rockies to Nicola Lake in Merritt, Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens, Garibaldi Park, even the BC, Alberta Rockies and the Edmonton River Valley. I am so lucky to have filled my summer with great friends, and great places!” –Alicia Woodside
“Joel and I would have to say our summer highlight has been backcountry camping and hiking in Squamish, BC. We had a blast training with power hikes through rugged terrain to explore the beautiful BC backcountry around Diamond Head Mountain, Diamond Glacier and Opal Cone. Nothing beats diving into glacier fed lakes after powering up a mountain!” –Shannon Penway and Joel Payeur
#FindYourStrong with more motivational stories from our Great Canadian Seekers.
August 27th, 2015
We are officially two weeks into our Sport Chek ULTIMATE TRAINING PROGRAM! On top of getting everyone prepared for their fall running races (visit mybestrunningrace.com) we are holding a weekly contest for the chance to win a FitBit Surge.
We have enlisted the help of Sport Chek’s National Training Specialist Goran Miletic! He has answered your weekly questioned to keep every on track to achieve your racing goals.
Remember to use the #MyBetter and #SweatForThis to tell us about your training for your chance to win a FitBit.
WEEK #2 Q&A:
Q: Any tricks for maintaining the program all the way to the end?
A: find the motivation that works for you. Sometimes scheduling the training is enough mental commitment, but the best way to suffer through long or hard training sessions is to partner with someone. This can be someone that doesn’t run that can help hold you can our table to your goals or someone to suffer through the tough workouts with as a running partner. Find what works for you, but it helps to remember that you chose to do this and nobody but you can make it happen.
Q: What happens if I miss a few workouts? Is there any way to catch up?
A: missing a single workout is not a huge deal, but there is no easy way to catch up. Doubling up to make up for a missed workout makes recovery more difficult. Focus on maximizing each workout so you if one is missed, your completed workouts yield the best results. Ultimately, a scheduled training plan is designed to build the fitness and strength to run the race. One missed workout won’t ruin the plan, but it is best to try to complete the training plan in its entirety.
Q: What’s your best piece of advice for people starting a running program?
A: running is difficult and can be uncomfortable. Don’t expect that suddenly running stops being challenging after a few weeks of training. Any time you push your body, it takes real effort. That being said, running becomes a kind of mental therapy. Lots of great chemicals are released during and after a run by the body that help to reduce stress and improve general wellness.
Q: How do you stay motivated during your training program?
A: for me, it’s music. A favorite song instantly makes me feel faster and helps me push through the workout.
Q: How much strength training should I be doing?
A: think of your body like a bank. Running uses muscle, so the more you run, the more you depleted your muscles. Strength training is like a deposit for the muscle bank. No need to squat hundreds of pounds, but strength training and stretching improves muscle performance.
August 27th, 2015
We have officially completed our second week of the Sport Chek FitBit Surge contest! A big congratulations goes to Blair Adams (@_Blairzo on Twitter) for being our winner this week!
Be sure to visit mybestrunningrace.com for training programs ranging from 5km to the half-marathon. We will have you ready to rock your fall running race!
Continue to use the hashtags #MyBetter and #SweatForThis for your chance to win a FitBit Surge every week! A big thank you goes to Sport Chek for providing the FitBit to our contest and our resident training expert Goran Miletic! Stay tuned for our first live Q & A with Goran with all of your pressing running questions and concerns coming later today.
Remember to spread the word to friends and family about the contest!
Without further ado, Blair Adam’s caught up with us to answer some running question!
My upcoming fall running race is… the Oakville Half Marathon
My favourite running moment was… finishing a half marathon sub-two
My running philosophy is… keep pushing
Running is my… passion
My favourite post-run meal is… pizza
My favourite race was… Scotiabank Half Marathon in Toronto
Do you prefer to run alone or with a group…alone
My favourite running gadget is…Fit bit Surge (Thanks iRun!)
My number one running bucket list race…Around The Bay (have completed twice)
August 25th, 2015
Grabbing a quick photo with Edmonton Marathon’s third place men’s marathon finisher Kip Kangogo.
By Krista DuChene
Yep, I’ve done it again. I broke another bone.
After nicely started to get into the thick of my marathon build for the October 18 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, on August 9, I ran the Fergus 10 km, which was a good kick in the pants. I had an excellent base with a great cross training routine and was succeeding in completing the mileage with appropriate long runs but wasn’t quite hitting the interval and tempo workouts.
When I entered the race, I knew that it would not be fast.
Add the bad time of the month, a 30 km long run three days prior, and a hilly course and you get 10 km at a pace slower than marathon pace. I let it go but knew it was time to get down to business. With 10 weeks to go, it was time to focus and push a bit harder to increase the quality of my running. As a result, I had a great 160 km week, which included a solid 6×1.2km workout and a personal best treadmill tempo/long run of 40 km@3:57/km with 13k@3:35/km.
Then on Monday, at the end of an easy run, I stepped on a rock. It felt like it was happening in slow motion. But I easily made it home and didn’t think much of it. It was a bit sore to walk for the first few steps when getting up after sitting down, but otherwise I thought it was fine. On Wednesday, I completed a solid 6×1 km workout, more or less mentioned the sore foot in passing to Rick, and looked forward to a well-deserved day off and taper for the August 23 Edmonton Half Marathon.
Still, just a bit of pain. It wasn’t until my Friday physiotherapy treatment that I realized it was an issue. Both Paul and Patricia determined that the pain was coming from a bone in my foot. It was an easy discovery when they simply pressed on that specific bone, from the top. Very specific pain. Coach Rick was there during my treatment session and we agreed that I had to make the call. If it didn’t improve, and got worse, we had a red flag. So I boarded my flight to Edmonton and decided that my easy pre-race day run would be the determining factor. I was so glad to have my good friend Mary Davies as my roommate.
It’s tough to go through these things alone and away from home. On Saturday we did an 8 km with a few pick ups in the morning and I knew my answer. When I saw elite coordinator, Brian Torrance, I asked him what I would do if I had to drop out of the race. Not a good sign. I emailed Rick that my foot now hurt with running, and was even worse with the strides. I couldn’t even imagine putting on racing flats as I knew the walking pain was more while barefoot than with shoes. So, like a good coach, Rick kindly recommended that I not start. The truth hurt. It took most of the day to process it, going through the denial and anger, fully knowing it may mean changes for my fall marathon.
As the day progressed, I chatted more with Mary about it, and enjoyed dinner out with her and Rhiannon Johns, also in Edmonton to race the half. Later that evening, I finally informed Brian and Rick that I would not start. A long way to go to not even start a race. But I was certainly not having another out-of-province-run-a-half-marathon-break-a-bone-requiring-surgery repeat. No thank you. So on Sunday morning I headed to the start line to cheer for Mary and the others and assist John Stanton and the race crew with some announcing and giving medals at the awards ceremony.
After the race, I had a nice walk back to the hotel with the women, including getting to know the race winner, Jess Petersson. I then said good-bye to Mary and struggled through a long and teary day, travelling back to Brantford, finally arriving home at 1:00 am. Rick had already been in contact with Dr. Dill. On Monday morning I had an X-ray, which was normal then later a bone scan, which clearly showed a problem. I’ve never looked at ultrasounds or X-rays like I know anything but this time it was very obvious to my untrained eye. Trouble. The nuclear medicine chief and orthopedic surgeon met to review the results and it was determined that I had an acute break, likely from the rock, rather than a stress fracture.
So, Rick, Dr. Dill and I had yet another conversation about my return to running. It certainly wasn’t as serious as my 2014 femur fracture. In fact, Dr. Dill explained that an acute fracture often heals much quicker than a chronic stress fracture. So, we decided to postpone any racing decisions, meet again in two weeks, and focus on cross training with pool and bike workouts similar to my training plan. It’s kinda crazy that I could walk out of the appointment with no limp, looking completely normal.
When I came home and told the kids, it was almost like, “Ya, another broken bone. So what’s for dinner and can we go swimming now?”. So we headed to the pool and I started my two week non-running training plan. No use in feeling sorry for myself. As a believer, I know we don’t always get what we want nor do we ever need to understand why these things happen. Again, I have peace about this and am only seeing this as the glass half full. I know I have been known as the marathon mom who got faster with three kids. Now with a third broken bone (fractured ribs in 2013), we will have to see if I am now also the marathoner who got faster after 3 broken bones.
August 24th, 2015
By Megan Black
Canadian Joe Rios has combined his passion for running and charity, raising over $5,000 to empower over 1000 Nicaraguan children with educational packages. Coming from a long line of diabetes and as a former overweight asthmatic, Joe originally pursued running as a health pursuit. Soon after, Joe set out to run three marathons to raise funds and awareness for Team Diabetes, saying, “I wanted to prove not only that I could do the marathons, but that I could prove to others that if you are passionate and have purpose then you can as well”. Joe has since transformed his life through running, notably running marathon on every continent (raising $50,000 along the way), a 100km ultra-marathon and even a Polar Bear dash in -25C.
In 2010, a life-changing service trip to Nicaragua with SchoolBOX to build a local school catapulted Joe’s charitable journey into full effect. Specifically, Joe recalls meeting a grateful local who created a personal connection to his work, “it opened my eyes to power and impact of donating your time”. Reflecting back on his experience, Joe stresses the importance of finding a personal connection to a cause. Cultivating an authentic purpose allows you to overcome adversity and reach amazing heights. Joe states, “there’s no easy fundraising but finding a personal pull to a cause is the key to success”.
SchoolBOX is a non-profit that provides simple, cost-effective programs for Nicaraguan children to earn a basic education. Primary school dropout rates are as high as fifty-percent, largely due to the lack of school supplies. Through a series of programs, SchoolBOX provides basic educational infrastructure, school supplies and recreational programs.
August 20th, 2015
Congratulations to our first FitBit Surge and Ultimate Training Program winner Sophia (The Mama Runs/@TheMamaRuns). We caught up with her to answer some quick fire running questions!
My upcoming fall running race…I have two! Harvest Half Marathon and the MEC Half Marathon, both this coming October.
My favourite running moment was…during my 1st half marathon, running the last 50 metres to the finish hand in hand with my 4 yr old daughter. It was the Hypothermic Half in Calgary, Feb 2014.
My running philosophy is…be determined. Once you are out and running, it’s enjoyable!
Running is my…joy.
My favourite post-run meal is…a latte. And all the food.
My favourite race was…5 Peaks trail race in Canmore, Alberta this past June. It was magical.
Do you prefer to run alone or with a group…I love running in a group, especially with my half marathon clinic peeps!
My favourite running gadget is…my Garmin.
My number one running bucket list race…Antarctica. Or Iceland. Somewhere really cold, since I overheat easily!
Remember to use #MyBetter to tell us about your runs for a chance to win a FitBit Surge EVERY WEEK! Head over to mybestrunningrace.com for fall training plans.
August 18th, 2015
We run to feel free, burn stress, eliminate waistlines. But in droves, we’re also hitting the streets to raise money for a worthy cause. Herewith, the first annual iRun salute to the charity racers, those who know that we can only really achieve a personal best when the long run is about benefitting more than ourselves.
By Anna Lee Boschetto and Megan Black
Participants at Red Bull’s Wings for Life World Run this May in Niagara Falls helped raise a global $4.2 million Euros for spinal cord research. All of the money raised was donated to the Spinal Cord Research Foundation.
“Aim for the moon
and pick up a few stars along the way.”
Heart disease only furthered Wes Harding’s commitment to Team Hoyt
The Cause: Team Hoyt Canada has brought the inspirational running legacy of father Dick and his son Rick Hoyt to Canada. Having competed in over 1,100 running events, this father-son duo have changed the face of sport, creating new opportunities for individuals with disabilities to compete in both running and triathlon races. With the goal of ensuring that no person is ever left on the sidelines, Team Hoyt pairs athletes of differing abilities in endurance events. To Team Hoyt, whether you’re a novice runner or sub three-hour marathoner, they embrace and celebrate anyone and everyone who is willing to try. All athletic riders experience the whole package, from picking up their bib number to crossing the finish line together to receiving a medal. Team Hoyt is the ultimate celebration of community and teamwork.
The Runner: From “couch potato” to Ironman in four years, Wes Harding lives by the mantra “anything is possible.” After watching the Hoyt’s Ironman documentary, 40-year-old Harding embarked on a lifelong dream of running the Boston Marathon. Two years into his journey, after suffering a heart attack at the finish line of the YMCA 10K Bridge Run, Harding discovered that he was born with heart valve disease. He continued to run over time to find that the effects of his valve disease have begun to reverse. Today, Wes is the President of Team Hoyt Canada and has run in Boston with the Hoyts for the past five years. “Gather up that courage to make your first step,” he says, “because there is never that perfect moment to begin.”
Sarah Jamieson, founder of Moveolution, who runs to bring awareness to mental health, at-risk youth, girl’s leadership and first responder health/PTSD. When she started 10 years ago, she wanted to raise
$1 million. Today, with the support of CARE Canada, Jamieson has surpassed $2 million in her charity runs (and accumulated enough miles with her team to circle the globe—twice!). “It all started with a CARE Canada walk called ‘Walk In Her Shoes,’ then a memorial run for my mom, supporting mental health and domestic violence and grew from there,” Jamieson says. “I’m a middle of the pack runner and I’m cool with that. Daily activity, technology and charitable giving are the next wave of giving back.”
Sky’s the Limit
Robyn Baldwin approaches her multiple sclerosis like anything
she encounters on a race track—
as another obstacle to overcome.
Robyn Baldwin is fit, fast and ferocious. When she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) last December, it was Baldwin’s “no excuses” attitude combined with her fighting spirit as an obstacle course racer that made all the difference. “My trainer and I both looked at MS as another obstacle to get over,” explains Baldwin, adding that overall, her diagnosis has helped her become a better athlete, by being increasingly in tune with and aware of her body.
On Being Aware: Having connected with marathon and ultra runners diagnosed with MS, Baldwin believes that raising awareness is as important as fundraising. “When someone as healthy as me can have MS, people begin to realize that it can really happen to anyone,” says Baldwin, adding that many people aren’t aware that more Canadians are diagnosed with MS than anywhere else in the world.
Personal Impact: With Race for the Cure, Baldwin and her Alpha Obstacle Training crew are aiming to raise $10,000 for the MS Society. Along with their race fee, runners are asked to donate $25, the cost of a few coffees, for a week, making it a reasonable amount that will add up. When she was first diagnosed, Baldwin says the MS Society was an incredible source of information, one that she continues to rely on today for support.
Tackling the Big C
Colleen Curtis enlists family and friends in her work with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and Run for the Cure .
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, Colleen Curtis wanted to do something that would give her a positive focus as she went through her treatment. In her first year, she managed to rally family and friends and registered her Run for the Cure team of some 50 runners and walkers. “Going through treatment I felt out of control, and isolated,” she explains, “but having this team made me feel connected to my own life with something that was really important and empowering.”
WHAT IT MEANS: As a patient, Curtis has witnessed the difference that every dollar makes. It’s a difference that she says goes beyond important medical research and to the heart of personalized treatment. “Over the past six years, I’ve seen changes in support offered to the whole family, in dealing with the psychological aspects of women with breast cancer and taking more of a team approach to treatment.”
Colin Arnott runs for the Heart and Stroke Foundation Camp BUCKO (Burn Camp for Kids in Ontario) and
to pay homage to his brother Ken.
When Colin Arnott’s brother Ken passed away suddenly as the result of a stroke, the Pickering firefighter knew he wanted to do something in his brother’s memory. An accomplished trail runner whose record for the Seaton Soaker 50 kilometre distance still holds, a race was obviously going to be a special tribute to a runner’s memory.
BEST PART: “For me, it’s giving back to the medical profession and the community,” explains Arnott. As a firefighter, he doesn’t see burn victims after a rescue. Designating Camp BUCKO as one of the charities of choice offers emergency workers (including Arnott) the chance to have an additional impact in the lives of these children.
REMEMBERING KEN: Having run ultra marathons including 100-mile events together, Arnott continues to honour and pay tribute to his brother. In May, Arnott ran the 100-mile distance at the Sulfur Springs Trail Race in Burlington, Ontario wearing the bib his brother had worn the last time he ran the event.
August 18th, 2015
On the run with Kenya’s newest, fastest member of Parliament as he works both on his split times and the economic disparity in his country.
By Richard Warnica
On March 4, 2013, election day in Cherangany Kenya, Welsey Korir, the reigning Boston Marathon champion, went for a run. He pulled on a pair of grey Nike sneakers. He loped down a red dirt road. He turned into a polling station, went inside and voted for himself. When he was done, he jogged back out and kept on running.
At pace, Korir, who is now 32 years old, looks almost mechanical. His limbs move with a repetitive chug. It’s compact and fluid, like a metronome, the only variation in every stride the ripple of his quads when his feet hit the ground. Ron Mann, his collegiate and professional coach, believes Korir was “born to be a marathoner.” He has the perfect body, the unflagging pace. But for Korir himself, running has never been the end goal, it’s just his way to get at bigger things.
In a four-year stretch beginning in 2008, Korir went from a successful ,but unheralded NCAA runner to one of the most famous marathoners in the world. He won the second marathon he ever ran, in L.A. in 2009. He won that race again in 2010. He finished second in Chicago in 2011 and then, in a remarkable come-from-behind performance in 2012, he won Boston, the biggest run of them all.
Months later, at the peak of his fame and in the prime of his athletic life, Korir quit training full time, moved back to Kenya and embarked on a madcap bid for a seat in federal Parliament. “Practically, it didn’t make a lot of sense,” says his wife, Tarah Korir, who was born and grew up in Ontario. But “practical” has never really been in Korir’s vocabulary.
On a recent evening at a sports bar in Toronto, Korir unfurled his remarkable life story. He was at The Contender for a showing of Transcend, a 2014 documentary about his triumph in Boston and subsequent political bid. With his wife and father-in-law by his side, he unspooled his narrative of unlikely success fueled at every stage by his feet.
Korir was raised poor in rural Kenya. He ran all the time as a young boy, but at that age he never dreamed of running professionally; it was mostly just a way of getting around. “My mother used to send me to market and she would time me,” he said. In high school, running became more of a fixation, but only because it offered him a way out, literally. Korir attended boarding school, his tuition paid by a local priest. Racing was one of the few ways he could get off campus on the weekends. Back then, he never trained, but he always won. “I used to beat everybody,” he said.
After graduation, Korir moved away from his village and, for the first time, started putting in serious miles on a track. He had no illusions of becoming an Olympian or a professional. But he thought he might be good enough to get a scholarship to the U.S. “If there was no opportunity of me coming to America, I don’t think I would have continued to run,” he said. “But when I looked at it, I had to get out of poverty, and for me to get out of poverty, I knew I had to get out of Kenya.”
With the help of Paul Ereng, a Kenyan gold medalist in the 1988 Olympics, Korir earned a scholarship to Murray State, a small school in Kentucky. A year in, Murray State eliminated its track program, so he transferred to Louisville, a Division I NCAA powerhouse.
In college, Korir was a good, but never great, 5,000 and 10,000 metre runner. He worked two jobs all through school, as a maintenance man, and a bat engraver at the Louisville Slugger plant. He only kept running, he said, to keep his scholarship.
At the bar in Toronto, I asked him if he actually enjoyed running. “I like it, but it’s not really that fun,” he replied. “I honestly have to force myself most of the time to get out.” If someone had offered to pay his tuition in college, he would have walked away from the track in an instant. When he graduated, with a degree in biology and a minor in accounting, Korir thought about medical school, but he eventually applied to do his MBA. He was set to start that degree in January 2009, when his college coach, Ron Mann, convinced him to give running one more shot.“We all knew his best days of running were going to be ahead of him, in marathon,” Mann says in Transcend. But Korir wasn’t convinced.
He registered for the 2008 Chicago marathon as an amateur. With no qualifying times, he started five minutes behind the professionals, with all the weekend warriors. Remarkably, he still caught all but five of the elites. He crossed the finish line in sixth place, but with the fourth fastest time, good enough to earn him a $15,000 payday.
At that point, Korir began to believe. Still working full time as a maintenance man, he started training in earnest as a marathoner in his spare time. He shocked the field in L.A. that spring to win a massive $185,000 payday. The next year, while on his honeymoon, he won L.A. again. That second win set him up for Boston in 2012.
It’s hard today to separate the Boston Marathon from the Boston Marathon bombing. The event will be forever clouded by that attack in 2013. And yet, there remains nothing like Boston in the running world. There’s no race bigger, no better profile or tougher annual field. None of that was on Korir’s mind in 2012, though. He tells the story today with a kind of practised cadence. He’s clearly done it many times before. He arrived in Boston out of shape and still recovering from a bout of typhoid fever. In his warm up, he felt a pain in one leg and seriously considered dropping out. “Coach was like ‘just run a half,’” he said. “It will look bad if we don’t start.”
Making matters worse, the course was unseasonably warm that day, a scorching 32 degrees at one point in the race. Despite the heat, Korir kept with the lead pack for about half the race. When a small group broke off, though, he let them go. “I was thinking about finishing safe,” he said. “That’s what I was thinking, just finish safe.” And then a remarkable thing began to happen. He started passing other runners. He didn’t speed up. He didn’t skip his water breaks. But when the rest of the field began to flag, he just kept going. “I realized, you know what, these people are dropping like chickens,” he said. “And I was passing them one by one.” He only moved into first place in the last 800 metres of the race. You can see the moment in Transcend. “It was the finish line of the Boston Marathon,” he says in the movie. “But it was the beginning of my next life.”
For the vast majority of the world, that next life would have followed a predictable pattern. A man who grew up poor suddenly becomes rich and famous. He has a young wife and a baby and the opportunity to earn rich appearance and prize fees for years to come on the marathon circuit. So of course, after one more race, in which he set a personal best time, Korir did the logical thing: He stopped training and instead dropped six figures of his own cash to take on an influential government incumbent in the home country where he hadn’t lived full time for a decade.
And remarkably, he won. He shouldn’t have. That’s not how this normally works. He ran as an independent against a man personally endorsed by the top echelons of the Kenyan leadership. He met his campaign staff on Facebook. But days after he cast his vote that morning in March 2013, he was officially named the new MP for Cherangany.
Six weeks later, having barely trained for the past several months, Korir returned to Boston to defend his title. He was up against the best marathoners in the world, men running 100 miles a week in training while he barely scratched out 30, even after the election. Midway through the race, he fell off the lead pack. He looked set for a certain finish deep in the weeds. And then, just as he had a year earlier, as he has throughout his entire life, Korir came back. He chased down runner after runner. He crossed the finish line in fifth place, a result perhaps even more remarkable than his win, considering the circumstances.
Today, Korir juggles running with fatherhood, politics and his charitable foundation, which provides educational opportunities to Kenyan children. That last, is the reason he’s still out there, he said, still putting in his miles instead of getting fat like the rest of his colleagues in government. “In college, I used to run to keep my scholarship. In Kenya I used to run to get to America,” he said, “Now, I run to keep those kids in school.”
In April, he went back to Boston. Despite working fulltime as an MP, he finished in fifth place, one more time.
Richard Warnica is a feature writer at the National Post.