“Eldoret is a city of champions,” David Mutai says with a beaming grin spanning across his face as he describes the place where he trains. Eldoret has indeed birthed and nourished the careers of Eliud Kipchoge, Felix Cherono, and Wilson Kipsang, all of whom David has trained with at least once.
Mutai is humble and doesn’t explicitly name himself among the champions of Eldoret. When he introduces himself, he starts with his titles of husband and father, but he still can’t hide his boyish grin when he proclaims: “I would say that I’ve won a race in every country I’ve run in.”
Mutai recounts, rather matter of factly, “In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that was my first race in 2010. I feel a lot of gratitude because it was my first international race that I won. There is a race in Singapore, the MSIG 50K, and I won it in 2017. In Macau, I have done three half marathons and I have won twice. In the Philippines, there’s the Adidas King of the Road, which I won twice. In Thailand I have won a few half marathons and in Indonesia I have won several races as well.”
Beyond the many exotic locales in which he’s broken the tape, Canada has also proven itself a goldmine of brilliant performances for the man who calls himself an “eternal tourist.” In 2019 alone, Mutai racked up 7 wins across five Canadian provinces. Of those finishes, two were course records.
- Waterloo, 2:33:47 — 1st (April 28)
- Mississauga, 2:27:08 — 1st (May 5)
- Manitoba, 2:27:10 — 1st (June 16)
- Saskatchewan, 2:22:09 — 1st (May 26)
- Edmonton, 2:20:07 — 1st (Aug. 18)
- Rimouski, 2:29:17 — 1st (Sept. 8)
- Montreal Rock & Roll, 2:23:46 — 5th (Sept. 22)
- Quebec City, 2:25:31 — 1st (Oct. 13)
The original plan for 2020 was a return to Canada, first for Hamilton’s Around the Bay Road Race, but the pandemic changed that. Mutai is at home in Kenya when we spoke on a Zoom call, which still didn’t quite feel like such a normal part of life when we spoke over the summer, balancing his time between training and caring for his two children.
“It does affect it a lot,” Mutai admits of the sudden shift brought on by COVID. “I will wake up around 5 a.m. and do a long run by 7 or 8 o’clock. But now sitting in the house for the rest of the day, you don’t have the same movement you used to have and you get some stiffness.” Mutai adds again with a laugh, “When you’re at home, you also eat more.”
Mutai forged his special connection with Canada in 2017. Mutai says, “I actually came to Canada in November just as fall began and it was quite a challenge. In 2010, when I started running in overseas countries, it was usually in warmer climates.” He adds, “It was too cold for me when I first arrived in Toronto. I just came with light clothes but it was already so cold. Just changing climates was difficult but I had to catch up.”
Mutai’s early performances in Canada were enough to catch the notice of the Running Room, which saw his potential and supported registration and occasional accommodations as he raced across the country. Otherwise, Mutai remains an unsponsored athlete, supporting himself in getting to different events.
“Traveling has given me so much. There are places I loved like in Montreal where I got to visit some museums. In every province I have been to I have made friends even among my competitors and they become tour guides and take me around. I especially love the Canadian runners,” Mutai says.
What the pandemic hadn’t changed was an apparent sense of optimism and excitement that permeates Mutai’s very being. Though he only ran with Eliud Kipchoge once, Mutai seems to have adopted the former’s Yoda-like playful humour and zen, an almost total detachment from the worry and expectation as he boils life down to the simplest of philosophies.
Mutai flashes his smile again when he explains the secret that’s enabled his success through a more grueling marathon schedule than most could fathom. Mutai says, “I will speak to my mind that I am capable of doing it. The moment I tell my mind the body will accept it. I will speak to my mind that I am going to win a race.
Mutai feeds his mind with positivity and in doing so is already secure in the knowledge that he will succeed, making the actual work of training a matter of validating his already anointed nature. “I am a devout Christian. I get my inspiration from the Bible and there is nothing impossible to one who believes. And what is not possible today may be possible tomorrow. I always read inspirational books and I spend my time watching people who have achieved a lot. By the time I feed my mind with positive things, I will achieve them.”
With the exception of a few well-known names who might make their way to Canadian soil to race, the elite Africans at the front of the pack are often viewed as the biped equivalent of thoroughbreds rather than people with backstories and personalities–journeyman athletes earning their way.
David Mutai’s accomplishments across the globe are astounding on their own, but looking deeper into the man that is David Mutai brings one to the understanding that the numbers aren’t just numbers, but the manifestation of a deep belief in possibility, faith in oneself, and the audacity to travel to parts unknown in search of the best of yourself and a better life for his family.