at the races “There are zebras on the course while you’re running.” Kenyan Tourism Promotes...

“There are zebras on the course while you’re running.” Kenyan Tourism Promotes Hometown Events

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Kenyan tourism officials are inviting Canadians planning to enter marathons to lace up their runners in a country where they may find themselves standing alongside a local at a starting line whose name hasn’t received widespread recognition, but may be destined to become a household name in running circles.

A Kenya Tourism Board delegation was in Toronto recently, featured on what was billed as the Magical Kenya Real Deal Roadshow, which visited several North American cities—where  board marketing officer Zablon Mwangi noted his country’s domination of distance running. And he used his Toronto time to directly reach out to the running community.
 
“Kenya is the home of champions,” he told his Ontario audience. “In Kenya, you can come to run a marathon and be guaranteed to run with a champion.”
 
Mwanga—who last year ran a half-marathon and plans to enter a full one—said his homeland hosts several marathons, including the Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon, which last drew over 20,000 entrants, many of them young Kenyans who have yet to make their mark in international circles, but who may well be headed for running greatness. The 2023 version of the race’s winning time was 2:10:18. Another option is the Lewa Safari Marathon, which takes place entirely in northern Kenya’s Lewa Nature Conservancy, and bills itself as the Wildest Challenge. The race, which has grown from 180 entries in its 2000 debut to having over 1,200 participants now, attracts participants from around the world wanting to run through the wildlife conservancy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
 
Organizers say the competition has “participants share the reserve with several large African predators including lion, leopard, hyena and wild dog. This marathon is notoriously one of the world’s most challenging and rewarding. Set on the conservancy’s dirt roads the route takes runners across savannah plains, along river banks and through acacia woodland.”
 
Lofty, hilly terrain adds to the challenge. Last year’s winning time was 2:21:23. Mwangi noted the course enables ongoing sightings of the types of wildlife that are at the core of Kenyan tourism.
Runners can also opt for a half-marathon and a 5K and 10K.
The tourism board has been reaching out to marathoners and aspiring marathoners for some time, having last year been represented at the New York City Marathon expo and at the Boston Marathon. Officials have also for several years been inviting foreign runners eager to improve their race times to attend Kenyan camps run by Kenyan Olympic medalists.
 
Canada, with its large running community, is seen as an attractive market for Kenya. Mwangi noted most elite Kenyan runners come from its North Rift Region, with Josephine Saleri of the Kenya High Commission in Ottawa jokingly dismissing a question as to why runners from that part of the world have seen so much success. “It’s a secret,” he said.
 
Anthony Brinn of Kenya Airways said that the airline is eager to tap into the running community, stating that runners eager to improve their times would be well-served by training at camps overseen by Kenyan running greats.
 
“They’ll train with the Kenyan runners, run with the Kenyan runners, do as they do,” he said. “We think there’s a huge demand for that. What better way to do it (lower race times) than be there with them and learn what makes them successful.”
 
The airline decided earlier this year to link Nairobi with Eldoret, in an area which has produced great runners, leaving Brinn to speculate that foreigners travelling on that route may find an Olympic great sitting beside them on a plane. Eldoret is home to the Champions Monument, a tribute to Kenyan athletes. The bronze monument features female and male athletes, one holding an Olympic torch.
 
Eldoret visitors can also see people training at the IAAF High Altitude Training Center and Kipchoge Keino stadium. The tourism board’s Sandy Nerlich—also on hand in Toronto—suggested that the Lewa Marathon amounts to a mini-safari in a country that first gave the world the safari. “There are zebras on the course while you’re running,” she said, adding that running a marathon in Lewa or Nairobi or elsewhere in the homeland of Eliud Kipchoge, Kelvin Kiptum and Catherine Ndereba would be memorable.
“I think it would certainly give you bragging rights to say you ran a marathon in Kenya,” she said. “Kenyans win marathons.”

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