Kenya: Eliud Kipchoge's Sharp Focus Benefits Vulnerable Stars

World marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge during the delivery of food rations to vulnerable athletes in Kaptagat, Elgeyo-Marakwet County on May 09, 2020.

Despite the lull in sporting action, Eliud Kipchoge is a busy man.

The Olympic marathon champion and world record holder over the 42-kilometre distance, has been juggling between distributing relief food to athletes and following his bespoke training programme to the letter.

The first man to run the marathon in under two hours dipped under four hours in his cross-country drive through three North Rift Counties on the relief food mission. Athletes excited at seeing their icon were torn between celebrating the rare moment, and letting the joy of the stimulus package sink in.

"He's God sent," said one of the delighted athletes in Kaptagat after they each received a package containing maize and wheat flour, rice, cooking oil and pasta.

Kipchoge worries about these vulnerable athletes as much as he fights to stay focused.

Some of them are close to his training mates and could well be pacing his training sessions, only that social distancing protocols disallow group training sessions.

One of Kipchoge's biggest regrets is the fact that he's unable to train with his teammates. After all, his mantra on teamwork goes: "100 percent of myself is nothing compared to one percent of the whole team."

Kipchoge's otherwise meticulously planned season has been thrown into disarray. By now, we would have known who between him and Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele is the undisputed king of distance running.

Bekele, 37, came within two seconds of Kipchoge's world marathon record last September in Berlin, running an amazing second half to win in an Ethiopian record of two hours, one minute and 41 seconds. Bekele still holds four world records in distance running and the April 26 London Marathon could have settled a few scores with the world eagerly awaiting the big duel which has now been postponed to October 4.

As he went about distributing the relief food on Saturday, having launched the mission in Kericho County on Friday, Kipchoge, 35, told Nation Sport that he was well prepared for the London race before the coronavirus rudely halted his plans.

"When the race was shifted, it really stressed me and interrupted my plans, but I overcame that and the priority is for the whole world to be safe from the virus which in one way has affected everybody," he said.

He adjusted by scaling down his training by reducing the work load but at the same time keeping fit and staying focused.

"We closed camp and since I've been training individually, I had to reduce my work load and at the same time keep fit, focusing the next season after the virus has been contained. I miss my training mates but I know soon we shall be back together. I'm now keeping safe and following the government's directive as we wait for the pandemic to be contained.

The devastation visited by Covid-19 is very much on his mind as besides helping out the vulnerable athletes at the weekend, he also sent out a message of condolences to the families across the world who have lost relatives due to Covid-19.

"Many people have lost their relatives due to the virus and I want to ask them to take heart at this trying moment. Countries have lost many people and we are experiencing worse situation but it will come to pass," he said.

Kipchoge who bagged victory last year clocked 2:02:37 beating Ethiopians Mosinet Geremew and Mule Wasihun who came in second and third clocking 2:02:55 and 2:03:16 respec

FRED GISHOYIAN: 800m (Kaptagat, Elgeyo-Marakwet).

Gishoiyan has been training with Commonwealth champion Wycliffe Kinyamal among other short distance athletes from the region. He set base at Kaptagat since last year when he was introduced to one of the coaches in the area, something he said he doesn't regret, having relocated from Narok where he started his running career.

"It has been a long journey for me and my target is to do well and get to participate in various competitions in future so that I can be able to stop relying on my parents in terms of support," says Gishoyian.

BENSON YATOR: Marathoner (Kaptagat, Elgeyo-Marakwet).

Yator last competed in 2010 when he lined up for the Napur Marathon in India and managed to come in third in 2:13:00 before an injury ruled him out of action. He has been out of competition since then and has been training without getting a chance to race.

On Saturday, he was on a casual job, digging trenches for the laying of water pipes in Kaptagat when he got wind of Eliud Kipchoge's arrival.

He makes Sh300 per day working from 8am to 5pm in the evening. "It has been a torturous journey for me," he lamented.

ALICE SERSER: Marathoner, (Kaptagat, Elgeyo-Marakwet).

She has been training in Kaptagat in Elgeyo Marakwet County and at the same time attending to her sick father at home. Her father had been admitted at the Mediheal Hospital in Eldoret before he was discharged due to high bills.

Serser has been working hard to make ends meet and make sure her family also gets food.

She competed in the Chengdu Marathon in China last October last year where she emerged fifth (2:30:00) but has since not received any payment.

ABRAHAM TARBEI: Marathoner, Paralympian (Kapsabet, Nandi).

He is the 2008 Paralympics 1,500 metres T46 and 5,000 metres T46 champion and has been training in Kapsabet, Nandi County.

Tarbei is among the few athletes cushioned by the Ministry of Sports in the first stimulus phase and he couldn't hide his joy saying it was a kind gesture also from Eliud Kipchoge, an athlete who knows the struggles they go through in training.

"It has been hard for many and this should also extend to other sportsmen and women across the country," said Tarbei.

ROBERT KIPLAGAT: Marathoner (Kapsabet, Nandi).

The food ration came at the right time for Kiplagat who says he's been working extra hard to get food for his family and at the same time pay rent in Kapsabet.

"We need more well-wishers to come at this hard time and support the upcoming athletes who are really struggling to make ends meet. I'm happy for the food that I have received and it will help me for some time as I wait for things to normalise," said Kiplagat who raced on the road in Portugal before his contract was terminated three years ago.

MAUREEN KIPRONO: Marathoner (Kapsabet, Nandi).

Her last race was the Yuengling Marathon in China last year where she finished third in 2:34:00. The mother of two says she had high hopes this season, but her preparations have gone to waste due to the coronavirus.

Her aim is to continue training hard as she targets to improve her personal best time when competition resumes. Like other athletes, Kiprono has been training alone following the government's directive on social distancing.

ABIGAEL CHEPKEMBOI: Marathoner (Kapsabet, Nandi).

Jepkemboi was preparing for a race in the Netherlands before the virus struck. She has been training in Kapsabet, Nandi County, and was lucky to be among the few athletes who benefited from the food ration donated by the Ministry of Sports, Hindu Council and the Eliud Kipchoge Foundation, among other donors. Apart from the food she received, she was happy to meet Kipchoge whom she only sees on television.

"I'm so delighted. This has motivated me to do better in my training because I also want to be a star in future."

JANE JELAGAT: Marathoner (Kapsabet, Nandi).

She has been training in Kapsabet, Nandi County, a place she says has "perfect conditions" for training.

In February, she registered to compete in the Lagos Marathon but her father died forcing her to cancel the race.

"I had prepared well for the race and I was targeting a podium finish but grief struck our family," said Jelagat.

Healing from the loss, she was focused on a comeback but, again, the virus disrupted her plans. "It is traumatising, but we just have to wait for the virus to be contained so that we can continue with our career," she says.

DUNCAN M. NDUNG'U: Marathoner (Eldoret, Uasin Gishu).

He boasts of training with multiple world and Olympic steeplechase champion Ezekiel Kemboi in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County. Ndung'u, who hails from Munyaka on the outskirts of Eldoret, was touched by the kind act by Eliud Kipchoge to distribute food to athletes.

"It was kind of the marathon record holder to distribute the food to athletes who are struggling. The government and other corporates should also think of supporting the sports men and women who are working hard to earn a living," said Ndung'u who was preparing for a race in China when his plans were halted by the coronavirus.

QUEEN NJOKI: Marathoner (Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet)

Born in Nakuru, Njoki decided to shift to Iten because she learnt that is where athletes train and conquer. She has been camping in the North Rift region since 2018.

She debuted in cross-country in Norway but dropped out due to bad weather last year.

"I was happy to have been invited for the race, but it was challenging because the weather was not friendly and I had to drop out," said Njeri.

She started the season with good training and an intention of racing at the Oslo 10km road race this month before heading to Ottawa for a 10-kilometre road race, but all that was rudely stopped by the virus.

SARAHA NJERI: 5,000 metres (Kaptagat, Elgeyo-Marakwet).

Sarah Njeri left the comfort of her home in Njoro, Nakuru County, last December and decided to set her training base in Kaptagat, Elgeyo Marakwet County.

Her target was to improve performance in the 5,000 metres ahead of the Olympics Games trials set for June in Eldoret. That was not to be because the coronavirus came calling and halted all the races, including the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Njeri told Nation Sport that she wanted to train with the world beaters and, indeed, her running style has since changed. She is inspired by track legend Vivian Cheruiyot.

ELIUD KIPYEGO: Marathoner (Kapsabet, Nandi).

It has been real struggle for the upcoming athlete who hails from Kabiyet in Nandi County and the gesture by the Ministry of Sports and Eliud Kipchoge couldn't have come at a better time. He was besides himself with joy after receiving the food donation from Kipchoge.

"I'm so happy to get the supply of food which will keep me going for the next few weeks. Many of the athletes are going through hard times now and getting such ration is a good initiative," said Kipyego. who is among the many athletes who have been training but have not been lucky enough to race abroad.

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