iRun ISSUE05 2015

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COVER STORY

“IF YOU’RE NOT RUNNING FOR SOMETHING, YOU’RE JUST CHASING THE WIND.” 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

O

n 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

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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 comefrom-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 fatherin-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

iRun to feel alive. — Joseph Camilleri, British Columbia

2015-07-16 12:36 PM