The Kass International Marathon, by Justin Lagat, note by Larry Eder

This is a column that Justin Lagat, our Kenyan correspondent, wrote on the Kass International Marathon, held in Eldoret, Kenya on November 23, 2012. Justin has been providing our readers with a weekly view from Kenya for nearly six months now, and we are most fortunate to have his insights into the Kenyan running community. 

The picture below is the Facebook picture of Justin Lagat, our Kenyan correspondent. 

Sometimes it is hard for me to decide what I enjoy more between running and watching fellow athletes run. Two days before a race, if I have a good reason to miss running in it, I always comfort myself at the thought that perhaps it could be a good opportunity for me to watch others run and learn some tactics from them. But then after the race, I again start wishing I had participated to see how I would have done. Most of the time though, I feel that I do really enjoy running more than watching.  
This past weekend, I happened to be among the crowds that turned up in large numbers to watch the sixth edition of the annual Kass Marathon along the streets of Eldoret town, an event that is second in popularity here in Kenya to the Nairobi Standard Chartered. This year's event attracted approximately 7,000 participants mostly from the local communities here known world-over as the cradle home to most of the renowned long distance runners, and there were foreigners as well.
Watching the athletes run towards the finish line, completely exhausted, with one named Kipsilgich collapsing a few meters to the finish line after having covered more than 41 kilometers and having been about to finish in one of the top positions, was the most controversial moment of the day. It was a trying time for the guys in the ambulance as they were undecided if they should wait a little to let him recover or put him in the ambulance to save his life. Some spectators wished the officials would just let somebody carry him through the finish line. For me, I could not help but wonder if this race isn't one of the toughest races on earth. The start of the marathon is from Kapsabet town which lies at an altitude of about 6500 ft and is to the east of Eldoret which is 7000ft. From the difference in altitude alone, one can tell that the course is a hard one consisting of some portions to climb along the route. Add that to the fact that both towns are on a high altitude. Then include the fact that almost the entire field of athletes are natives of this area which is dubbed as the "granary of runners", most of them having trained for a long time without getting a chance to be noticed and who would be using this rare chance to push to their level best, tells me this surely amounts to one of the toughest races on earth.
As for the growth of the marathon, it keeps getting better and better each year with more sponsors coming in and the number of athletes also continuing to grow. The Kenya Television Network (KTN) broadcasted this year's event live, and probably more crowds turned up to cheer alongside the entire route, which may be a good inducement for more sponsors to come on board next time. There were also some unique incentives: One was to attract more foreign runners by offering a bonus prize money of USD 5,000 to the first foreigner to cross the finish line, and the other one was to ensure that past time winners come back to defend their titles by offering bonuses to athletes who would win the marathon for a second time, not necessarily as a defending champion.
As is expected to happen in most road races here in Kenya, "little-known" athletes emerged winners. Welton Kirui and Agnes Jepkosgei won the men's and women's races respectively. The surprising fact about these winners is that they both seem to be having the same reasons as to why they took up running. They resorted to running after their dreams to pursue their academic goals were dashed by lack of funds to continue.
As much as I liked the organization at this year's event, especially with the way the organizers were able to contain the surging crowds despite having employed few people to man them, there was still more to be desired, especially at the finishing line. It was not possible for spectators to watch runners crossing the finish line because the space there at the town hall was so congested. It would be great if the next event could be planned to end in a more open place that can take in more people, like in the Kipchoge Stadium. I would also recommend a big screen to be situated in a strategic location near to the finish so that the spectators would be able to watch the whole event as they wait to cheer at the finish line.
Otherwise, like other local competitions, the Kass Marathon continues to offer opportunities for new athletes to get recognized as many of them get to meet their managers here and get to be entered in international competitions abroad.

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