Justin Lagat ran the Kericho Tea Marathon this past weekend. Here is how he wrote about his experience and the land of enchanted tea trees (enchantment provided by falling monkeys).
Emmanuel Mutai Training Group, photo by PhotoRun.net
In the evening of 8th May 2015, as athletes from other parts of the country and beyond arrived to take part in the marathon scheduled for the following day in Kericho, they were greeted by a heavy downpour that is typical of this place. They had to alight from the PSV vehicles and immediately rush through the rain to shelter in nearby buildings. The rain finally subsided later and other athletes headed out to pick their race numbers at a park within the town and were surprised to see monkeys dangerously crossing the streets on their way to climb tall buildings in town to get vantage positions to enjoy the last moments of the evening sunshine.
Kericho is a town in the southern parts of the Rift Valley region in Kenya. Famously referred to as “the green town,” it is surrounded by vast fields of tea plantations and the landscape, to every direction you face, is ever green up to the horizon. Along the river banks and the roads around this town are indigenous trees that form small forests teeming with monkeys that blend well with the green farms.
The marathon started smoothly at around 8AM in the morning with female athletes getting a head start of 20 minutes before the male athletes. The weather was cool with clouds covering the sky, but no sooner had the athletes set out than the sky cleared and the sun began to glare causing the temperatures to rise gradually. The course itself was a tough one with many steep hills. Whenever one came across a section that slanted downwards, it only served to remind them that they already had another hill to climb on their way back because the route was a 21km stretch on which the athletes were to turn at a point and follow the same road up to the same starting point which will have been turned into a finish line by the time they were back.
The organization of the marathon throughout the course was great and there was plenty of water on the route with stations situated five kilometers apart. The officials and volunteers along the route too were very cooperative and did their work very well and cheerfully. They seemed to understand that all the athletes in the course were not there just purposely to win the race; some were there to just try and finish a marathon, others were there to better their times while others were there to do a long run in a measured course, among other reasons, and the same attention was being given to all the runners on the course with officials recording times and chest numbers at various points and uttering words of encouragement.
The scenery was nice too whenever an athlete wanted to turn his attention away from the pain on his legs and let his eyes wander about. I remember a point near to a river bank where a monkey jumped from the highest point of a tree and grabbed the lowest branch as it nearly fell just in front of me. For a moment, it took my thoughts away from the hard task at hand as I kept wondering how it had made the judgment that the branch wasn’t going to break leaving it to fall on the tarmac road.
Running the Kericho Tea Marathon will remain as one of my most memorable and enjoyable moments in my life. I feel indebted to thank the organizers of this race who charged only Ksh. 300 (less than US$ 4) as registration fee, opening doors to many athletes to register while the winning prize was the highest ever paid by any other marathon in the country with winners walking home with Ksh. 1.5 million (about US$ 17,000).
To end with a word of caution to the athletes after a case of someone acting as an agent to register the athletes for this marathon in Iten before disappearing with their money; this is not the first time such an incident is being reported and athletes should be very careful before registering for races with anyone before looking up the contacts of the race organizers and inquiring about the authorized venues to conduct their registrations.
Well, as I bought a packet of fresh highland tea and headed back to Eldoret after successfully completing another marathon, the conductor of the public service vehicle I had boarded asked me if I had won anything in the marathon and when I replied to him that perhaps he was the one who actually won more given the number of athletes who had paid him fare to board his vehicle, he smiled and decided to secretly refund me some money, confiding in me that he had actually reaped a lot out of this marathon. His smile was probably being replicated by other business owners in the small town; those who accommodated the athletes in their hotels, the taxi operators and those who sold them packets of tea as they left the town.
Top five finishers
1.Barnabas Kibii 2:17:42
2.Joseph Ngeny 2:19:12
3.Vincent Tonui 2:19:28
4.Moses Kigen 2:20:29
5.Edwin kibet 2:20:30
1.Georgina Rono 2:35:12
2.Betrece Cherop 2:38:39
3.Phelomena Chepchrichir 2:38:59
4.Rosina Kibiwott 2:45:05
5.Naomi Chepng’etich 2:47:58