This week on African Voices, the programme meets marathon runner Edna Kiplagat as she describes her journey to success and why she’s now focusing on charity work.
Kenyan Edna Kiplagat has dominated long distance running for a decade. Surprisingly, marathon running was not her first sport of choice; Kiplagat tells the programme: “When I was in school, I used to play football. I was running fast to go and score – that’s when my games teacher saw me. They were the one who was talking to me, encouraging me to run. I had that passion but as a young athlete, someone had to come in to encourage me.”
Training and competing alongside a small group of friends in her formative years, Kiplagat met one person who has played a key role in her success; her husband and coach, Gilbert Koech. Kiplagat describes meeting him: “We met in 2000 in training. One day he suggested that [our] friendship was more than friendship. We started dating and ended up getting married. I was looking for a companion and he was the right person.”
Koech explains to the programme that it’s important that the couple make the distinction between their work and home life: “It has been a long journey but what I respect about Edna is that when we are at home, I’m the husband and when we are on the field of training, I am the coach.”
Kiplagat was propelled onto the world stage when she won the New York marathon in 2010. She reflects on the experience and credits her husband for her success: “I knew New York was going to be a tough race – meeting the best athletes from all over the world was not easy. But with the patience and support he had given me, he supported me very well, he prepared me mentally and physically for the race, I didn’t have any fear when I was on the starting line because I knew I was prepared. I was able to win the race at that was the beginning of my success.”
Remarkable success followed, with Kiplagat winning numerous races since then and becoming the World Champion in 2011 and 2013. In 2014, she won the London marathon and earlier this year she proved she is still at the top of her game as she won the Boston marathon.
The three-time marathon world champion admits that becoming a first-class athlete and maintaining that position among the elite is not without its fair share of hard work and dedication. Kiplagat outlines some of the challenges: “Being a world class athlete needs some aspects like being disciplined. Every day you have to wake up, go for training, come back, take your time and follow the routine. You have to focus on what you are doing, you have to make sure that you follow the programme very well, concentrate and be patient.
After ten years of success, Kiplagat has started a foundation in the hope of helping talented young people fulfil their potential. “I saw the need to do it because it was not easy for me to join high school. Good friends assisted me and paid for my school fees,” she says. The death of her sister in 2003 as a result of breast cancer encouraged her to start the foundation. “My sister left behind three children. It wasn’t easy because they were still very young. I can now assist other people who are going through the same problems and facing tough conditions.”
The programme meets one of the young men to benefit from Kiplagat’s foundation, Ouma Wycliffe. “[Kiplagat] gave me hope and took me back to school, that is why I’m now eager to complete my course. She is a passionate mum, she’s loving, understanding and willing to help.”
Kiplagat offers some advice for aspiring athletes: “If an athlete has decided to focus on running, he has to have passion, he has to dedicate the time for training and resting and be patient in what he needs. Being a top athlete takes a long time, so there’s no rush.”
‘African Voices’ is sponsored by Globacom Limited.