Benson Kipruto eyes another Boston Marathon win

MOSORIOT, Kenya — Feet clap lightly on a deserted road just after sunrise Sunday, 15 days until the 126th Boston Marathon. Benson Kipruto, the Kenyan runner, runs for miles in the small town of Mosoriot, just past the rusty blue arch on the Nandi county border, known as the Source of Champions.

Her mouth is slightly open and sweat runs down her pointed cheekbones, the salty remnants of her effort. The 5ft 7in, 125lb long distance runner is silent as he stares ahead for 18 miles, chasing a vision. On Monday, Kipruto will attempt a rare feat – winning his second consecutive Boston Marathon title in what is considered the fastest field in the history of the race. Only 10 men have won Boston back-to-back, and there hasn’t been a repeat champion since Kenya’s Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot in 2008.

Kipruto, 31, will line up alongside two-time New York Marathon champion Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya, Ethiopia’s third-fastest marathon runner Birhanu Legese and two-time Boston Marathon winner Lelisa Desisa. also Ethiopian. .

No one is more surprised than Kipruto.

In the October 2021 race, Kipruto broke away from the leading pack at mile 23 and raced unchallenged, crossing the finish line 46 seconds ahead of Ethiopia’s Lemi Berhanu to win the legendary race.

“Maybe this could be my day,” Kipruto recalled thinking. He was only hoping to do better than his 10th-place finish on his Boston debut in 2019. Maybe he could end up on the podium, he thought. Winning was a brutal change of pace for an athlete who didn’t believe he could have a career in running.

As a member of the Nandi, a sub-tribe of the Kalenjin, Kipruto was unsure if he could relate to the legends before him, such as Ibrahim Hussein, the first Kenyan to win the Boston Marathon in 1988 and twice more in 1991. and 1992. Eliud Kipchoge, marathon world record holder and two-time Olympic gold medalist, is also from Nandi.

Kipruto grew up in Tolilet, a remote village in Kenya’s North Rift, where life was often spent on a small farm growing maize and beans that his family relied on to eat and sell. Kipruto was one year old when his father died. Sometimes his mother struggled to feed Kipruto and his four siblings.

Sometimes Kipruto only went to school half the week because that was all his mother could afford. When he could attend, the 8-year-old walked up to 10 miles a day, fueled by a lunch of githeri, a mixture of corn and beans. He spent his evenings working on the farm with his siblings and carrying two 10-litre jugs of water drawn from a river half a mile away to boil for drinking and cooking.

When Kipruto was 16, his science teacher, who was also a gym teacher, encouraged him to try cross-country running. Kipruto joined the team and proved to be a decent, but not necessarily outstanding runner.

Kipruto wanted a career in sports journalism, not running, but he couldn’t afford to continue his education. So he worked on the farm and opened a small kiosk where he sold sugar, fresh milk and bars of soap, as well as the vegetables he grew. Some months, Kipruto lived on a profit of 5,000 shillings a month (equivalent to $43), which barely covered his basic needs. Successful months earned Kipruto $80.

And he kept running.

For two years, he rarely missed a 6 a.m. run, up to 15 miles, before working 12-hour days in Koiban, his village in Nandi County. He always ran alone, for pure pleasure. If he had the money, Kipruto could buy a pair of used running shoes for as little as $4 and train for a few months.

It wasn’t until a longtime friend-turned-professional runner invited him to a 12-mile practice run that Kipruto began to consider a future in the sport. He was able to follow the group and his friend pushed him to consider moving to Kapsabet, home to some of the most elite training grounds in the world, to seek a coach. Kipruto returned to his booth and sat alone wondering, “Can I do this?”

“Yes. It’s competitive,” Kipruto said. “But I was aware that whatever is coming will not be easy.”

He was inspired by the success of one of his siblings who made a career out of sports. After watching his older brother, Dickson Chumba, win the Tokyo Marathon twice and Chicago once, Kipruto decided to bet on himself.

He left his booth and moved to Kapsabet, the capital of Nandi County, in 2015. Within months, he joined 2 Running Club, a team founded by Italian running coach Claudio Berardelli. He became a professional runner in 2016, finishing the Athens Marathon, his first distance attempt, in second place. Kipruto has since won three of the nine marathons he has entered, including Prague in 2021 and Toronto in 2018, where he set his personal best of 2 hours 5 minutes.

“He’s risking a bit more,” Berardelli said. “A few years ago, I was always concerned that he was too conservative. Do the minimum necessary to achieve that. You don’t find out much about yourself if you don’t risk a little.

And he discovered a lot when he ran away with victory in the 2021 Boston Marathon, an accomplishment that allowed him to give back to his community in ways he never thought possible.

“The more successful we are, the more blessed we are when we give back to society, to the less fortunate. This is where we come from,” Kipruto said. He hopes to be a role model for others; he supports the school fees of three students in his village and makes frequent donations to his church.

“Others are following in our footsteps. They watch how we behave,” he said.

Ultimately, that’s what drives Kipruto when he’s on the starting line – to build a better future, not just for his family, but for those living a life he once had. “It will come,” he often said to himself during long runs before sunrise.

“It’s going to be tough,” he said of the upcoming Boston Marathon. “But I am well prepared, in my legs and in my head.”

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