NAIROBI, Kenya, October 31 – The ninth edition of the Standard Chartered Nairobi International Marathon withstood the test of time once again by producing a larger number of participants than the previous events.
By the thousands, the enthusiastic and adrenalin charged runners made up of elites, enthusiasts, walking junkies and those just hanging around, they littered the various starting points.
Each had their own reasons and motivations for being part of the marathon that organizers confirmed had attracted runners from 57 other countries up from last year’s 55.
Security was tight all over the areas marked out for the marathon including the track after speculation over whether the annual jamboree would take place after three grenade attacks in the country inside a week blamed on Somali insurgent group, Al-Shabaab.
Kenya Police, specially trained sniffer dogs and National Youth Service personnel were all let out to enforce security, while private security companies that utilized their presence in the marathon as a marketing tool with branded guards ensured that nothing was left to chance.
Since its inception back in 2003, it’s all been a consistent growth in the popularity of the biggest marathon in the country giving a strong testament to the passion and popularity of long distance running in Kenya.
To sum up the early morning conditions, intense morning chill, high altitude and Olympics-calibre competitors who graced this event and this year was no different from previous editions.
The first race to start the was the combination of the tri-cycle and wheelchair, which indicated once again Standard Chartered Banks’ commitment in making the marathon an all inclusive event.
As usual the start is the most challenging bit of any marathon around the world but this year it seemed the organizers managed to get it all to scratch with proper safety and security measure in place to avoid a stampede.
At the start of the main event, the ultimate 42km race, the elites were at the forefront surging in an orderly manner but the human barricade provided, was strong enough to hold the pretenders to the crown till the start gun went off.
The 21km and 10km races followed each other with pomp and colour with the latter seeing the biggest entries ever as most of the fun runners donned their running shoes in all manner of attire.
The number was so high to the point that the runners filled up the entire stretch between Nyayo National Stadium round about and Bunyala before they all cleared out to head onto their respective courses.
Along the route, some burst out to chants of “We are not giving up, we are not giving up!” in an effort to absorb the punishment of hard running on the tarmac on bodies that are usually resident in city offices and homes.
The pace has always been demanding in every edition of the marathon and this year was not different and from the big screen inside the stadium, you could see the many gaps between leader groups at various stretches on the looped course.
The first finisher was from the tri-cycle category and there after they trickled into the stadium from the earlier races.
The defining moment came when it was announced over the public address speakers that the men’s leader in the 42km was already in the stadium.
To the cheer and ululation from the crowds gathered in the stadium Earnest Kebenei approached the finish line with a winner’s dash and the traditional raising of the hands as his body made contact with the tape.
Staying true to its already established status as one of the races that no runner has ever defended Kebenei claimed the spot previously held by David Barmasai who won it last year.
The smile on his must have been a double winner because after the race he later declared that with winnings which amounted to $15,000 (Sh1.5m), he would use part of it to tie nuptials with his sweetheart Pamela Cheruiyot.
Next up for Kebenei is to oust Barmasai as the Dubai Marathon champion which is set for January 2012.
The women’s leader pack by this time had already disintegrated and at the helm of the category, Margaret Toroitich set her sights onto the finish arc on her left side as she made her way on the track to victory.
She managed to seal the win in a time of 2:30.17 to take home the top prize of Sh1.5m too.
Toroitich who came in third in the Standard Chartered marathon in Mumbai in 2003 followed up her Ndakaini Half Marathon with Sunday’s victory.
An elaborate prize giving ceremony followed after; where various monetary rewards were presented by invited guests including the assistant minister in the Ministry Of Sports And Youth Affairs Kabando wa Kabando, Standard Chartered Bank chairman Wilfred Kiboro, his worship the mayor Cllr. George Aladwa among other dignitaries.
It was another boost from unexpected quarters as members of the august house fielded a strong 18-member team who took part in the marathon.
The MP’s draped in a mix and match of sporting gear were led by the assistant minister in the Ministry Of Defence Hon. Joseph Nkaisery. They featured in various categories of the marathon.
In half marathon Dennis Kipruto, a 18-year-old who trains with Boston Marathon champion Geoffrey Mutai, won in 1:01.31 while the women’s category was won by Elizabeth Chelegat.
Capital FM, one of the platinum sponsors of the event, served up rich entertainment for those who could not stretch their legs and for the weary runners afterwards with their celebrated Mix Masters keeping those who paid a visit to the hospitality section rocking to the hottest mix of music.