NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 8 – Ever since its origin the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon has attracted some of the world’s best marathoners but never an athlete with such a competitive record as Dickson Chumba.
The 30-year-old Kenyan won both the 2015 Chicago Marathon and the 2014 Tokyo Marathon, two of the exclusive World Marathon Majors. That’s not all. In February of this year he finished third in Tokyo, the fourth consecutive year he has been amongst the top three in that race.
His best time ever is 2:04:32 which he recorded in finishing third in the 2014 Chicago Marathon.
Curiosity and a willingness to change direction led Chumba to confirm his Toronto appearance at this IAAF Gold Label Road Race on 22 October.
“I honestly don’t know much about the Toronto (Waterfront) Marathon but my agent, Gianni Demadonna, told me that it is a good race,” Chumba admits.
“In the last few seasons I have been running mostly Chicago and Tokyo. After my third place in Tokyo last February I thought I needed to run something different. My agent talked to me about Toronto and the possibility to run the course record or even the fastest time ever run on Canadian soil. I found the target interesting and I decided to run Toronto.”
Winning Chicago earns US$100,000. Along with an appearance fee, Toronto, in comparison, offers C$25,000 to the winner. However, there is a bonus of C$50,000 for beating the Canadian All Comers’ record of 2:06:54 set by Yemane Tsegay of Ethiopia at Ottawa in 2014.
Setting a new course record –Ethiopian Deressa Chimsa set the current 2:07:05 mark in 2013– would earn C$40,000. So it’s not all about the money for this Kenyan athlete.
“So far my training has gone well,” he reports. “If I continue like that and, if the weather will be okay on that particular day, I think I can try to attack the 2:07:05.”
In Tokyo I ran 2:06:25 but it was a very fast pace for the first 30 kilometres, which I paid for a bit towards the end of the race. But if I can get into similar shape I think I can run well in Toronto.”
Training base in Kapsabet
Chumba trains at a camp in Kapsabet high up in the Great Rift Valley under the watchful eye of Italian coach Claudio Berardelli.
Amongst the group are several athletes who have run 2:06 or faster. One of the up and comers is Chumba’s younger brother, Benson Kipruto, 26, who ran 2:09:51 in Prague this year.
“Kapsabet is a very hilly area and we like training along the tea plantation there which is a very good place for our long runs,” Chumba explains.
“The rain in Kenya is a factor that we have to consider because it can rain quite a lot (April to June) and the roads become very muddy. But our coach has made us use tarmac roads when it is not possible to use the dirt roads.
The tea plantation is also a good solution during the rainy season. Roads there are the best because the tea factories are maintaining them in perfect conditions.”
The camp is not too far from Chumba’s home village where his family is located. Though he prefers to remain in the camp when he is focusing on a marathon, he does enjoy going home occasionally to visit his family and to check on the businesses he has established with race earnings.
Those visits are only undertaken when Berardelli hasn’t scheduled a group workout. Otherwise, he is totally committed to the training camp.
“I am married and I have three children, two boys of seven and five years and a girl who is one year old,” he reveals. “My wife stays at home with them and she takes care of the land we have around our home. We usually plant maize and some vegetables.
“When I am in off season, I like staying with my kids. I don’t have any particular hobby but when I am not fully in training I take care of my other business. I have built some rental houses and I hope to build some more.
I like building because, for someone like me who comes from a poor family, it allows me to visualize what I have managed to achieve in all the years of hard training. It gives me satisfaction.”
Unlike many Western athletes, who will race at some point to test their fitness in the marathon buildup, Chumba has no plans to leave Kenya before his trip to Toronto, which will be his first time in Canada.
“During the preparation for a marathon we always have two or three key workouts which give us some feedback about our shape,” Chumba says.
“It can be a fast, long run around 35km or a session of 22/24k very close to marathon pace with the last portion faster than that. But, honestly, over the years I have gained experience about my body and I can feel day by day if I am doing the right things or not.”
Among the world class field Chumba will face is defending Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon champion, Philemon Rono and a pair of Ethiopian stars: Solomon Deksisa, who ran 2:06:22 at the 2016 Rotterdam Marathon and Endeshaw Negesse the 2015 Tokyo Marathon champion who has a personal best of 2:04:52.
Clearly, this is the strongest men’s field the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon has ever assembled and an indication of how far the race has come over the past decade.