Wednesday, 21 October 2015

A pilot's passion for running


Evening training run with Asbel Kiprop

Earlier this year around Eldoret town, I met the Flying Runner; a pilot who does marathons wherever he lands and is a friend to most of Kenya’s top runners. I had an interesting talk with him concerning his passion for running and why he likes Kenyan athletes.

On his line of duty as a pilot with Martinair, he usually gets between 24 hours to 48 hours of rest at different airports across the world before proceeding with his flight schedules to other destinations. He uses this free time to interact with runners from the countries he lands on and if luck happens and his flight coincides with a marathon event there, he runs it. He has so far run marathons in each and every continent.
His training program at any given week is not as fixed as that of any other regular athlete, it dependents on his flight schedules and where he lands. “I have been to most places a number of times and I do know where to go for my training, but in some places I have to train on a treadmill. In the US there are a lot of people running, also in South America where I normally fly to and obviously in Kenya I can train in Nairobi or come here to Eldoret. Once you know a place and have been there many times, it is not difficult to get into some training,” he said
His flights to Kenya have been particularly exciting for him, especially after he has gotten to know most of the great Kenyan runners in person.
“I have been flying to Kenya since 1995 and over time, I have gotten to meet and train with most of the athletes here. But, I do it whenever it fits their schedules; I am only an amateur and they are experts and I would not want to disturb them,” says the Pilot.
The 47 year old, Gert Brienne, received his “calling” to run marathons in 2003 after watching other runners run the New York City Marathon. He promised himself then that he was going to run it the following year and almost straight away started training for it. The awaited special day for his first marathon finally came in 2004 and despite having trained only for less than a year, having had no substantial advice from anyone on how to run it, and starting out too fast on the race, he managed to run three hours and fifty minutes. He felt terrible, but was hopeful that he was going to do better next time.
Sure enough, he improved his personal best time to 2hrs and 55 minutes within a year after running three other marathons. This was very encouraging for him as he learned that there is always room for improvement in marathon.
Talking with me as he awaited a chance to run an evening run with the world and Olympic champion, Ezekiel Kemboi, he removed a jersey in which other Kenyan elite runners who he had had a chance to run with that morning and in the previous day and admired it.
Abel Kirui, Asbel Kiprop, Dennis Kimetto, Sammy Kitwara, Eliud Kipchoge and Brimin Kipruto, among others had already signed on it. It had been a successful adventure so far for him. If only he could get Kemboi’s signature added there, then it would become the best of his short visits to Kenya on his duty.
Having run next to most of the Kenyan runners in their training, he has gotten to appreciate their talents, learn a lot about them and their societies. What strikes him most about Kenyan runners, and all runners in general, is that they are very friendly. He could only imagine what he would go through in trying to get a chance to train with a sports star in a different sport. Not only to Kenyan athletes allow him to have time with him, but they even arrange for his accommodation when he visits camps that are away from the town.
“But, walking around with Eliud Kipchoge today in Eldoret town, I could observe that Kenyan athletes are not getting the recognition they deserve here in their home. In one way, it is nice for them to walk around freely, but in the other way, it shows that they are not being given the respect they deserve,” said Gert.
His cell phone rang. It was Ezekiel Kemboi inquiring whether he was ready for the evening run! Kemboi then arrived in no time, saw a picture of himself on the table and signed on it before they all quickly changed into their running gear, drove to a route on the Eastern suburbs of Eldoret town where they disembarked and started their evening run. His dream had been fulfilled. 
Training with Ezekiel Kemboi

Only one more wish remained for him before he could fly out of the country the following day. He still wanted to hopefully meet with Paul Tergat, who he had met many times before, but is not getting tired of meeting.
He  still hopes to better his best time of 2hours 49 minutes in his next marathons. “I am getting older, also hopefully a little bit wiser and maybe a little bit faster,” he said regarding his chances of bettering his PB in future.