Chasing the World Marathon Majors


Chasing the World Marathon Majors

Jackson runs in the 2017 New York City Marathon. PHOTO | COURTESY 

When it comes to testing one’s resilience, Kenya’s modern CEO and businessperson does not shy away from going the extra mile. And what better way to push mental and physical limits than to clock miles running a marathon?

For years now, some elite Kenyan professionals have been running marathons, and competing at the very highest level possible: World Marathon Majors– consisting of . Others even have gone ahead to win awards.

So, what’s this fuss with marathons among Kenya’s top brass professionals? Is it a show of sophistication or a sporty escape from performance demands? Does running marathons have a direct, or indirect, impact on an organisation’s bottom line? What keeps them running?


Jackson is an A-list marathoner and a six-star Marathon Majors athlete. He is among the only seven Kenyans who have accomplished this elusive milestone.

To attain this feat, one must run and complete the Berlin, Tokyo, London, New York, Boston and Chicago marathons.

‘‘I have been running for most of my life. I only took on serious marathon running six years ago,’’ says the managing director of Design40 Limited, an interior design firm.

‘‘My running has always been motivated by the desire to keep fit.’’

Other than the Majors, Jackson has Copenhagen, Cape Town, Singapore and Seychelles Eco marathons under his belt. Locally, he has participated in all notable marathons, including Stanchart and Lewa.

“I have done 10 full marathons so far and one ultra of 56km,’’ he says.

“I started with Singapore Stanchart marathon in 2016, then went on to participate in the famous Two Oceans Ultra in Capetown the following year.’’

The start though wasn’t easy. In his maiden marathon, Jackson clocked 5 hours 40 minutes. His speed though has improved in his subsequent outings to now do under three hours.

After his 2016 run in South Africa, Jackson resolved to train for the Six Majors. It was a dizzying bar for an amateur athlete, but two years later, he had ticked this box.

Early this year, Jackson participated in Seychelles Eco Marathon, emerging second and winning a trophy and cash award for the first time. In September, he was sweating it again in France at the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon in Val d’Europe where he came third.

‘‘A week later, I was in Germany to trace where I had done my first Marathon Major in the Berlin,’’ he says, and adding that this year has been one of the most eventful in his running experience.

To run a marathon, he says, a lot of dedicated training is required.

‘‘It takes anything between four and six months of training to successfully attempt a marathon. You must hit the road. There are no two ways about it,’’ he emphasises, adding that to reach the peak, more hours on the road and a lot of sacrifices are required.

Jackson is lucky to have dedicated runner friends at his disposal. The quartet trains together within the suburbs of the city and its environs.

‘‘During the peak of training, we run to Ngong Hills in the morning, covering 20km or more. Our weekly mileage target is between 70km and 120km.’’

Still, Jackson and his teammates have to make it to work on time every morning.

‘‘A marathon is unpredictable and a lot could happen in the space of two or three hours,’’ says he. ‘‘Every run is a lifetime experience.’’

Last year’s Boston Marathon remains Jackson’s all-time favourite.

‘‘It rained throughout the course,’’ he recounts. ‘‘Many runners dropped out because of the freezing conditions. I had trained well for it, but I hadn’t expected anything like this,’’ he narrates.

‘‘I was so cold and had to be wheeled to a heat tent as soon as I crossed the finishing line to avoid a hypothermia attack.’’

‘‘Chicago Marathon in 2018 too has a special place in his heart. It was the first full marathon I had run in under three hours by clocking a personal best time of 2:42:28,’’ he recounts.

It is also in Chicago that Jackson’s attempt to complete the six races came a full circle. He has now ticked all the marathon boxes that matter.

‘‘When your body is spent and your spirit is weak, often you ask yourself why you are running,’’ Jackson says.

So, why would anyone rise at dawn to run in the cold and go ahead to incur heavy costs travel, accommodation and participation fee cost just to push their body to its limits? Even his nine-year old son wonders why his dad has never brought home any medal.

‘‘Finishing a marathon inspires an overwhelming feeling of physical and mental accomplishment that is unparalleled,’’ he says. ‘‘Every time I run, my son’s question nags me. It instinctively keeps me going.’’

‘‘When you finish one marathon, you start planning for the next one.’’

But is there any relationship between running a marathon and output in business?

Jackson admits that running marathons has nurtured in him virtues necessary to excel in business.

‘‘To successfully run a company is very much like running a marathon. Both require diligence, discipline, commitment, work ethic and strategy in him. I can say I’m a better professional now.’’

He, however, notes that success in business depends on a lot more than simply clocking the miles.

‘‘Touching the finish line demands deliberate planning, practice, building sophisticated support systems and having the willingness to keep running past the finish line,” he notes.

At 46, hasn’t age started to slow him down? Not at all, he insists.

“In marathons, experience comes with age.

“I recently did half a marathon in Paris in 1hr15min. I never thought it possible when I was a younger athlete,” Jackson notes.

Judy at the the Berlin Marathon.

Judy at the the Berlin Marathon. PHOTO | COURTESY

Judy started running in 2013 in an attempt to lose post pregnancy weight.

Six years later, she has competed in three out of the six marathon majors in the world with Berlin, Chicago and London already in her résumé.

Additionally, Judy has participated in Kilimanjaro and Cape Town Sanlam marathons among other smaller marathons.

Whereas visiting new holiday destinations was her initial motivation to run, tens of marathons later, her focus has now shifted to completing the six majors to earn the accompanying medal.

‘‘My dream is to run New York, Tokyo and Boston marathons,’’ says the Nairobi Bottlers employee, who also owns a telecommunication solutions company.

Her most remarkable race was the 2018 Chicago Marathon where she clocked 5:51:38 hours. That may be enough to drive from Mombasa to Nairobi, but for Judy, it was an item off her bucket list.

Admittedly, juggling her career and marathon schedules is a slippery balance, but Judy argues that running shouldn’t be an excuse to skive off work.

On average, preparing for a marathon involves four months of intense workout. As an entrepreneur, every minute off the clock matters to her.

‘‘To get this kind of time without eating into my working hours, I have to be out on the road from 4am or 5am every day to compete my run after which I plan my normal work schedule,’’ she says.

There’s also the risk of injury, which Judy says is avoidable with proper training.

‘‘I do cross-country races, train at the gym and eat foods that repair torn tissues quickly. Besides these, I occasionally go for physio sessions for routine examinations and maintenance.’’

The biggest risk to marathon runners, she observes, is to train beyond the body’s capacity.

‘‘I fell during a run in 2016, spraining both my shoulder and leg. These were my worst injuries and it took me 18 months to heal,’’ Judy recalls.

‘‘The downside of over-training is that you risk injuries that could potentially ruin your chances of participating in the marathon you’re training for,’’ she adds.

Has running been worth the effort and money? Judy says she has reaped socially, professionally and physically.

‘‘I have met hundreds of people with whom I share interests. This has expanded my social and entrepreneurial networks. Besides, I’m leading a healthier lifestyle now and my immunity is stronger than ever before,’’ she notes.

For those hoping to run marathons, Judy recommends half marathons for a start.

‘‘Adopt a consistent training programme (schedules can be downloaded from the web). Follow the regimen religiously. Most people experience difficult marathon runs because of undertraining,’’ she advises.

Besides marathons, Judy is a passionate hiker. In the last six years, she has scaled the highest mountains in Africa namely Kilimanjaro and Meru in Tanzania, Kenya and Elgon in Kenya and Uganda’s Ruwenzori.

Judy though still relishes the privilege of travelling for marathons.

“Every international marathon is an opportunity for me to visit and see new places. I have been to places I never thought I would go to. Thanks to marathons, I’m now a globetrotter,” Judy says.

Cold Kirumba

Cold Kirumba clocked 4:54:59hours in 2019 in the Chicago Marathon. PHOTO | COURTESY

Kirumba goes to bed daily by 9pm. He does not compromise in this sticking to a strict regimen.

“I wake up early and put aside an hour for training before into the rigours of my working day.”

This is a lifestyle change that the CEO of Multiple Spaces Company Africa, an organisation that helps foreign businesses to set up base in Africa, adopted to keep up with his running lifestyle.

For the last 10 years, Kirumba has run thousands of miles and participated in nearly all half and full marathons organised locally.

‘‘The Stanchart marathon series, for instance, is a great family fun event. My children and I have taken part for years. They are becoming good runners in their own right,’’ he says.

His first major marathon was Berlin in 2018 before he ran in Chicago this year. .

‘‘Berlin was phenomenal for me because I was on the course when Eliud Kipchoge broke the world marathon record. I was also running in Chicago two weeks ago when Brigid Kosgei smashed the longstanding women’s world record,’’ he says with pride.

His best run though was in Chicago.

‘‘My target was to finish at 4:59:59. But I ended up overachieving by crossing the finish line at 4:54:59,’’ he jokes, adding that he runs majorly ‘‘to keep fit and to stay light-footed’’.

Kirumba is now running more international marathons as an avenue to fundraise for various charity causes close to his heart. He says that marathons are an effective fundraising platform.

‘‘Many charities buy and resell marathon tickets to eager runners. In Berlin 2018, I raised $1,000 (Sh100,000) from friends which I used to support Save the Children fund. In my 2019 race, I ran with Big Shoulders, a Chicago based charity that supports schools in the state’s poor neighbourhoods,’’ he says.

So, what does it take participate in marathons such as London Marathon, for instance?

‘‘London Marathon is one of the most prestigious marathons in the world. About 400,000 people seek to participate but there are only 40,000 tickets available annually,’’ he says.

But there are tricks to it.

‘‘Elite runners are usually invited based on the times they have recorded in different recognised courses,’’ he explains. ‘‘There is also a lottery system through which potential participants try their luck in a computerised draw. Both methods are tough.’’

‘‘You could earn a ticket through a charity in exchange of your commitment to fundraise towards a set target,’’ he adds.

His dream marathon? Hands down, London, he says.

‘‘I think it’s the greatest marathon of them all. I hope to run the London course in the near future.’’

Does Eliud Kipchoge’s historical run in Vienna two weeks ago mean anything to him?

‘‘What Eliud did was absolutely extraordinary,’’ he says with awe. ‘‘I watched the race from Chicago at 1am waiting to the following morning. I cried with excitement in the last 10 minutes when it was clear he was going to smash the two-hour barrier,” he says.

“Eliud gave all humankind and future generations the key to pursue greatness. Not just in the world of marathons but in all human endeavours. No human is limited,” he adds.

Why does a marathon terrorise runners?

“A marathon saps every last bit of energy and willpower from you. When the energy is long gone, only your spirit keeps you going,” he says.

“There’s thrill in training, meeting new people and making friends. The aches also inspire a sense of fulfilment. But the ultimate delight is in crossing the finishing line and getting the finishers medal.”

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