Kenyan runner arrives for Grandma's Marathon with plenty of time to spare

A relaxed, rested Sammy Malakwen will take a five-mile ride from rural Two Harbors to the starting line of Grandma's Marathon on Saturday morning. He won't be travel-weary orsleep-deprived. That was last year. Malakwen, 30, from Kaplagat, Kenya, ...

A relaxed, rested Sammy Malakwen will take a five-mile ride from rural Two Harbors to the starting line of Grandma's Marathon on Saturday morning.

He won't be travel-weary orsleep-deprived. That was last year.

Malakwen, 30, from Kaplagat, Kenya, was a late arrival in 2007, getting to Duluth at1 a.m. the day of the race. Competing on less than three hours of sleep, he ran near the lead through 20 miles and then came face-to-face with the day's heat and wilting strength and confidence. He faded, placing 32nd in 2 hours, 29 minutes, 30 seconds for 26.2 miles in his marathon debut.

"It was a long way for me, that last six miles," Malakwen said last week. "I wanted to stop, but in my mind I said, 'No, you came all the way from Kenya to run,' so I pushed my body to the end."

His trip to the United States last year was a story in itself.


He'd committed to run Grandma's Marathon, but because of a lack of travel money, Malakwen took anill-advised loan at the last minute. He earned no prize money in the race and faced mounting exorbitant interest rates that put his total bill at $3,286.

Malakwen's return flight wasn't untilAug. 14 and, during an extended stay at the home of Steve and Kim Salowitz, a marathon host family, the Two Harbors communityrallied to his aid.

"Sammy came to our church [Lakeview Covenant] and to prayer breakfast gatherings, and got to know a lot of people," said Steve Salowitz, a project funding coordinator for Wycliffe Bible Translators. "When people in the area knew there was a significant need on his part, they were very willing to help.

"We set up a fund and ended up raising exactly what he needed. That was pretty providential."

Malakwen returned home, paid his debt, and rejoined his parents and two sisters on their 4-acre farm. Later he rejoined a group of runners training in Eldoret, a town in western Kenya known for producing distance athletes.

His plan to run his second marathon, in March in Malaysia, didn't materialize because of political unrest in Kenya. But he has been in Minnesota since April 24, living most of that time at the Salowitz home, and has been able to compete in a handful of regional road races. So, Saturday's race will be his second marathon.

Malakwen already has won enough prize money to pay for his $1,700 airfare and hopes to earn a paycheck Saturday by placing in the men's top 10.

"Since I've been here, I've been able to race and do more speed work, and I expect to run my best time," said Malakwen, who is 5 feet, 10 inches and 135 pounds. "Grandma's is a competitive race, and I will have to run fast to place well. My goal is to run under 2:15."


He has trained on gravel roads near Two Harbors, using running routes measured by Steve Salowitz, and has these race results this spring: Get in Gear 10K, April 26 in Minneapolis, first in 30:51; Fargo (N.D.) Half-Marathon, May 17, first in a course-record 1:04:40; Dam-to-Dam 20K, May 31 in Des Moines, Iowa, fourth in 1:04:22; and Back in Shape 5K, June 7 in Bloomington, Minn., fourth in 15:03.

While he'll be physically prepared, Saturday's run will have an emotional backdrop.

After the 2007 Grandma's Marathon, Malakwen needed intravenous fluids at the emergency room of a Duluth hospital and his racing clothes were cut off to facilitate treatment. Champion Wesly Ngetich of Kenya, also staying with Salowitz last year, gave Malakwen his lime green-colored singlet and shorts as a gift as Ngetich left to return home.

Malakwen said he'll wear the outfit a final time Saturday and then retire it. Ngetich was killed Jan. 21 at Emarti village in Kenya's Trans Mara district when caught in the middle of a peacemaking situation that turned violent.


Kenyan-born David Cheruiyot of Las Cruces, N.M., is an easy pick to be among Saturday's frontrunners with two victories already in 2008, both under 2:13.

Cheruiyot, 38, won the Houston Marathon for the third time in four years on Jan. 14 in 2:12:32, and won the Ottawa (Ontario) Marathon for the third time in four years just 27 days ago, on May 25, in 2:10:59. He was hoping to break the course records, including his own Ottawa mark of 2:10:36 and Richard Kaitany's mark of 2:10:04 at Houston, but missed in both cases.

Despite being one of the oldest entrants in most elite fields, Cheruiyot told the Houston Chronicle that he has never felt stronger and gives substantial credit to a controversial new shoe from Spira Footwear. The Spira shoe has two small springs imbedded in the sole at the ball of the foot, yet is a legal racing shoe according to USA Track and Field.


Other top-seeded entrants include Feyisa Tusse, 25, of Ethiopia with a best of 2:11:39; and Kenyans Benson Cheruiyot, 25, with a 2:14:02; James Karanja, 28, fourth in the 2007 Grandma's Marathon; Stephen Muturi, 32, fifth in the 2007 Grandma's Marathon; and Lamech Mokono, 27, co-winner of the OneAmerica 500 Half-Marathon in 1:02:53 last month in Indianapolis.

Eight of the past 12 men's champions in Grandma's Marathon have been from Kenya and the trend could continue Saturday with approximately 30 Kenyans entered. The domination is even more striking in the world's major marathons.

Since 2000, Kenyans have claimed Boston seven times, Berlin and Chicago six times each, and London and New York four.

In 2007, 68 of the world's top 100 marathon times were held by Kenyans.

The Boston Marathon, the world's best-known road race after 112 years, has had 18 champions from Africa the past 20 years, and all but two of those were from Kenya.

"I've heard comments over the years that it'd be nice to have an American win again. But we've always subscribed to the view that we should invite the best to be here, wherever they're from," Guy Morse, Boston Marathon and Boston Athletic Association executive director, told the Boston Globe.

Grandma's Marathon was ahead of the curve on African domination when Kenya's Joseph Kipsang won here in 1986. The last American Grandma's men's winner was Mark Curp in 1995.

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