Wesley Korir is one of the most compelling athletes in the world of marathon running. The 31-year old Kenyan burst onto the marathon scene in 2008 when he entered the Chicago Marathon as a non-elite, starting five minutes after the professional field, and went on to finish fourth overall. He then had back-to-back wins at the L.A. Marathon before winning the 2012 Boston Marathon. But running marathons is only part of Korir's story. He is also a member of Kenyan Parliament and a co-founder with his wife, Canadian Tarah McKay-Korir, of the Kenyan Kids Foundation.
This May, Korir will make his Canadian marathon debut at the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon. We spoke to him from New York the day before he ran the NY Half Marathon.
To start out with, can you tell us why chose to run Ottawa this spring? Why Ottawa for your Canadian marathon debut?
You know, I love Canada. Canada is my second home. I love training there; for the last couple of years, I've had the opportunity to train in Canada. And, I really love it.
I came to Ottawa a couple of years ago to run the 10K and I loved the atmosphere. When I was in Ottawa for the 10K, I was there with my wife, my mother-in-law, and my wife ran the 10K too, and it was fun. Especially as a family event, it was awesome. We got to share it with all my family members in Canada.
That's why when the opportunity came up, I had a lot of other options, but I decided to come to Ottawa.
You've had many highlights in your running career, including winning the Boston Marathon. What else would you like to accomplish with your running?
Having my second job now, which is being a member of parliament, I would like to be the first ever politician to win a marathon.
Also, running now has become more of a tool for me to raise money and help people. It's not the way it used to be. In the past, it used to be more running for money, for a form of income. Now it's running to help my foundation and running to help the needy in society.
Korir winning the Boston Marathon (Photo: Victah Sailer)
Is that also why you got involved in politics?
I think I've always known that leadership is my calling and running is my talent. I wanted to use the two of them to help people. What has been important to me in my life is giving back to the community and helping the less fortunate, the way I was helped when I was growing up. So, I decided that to help people more, I needed to get into leadership. I think for Kenya and for Africa to change, we need leaders who are selfless, leaders who care about people, and leaders who don't care about themselves.
How do you balance that responsibility, as well as your family life and charity work, with the demands of your running?
I think the most important thing is to be disciplined. Sometimes it is very challenging. But I always say that the best leader is the one that is able to delegate duties to the right people at the right time. A good leader is not one who does everything by himself. So, I try to delegate duties to [the people who work for me] and to provide opportunities for them to become leaders themselves. And my wife has been very supportive with the foundation.
And they had to install a faster treadmill motor in the gym at Parliament?
Yes, because in Parliament the treadmills are used by old, big politicians to try and lose weight. Not for marathon training. So the first time I went there, it was going about 20 km an hour but I wanted it to go faster because I was doing mile repeats. So they had to get a technician to be able to repair it to go about 25 [km/h].
It's been fun. Every time I go there, I attract people's attention. They can't believe that someone can run that fast, especially over a marathon.
You also have a bodyguard who trains with you?
Yes, he's a 2:06 guy. So, he's good. But this time, I've been able to train more by myself. Because I love training by myself . . . it's one of my times to go out there and just have fun, and reflect and relax from all this craziness of day-to-day activities.
Can you tell us more about the Kenyan Kids Foundation?
The Kenyan Kids Foundation is a foundation that I started with my wife about 5 years ago. I was born in a poor family and a priest from my land paid for my high school and that was the way I was able to graduate from high school. So I always look back and think, if that priest never gave his time and money to give me an opportunity, I would have never graduated from high school and come to America.
Right now we are educating about 200 students, paying for their school fees. The first students graduated from high school this year. So, about 50 students who would never had the chance to finish their high school have now graduated and are able to go to university, and college, and you know, have a life.
And now you are starting a Canadian side of the foundation?
I don't want kids to think that I am the one helping but rather it is their families that are the heroes. Which is why we now have the Kenyan Kids Foundation Canada, which primarily is focused on empowering families through farming.
You give farmers a loan and give them an opportunity to learn about a modern way of farming and then you help them; provide coolers so after milking they have a place to store it and a co-op where they can sell their milk together and make profit.
We hope that Canadians will help us. It could be by buying one cow. If farmers in Canada have coolers they can donate, we will take them. And if anybody wants to donate to us that will be very very helpful.
What are the keys for a great marathon performance? How do you know when you have a good race going?
The key to the marathon is training. Most important for me is the long run. If you can do the long runs well then you know you're going to have a good one.
When you can relax and get those initial kilometers out of the way without feeling it, then you know you're having a good one. If you don't relax, and you start counting kilometers in the first part of the race, then you know it's going to be a long one.
Do you approach each race with a different strategy?
I've tried all the kinds of strategies, but I think the one that works for me is to go out and compete. You know, everybody survives at the end. You push the best you can and then you can survive to the finish. My coach always tells me to set it up and let it roll. So that's what I'm going to do when I get to Ottawa. If you get pacers to set it up for you in 62 [minutes] then you can let it roll. All the races that I've run well are the ones where they take it out in 61 or 62 in the first half, so the last part you have time to be able to run a good time. So that's what I wish for in Ottawa . . . and pray that it's hot.
Thanks so much Wesley. We're thrilled that you chose the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon to be your first Canadian marathon and are excited to welcome you back to Ottawa in May!
Run Ottawa will be screening Transcend, a new documentary featuring Wesley Korir, at this year's Health and Fitness Expo. More information about how to support the Kenyan Kids Foundation will be available at the screening. Screening times will be announced here closer to the weekend.
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