Kenya’s Isabella Ochichi picks Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon to transition from track to marathon

By Justin Lagat

There is a long list of reasons why an elite-level runner like Isabella Ochichi might not answer her phone the first time you try contacting her. When you have an eye on the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon podium, training and recovery take time. And for an athlete who also works as a senior sergeant in the Kenyan police force, there aren’t many moments left in the day to return calls.

When Ochichi got back to me, she was both apologetic and charming – asking me about how my day was going and whether we could go ahead with the interview.

Ochichi says her preparations for the Ottawa Marathon are “so far, so good.” In December, she ran a respectable 2:29:45 at the Honolulu Marathon – which turned into a warm and humid day. But what’s worth noting is her April 2nd 1:09:03 half-marathon finish in Prague in the Czech Republic, followed by a 1:10:37 winning time at the Hapalua half marathon in Hawaii on April 10. Then on April 20, she finished first in the 10,000 metre distance at the Kenya Police Championships. With these times, she could deliver a finish in Ottawa of 2:24 – 2:25 – maybe even enough to win.

Ochichi’s trajectory is impressive so far. What will be interesting to watch is whether she will complete the transition from track athlete to elite marathoner with stronger finish times. With athletic credentials that go back more than a decade, she has a lot of experience to draw on. Though dated now, her times were phenomenal. Among other impressive wins, she was an Olympics silver medallist in the 5,000 metre distance at Athens in 2004, finishing in 14:48:19.

A great role model for making that transition is fellow Kenyan Eluid Kipchoge, who won the London Marathon in April with a time of 2:03:05 after a long and successful career as a track athlete. Like Ochichi, he was also the Olympics silver medallist in the 5,000 metre distance at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

“I will be aiming for a number of achievements in Ottawa: A personal best time, a new course record and a win or a podium finish,” says Ochichi.

“The Canadian all-comers record of 2:22:42 set by Sharon Cherop in 2010 looks a bit far from my personal best time, but I will give it a try. All that I will do in Ottawa is to give it my best and see what happens.”
Ochichi trains at Ngong in Nairobi but says she is not very selective on the places she chooses to train in.

“As long as the weather is favorable for training, I can train anywhere,” she says.

Flexibility on training takes focus and discipline – two traits that make Ochichi suitable to manage her own training without a coach. Clearly, she taps into the strong mental discipline needed to make the transition from competitive track to marathoning. She has also overcome physical problems. An injury sustained in 2006 set her back a number of years. Today she is quick to thank God for recovering and competing professionally again.

“I have been coaching myself for a long time now and I think that I keep getting better and better at it. I keep learning everything from experience. I know which programs worked well for me in the past and what mistakes I made,” she said.

Ochichi has been to Canada but has never competed here.

“It will be my first time running on Canadian soil and I am excited to run on a new course and in a new environment,” she said.