Reigning world half marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir returns to the Ottawa 10K

By Justin Lagat

Kenyan elite racer Peres Jepchirchir can’t say enough good things about the Ottawa 10K distance – a signature event in the annual Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend.

“The Ottawa 10K is a great and well organized race. When I ran it last year, I did not feel any pain, stitches or any other problems that I would normally encounter in other races. I really enjoyed it,” says the 22-year-old rising star in the international long-distance running community.

“I have no idea why it feels so great running in Ottawa,” she added, “but I think there is something magical about the weather there.”

Jepchirchir is looking forward to returning to Ottawa for the 10K race at this year’s May 28-29 Race Weekend. She cherishes the team work she had with Gladys Cherono in 2015 and believes it was part of what made the race a memorable one for her. But she says she had some lessons to learn, and sometimes they were learned the hard way.

“Last year, I made a mistake of picking the water at around 8K and that is when Cherono seized the opportunity to open a gap on me. She later advised me against doing that in my future races and that for races that are 10km or shorter, one ought to take enough fluids before the race so that there would be no need to stop at the water stations,” she said.

Thanks to lessons learned in her first international competitions, and advice from Gladys Cherono and other senior athletes she interact with, Jepchirchir says her running is improving and shaping her into a world champion like her mentor Cherono.

In the short time she has been competing, Jepchirchir has improved on her personal best times at virtually every race.

“I have been improving on my personal best times since 2014. The time I ran in Ottawa 10K last year which was 31:18, became my personal best time until I ran the Prague Grand Prix and lowered it further to 30:55. I hope to lower that again when I go back to Ottawa in May,” she said.

Jepchirchir hopes for great team work from the women this year so they can beat the men in the 10K race’s gender challenge competition. Women start their race about three minutes ahead of the men and the first runner to cross the finish line gets a bonus.

“Last year, even though Gladys won the race, the men never caught me,” recalled Peres. “I am yet to know the names at this year’s start list so that I can know the ladies who we are going to assist each other in ensuring that we beat the men again.”

Returning to Ottawa as a world champion

Jepchirchir says she can hardly believe she is a world-class champion – a distinction she earned when she won the 2016 World Half Marathon Championships held in Cardiff, Wales on March 26. On crossing the finish line, she says had to struggle to hold back tears of joy.

“I had prepared very well for the world half marathon race and I felt that my body was in good shape. But, I was not confident about winning it because others in the field had faster personal best times and better experiences in major competitions. Cynthia Limo, particularly, had beaten me at the RAK half marathon [in the United Arab Emirates] only in February where she had won and I was fourth,” Peres said.

“As the race progressed, the pace worked to my advantage. We crossed 10km in 32 minutes and I remembered my coach’s observations during my training that he thought my body responds well in paces that are constant. When a race starts out gradually and then remains constant, it favors me. This gave me hope as we ran the last half of the race,” said Peres.

Jepchirchir first made her mark as an international-status road racer at the Nike Discovery Kenya 10K race in Eldoret in 2014. Soon after she was taken on by Gianni Demadonna Athletics, which manages elite athletes.

“Gianni himself was in Kenya when I ran the Discovery 10K race and a few other local cross country races in the country and he was very impressed with my performances. He even told me that he was happy that he saw me running personally rather than getting the results from other people,” said Jepchirchir.

Most of Gianni Demadonna’s athletes are based in Iten, Kenya, but Jepchirchir finds the town’s climate unfavourable for training. After discussing it with her coach, she now trains in Kapsabet, a town relatively lower in altitude than Iten. She trains mostly with personal male pace setter Vincent Koech.

Jepchirchir has no siblings who are into running like she is, but she believes a natural talent runs in their family.

“My grandmother comes from the same family where the legendary Kipchoge Keino [a two time Olympic gold medalist in track and field] comes from. I think talent alone without hard work does not yield anything when it comes to running. Perhaps some of my younger siblings will now start training hard after seeing my success and knowing that it is possible for them to succeed too,” she said.

After the Ottawa 10K, Jepchirchir aims to make the Kenyan team in the 10,000 metre event at the Rio Olympic Games this summer.