LetsRun.com Exclusive: Meet The Runner Who Has Never Raced But Routinely Crushes Eliud Kipchoge In Practice

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by Letsrun.com
April 1, 2017

KAPTAGAT, Kenya — LetsRun.com can exclusively report that there is a runner in Kenya, David Mtu Kutania, who has never run a race yet regularly beats the world’s greatest marathoner, Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, in workouts.

One of the best-kept secrets within Kipchoge’s training group was that Kipchoge, the man Nike is hoping will break 2 hours in its sub 2-hour marathon exhibition later this year, is only the second best runner in Kaptagat, Kenya. David Kutania, a farmer who runs barefoot and does not train with any organized group in Kenya, has no problem beating Kipchoge when they cross paths running in Kaptagat. It first occurred last summer when Kipchoge was doing a hard 20-miler before the Olympics. Kutania ran up on him on the dirt road and passed him. That raised some eyebrows in Kipchoge’s group, but others dismissed David, thinking he may have only been running a mile or two.

David Kutania Has a Dirt Track at His Farm

World: Meet David Kutania

However, since then David has made it a semi-regular point to show up when Kipchoge’s group is training, run with them a little, then run ahead and leave the group. Now there is no doubt within Kipchoge’s group or even with Kipchoge himself that David, not Kipchoge, is the fastest runner in Kaptagat. LetsRun.com was in Kenya prior to last week’s World Cross Country Championships in Uganda, and stumbled upon David’s remarkable story when observing a Kipchoge track workout. David ran by Kipchoge effortlessly on one interval before exiting the track and not doing the remaining intervals in the workout. LetsRun.com then returned to Kenya after World XC and eventually, thanks to the relentless work of Kenyan journalist Mutwiri Mutuota, tracked down David, where he gave a short and exclusive interview to LetsRun.com. He told us that, contrary to what was believed, he wants to race Kipchoge.

Kipchoge Readily Admits That David Beats Him Regularly

Kipchoge admitted exclusively to LetsRun.com in the video below that David is the better runner, “David has beaten me today. He was running barefoot [but] he doesn’t like to do races [so what difference does it make].”

Believe it or not, the fact there is a barefoot runner able to destroy Kipchoge in workouts was not seen a big deal in Kenya, because it was believed David has no desire to race.

In many traditions, perhaps most notably the Hopi in the United States, but including the Kenyan Kalenjin tradition, there is a distinction between those who run and race for the fame, and those who run for the purity of it.

Just like the Hopi ceremonial runners, who run for the “blessings of the cloud people, for the rain, for the harvest, so we have a good life, a long life”, it was believed David ran for the purity of it and to bring blessings to his people. For thousands of years, the Kalenjin have run in the highlands of Kenya. Only for the last 30 years have some tried to make it a profession.

What point would racing be if you regularly run as fast as you can and no one ever beats you? Americans celebrate the front runner, the guy who makes it a pure guts race, but what if you knew no one could beat you? What would be the point of a race? That is how most Kenyan runners viewed David. Others weren’t convinced that David would actually be able to deliver when running in the Mzungu world.

David Now Says He Wants to Race Kipchoge

Up until now, how David would do in a real race was a moot point because it was believed he had no desire to race. His family has one of the richest and most fertile farms in Kenya, producing five times more tea per acre than the average farm in Kenya – a sign that David’s running was bringing blessings to his family.

However, when contacted by LetsRun.com, David sent shockwaves through the running world by saying he wants to race and is willing to race Kipchoge.

“In training, I beat him and all the top runners. I haven’t had an opportunity to go out and race. I now want the opportunity to go out and beat these champions in a proper race. Prepare a race for me with Eliud there and people can see what I can accomplish,” David said, according to Mutuota translating from Swahili.

Video below.

It is believed Nike decided to make its sub-2-hour marathon exhibition attempt a closed race with only Nike athletes not only to exclude adidas athletes (the last five times the world record in the men’s marathon has been broken, it has been done in adidas shoes; the last time it was broken in Nike shoes was in 1998), but also to prevent the remote possibility that David ever changed his mind and wanted to race. Adidas is aware of David as well, but has little interest in him because while David now is saying he wants to race, he does not want to wear shoes and says he’ll race barefoot. What’s the point of helping someone go sub-2 if you can’t commercialize it?

How LetsRun.com Discovered the Unbelievable Story of David Kutania

Before the World Cross Country Championships in Uganda, LetsRun.com, through the IAAF Day in the Life Project (editor’s note: the IAAF paid for LRC’s Weldon Johnson transportation and accommodation while in Kenya) went to Kenya and observed the world’s greatest marathoner, Kipchoge, working out in Eldoret, Kenya. As a condition of observing the workout, Eliud wanted certain specifics of the workout embargoed for 10 days until the start of April so his rivals could not try and copy his workouts. Eliud, being the key runner in Nike’s sub-2-hour marathon exhibition attempt, did allow us to publish photos of his shoes last week.

Kipchoge getting passed isn't quite as big a deal as you might expect. He's 9th in red in the line here

Kipchoge getting passed isn’t quite as big a deal as you might expect. He’s 9th in red in the line here

The workout we observed Eliud do was five sets of 2000 meters-1000 meters hard with a 200-meter walk/jog recovery. The workout scene at the dirt track at Moi Stadium is very chaotic with roughly 40 runners sharing the track at a time doing different workouts. So it is hard to tell who is doing what workout on the track as runners are constantly passing one another. On Eliud’s third 2000m repetition, a lone barefoot runner, whom we later discovered to be David, ran past Eliud and his group effortlessly. As dramatic as that may sound it, it didn’t raise too many alarm bells with LetsRun.com because many runners are doing different workouts on the same track. If someone is only doing 600m and someone else 2000m, the 600m runner may pass the 2000m even if the 2000m runner is Eliud Kipchoge. The thing that caught our attention was David kept running off the track and ran down the road into the distance. David’s pace surely had to slow at some point. We did notice that after the interval the runners in Eliud’s group were laughing/joking with Eliud after the interval and pointing at David as he kept running. We thought David was like the guy who sprints the first 400m of a road race in the lead.

You can make out Kipchoge's white shoes, but his read top is largely obscurred in our photo. David has no shoes and is 20 meters back

You can make out Kipchoge’s white shoes, but his red top is largely obscured in our photo. David has no shoes and is 20 meters back

We went back and looked at all our photos and think there is only one with David in it and it was before he passed Kipchoge. We couldn’t figure out how far he ran. (editor’s note: Nike technically owns the rights to the images at Eliud Kipchoge’s workouts, but we are citing “fair use” and publishing the one image we have of the athlete whom we think is David at the track).

Afterwards, we did ask a few runners about the barefoot runner who just ran and exited the track and they all said something along the lines of, “Oh that’s David. He just likes to run, but not race.”  We didn’t think too much of it as they didn’t make a big deal of it, and we had no idea how far David had run. One runner in the group, whose name we did not get, did say of David, “He’s faster than Eliud,” but we thought he was pulling some sort of joke on the mzungus at the track.

Later when meeting with famed Kenyan coach Brother Colm O’Connell, he was dismissive of the Nike sub-2-hour attempt having any greater significance. He noted 800m great David Rudisha might be able to break 100 seconds (1:40.00) in the 800m with illegal assistance. “So what?” he said, implying the point was to do it in a regular competition. Brother Colm then casually remarked there was definitely one Kenyan who he thought he could break 2 for 26.2 miles, but the guy never wanted to run a race, so who cares? We were astounded by his assertion and then started asking him about it. Brother Colm didn’t even know David by name, but said everyone in the area knew him.

Kipchoge (red) and crew at track

Kipchoge (red) and crew at track

LetsRun.com then frantically tried to find David, but to no avail, as we only had two more hours in Iten, before we had to leave for the World Cross Country Championships in Uganda. In Uganda, we asked a friend of LetsRun.com, Kenyan journalist Mutwiri Mutuota about David, and he said he’d help us track him down after World Cross Country. Mutuota warned us though that it was likely that David wouldn’t do an interview with us.

We returned to Kenya and the search for David began. David wouldn’t meet with us when we went to his tea farm, but the next day we were able to find him tending to one of his cows on an adjacent field to his farm. Apparently, David has one special prized cow that will be used for part of his dowry when he gets married. He keeps it on a special field across from his farm. This field does have a dirt track around it and that is where we observed David barefoot walking around the track. We thought about waiting to see if he would do some intervals, but Mutwiri advised us to approach him while we could, so that is when we approached David and did the interview.

We then returned to Kipchoge’s training camp and asked him about David and were surprised how matter-of-fact he was about David being faster than him in workouts. We specifically asked Eliud if David could run sub-two in the marathon, “He has already beaten me. Maybe he can beat me [to the sub 2].”

We have no idea what is in store in the future for David, but it is one of those stories you only hear once a year.

LRC analysis below.

Quick Take #1 : Don’t Expect David to Race Eliud Anytime Soon

The stars of our sport are known for ducking each other. You think that wouldn’t apply to a guy who has never raced before in his life, but expect shoe politics to get in the way of this one. There is even a rumor going around that the shoe companies will work with the IAAF and when it issues its new regulations on whether the new Nike and adidas shoes are legal, also issue a ruling saying shoes have to be worn for a world record to be set. Without shoe company dollars, there is no money left in our sport so expect the IAAF to go along.

How would David do even if he had these?

How would David do if he had these?

Quick Take #2: Can David Actually Run Fast on Pavement? Who cares if a guy can go sub-2 on a dirt road?

A major problem for David is he only runs on dirt roads and without shoes. For him to become globally significant he has to do something on a paved road. It is widely accepted that having shoes slow you down. How much slower will David be when he has to wear shoes?