by Cathal Dennehy
November 9, 2018
For one of Kenya’s best-known politicians, it’s time to get back on track.
In recent years Wesley Korir has been many things to many people–a member of Kenyan Parliament, Boston Marathon champion, a philanthropist with various charity projects–but the 35-year-old is first and foremost a runner, and now he’s ready to return to his first love.
“Which is more exciting, politics or running marathons? That’s easy: marathons,” he says. “In politics sometimes the result is out of your control, no matter how hard you work, but in running you have to do everything for yourself, do what you love and finish how you want to finish.”
After a nightmare experience at the Rio Olympics in 2016, Korir found his beloved sport taking a back seat in life as his political career in Kenya soaked up so much of his time.
It got to the point where not only his running suffered, but also Korir’s ability to spend time with his family. His wife, Tarah, gave birth to their fourth child earlier this summer, and that was the catalyst to convince him it was time to bench his political career, at least for now.
Editor’s note: Korir did lose the 2017 election to keep his seat in Parliament, as his opponent Joshua Kutuny received 15,385 votes to 8,378 votes for Korir.
“I took a break to concentrate on my family, to spend more time with them and also to get back to running,” he says.
That decision is also why, one week shy of his 36th birthday, Korir now finds himself in a place he’s never been: Beirut, Lebanon.
On Sunday morning, he will tackle 26.2 miles for the first time since April 2017, lining up against an international field to chase a first prize of US $15,000 at the BLOM Bank Beirut Marathon.
“I’m out of the habit of winning a while so getting a win will give me a boost as I get back to running full-time,” he says. “My training has gone well. The weather looks good, the competition is good and so definitely my goal is to run under 2:10.”
As a father of four, there are certainly more demands on Korir’s time these days than in 2012 when he rose to the top of the marathon world, taking victory in Boston in 2:12:40 before lowering his PB to 2:06:13 later that year in Chicago.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Coached remotely by Ron Mann, his former college coach at the University of Louisville, Korir still finds time to log between 80 and 100 miles a week. If that sounds conservative for a world-class marathoner, it should be noted it’s by design, with Korir unable to race so far in 2018 after withdrawing from the Ottawa Marathon in May due to shin splints.
“My injuries are gone now so I was able to get back into a lot of mileage and get a very good build-up,” he said on Thursday afternoon, limbering up for Sunday’s race with a gentle jog alongside Beirut’s waterfront.
While his competitive fire still burns, these days his mission is less about him and more about his countrymen. When Korir is not spending time with his family he’s kept busy with charity projects, primarily the Kenyan Kids Foundation, and he feels his time in politics has given him the perfect grounding for such work.
“It’s about empowerment through dairy farming,” he said. “Most of the people in rural Kenya are farming so we’re trying to help them, starting co-operative societies where we put farmers together and have them sell at a better price.
“We also have a textile industry where we hire, so we empower them through job creation and try to help women and youth get jobs.”
There’s also the Transcend Running Academy, which Korir set up to give standout young runners in Kenya a helping hand to reach their full potential.
“We sponsor kids who have a talent for running to go to school and to get them scholarships to America when they finish,” he says. “We have about 10 students already who have gone to America, and they are running really well there.”
While there have been many highs in his running career, an undoubted low came his way in 2016, with Korir forced to drop out of the Olympic Marathon in Rio after vomiting several times on the course, which he now reveals was down to a mix-up at the drinks station.
“My drinks were given to Stanley Biwott and Biwott’s were given to me. I had not used his drinks in practice and he had not used mine so it caused a lot of stomach upset. It was disappointing, but it’s one of those things.”
At his base in Eldoret, Korir trained alongside younger brother John Kipkosgei Korir, who clocked 2:09:14 to finish runner-up at the Ottawa Marathon this year, and now, as he finally gets back on the start line, Wesley figures a similar result could be on the cards in Beirut.
“My hope will be to enjoy the race and to be able to get back that competitive edge,” he says. “On Sunday my goal is to get back loving the distance but I also hope to run fast. Being away from winning for so long, I’m very hungry to win again. I love winning – more than anything else.”
Editor’s note: When first published we did not have the editor’s note about Korir losing the 2017 election.