The US Army’s Elkanah Kibet Is Living The American Dream At Age 38 – “Don’t lose hope, show up again, keep going”

By LetsRun.com
November 15, 2021

38-year-old Elkanah Kibet had the race of his life to run a 2:11:15 PB for 4th place and first American honors at last week’s TCS New York City Marathon and is the guest on last week’s LetsRun.com Track Talk podcast. We’ve got highlights of his talk below.

On the pod, an appreciative Elkanah had some inspiring words on perseverance and believing in and living the American dream. An officer in the US Army (first lieutenant), Elkanah now is training full time as part of the World Class Athlete Program. He’s the father of 3 kids, a 10-month-old, a 5-year-old, and a 10-year-old.  

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He came to the US to run at Rend Lake College and eventually Auburn University. As Elkanah details on the podcast, his path to Auburn was a fortuitous one that involves world record holders, Daniel Komen, and Stephen Cherono. Elkanah was a good, but not great athlete at Auburn.

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Eventually, he joined the US Army, got his US citizenship, had a mediocre road-racing career before he burst onto the US marathon scene in 2015 as a 32-year-old, when he ran 2:11:31 in his debut marathon in Chicago.  (For an excellent profile on Elkanah read the 2015 LetsRun piece: For The Love Of Running: How Elkanah Kibet Went From A Deployment In Iraq To 2:11:31 At The Chicago Marathon In Less Than A Year). However, it was not smooth sailing since then. Sure he made the World Championship team in 2017 and 2019, but it took him until marathon #13 to run another PB.

Elkanah now eyes a medal at next year’s World Championships.  “I’m just getting started,” he says. We encourage you to listen to our full talk with Elkanah in the player below or here on your favorite podcast app, but we’ve typed up a few highlights below.

“This race was monumental…[I thought beforehand] maybe this is the end of running career for me.”

“I can say that this was monumental because after injury, I was like, maybe this is the end of running career for me. I never thought I would be healthy again and run again…. I thought I might not be able to run again, but being able to come back and run like that, you know, feeling strong all the way to the finish line, I cannot trade anything for that. That was the best I’ve ever been because of the way I finished. I could kick and I was even telling myself it’s good they broke away from me earlier, but if I was with them in the finish, like the last 5k, or last 2k, oh goodness, they would have had a problem. They wouldn’t drop me because I was really ready for it.”

His goal for New York was simple- make the World Championship team, which meant placing top 6

“I just wanted to really do well. And, my goal was I wanted to make the world championship team… So my goal was just, do your best, make top 10. And then, once you [are] in top 10, try to go for top six.

And that’s what I did. When we were running, I was just like, it’s going to happen at some point. So I tried to make sure I’m on with the leaders as much as I could.  I was lucky enough. And it happened that way.”

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On Beating Kenenisa Bekele

“Somebody sent me a photo that they took for me in front with Bekele and Albert [Korir the winner]. And I said, I’m going to save this for a lifetime because you never get to race the world record holder.  And I beat Bekele, and the current world record holder for the half marathon. So to me, I look at the results and I tell myself, this is an achievement that I’ve never had before in my life. And I just need to be proud of the results that I obtained.”

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On his goals for Worlds next year.

“That [the World Championships] will be my very big goal for next year. And I want a medal at the world championships. 

On doing mostly his own workouts instead of those from WCAP coach Scott Simmons in the build-up to New York

“Actually that was very nice of him for doing that [letting me do my own workouts] because he said you have a marathon you’re getting ready for. And he said, ‘I don’t want to change anything….I want you to keep doing what you’re doing. And that will be fine… After [New York] then we will come sit down and will reevaluate everything.’ And I think that’s what we’re going to do now.

On how two world record holders, 3000m world record holder, Daniel Komen, and steeplechase world record holder, Stephen Cherono, inspired him to go to school in the United States-  “Going to Auburn was like a dream come true”

“I think Komen was the one who inspired me to come to school. I remember one time we were sitting down after dinner, around a fireplace and Komen said, ‘Okay, you guys have been training the whole year… I’m going to help you guys. There are scholarships in United States of America… You guys can go to university…And then after you graduate, you can just come back and continue running…So he inspired us.”

“One thing I didn’t say, when I was in [my] second year in high school [five or six years before he came to the US], the brother of Stephen Cherono…he brought a business card for Auburn University… for coach Pete [Watson]. It was a miracle that he gave me the thing…. And I told him, I’m going to go to that university… 

I just wrote down the email… in my black notebook I’m going to go to this school and do [study] business…I never knew what was email [at the time]. I had never opened a computer or anything. [Going to Auburn years later] it was a blessing.

I went to Auburn and then I graduated and now I’m out doing business… So that was like, God wanted me to go to this school.”

If you don’t succeed at first, keep trying…

“I just want to say I am appreciative I came back. They say the first marathon it might not go good, and then the second one might not work. And then probably the seventh one will be the one that works. I don’t know which was this number [it was his 13th marathon]… It worked really well after the first one going really great. And then the other ones didn’t go really well.

I just want to encourage people to keep running, keep training, keep working hard, and sometimes things don’t work. Just don’t lose hope, show up again, dust off yourself, wake up, keep going. I’m thankful for the career I have had. I’m thankful to God for the US Army. They have given me opportunity to work and they’re giving me opportunity to pursue my passion of running.”

Elkanah talks about his texting group from Office Candidate School being very pumped up by his performance as was his old boss in the Army

“I’m just happy that I inspire a lot of people. I’ve had a lot of messages saying, ‘Oh, you’re encouraging us to keep going.’ So I think this thing for me really touch a lot of people. 

And I’m just getting started… I know I’ll get there… I tell myself as long as I’m healthy, I’m going to keep going. If Kipchoge is still going, I’m going to keep going to.” 

*Listen to the full podcast here

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MB: The Elkaneh Kibet Interview 

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