Queen Mary “gets” road racing, has good technique, a winning attitude, a positive self image, and an aptitude for peaking, says Brother Colm O’Connell “The Godfather of Kenyan running” - who has coached 25 world champions and 4 Olympic winners.
For Kenya’s Keitany, her 2015 NYC 2:24:25 victory, at 33, made her the first woman to defend her title there since Paula Radcliffe in 2008. Norwegian Grete Waitz, now deceased, won 5 in a row from ’82 to 86. She’s the record holder for most consecutive wins.
Here, besides Colm’s points, are a few other reasons Keitany’s successful: she is motivated by other Kenyan running greats - her favorite being 4-time Boston Marathon winner, Catherine Ndereba - and she believes that, despite her being a distance runner - SPEED is KEY. Take those, and toss in Kenyan foods such as Ugali, a cornmeal porridge, Ndengu, a mung-bean stew, Chapati, a wheat-flour bread, and Sukuma wiki, a collared green - and you’re looking at Mary being crowned with, not olives, but an olive wreath for winning this 2016 NYC Marathon.
And all this heavy-duty training and triumphing is done while raising son, Jared, and daughter, Samantha. Admittedly, she gets a ton of child-rearing help from her husband, Charles Koech, who, when not looking a little bit like Usain Bolt, has taken to being Mary’s understudy - by being the family-first-guy. He knows the sites she’s running in and also knows where, physically, mentally, and metaphorically their family is coming from.
So, yes, he backs her, takes a back seat - cares for the family when she’s overseas, and keeps things under control (as much as can be controlled with 2 kids.) He’s the motivator, the manager.
But, Keitany knows, as does any world-class athlete, that they are only an injury away from leaving the limelight, exiting their sport. Thus she, like her parents who raised cattle and grew vegetables, leads an unostentatious life on her farm. She’s also scrupulous about savings and serious about investments and, to those ends - oversees and pursues business ventures. Mary and Charles have many interests in agriculture but their hotel ownership of an 86-room, Five Star Hotel, AKA: Hotel WinStar – A Passion for Excellence on Eldoret’s Sosian St - is the jewel. So far.
Speaking of pursuits, most of us fondly remember our first time on an airplane. Maybe we went to visit family, maybe we went to a tourist attraction, maybe we moved – but for Mary, in 2006, her first plane ride was to Seville, Spain – to compete in the half marathon, building upon her junior career of running the 1,500 and 3,000. She won - and this despite having her world rattled due to an almost life-altering passport snafu - before even getting out of Kenya. (A few years later, before a half-marathon race in Birmingham, she and others, on the way to a press conference, were stuck in an elevator for 50 minutes. She won that race too!)
Nothing has come easy for Keitany.
In 2008, her racing came to a screeching halt – baby Jared was born in June. Just a scant 11 months later, in India, she set a personal best in the 10K, 32:09.
Back to marathon-type races. In her 2010 NYC Marathon debut she finished 3rd and said it would be her last marathon (paraphrasing) because it paralyzed her body. But Mary’s one tough cookie.
Her tough stuff was honed, not only in rural toil, but in the conscious decision she made to enroll in - - - "The National Hidden Talents Academy" an institution for orphans and the destitute. This was, she thought a, no pun intended, step up.
In 2011 she shattered the half-marathon record, in the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon, finishing in 1:05:50 via a solo break-from-the-pack attack.
For winning the 2015 New York Marathon she took $100,000 prize money and another $25,000 for running under 2:25.
Now what of this NYC marathon generally?
Despite the guide runners that help the blind, despite the first responders and volunteers everywhere, and despite big-time celebrities such as singer-songwriter, Alicia Keys, in the 2015 race, somewhere(s), and despite a lovable set of competitors who down a beer in each borough, and despite some competitors wearing outrageously non-marathon-type gear, and despite motivational music throughout the course - all of whom, and all of which, give - if only for a day, the impression that New York City cares – there might be signs about that speak to (and give the essence of) the NYC state of mind.
“If a marathon was easy, it would be called your mother.”
Happily, however, this marathon believes in gender parity. Prize money for women is equal to prize money for men. And there’s some global participant parity too, with an estimated 40% of the entrants being citizens from abroad. In the 2015 running, 125 countries were represented.
Right now, Keitany, who got into competitive running thanks to an older sister, is leading the way. But she’ll grow older. We all do, and when she does we must ask: will she be able to top the time of 5:40:23 set by Agnes Roest-Bomers from the Netherlands?
What’s so special about a 5-hour + time? Nothing – save for the fact that Agnes Roest-Bomers was 84 when she set that mark last year.
But this year, let’s celebrate Mary’s successes in private and public life and laud her performances and perspectives. And let the world, and the upcoming November 6th TCS New York City Marathon, yield to Mary Keitany, a wonderful winner, on and off the road - as she strides and strives for a three-peat.