The Smithsonian Folklife Festival began its 2014 event on Wednesday. Kenya is featured this year, along with China. The Kenya program includes a daily presentation on long-distance running, featuring Tegla Loroupe [the first African woman to win the NYC Marathon (1994) and now a promoter of humanitarian activities and peace] and Henry Wanyoike [blind runner, Paralympic gold medalist, world record holder in the marathon for blind runners] and his track guide, Joseph Kibunja.
The Festival website says visitors can "run with Kenya's Olympic athletes" so bring your running shoes if you attend. The Festival is free and open to the public.
Amazing story from Henry Wanyoike and Joseph Kibunja. Wanyoike was a promising runner in Kenya as a teenager. Then when he was 21, he suffered a stroke. He lost 95 percent of his vision overnight. The rest of his vision faded away soon after.
A clinic helped him to deal with his handicap by teaching him how to knit pullovers. Eventually he became dissatisfied at that task and returned to running. He began to improve so much that his guides couldn't keep up. He had to drag them across the finish line in races. The guides also lived 40 or 50 miles away, which hampered his training.
So he asked his childhood friend, Joseph Kibunja, to become a guide. Kibunja played soccer but he had never formally trained as a runner before. His first real run workouts took place when he was already 26.
Both Wanyoike and Kibunja continued to improve. Wanyoike won the gold medal at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, at the 5000 meter distance, with a time of 15:46! He went onto win the visually impaired/blind division at major marathons like Boston, NY and London. He set the world record for the marathon distance for a blind runner, with a time of 2:31:31!
Kibunja's progress is almost as amazing, being able to keep up with Wanyoike and also help him navigate turns, other runners, obstructions and more.
They also participate in charitable activities in Kenya, for the poor, orphans and the disabled. Incredible story. Humble and friendly guys too.
I went on a run today and came upon the Kenyan runners with a group of people running. Is was a nice group of people. I ran with them for about 2 miles and then took off. The pace was about 10:30. There was a least one other DC Tri person in the group.
Ha! Great DC-Tri minds think alike:
I'm thinking about joining them Thursday the 3rd.
I was in the group that ran with Henry and Joseph on Sunday morning. I was wearing a Nation's Tri shirt. I wasn't necessarily trying to promote triathlon. It's just that most of my running shirts are from tri or 5K races, so it's one or the other.
One other guy helped to lead the way but he might have been a little too eager at times. He actually wanted to run at 6:00/mile pace! I don't think he quite understood that it was supposed to be a beginner-friendly fun run. Fortunately, Henry and Joseph said they wanted everyone to be able to stay with the group.
I think some people dropped off after just a couple miles. The pace was a little quicker in the beginning, maybe 9:00-9:30, which is a little fast for most beginners. Then we settled back to 10:30 to 11:00 pace for a while, with frequent stops at traffic lights and slower pace as we approached people walking along the Mall.
Nice to see such a wide range of ages, from 13 to the 60s. (I'm somewhere in between...)
Henry and Joseph posed for pictures with everyone before the run. (Yes, we all probably posted them on Facebook, but why wouldn't we? This was a very cool experience.) I ran by their side at times, and at other times, I stayed in the middle of the group. I noticed how casually Henry was able to step over curbs and the protective covers for electrical cabling on the sidewalks. Those two are so tuned in that Joseph can tell him when the obstacle is approaching and how high he may need to step.
I know it was a much slower pace than those two usually run, but they have successfully made their way through massive crowds at major marathons.
At their talk on Saturday, Henry joked that the reason they won so many races and set world records is because Joseph says that there are other runners catching up to them near the end of races, even when there isn't anyone else nearby. They could be leading by a few minutes, but Joseph might say that they need to push it to win and beat the other runner(s).
If people have the time, I'd recommend going to both the talk and the fun runs. They really do have an amazing life story and you will hear about more of the details in the talk than during the fun run. Check the Festival website for the schedule of the talks. They are usually in the afternoon, sometimes around 1 pm, sometimes at 2:30 or 2:45 pm.
As Meghan noted, the fun runs take place at 10:30 am each day of the Festival. Since the Festival is off for a couple days, no fun run today or tomorrow. They start up again on Wednesday and continue through Sunday. I might join the group for another run, either Saturday or Sunday.
If neither the fun runs nor the afternoon talks fit into your schedules, Henry and Joseph may also be at one of the Kenya tents at other times. I believe it's called the Kenya House tent. There are photos of various Kenya champion runners on the wall with handwritten notes. Henry and Joseph chat with people throughout the day. They have copies of Henry's book and some other brochures. When I was there on Saturday, they were also handing out small triangular pennants/banners with the name and flag of Kenya printed on them.
Tegla Loroupe was also scheduled to attend the Festival, but she hasn't made it to D.C. yet because of a personal matter. I'm not sure if she will be able to attend at all. Best wishes to her and her family.