MASORIOT, Kenya – Feet clapping lightly on an empty road just after sunrise on Sunday, 15 days after the 126th Boston Marathon. Benson Kipruta, a Kenyan runner, runs miles in the small town of Masoriot, just behind a rusty blue arch on the border of Nandi County, known as the Source of Champions.
His mouth is slightly open, and sweat runs down his sharp cheekbones, salty remnants of effort. The long-distance runner weighing 5 feet 7 and 125 pounds is silent, looking forward for 18 miles, chasing vision. On Monday, Cyprus will try to perform a rare feat – to win his second title in a row at the Boston Marathon in what is considered the fastest field in the history of the race. Only 10 people have won Boston in a row, and there has been no re-champion since Robert Kipkaech Cheruiot of Kenya in 2008.
The 31-year-old Cypriot will be next to Jeffrey Camvoor of Kenya, two-time New York Marathon champion, Birhan Legez of Ethiopia, third-ranked marathon runner and two-time Boston Marathon winner Lelisa Desis, also of Ethiopia. .
No one is more surprised than Cyprus.
In the race in October 2021, Cyprus broke away from the leading groups on the 23rd mile and ran without controversy, crossing the finish line 46 seconds ahead of Lemi Berhanu of Ethiopia to win the legendary race.
“Maybe it could be my day,” Cypriot recalled, thinking. He only hoped to do better than his 10th place during his 2019 Boston debut. Maybe he could be on the podium, he thought. The real win was a drastic change of pace for an athlete who once didn’t believe he could make a career out of running.
As a member of the Nandi, a tribe of calendars, Kipruto was unsure he could fall into the realm of legends that were before him, like Ibrahim Hussein, the first Kenyan to win the Boston Marathon in 1988 and twice more in 1991 and 1992. Eliud Kipchoge, a world marathon record holder and two-time Olympic gold medalist, is also a native of Nandi.
Cypriot grew up in Talilet, a remote village in Kenya’s Northern Rift, where life often took place on a small farm, growing corn and beans that his family relied on for food and sale. Cypriot was the year his father died. Sometimes his mother finds it difficult to feed Cyprus and his four siblings.
Sometimes Cypriot went to school for only half a week because that was all his mother could pay for. If he could attend, the 8-year-old would walk up to 10 miles a day, eating a lunch of guitars, a mixture of corn and beans. He spent evenings working on the farm with his siblings, and hauled two 10-liter jugs of water drawn from the river half a mile from it to boil it for drinking and cooking.
When Cyprus was 16, a science teacher who worked as a gym teacher encouraged him to try cross-country running. Kipruta joined the team and proved to be a decent – but not necessarily great – runner.
Cypriot wanted a career in sports journalism rather than running, but he could not afford to continue his education. So he worked on a farm and opened a small kiosk selling sugar, fresh milk and pieces of soap, as well as grown vegetables. For several months Cyprus lived on a profit of 5,000 shillings a month (equivalent to $ 43), which barely covered his basic needs. Successful months brought Cyprus $ 80.
And he kept running.
For two years, he rarely skipped a run at 6 a.m. for 15 miles before working 12 hours a day in Koyban, his village in Nandi County. He always ran alone, doing it with pure pleasure. If he had the money, Cyprus could buy a used pair of sneakers for just $ 4 and train in them for a few months.
Only after an old friend, who became a professional runner, invited him to a 12-mile training run, Cyprus began to think about the future of the sport. He managed to keep up with the group, and his friend pushed him to consider moving to Capsabet, where some of the world’s most elite training grounds are located, to look for a coach. Kipruta returned to his kiosk and sat alone, wondering, “Can I do this?”
“Yes. It is competitive, ”Kipruta said. “But I realized that everything that would come would not be easy.”
He was inspired by the success of one of his siblings who made a career in sports. After watching his older brother Dixon Chumba win the Tokyo Marathon twice and once in Chicago, Cypriot decided to bet on himself.
He left his kiosk and moved to Capsabet, the capital of Nandi County, in 2015. A few months later, he joined the 2 Running Club, a team founded by Italian running coach Claudio Berardelli. He became a professional runner in 2016, finishing the Athens Marathon, his first attempt at a distance, in second place. Since then, Cyprus has won three of nine marathons, including Prague in 2021 and Toronto in 2018, where he set his personal best in 2 hours and 5 minutes.
“He risks a little more,” Berardelli says. “A few years ago I was always worried that he was too conservative. Doing the bare minimum to achieve. You will learn little about yourself if you do not take a little risk.
And he discovered a lot when he ran away with his victory in the 2021 Boston Marathon, an achievement that allowed him to bring back his community in ways he didn’t think possible.
“The more successful we are, the happier we are when we give to society, the less happy we are. That’s where we came from, ”Kipruta said. He hopes to be a role model for others; he maintains a school fee for three students in his village and often donates to his church.
“Others are following in our footsteps. They are watching how we behave, ”he said.
After all, this is what drives Cyprus when it is on the starting line – to build a bright future not only for his family, but also for those who live the life he once was. “It will come,” he often told himself during long runs before sunrise.
“It’s going to be hard,” he said of the Boston Marathon ahead. “But I’m well prepared, both in legs and in mind.”