by Paul Gains

The great rivalry between East African neighbours Kenya and Ethiopia continues on the Toronto roads October 14th with a world class field intent on chasing the women’s course record of 2:22:43.

Agnes Kiprop, who has a personal best time of 2 hours 23 minutes and 54 seconds from the 2011 Frankfurt Marathon, will carry Kenyan hopes into the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label race. Among her Ethiopian rivals is Netsanet Achamo who has a best of 2:24:12.

The 33 year old Kiprop won the Prague Marathon on May 13th just a few weeks after dropping out of the 2012 Boston Marathon suffering the lingering affects of a typhoid infection. She continues to monitor her health with biweekly visits to a doctor. Her commitment to Toronto came about almost accidently.

At the post race reception in Prague her Italian coach, Gabriele Nicole, introduced her to Toronto race director Alan Brookes and suggested she might like to compete in Canada’s largest city. Kiprop is a training partner of Sharon Cherop, who won the event two years ago.

“I was pleased to meet him in Prague last May when I ran the marathon,”  Kiprop confirms. “He talked to me about the race and the course. Also my training partner Sharon Cherop told me that this is a very fast race and there are hundreds of supporters in the street along the course.”

Cherop, of course, also won the 2012 Boston Marathon. But the training group includes other notable female marathoners, including Mary Keitany, the 2012 London Marathon champion and  Lucy Kabuu Wangui, who debuted at the 2012 Dubai Marathon and finished 2nd in a spectacular time of 2:19:34. They meet in the running capital of Iten several times a week. Kiprop reckons she is in great shape.

“We don’t always train together because each one of us has a personal program, but we help each other to improve and stay focused,” she explains.

“My training schedule changes every week. The weekly average is 180-190 km during the dry season. During the raining season – due to heavy rain and bad conditions of the streets – sometime I’m forced to skip the daily training.”

She seems content with her current form as she has set lofty goals for the race.

“I wish to improve my personal best in Toronto and run below 2:23,” she declares. “Hopefully my time is fast enough to win the race. I know my contenders’ value, but I don’t know their current shape.

“So I’ll do my best to run as fast as possible. The bonuses for course records ($35,000) and fast times are nice awards and a motivation for not giving up.”

Kiprop was born in the village of Kaptul in the Marakwet district about 70 kilometres from Iten. She has five brothers and one sister and although a couple of her siblings tried professional athletics she is the only one who persevered.

In her early days encouragement came from Paul Yego who, besides winning a silver medal at the 1995 IAAF world half marathon championships, is also from Kaptul.

“Paul Yego, a pretty good marathon runner from my village, is the first person who suggested I try and start running school competitions and to tell me I’ll be an international marathon runner if I’d have train seriously,” she remembers. She also recalls watching Kenyan women such as Joyce Chepchumba who won both the London and Chicago marathons twice on television and feeling inspired.

With Yego’s encouragement Kiprop twice represented Kenya at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships – finishing 10th in 1997 and 7th in 1998 – both times in the junior races. Soon afterwards her career was halted so she could start a family. Today she is the proud mother of two children, Gavin, 8, and Sheila, 6.

“A few years ago,” she reveals, “I moved to Iten with my two kids because the quality of life is better than in Marakwet and there are good schools in Iten.

“Nowadays, I’m a professional runner and want to give a future to my kids. When I’m not busy with training sessions, I spend my time with them.”