I first met Gilbert at our local marathon (the Prince Edward County Marathon) last year. I'd seen him there previous years, but hadn't talked to him, and then last year he was standing by himself at the expo, so I went over to say hi. It turned out that he had arrived that morning by bus for the race, but didn't have anywhere lined up to spend the night, so I brought him home with me. My family and I had a great time getting to know him, and over the past year we have kept in touch. Last weekend was the County Marathon again, and Gilbert was planning on racing there again, so we were able to host him at our house for almost a week. It was really interesting to learn more about him and his career.
Gilbert had grown up in a farming family in the Rift Valley area of Kenya, in the region where so many of the world's great marathoners are from. As a boy he hadn't been interested in running, as he was more focussed on soccer and his school work. After grade 8 though he was forced to leave school so he could work on the farm, and shortly after that he started running and realized that he had talent.
By his late teens he was traveling internationally to race, and over time was able to save enough money to buy his own land and tractor, build a house, and buy a bus, all the while continuing to travel the world running races.
The focus that he has as a runner is remarkable. A lot of us westerners can be pretty obsessed, but at the end of the day it's just a hobby for us. For him though, it's his livelihood. When Gilbert is staying at our house he spends hours every day contacting race directors all over the world trying to line up more races. Unlike most of us, who will only run a couple of marathons a year at the most, he'll do one every weekend if he can. When he's not trying to fill up his race schedule, he watches marathons on youtube, studying tactics and learning. It's remarkable to sit with him while he's doing this. For example, we were watching the clip of Sammy Wanjiru and Tsegaye Kebede battling it out in the last 2 miles of the 2010 Chicago Marathon (if you haven't watched it, you should- it's a amazing- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJ3s9HRaDJ0 ). As we were watching, he was telling me about how he was chatting with Kebede a couple of weeks after that race about his tactics and why he was swerving back and forth on the road. We also were watching the clips from this year's Berlin marathon where Dennis Kimetto set the new world record. As we were watching, he was pointing out of one the pacers, and told me that we'll be seeing great things from him soon- he sees him around town (in Eldoret, Kenya) and he's going to be a great marathoner.
One of the other really interesting things about spending time with GIlbert is that it can put running in perspective. As I mentioned previously, we can get pretty obsessed, but for him, it's his key to a better life. He has a gift, and he's using it to make a better life for himself and others. As he now has the means to, he has started taking in orphans, and now has 13 kids living in his home. When talking to him about this, you get the sense that his thought is "I can do it, so why wouldn't I?"
There are quite a few guys around like this. When you're at the race expos, you'll often see the East Africans hanging out by themselves. Sometimes you might think that they're bigshot runners who wouldn't deign to talk to us midpackers, but in reality, these are just guys who have left their families behind so they can try to make a better life. I would encourage you to go over, say hi, find out a bit about them, maybe even take them into your home if they need a place to stay. Who knows, you may end up making a life long friend of a super fast pro runner.