Behind the Scenes of a Unique FKT Attempt in Kenya

You’ve read of Kilimanjaro, but what about Mount Kenya, which stands at a very pleased seventeen,057 toes? Owing most likely to its subordinate status, Africa’s 2nd best peak has not been as romanticized in Western culture as its Tanzanian counterpart—at the very least if Toto lyrics and Hemingway fantasies of moribund masculinity are something to go by. The discrepancy also applies to the realm of large altitude prolonged distance running. If you look up “Kilimanjaro” on the web page, you will find a quantity of athletes, including a certain dauntless Spaniard, who have focused the mountain for an FKT attempt. When it arrives to Mount Kenya, the list is a lot more modest. In point, until eventually this 7 days, it only incorporated only a person title: Fabio Meraldi—a retired ski-mountaineer and “skyrunner” from Italy. Meraldi’s Mount Kenya FKT dates back again to a 1995 Global Skyrunning Federation race, and does not appear to have any GPS data to back again it up. In impact, an “official” Mount Kenya file has however to be operate.

That is, until eventually very last Friday. On the morning of November 20, two Kenyan athletes named Kenneth Kemboi and Susy Chemaimak established men’s and women’s unsupported FKTs for the out-and-back again trek from the Sirimon Gate entrance to Mount Kenya Nationwide Park (elevation: 8,694 ft) to Point Lenana, which, at 16,354 toes, is the best obtainable peak on the mountain that does not require a multi-pitch, roped climb. Kemboi came house in 7:00:40, when Chemaimak ran 7:50:07. (Both equally experienced the distance at about 48.five kilometers, or 30 miles, on their GPS watches—almost seven kilometers a lot more than what Meraldi experienced operate back again in ‘95.)   

Unless you transpire to be the most obsessive running supporter on world Earth, neither Kemboi or Chemaimak’s title is most likely to ring a bell. By the otherworldly benchmarks of Kenyan distance running, they are 3rd-tier athletes, at ideal. Which indicates that they are even now superior ample to demoralize the competition in some of the a lot more lower-profile races about the world. Last 12 months, for occasion, Kemboi received the Palermo Marathon, in Sicily, by running 2:14:20 the Amazing Thailand Bangkok Marathon (2:16:07) and Thailand’s Buriram Fifty percent Marathon (1:07:26). Successful these races gained him $1,350, $6,000, and $1,five hundred, respectively. But his major payday of 2019 came in opposition to his hardest competition at the Eldoret Metropolis Marathon, he finished 3rd (2:15:forty three, at 7,000 toes, no significantly less) and manufactured $ten,000. 

If currently being a journeyman specialist distance runner was a tough way to make a residing before, the pandemic has manufactured it nearly difficult. In a globe with no races, it’s rather tough to remain afloat when your major source of earnings is from prize dollars. As a wave of event cancellations manufactured this market economic climate out of date, Kemboi achieved out to his sponsor with a simple however urgent message: he was broke and desired assistance. 

Alas, Kemboi’s benefactor was not a behemoth company with countless funds reserves, but a tiny startup named Enda, producers of “the initially Kenyan-manufactured running shoe.” The brand name was co-founded in 2015 by Kenyan attorney Navalayo Osembo and British American social entrepreneur Weldon Kennedy. As its web page unequivocally states, Enda is “Kenyan founded, Kenyan led, and with the greater part Kenyan investment decision.” It also would make a issue of sponsoring local runners, like Kemboi, Chemaimak, and 30-12 months-previous Joan Cherop, who received the women’s race at the very least year’s Detroit Marathon (prize dollars: $four,000). 

“We are not a big organization,” Kennedy informed me. “We really don’t have big contracts with these athletes. We shell out a minor little bit, but it’s definitely not ample for them to reside on.”

So Enda dreamed up a small-time answer to boost its brand name when assisting to ease some of the monetary burden on its number of sponsored athletes: a sequence of paid FKT makes an attempt up Kenya’s tallest mountain. (To assistance drum up monetary means, Enda recruited quite a few co-sponsors including apparel maker Janji, the GPS-observe brand name Coros, and the hydration pack organization UltrAspire.) Among other matters, the notion was consistent with Enda’s Kenya-initially ethos. Osembo has mentioned that the inspiration for the brand name was that the region recognised to generate the speediest distance runners in the globe should also be creating its have running shoes. In a equivalent vein, it only felt proper that Kenya’s most symbolically considerable FKT should also be in Kenyan palms. 

For his part, Kennedy maintains that, rather than a mere PR stunt, Enda’s FKT job was intended to also reignite a perpetually intriguing discussion on the aggressive ultra scene: What would transpire if sub-elite Kenyan athletes began having part in marquee races? He thinks that it would be transformative for path running—not just in terms of elevating the competition, but by generating the sport a lot more of a worldwide phenomenon. 

“I imagine there is a growing recognition for the will need for inclusivity and greater range within the path running area,” Kennedy informed me. “I truly hope that a lot more race directors seek out to invite and contain a lot more range from their running populations.”

But is the economic incentive there? As I have prepared before, the absence of range in the elite path running globe almost certainly is not a consequence of race directors not currently being inclusive ample, so significantly as the point that there truly is not that significantly dollars to be manufactured in the sport—even in comparison to the modest sums of reduce-tier road racing. Competitive path running, and, for that subject, the fevered pursuit of random FKTs, stays largely the prerogative of affluent amateurs with ample disposable earnings and time to devote their weekends endlessly gallivanting in the Marin Headlands. With pretty number of exceptions, even the ideal athletes do not make their residing from a pursuit the place several of the most ballyhooed activities supply no prize dollars in anyway. I just can’t think about Kemboi would be super stoked to fly midway about the globe to race Western States for the probability to get a belt buckle.

Kennedy concedes that the absence of big paydays indicates that we are unlikely to see the same form of East African depth on the trails as we do on the roadways. In his opinion, it would be naive to be expecting a potential inflow of Kenyan runners in path running to mirror the ascendance of the Kenyans in road racing through the ‘90s and 2000s—a time when a surge in recognition of big town marathons saw a huge maximize in race fields and funds prizes.

“The dollars in path running is not 50,000 persons on the road behind you,” Kennedy says, alluding to the point that the sport’s restricted field dimensions imply that it just can’t make thousands and thousands of dollars in entry charges. “The dollars in path running is in hundreds of thousands of persons browsing for products.”

Perhaps so. But it stays to be viewed no matter whether this potential uptick in consumer investing on path running gear will essentially advantage athletes hoping to make a residing in the sport. FKTs are awesome and all, but they really don’t shell out the expenditures. 

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Guide Image: Enda