Born to run

It was the normal course of action, but it never was considered a training run.

Perhaps it should have been.

When Patrick Cheptoek, the 2014 Mill Race Half-Marathon champion, left for school every morning in Kapchorwa, Uganada, he never gave a thought to the fact he would run more than five kilometers before settling down in his first class. At the end of the day, mom wasn’t waiting at the front door with the Volvo. Cheptoek would run home.

It was the only way to get there.

“If you looked at our life in the western part of Uganda, everything we did was built around running,” said the 29-year-old Cheptoek, who now lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, as he pursues his running career in the United States.

“Most students would run a 5K to a 10K to school every day. At the end of the day, as a little kid, you were running 20 kilometers a day, or more than 12 miles.

“You were not knowing that you were training your body. Everything we did was built around running. If they would send you to the store to buy, let’s say sugar, we didn’t drive there. With kids, most of the time that meant running. You don’t even think about it. I think it really has played a part in our success. Later when you do enjoy sports, your body is conditioned,” Cheptoek said.

He first started to get serious about running when he attended Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

“For some reason, I didn’t compete in any of the high school (running) competitions,” Cheptoek said. “When I went to the university, they used to give athletes free rooms in the hall of residence if they were athletes. I thought, ‘Let me try this out.’ I went out and ran a half marathon, my first race ever, and finished in the top 10. They gave me a room and that’s when I started to train because I wanted to keep my room privileges.

“I found out that I was gifted. Within six months, I was the best student (runner) in my hall. In a year, I was the best student on campus.”

He eventually was selected to a national team that competed in Thailand. He met college running coaches from the United States and accepted a running scholarship to Western Kentucky University, arriving in the United States when he was 24.

After he graduated from Western Kentucky in 2011, he started running 10K and half-marathon events all over the country to earn prize money. He can’t even remember how many races he has won, but he has scored big in places such as Chicago; Knoxville, Tennessee; Huntsville, Alabama; Parkersburg, West Virginia and right here in Columbus.

When running fans in this country think about the best runners, the Kenyans usually are the main focus. However, Cheptoek explained that not much separates his region from Kenya, right across the border.

“When you look at runners, the majority from Kenya are not from the whole of Kenya, but a concentrated area,” he said. “I guess you could say there is some natural talent there because, like the area where I grew up, it is a very high altitude.

“And like us, they don’t drive there. Everything is built around running and you don’t get tired when you are going to work somewhere. You don’t even think about it.”

Besides Cheptoek defending his Mill Race Half Marathon title, Kenyan Geoffrey Kiprotich will defend his 2014 marathon title.

Like Cheptoek, the 37-year-old Kiprotich also grew up in a rural area and said running was his way of life.

“I have liked running since I was very young and now it is my living,” Kiprotich said. “When I was young, school was four miles away.

“But not all Kenyans are runners. Our tribe was hunters from the beginning and that helped to train us. Also, the food we ate helped.”

Kiprotich, who is employed by a Toledo, Ohio, running store (Dave’s Running), also makes a living from road races. He runs about six marathons per year and almost every weekend runs in a 10K, half marathon or 5K.

“I make sure I win to get my living,” he said.

The top male and female finishers in the Mill Race Marathon each earn $1,500. And there are cash incentives for also beating certain times.

If Kiprotich does as well this year as he did last year, he will take home $3,000.

Both runners said they cook for themselves to avoid the many unhealthy foods that Americans love to consume.

“Cookies, stuff like that,” Cheptoek said. “We looked at it as something you might eat one today or tomorrow, but really, I don’t like it. We didn’t grow up eating it.

“We could get the same food we grew up eating. Cornmeal was a big one. Kale, cabbage. Meat was not something you ate on a daily basis unless you were wealthy, but I did start to eat a lot of chicken and I got used to it. At home, that was a privilege.”

Kiprotich said he avoids fast food.

“I have a strict diet,” he said.

Diet and natural ability doesn’t do it all for runners, though, and both Cheptoek and Kiprotich said they work harder than ever to maintain enough income to survive.

“It is work,” Cheptoek said. “When it comes to late in the race, there is nothing natural about it. You have to dig down.

“When you see kids who run over here (in the United States), they are much more committed to whatever they do. They are very programmed and they don’t miss training. They listen.”

Both said that defending their titles in Columbus is important to them.

“This could be my second year winning Columbus,” Cheptoek said. “I want to make a name in Columbus. And if I win a race three times in a row, I said it is my race.

“Running is like going fishing. Sometimes you get a big fish that will last you a long time. Sometimes you come back empty-handed. Most times, you will bring back some kind of fish.”

Patrick Cheptoek

AGE: 29

LIVES: Murfreesboro, Tennessee

NATIVE COUNTRY: Uganda

DEFENDING CHAMP: 2014 Mill Race Half Marathon (1:06.15)

NEXT EVENT: 2015 Mill Race Half Marathon, Saturday in Columbus

Geoffrey Kiprotich

AGE: 37

LIVES: Toledo, Ohio

NATIVE COUNTRY: Kenya

DEFENDING CHAMP: 2014 Mill Race Marathon (2:26.33)

NEXT EVENT: 2015 Mill Race Marathon, Saturday in Columbus

Prize money

MARATHON

One prize for each top male and female winner

First place: $1,500

Second place: $1,000

Third place: $750

Fourth place: $550

Fifth place: $450

CASH BONUSES FOR MARATHON FINISHING TIMES

2:29 or faster: $1,500

2:29:01 to 2:30: $1,000

2:30:01 to 2:31: $750

HALF MARATHON

One prize for each top male and female winner

First place: $750

Second place: $550

Third place: $450

Fourth place: $250

Fifth place: $150

5K

One prize for each top male and female winner

First place: $40 gift certificate

Second place: $35 gift certificate

Third place: $30 gift certificate