Daniel Ebenyo at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 (© Getty Images)
Daniel Ebenyo sat resting on an old tyre on the infield of the track at the Kipchoge Stadium in Eldoret. When asked about his early childhood, he suddenly became emotional.
He gazed towards the sky deep in thought, partly to hide his emotion and partly to try to find the right words to explain how life was as a young child living in the hostile pastoralist community in Samburu.
A few seconds of almost total silence elapsed, apart from the metronomic pounding of spikes eating the inside lane of the overused track as runners did their morning training. Ebenyo tried again to speak, but words failed him as he shook his head from side to side.
“Just forget about it, it’s a long story,” he eventually said with a nervous laugh. “Staying alive there was only by good luck.”
Forty-two Kenyan police officers were killed in 2012 when they attempted to go after a herd of cattle that had been stolen by cattle rustlers in Baragoi, on the same fields through which Ebenyo would meander on his way to school. The same fields where, at times, Ebenyo would have to dodge live bullets.
Ebenyo lost his father at a young age to cattle rustlers in the same area. Sometimes he would take longer routes to school to avoid those fields – the area was simply too dangerous, and the memories too painful.
Fortunately for Ebenyo, running provided him with an opportunity to escape that environment and pursue a career that has changed his life and his family’s life.
“Despite what is happening there, it is where I was born,” says Ebenyo. “Home will always remain home, no matter where you go.”
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From pacing to racing
When Ebenyo arrived in Iten – self-dubbed ‘The Home of Champions’ – he started off as a pacemaker to assist in the training of several elite women. But after Ebenyo fainted during a training session, one of the coaches there realised that Ebenyo was facing some personal and financial hardships.
He started training under Erik Kogo, a relatively new but dedicated coach, who works alongside Ebenyo’s manager Lee-Roy Newton.
After several months of quality training, Ebenyo started to race in top-level domestic competitions, and found success almost immediately.
After a runner-up finish at the county championships, he won the 5000m at the North Rift Championships. Just a couple of weeks later, he won the 5000m at the National Championships, beating many of the country’s best runners.
The field was of a similar standard at Kenya’s World Trials a few weeks later. Ebenyo once again performed well in the 5000m, finishing second – inside the required top three to qualify for the World Championships. But because he was so new to the scene, he hadn’t yet had the three anti-doping tests that Kenyan athletes are required to have before competing at major championships.
Ebenyo was distraught, but he soon regrouped and turned his attention to road races for the rest of the year. He won the Eldoret Half Marathon in October and then won over 10km in Houilles, clocking 27:12 – the fourth-fastest time in the world that year.
His 2020 campaign was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, but he managed to race a handful of times, winning over 10km in Berlin (setting a course record of 27:18) and Madrid, beating a high quality field.
Daniel Simiu Ebenyo wins the 2022 10K Valencia Ibercaja (© Organisers)
Fuelled by the disappointment of missing out on competing at the 2019 World Championships, Ebenyo once again finished in a qualifying spot at Kenya’s trials for the Olympic Games in 2021 – and this time he was able to take his place on the team. But despite setting a PB of 12:55.88 in his final race before heading to Tokyo, Ebenyo finished 10th in his heat at the Olympics and didn’t progress to the final.
His progress continued in 2022, though, and in March he finished fourth over 3000m at the World Indoor Championships in Belgrade. Outdoors, he once again won the Kenyan 5000m title, took silver at the African Championships, reached the 5000m final at the World Championships in Oregon, and earned silver over 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games – a performance he rates as the best in his career so far.
“Kiplimo is currently among the big threats in the men’s 10,000m, so finishing second to him in Birmingham was the best moment in my life and in my running career,” says Ebenyo, who finished second to Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo at the Commonwealth Games. “My other big moment was at the World Indoor Championships, where I finished fourth. Those two races gave me a lot of inspiration and motivation.”
Daniel Ebenyo and Jacob Kiplimo at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham (© Getty Images)
Goals for 2023
Ebenyo and his coach have a lot of mutual respect and they discuss everything – from their training to disciplines to focus on at upcoming competitions, even media opportunities.
Some mornings, Ebenyo and the rest of the training group will head to the track facility in Eldoret, about an hour’s drive south-west from Iten. Most of the runners will jog the last few kilometres as a warm-up for the track session while Kogo waits inside his pickup truck, jotting notes.
On this particular day, Ebenyo and the group have been prescribed a session of 1200m, 600m and 400m intervals. The soft-spoken coach makes it clear that he doesn’t want any of the 400m reps completed inside 58 seconds.
Despite appearing the strongest in the group, Ebenyo was patient and allowed others to take turns controlling the pace at the front of the single-file formation on the track. None of the intervals – apart from one 57-second split effort – was faster than the pace that the coach had asked for.
It’s that patience that has got Ebenyo this far in his career. With more time, he hopes to go even further.
At the start of 2023 he set his sights on three global championships: the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, and the World Road Running Championships in Riga.
Daniel Ebenyo in the 3000m at the World Athletics Indoor Championships Belgrade 22 (© Getty Images)
He placed sixth in the senior men’s race and took team gold for Kenya. Now he’s had a taste of success, he wants even more.
Since competing in Bathurst in February, Ebenyo has been undefeated in six races across a range of distances this year. He won 10km races in Gqeberha and Okpekpe, he triumphed over 10,000m at the Kip Keino Classic in Nairobi in May, won the Istanbul Half Marathon in 59:52 in April, and recently won his third Kenyan 5000m title in Nairobi.
Training has clearly been going well, and Ebenyo is confident heading into the second half of the year.
“I hope to make the team for the World Championships,” says Ebenyo, who has qualifying times for both the 5000m and 10,000m but may opt for the longer event in Budapest. “And this time I want to come back with a medal. With good preparation and great teamwork, I am hopeful the gold medal will go to Kenya this time. When one (Kenyan) wins, it is a victory for all of us.
“For the World Road Running Championships in Riga, I’d prefer to be selected for the half marathon over the 5km,” says Ebenyo, who has a PB of 59:04.
Daniel Ebenyo celebrates his victory at the N Kolay Istanbul Half Marathon (© Spor Istanbul)
He is under no illusion that the competition at the Kenyan trials will be tough, but it won’t stop him from working hard to achieve his goals across a range of terrains. And for someone who has already shown great versatility, it’s no surprise to learn who Ebenyo looks up to.
“Geoffrey Kamworor always motivates me in my races and tells me to keep working hard,” he says of the fellow Kenyan who has won global medals on the road, track and cross country. “I sometimes watch videos of him running to inspire me more.”
Ebenyo hopes to follow in Kamworor’s footsteps this season as he navigates a year of three different global championships.
“I hope to make it on to the Kenyan team, but even if I don’t, I will always wish the best to those who make it to represent the country and wait for my time,” he says.
“I’m grateful for the good reception and assistance that I got from my coach when I came to Iten, and I thank God for what I’ve been able to achieve with my running so far,” adds Ebenyo. “Through hard work, I believe that everybody can achieve success.”
Justin Lagat for World Athletics