Feature13 Dec 2022

No longer an underdog, Lokedi considers next move


Sharon Lokedi in action at the New York City Marathon (© Getty Images)

There was little mention of Sharon Lokedi in the pre-race coverage of the 2022 TCS New York City Marathon.

It was understandable, too. She was a marathon debutante who was due to line up against winners of global titles and big city races.

But the 2018 NCAA 10,000m champion surprised many when she beat the high-quality field, emerging victorious at the World Athletics Platinum Elite Label marathon in 2:23:23 in what was her first race over the distance.

On the morning of race day, Lokedi was nervous – not just about running a marathon for the first time in her life, but at the thought of taking on some of the world’s best distance runners.

"Everyone else on the bus going to the start line was also nervous, and we would try and crack some jokes to try and calm ourselves,” recalls Lokedi. “Hellen Obiri was a great companion to be with and a great friend. We gave each other a lot of hope ahead of the race.

"I had planned to hang on in the leading pack and pay close attention to Edna Kiplagat – the most experienced marathon runner in the elite field – as a guide during the race,” added Lokedi of the two-time world champion and 2010 New York Marathon winner. “As long as I could see Kiplagat, I’d know I was running a good race.”

Lokedi wasn't used to grabbing water bottles while running, but she only dropped one of them in the entire race, which she considers to be an achievement. The unfortunate incident happened at the second water station, and Obiri helped her with her drink.

Lokedi remained patient for most of the race. Even when a lead pack of three – Obiri, Viola Cheptoo, and world champion Gotytom Gebreselase – broke away after about 30km, Lokedi didn't worry because she thought that even a fifth place would still be a great outcome. Lonah Salpeter made up ground on the lead trio, but Lokedi eventually closed the gap on everyone and found herself at the front.

Sharon Lokedi on her way to winning the New York City Marathon

Sharon Lokedi on her way to winning the New York City Marathon (© Getty Images)

"Towards the end of the race, when I ran with Salpeter at the front, I could not check my watch clearly and thought I was so close to the finish line,” says Lokedi. “So I made a move, but then there was a turn I took, and I realised that I had sprinted out too early. That is why I kept glancing back so much, because I was worried. It took forever for me to see the finish line. I had lost count of the kilometres and didn't know how much longer I could hold on for.

"It was such a great relief when I finally saw the finish line ahead,” adds the 28-year-old. “Despite feeling pain all over my body after crossing the finish line, I was beside myself in excitement. It was the best moment in my life as a runner.”

Lokedi's discovery of her running talent is similar to that of most other Kenyan runners born in rural areas. She used to run a lot to her primary school, run back for lunch and then back to school again in the afternoon.

"There were cross country races in my primary school, and I had an advantage over the other pupils because we would use the same route I would use daily running to school, and I had learned how to tackle some of the hilly sections of the route there,” she says.

She was born in Burnt Forest and stayed there until she started high school. Her family later moved to Ngeria, which is closer to Eldoret town.

Lokedi, who lives with her mother and three siblings, says her mother was a constant support and motivator throughout her early career development in running.

"I represented my primary school in several inter-school competitions, and my mom would always travel with me to every track meet,” recalls Lokedi. “She would be standing, waving and cheering out loud to me from the stands as I ran.

She later joined Kapkenda Girls High School, but her running took a back seat for the best part of three years while Lokedi focused more on her studies. But by the time she left high school, Lokedi’s running and education appeared to be in jeopardy as her mother couldn’t afford to finance Lokedi’s college education in Kenya.

Lokedi’s uncle started to make enquiries about scholarship opportunities. On his advice, Lokedi went to train in Kaptagat in 2014 while at the same time applying for scholarship opportunities at various US colleges.

"When I applied to the University of Kansas in late 2014, they asked for more information, including video clips of me running,” says Lokedi, who at that time had only ever competed in low-key national competitions and hadn’t made an impression on any international ranking lists. “They were impressed with my potential, and everything went so fast after that. I finally got my scholarship and joined their university in January 2015.

"It was a great sigh of relief for us as a family because my siblings were also following in my footsteps with their educational needs, and it would have been tough for my mother to assist all of us with college fees.”

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A post shared by Sharon Chesang Lokedi. (@shazrine)

Not only did the sports scholarship help shape her career in running, but it also fulfilled her educational needs and shaped her as a person.

"The community at Kansas was so supportive,” she says. "It was a different environment. I had to learn everything from learning how to speak American English, to using a computer, among other things.

“With a university as supportive as Kansas, I knew I would only get better,” adds Lokedi, who finished 10th at the 2015 NCAA Cross Country Championships in her first year at Kansas. “I worked so hard there as a way of thanking the institution for believing in me and for the opportunity they gave me.”

By the time she graduated in 2019, Lokedi had earned 10,000m gold and bronze at the 2018 and 2017 NCAA Championships respectively.

She returned to Kenya in 2021 and tried to make the Kenyan Olympic team for Tokyo. She won the 10,000m at the pre-trials in 31:43.34 against a high quality field, but the actual trials didn't go well for her.

"It just wasn’t my day,” said Lokedi, who finished seventh in 32:51.90.

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A post shared by Sharon Chesang Lokedi. (@shazrine)

Ahead of her preparations for the New York City Marathon, she raced the New York Half Marathon in March and enjoyed it, placing fourth in a PB of 1:08:14. She followed it with the New York Mini-10K, where she finished second on the downhill course in 30:52.

Lokedi spoke with her manager, who agreed that Lokedi could prepare in Kenya for the New York City Marathon.

"Training in Kenya was preferable to me, being close to my family and having gotten a good group that I could train with,” said Lokedi, who fell during one of the her races earlier in the year and was concerned about whether it would hamper her preparation for New York.

In Kenya, she started everything afresh. She did more long runs, and the track intervals were also a bit longer.

Fatigue came in after two months, and her worries about not getting fully prepared for the New York City Marathon increased. As a result, she had to cancel the Copenhagen Half Marathon that she had planned to do as part of her preparations for her marathon debut and focus entirely on the marathon.

Sharon Lokedi wins the New York City Marathon

Sharon Lokedi wins the New York City Marathon (© AFP / Getty Images)

Despite feeling that she didn't have enough time, in hindsight Lokedi now wonders whether the short time she had might just have worked in her favour, ensuring she wouldn’t over-train ahead of the marathon.

After all, the race turned out to be the best of her life.

“Everyone who has ever been part of my journey – my teammates and coach from college, my training mates in Kenya, my fans and my family – were all so excited about my win,” says Lokedi.

“The past few weeks have been emotional for me as I keep getting congratulatory messages and I’m trying my best to reply to all of them. My manager (Stephen Haas, also her coach) has also been so supportive all through and going into this race. He has constantly been calling to check up on me and even came over to Kenya to watch my training.”

Lokedi’s New York win was the first victory in a major marathon for her sponsors, Under Armour. "It was really big for the company,” she says.

Sharon Lokedi with her coach and agent Stephen Haas after winning the New York City Marathon

Sharon Lokedi with her coach and agent Stephen Haas after winning the New York City Marathon (© AFP / Getty Images)

Amid the great happiness, and after three weeks of resting and celebrating, Lokedi is starting to realise that her recent success will now come with a certain level of expectation and pressure when she races in future.

But Lokedi, who returned to Kenya in late November, is taking it one step at a time.

“I just started my marathon career,” she said. “I need to build on this slowly; I need to keep working on myself to get better.”

Justin Lagat for World Athletics

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