This year has been a great one for me, more than I had expected. I thank God, and so many others who helped me get here.
The chance to go to the Tokyo Olympics came as a surprise because it was only going to be my third marathon outside Kenya. Having not been included in the initial team, the opportunity came all of a sudden. I had always harboured dreams of going to the Games, one day, one time, but still thought it was going to happen some years later, and not in 2021.
When the chance came, I mentally measured myself up against the more experienced marathon runners on the start list. That included Brigid Kosgei, the world record holder, and Ruth Chepngetich, the reigning world champion, among others. I thought to myself that any podium place was going to be all that I should aim to achieve.
Winning the gold medal was the greatest moment for me.
During the race, I was surprised when I eventually found myself in a group of three in the leading pack in the last stages, still feeling strong despite the heat that was affecting many others.
I had not really done any specific training to tackle the heat. I tried once, in my training in Kenya, to do a 30km run in the hot midday sun to condition myself for the weather in Sapporo, but it had affected me so much that I soon reverted to my usual training: in the early mornings.
However, the Olympic marathon did take a toll on my body as it took a while for me to recover and to prepare for the New York City Marathon. I believe that the training that helped me win New York was what I had done before the Olympic marathon. I just didn’t have enough time to prepare well again.
I usually avoid putting pressure on myself ahead of major races. I go out to compete, knowing that the rest of my competitors have all trained well for the race and that the win could go to anyone. So I did not have a lot of pressure going there.
But winning in New York and sharing the Abbott World Marathon Majors jackpot with Joyciline Jepkosgei completed a wonderful year for me. Running my first major marathon and winning it was an amazing experience.
Another great thing that happened this year, and one I don’t take it for granted, is the support I got from my family, and especially my husband, Davis Ngeno.
I also get so much motivation from my daughter, Natalia Jerono, and I recognise the impact of the community around me, including fellow runners, neighbours, and church members.
You need that support because there are so many challenges runners struggle through to get to the top.
For me, the journey did not take that long because of the help I received from my husband at an early stage in my career.
When he was still my boyfriend, he ensured I had a good place to stay and provided for me while I began my training in Kapsabet in 2012.
The following year, I managed to get out of the country and did some road races in South Africa. In 2014, I ran very well in some local races in Kenya; including the 10K Discovery Kenya race in Eldoret.
That same year, I finished second at the Kenyan Cross Country Championships and made it to the Kenyan team for the World Cross Country Championships in Kampala. I then joined Gianni Demadonna’s management company in 2015.
The challenges I've gone through as a runner have mostly been to do with injuries, those that forced me to stop my training for a while and to postpone competing. Injuries are common when you’re training hard, and when they arrive I've learned to slow down my training and visit a physiotherapist to try and heal in the most natural way.
While I had to be out for a while, I count my maternity leave from running to have been an amazing experience – an opportunity to see life in a different way.
When Natalia finally came along, she made me feel more committed, more focused on creating a stable future for my family. I worked even harder.
My journey back to fitness was also faster than I expected because of the support I got from my immediate family who would take good care of my daughter while I was out running. I would come back from training and have time to take a nap while my sister took care of Natalia.
Each person’s journey to success is unique, and with different time frames and challenges, but what matters is self-discipline, hard work, and patience.
The more one works hard, the more they will keep improving from previous performances. If they finish in a position like 30th, they should aim to improve it to a better position, like 15th, the next time.
If they approach the sport like that, with the commitment to always keep improving, then before long they'll be on top.