Rhonex Kipruto celebrates at the World U20 Championships (© Getty Images)
by Rhonex Kipruto
It's a philosophy that many Kenyans follow, including me.
Slowly by slowly.
Because in life, in distance-running, success doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long journey to the top, and the only way to get there is to take things slow.
As a kid, that’s what I did on my journey to school every day. It was 4-5km away, and I would always come home for lunch, so I covered that distance four times a day, carrying my school books on my back.
But it wasn’t serious training, never about going a certain speed; it was just running – slowly.
I grew up in a small village, Kombatich, and my parents were farmers. We had animals and crops but it was just for subsistence. As a kid I always helped out on the farm, looking after the cattle, and today I still lend a hand when I’m back home.
But my life now is very different.
Growing up I always wanted to become a soldier, it seemed a cool way to make a living, but a different kind of dream has since taken over. I’m now a full-time athlete, training twice – sometimes three times – a day.
No less than 20 kilometres a day, and about 140 kilometres every week.
If our second run of the day is a hard session, we’ll rest in the afternoons, but if not we’ll do a third session. It’s usually something easy, like 20-30 minutes of jogging and some exercises – drills and diagonals, where we stride fast across a football pitch then jog easy to the other side.
When I first started out in the sport, there were two athletes I looked up to: Eliud Kipchoge and David Rudisha. The thing they have in common is that they are superstars of the sport, but beyond that, they are great people in the world. They are professional, they do their job well and that’s why they inspire me.
Since 2015 I’ve been able to learn a lot from Rudisha in particular. That was the year I started doing training camps at St. Patrick’s High School in Iten during my school holidays.
Ian Kiprono first brought me there, and that was where I met my current coach, Brother Colm O’Connell.
He’s a coach that likes athletes who are disciplined, hard-working, athletes with a future. I guess he saw that in me because they have since welcomed me to train there all the time.
After finishing school last year I made my decision: I want to be a professional athlete.
At St. Patrick’s I share a room with Solomon Boit, who’s the same age and very similar level to me. We train together every day, then argue about music: he likes playing Kenyan pop, I like gospel.
We are rivals, but also friends. When I won the biggest medal of my career he played a big role, helping with the pace in the 10,000m final at the World U20 Championships in Tampere last year.
The guy we were both afraid of that day was Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda, but when we hit 6000m slowly by slowly was no more. I knew I needed to move – fast.
It was the biggest victory of my career, but I won that title not just for me. It was for all my fellow Kenyans.
Eight months on, it’s still such a great memory, but now I want to do the same at a higher level. The World Cross Country Championships will be my first time representing Kenya as a senior, and I’m going to Aarhus to get a medal.
I ran really well on the roads and track last year, but cross country has always been my first love – it's what I did in my first ever race and it’s still my favourite surface.
After this weekend, one of my big goals for the year is the 10km world record on the roads: 26:44. I just missed it last year, running 26:46 in Prague, and once I get that I can think about the 10,000m record on the track – as hard as that is.
For the World Championships in Doha I think I’ll stick to 10,000m, but the main goal of all, the main pressure for me, will come in 2020 – the Tokyo Olympics.
It’s still far away right now, but I’m taking the journey one step at a time. Slowly by slowly.