Justin Lagat provided this commentary on his visit to the 2023 Kenyan national cross country champs, where Ruth Chepnegetich impressed all.
Like it happens every year, the Kenyan national cross country championships have started the 2023 athletics season in Kenya. The event usually prepares runners to do well in other upcoming events later in the year and shows who to watch out for as the season progresses.
Ruth Chepngetich and Charles Lokir won their respective women’s and men’s senior races in different versions at the Kenya Prisons Training College in Ruiru. The venue seems to have become a newly discovered gem for conducting major cross-country events in Kenya, with the national championships happening a few weeks after the national trials were done at the same venue.
Chepngetich, the fastest marathon runner in the world last year with an amazing 2:14:18 that she ran at the Chicago Marathon, produced some amazing performances to win two major national titles within an hour.
Taking advantage of the venue that was probably her training ground while joining the Kenya Prisons Service, Chepngetich dominated the senior women’s 10km event and came back again to overtake a number of runners and take her team to the lead in the last leg of the mixed relay race.
Chepngetich stretched the senior women into a single file within the first kilometre of the race. Past the midway, it appeared that the race was as good as taken, given the fact that a 2:14 women’s marathon runner was leading a 10km race by about 150m at a 5km point. She definitely had the endurance to maintain the lead, but Sheila Chepkirui -another marathon runner- would not let it become a boring race as she threatened to close the gap.
“It was a hard race, and I am happy to finish second. I made my debut in December and hope to do another marathon in April (Boston Marathon), so this helps with my speed work,” Sheila, the 2:17:29 marathon runner, said after finishing second.
In the men’s senior race that produced some relatively new stars, a pack of around eleven runners remained past the halfway point. As the pace kept increasing, seven runners soon remained at the front. The last lap of the 2km loop turned into an exciting battle as one runner from Western County fought amidst three runners from the North Rift. Interestingly, the leading pack did not have the usual institutional colours of the Kenya National Police Service, the Kenya Defence Forces and the Kenya Prisons.
Charles Katul Lokir edged Isaac Kibet just at the finish line to win the race. “I was 5th last time at the Sirikwa Continental Tour event in Eldoret. I hope to make it to the podium this time around,” Lokir said after the win.
It was a tight race, with all the top 10 finishing in under 30 minutes and all within 30 seconds.
Samuel Wanjiru won the men’s 8km U20 race after a dominant run in the second half of the race. “I am happy to win. I had prepared well in December to run at the national trials, but I was in Japan and could not travel in time to be able to participate,” he said.
Mercy Chesang, who is a first-year University of Nairobi Sports Science student, won the women’s U20 6km race.
Present during the national event was Paul Tergat, the five times world cross country champion named as the ambassador for the World Cross Country Championships that will happen next month in Bathurst, Australia. “Being named as an ambassador for World Cross Country event was a big honour not only to me but to the country. It shows that the world sees what we have done for the sport,” said Tergat.
“We have a huge potential in terms of talent in future, and I can see Kenyans continuing to dominate the cross-country event. Perhaps someone will even win more titles than I did,” he added
10km Senior Men.
Charles Lokir 29:16
Isaac Kibet 29:16
Dennis Kipngetich 29:23
Women senior race
Ruth Chepngetich 32:56.0
Sheila Chepkurui 32:58.0
Zena Chemutai 33:06.0
Men’s U-20 8km
Samuel Kibathi Wanjiru 23:10.0
Simeon Maiyua 23:23.0
Shadrack Rono 23:30.
Mercy Sang 19:43.8
Miriam Chepkurui 19:54.0
Miriam Chemutai 20:03.6