Abel Kirui is one of the world’s fastest runners. The 31-year-old Kenyan has won the marathon race in the World Championships twice, and earned silver at last summer’s London Olympics. He is also a Seventh-day Adventist, and most Sabbaths he can be found worshipping at the Namgoi Adventist Church in western Kenya.
Spectrum talked to Kirui about his goals as a runner and as a Christian.
Question: I understand a stress fracture forced you to drop out of the field for the London marathon in April. Were you disappointed?
Answer: It was a terrible thing. I was really prepared. Then the last few weeks this thing with my leg. . . I went to Holland for a check-up. It was so bad that I was not in a position to compete in this race. I did a lot of work on the 40km – maybe I trained too hard.
Question: What is the next race you are planning to compete in? Are you going to run in the World Championships in Moscow in August?
Answer: I have just been selected for the provisional marathon team for Moscow. I am praying my leg will be okay. I did some training this morning, and am still feeling something not quite right. I will have to take it easy. I am going to Holland for another check-up, and will hopefully get the all-clear, and go straight to training camp from there without any worry.
Question: Is it difficult to work so hard at training camp away from your family?
Answer: I will be at the training camp until we go to the World Championships. And we work very hard. But I think the camp is only about 40 minutes from my home. So I can come home on Fridays, go to church on Sabbath, and spend the weekend with my family.
Question: Do you think you will run the marathon in the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016?
Answer: Yes, I pray I continue to be healthy so that I can go there. But there are many races between now and then.
Since I missed London this year, I hope to win London next year. If my leg is still sore, that is a big problem. If the leg is 100% okay than I might run the Chicago marathon in October.
Question: What other running goals do you have?
Answer: Right now I am focusing everything on preparation for the Championships. There are so many great runners. But I want to be the world record holder.
If I want to set a world record, I need to select the course that is right for me. If I could go to Dubai and run the fastest race of my life, that would maybe be a record. [Note: In the 2013 Dubai Marathon, five men ran it in less than 2:05 – the first time ever that many broke 2:05.]
Question: What are your goals as a Christian?
Answer: I have seen that God is fulfilling and answers prayers. I used to pray and stay up till the wee hours, like 1am, thinking about how I am called to support the church. Now I am able to support my local church, and support the school. I bought a school and am building a boarding school. We have plenty of children ready to come. I want the children to have a very good school.
Now if I can get some more support, in the future I would like to build a very good hospital where we can treat cancer and all kinds of things. God can help with the healing. I have been able to help the church, and the school – next is the hospital. A man cannot do everything in this world, but he does what he can do!
I hope to run up to the age of 40 or 42. Then I will do the work of God. Maybe I can start a rehabilitation center that will help people be free from drugs or alcohol.
Question: Is it hard to be a competitive runner and an Adventist at the same time?
Answer: It’s not difficult. When you put Jesus in your center, and let him drive you, you can feel Him protecting you. I hold up Christ in my wins and my celebrations. My life all the way has been in the hands and care of my Creator. As an athlete I can get good money, but that is not changing me. I don’t care about things. I am not changing my lifestyle. I like to tell young people that with Jesus, life is simple and easy.
I can be flexible, but I do what my soul tells me. I choose to go to church. When you are a strong Christian, you don’t love the sport more than God.
Question: What does it feel like to win a major marathon? I’d like to know, since that is a feeling I will never have! I ran one marathon, and it was unbelievably hard. I like to run half marathons. But my time is about two hours.
Answer: Two hours? For a half marathon?? Ay yai yai! Well, if you come to Kenya. . . Well. . . Maybe that is not your talent! Maybe your talent is interviewing. Whatever talent God gives you, you have to appreciate that talent and use it for others, to the best of your ability.
So what does it feel like to win? After crossing the line, you see the world, you think “Wow!” The last 2 kms is not easy. (But preparation is harder than completing the actual marathon. Preparation takes a lot of time and commitment and is very hard.)
When you cross the line you feel so great. The whole world feels so happy. Especially when you are competing for a championship, defending your country. It’s so fulfilling to win something for your country, and to make your country proud.
Question: What is your secret for winning a race?
Answer: It’s not magic. I am winning only through the grace of God for sure. Nothing I have been doing is really special. I just train hard. I run, I get a massage. I spend time with my family, my little boy and my little girl [ages five and three]. This is what I really enjoy in my life. After training I am at ease, and can spend time with my children.
Question: You began working for Kenya’s Administration Police when you finished high school and won a race they sponsored. Do you still work for the police?
Answer: I am employed by them, yes, but they let me train. They are happy when I run, because I am bringing them glory. They give me the time to run and train. I thank God for this situation, because not everyone has such a privilege.
Question: What kind of shoes do you wear?
Answer: I wear Nike. They sponsor me.
Question: How did you get your start in running? When did you know you were really good?
Answer: My running goes all the way back to primary school. I was a very good athlete. My life was always disciplined. I found myself running very well in primary school, and in secondary school. Then I got this job, kept running, and went to Europe in 2005. Running has been a long time in my legs!
Question: You attend the Namgoi Adventist Church in western Kenya. I believe there are other champion long-distance runners who also go there?
Answer: Yes, the lady who ran in the Olympics, and also won a silver a medal. Priscah Jeptoo is close family friend, and fellow church member.
Question: How many races do you run a year? How much do you have to rest between races?
Answer: I run maybe two marathons, and maybe two half marathons in between. I have to respect my body, the temple of God, and not wear it out. I can’t run too many races. Sometimes I might do three marathons, though. Like I am thinking of running Chicago later this year.
Question: Do you plan to stay in Kenya and live there indefinitely?
Answer: Kenya is the best place to run. I will stay living in Kenya for sure, but I would like to go all over the world, supporting activities that help humankind.
Question: Anything else you’d like to say?
Answer: Only a request that you pray for me so that my leg will be okay very soon, so that I can compete in these races.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Hebrews 12:1 (English Standard Version)