It was while in school in Kenya that Violah Jepchumba realised she had a talent for running. She didn’t start training, however, until 2010 and it has only been in the past couple of years that the world has seen her potential.
She is now one of a few women threatening to rewrite the road-running record books.
The 27-year-old, who was born in Kenya but now runs for Bahrain, broke through with a 1:09:29 half marathon in Udine in 2015, but then the following year truly made the running world take notice. She won the Prague Half Marathon in 1:05:51, which was then the fourth quickest ever time on a record-eligible course and made her the third-fastest performer in history.
“When I was at school I was very good without training,” she said. But it was her sister Priscah Jepleting Cherono, 10 years her senior, who first made an impact in the sport. Jepleting earned silver at the 2006 World Cross Country Championships, bronze in the 5000m at the 2007 World Championships and has a best of 1:08:35 for the half marathon.
Jepchumba trains mainly with her husband and coach, Ismael Motosio, who paced her at this year’s Prague Half Marathon when she set an Asian record of 1:05:22, along with an Asian record of 30:05 with her 10km split. When she doesn’t have the person that knows her best as the ideal pacemaker, she doesn’t mind being so far in front of the rest of the women in the field that she is effectively running on her own.
“It’s not difficult,” she said. “Sometimes I even like running alone.”
But at the recent Cardiff University/Cardiff Half Marathon on 1 October, where she had been due to defend her title, she had to withdraw after becoming ill the night before. It was set to have been her last road race of the season so, as she explained, it was “back to Kenya for cross country and preparing for the World Half next year.”
Her participation at the IAAF/Trinidad Alfonso World Half Marathon Championships Valencia 2018 on 24 March is not yet confirmed, though, as she had earlier said it could be too close to the Prague Half Marathon, which she hopes to win for the third time in a row on 7 April.
One thing is certain, though: do not expect to see her racing on a track. She has never done so and has no plans to change that. Instead, she is likely to step up to the marathon in autumn 2018. She favours ‘smaller’ marathons than the likes of New York and mentioned Frankfurt among those she would like to do, as well as Prague, which is in the spring.
After her Prague breakthrough in 2016, she had four further 68-minute runs in 2016, although she suffered defeat at the hands of Peres Jepchirchir in the last of them. Her 1:05:22 in Prague this year, although she was beaten by Joyciline Jepkosgei, is the sixth quickest time in history.
A recent 1:06:06 win in Usti Nad Labem means she now has eight sub-69-minute clockings and has finished in the top two in 14 of her 15 half marathons.
She acknowledges she will have to step up her training if she is to succeed at the marathon. At present, she normally runs about 15 kilometres in the morning and 10 kilometres in the afternoon, with a long run of 20-25 kilometres. Most of her training is done in either Mosoriot or Kapsabet in Kenya.
She was coy when asked about whether she can break the world marathon record of 2:15:25, but if she makes a similar impact at the marathon that she has at the 13.1-mile distance, Paula Radcliffe’s 14-year-old record could be under threat.
Paul Halford for the IAAF