East African runners have dominated the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon for the past two decades, but one thing this IAAF Gold Label race has never had is a Ugandan victor.
Alex Chesakit is hoping to upset the favoured Kenyans and Ethiopians when he lines up for this year’s event on 22 October.
The 36-year-old native of Kapchorwa in Uganda’s eastern highlands ran a personal best of 2:13:06 at the 2015 Touraine Loire Valley Marathon and credits the influence of 2012 Olympic marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich for his success.
“Stephen inspired me a lot,” says Chesakit of his famous compatriot, who was also crowned the world champion in 2013. “I am expecting a win and to run a good time in the marathon very soon.
“Stephen is the key athlete in Uganda, and Kapchorwa specifically, and a role model for the new generation like Joshua Cheptegei and other youngsters who are coming up now. I always train with Stephen when he's at home in Kapchorwa.”
Cheptegei, of course, is the young Ugandan who pushed the British superstar Mo Farah all the way to the line in the 10,000m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017, eventually having to settle for the silver medal.
Kiprotich’s Olympic gold medal – Uganda’s first since John Akii-Bua’s 400m hurdles gold at the 1972 Munich Olympics – launched a newfound interest in distance running. And, when the nation’s capital, Kampala, hosted the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in March this year, massive crowds came out to support their heroes.
It is precisely because of the growing interest in running that in November of last year Global Sports opened a training camp in Kapchorwa on Mount Elgon. Global manages Kiprotich as well as the man who succeeded him as Olympic champion, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya. The primary purpose of the new camp is to further develop talent in the region which has produced a string of international-level distance runners. Most are preparing for the track but there more whose attention is focused completely on the half marathon and marathon distances.
Two full-time coaches and a massage therapist – all Ugandans – work there under a mentor coach from the Netherlands named Andy Ruiter. At present they are working with about 15 athletes, most of whom are still competing on the track. Training there has substantially lifted Chesakit’s expectations.
“I live just outside the camp, but I am mostly there during the week, especially when there is a key training session like track, fartlek, a long run and tempo runs,” he explains. “My house is near the track so when we go for a track workout I walk from home and meet the guys there.”
At home he has a family, a wife and three young children. Running, he says, is a means to provide a good lifestyle for them.
“Every marathon you run, you take a new experience home and we try to improve for the next,” he says of his career to date.
“In Toronto I am hoping to break 2:10:00 for the first time which will help me to qualify for the Commonwealth Games. I missed the World Championships in London due to visa issues. I was supposed to compete but the visa arrived too late.”
Like most East African runners, Chesakit treats running as a profession and he realises that time is fleeting.
“My goal is, through running, to secure finance for my family but ultimately to inspire many young talents in the sport,” he says.
“I hope to compete for another 10 years and my desire is to be a coach after retirement and help the new generation to get opportunities in life and show them the right way.”
The Toronto field is the strongest ever assembled in Canada with Kenyans Dickson Chumba, a past Chicago and Tokyo marathon winner, and defending champion Philemon Rono already confirmed. Ethiopia will counter through the talented duo of Solomon Deksisa and Endeshaw Negesse, the 2015 Tokyo Marathon champion who has a personal best of 2:04:52.
Against such opposition, Chesakit will have his hands full. But the vision of being the first Ugandan to stand on the podium is a powerful one for this talented marathon runner.
Paul Gains (organisers) for the IAAF