Rejected by another autumn marathon, Jackson Limo turned up in Beirut a year ago a welcome addition to a world-class field, determined to prove his detractors wrong. The Kenyan certainly did that and more, winning the IAAF Silver Label Road Race by nearly two minutes in a course record of 2:11:04.
The 28-year-old will return to defend his title on 13 November with hopes of running a faster time.
Limo’s personal best of 2:09:06 was recorded at the 2014 Paris Marathon. With five weeks remaining until the Beirut race, he has victory – and a PB – on his mind.
“I want to win again and improve my time,” he says. “This means I would break the course record as well. I don't think anyone has ever defended his title in Beirut, so let me be the first one. I liked the course. It seems my body adapts very easy to the conditions there.”
Indeed the temperature – a balmy 19C – at the 7:00am start time a year ago wasn’t ideal, although there was a breeze blowing in from the Mediterranean. He ran alone from 35 kilometres onwards and dominated the race all the way to the finish.
For the past few years he has belonged to an impressive training group based in Kaptagat and is coached by two-time world steeplechase silver medallist Patrick Sang. Led by Olympic marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge, they spend much time together in the training camp.
“I do still train with Eliud although his preparation was a bit different because of his Olympic marathon,” says Limo. “This time we have been training less together but I still train with greats like Emmanuel Mutai, Bernard Kipyego, Bernard Koech and Lucas Rotich.
“My training (for Beirut) is going well; I am peaking at the right moment it seems. I do about 200km per week, sometimes 210km. I do live in the camp, mostly from Monday to Saturday. But sometimes I stay the weekend as well. My wife isn't happy with that but she has to accept these sacrifices for me to be successful.”
Limo says he was inspired by watching Kipchoge’s Olympic victory.
“Of course when someone wins a race it raises the morale of everybody in the same programme,” he says. “I watched the Olympic marathon with many of my teammates. People were shouting with happiness when Eliud broke away and won the race.”
Like all professional runners, Limo races to better the lifestyle of his family, his community as well as himself. Winning Beirut a year ago earned him USD$14,000 in prize money. Evidently he put that money to good use.
“I bought some land and built some houses for my younger brothers,” he says. “I also used some of that money to pay school fees for family members. It's completely normal to bring up the people in my circle as I am not the only one who is responsible for making me succeed.
Winning Beirut helped earn him an invitation to return to the Paris Marathon this past April, but a dodgy hamstring flared up during the race and he was unable to finish. Though he was disappointed, he took time off to rehabilitate and then prepare for his Beirut title defence.
“I was focusing on running on a faster course to improve my time but unfortunately I got injured during my race in Paris and I did not finish,” says Limo, winner of the 2013 and 2014 Osaka Marathon. “My hamstring was bothering me in the week before the race but I thought it wouldn't be a problem after the last ten days training was little and I thought recovery would be okay.
“My coach doesn't believe in time trials but I can see from what other athletes are doing in the group that I am on the right path now. By the time of Beirut I should be better than last year. I am fit and have no lingering pains. Therefore I feel that with five more weeks I am going to be in a very good shape.”
Limo will arrive in Beirut brimming with confidence. Should the pacemakers and the weather cooperate, he may well lower his course record. And that would further emphasise that his decision to run Beirut last year was a good one indeed.
Paul Gains (organisers) for the IAAF