News & Releases >> September 4 2007
NEWS Sep 4 2007
Simon Njoroge builds a new "Canadian" house in Nyahururu
When Kenyan Simon Njoroge toes the Start Line on September 30th, he will do so as the "local" favourite. One of the top 8 athletes on the men's Start List, gunning for a new Canadian all-comers record, Simon provides this year's Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront elite men's field with a great Kenya-Canada story. It puts a face and a very real story of success to the name of another young Kenyan athlete; Simon's story is a fine example of how running in Canada has a major, real impact on life at home.
A member of the Kikuyu tribe, Simon was born July 10th 1980, in Nakuru, Kenya's 4th largest town. With a population of 60,000, it is the capital of the Rift Valley province, the home of so many of the world's top distance runners. He has 4 brothers and 2 sisters, and grew up in the nearby town of Nyahururu, a community of some 25,000 and the highest town in the country at an elevation of some 2400m. Given its altitude, Nyahururu is a real hub of running, and like many Kenyans, Simon began running in school.
He started his international competitive career in France in 2001, at age 20, doing several 5k and 10k races, and trying a half marathon. By 2003, he had found a manager, and made his way to Hamilton, Ontario for the racing season. For 3 seasons, Simon came and went between Nyahururu and Hamilton, largely performing under the radar screen. With a 10km personal best of 28:45, a 5km around 14:45, and a half marathon of 63:30, he wasn't hitting the headlines or winning much prize money to take home.
In 2006 Simon met Dan Pauls from the Runner's Den store in Hamilton, struck up a friendship, and let Dan and the Runner's Den family help with his running career. Together, Pauls and Njoroge started to talk about the marathon. In September, Simon ran 30k of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, passing halfway in 68:05 and getting to the 30k mark in 1:40:37—a long way behind Daniel Rono and the other Kenyan "big guns" who went through in 1:32:07 and finished in 2:10. The following month, Simon made his full-marathon debut, again somewhat low-key, at the Niagara Falls Marathon. He cruised to victory in a modest time of 2:18:10, some nine minutes clear of second-place finisher Joseph Ndiritu, a Kenyan veteran, who has been racing in Canada for a decade. Simon enjoyed the distance and the experience, heading home with C$1500 in winnings in his pocket, determined to train hard in Nyahururu for 2007.
Back home in Nyahururu, the enterprising Njoroge got together with his cousins, Henry and Pauline Githuka [brother and sister] who have also been regulars as birds of passage on the Ontario road race scene, and rented several houses in the town, for athletes. They put together an informal training camp for about 25 runners, who essentially followed Simon's training program. With no sponsorship and very limited resources, Runner's Den sent over 20 pairs of shoes for the group, to support them. Simon, Henry and Pauline, and a few of the others who had made money racing in '06 also put some of their winnings into the pot to help out.
In early March 2007, a few weeks before the prestigious Around The Bay 30k in Hamilton, Pauls received a call from Simon in Nyahururu: "Dan I want to come run the Around the Bay. I'm fit and in shape to win." On March 25th, Simon ran 1:32:50 and set a new course record at the hilly, chilly, 113-year-old event. With it came C$4,000 — the first big money Njoroge had won. Even after paying his airline ticket of C$2,200 dollars, he was excited to be able to take most of the remaining $1800 home to his family. Buoyed by his breakthrough success, he was able to secure a place on the Start list for the Ottawa Marathon on May 27th. He flew back to Nyahururu immediately to train hard again for 6 weeks, to be ready for Ottawa. He now had his ticket to "the show", as Ottawa and Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront are the only two marathons in Canada with international-class, elite fields, significant prize monies and television coverage.
Simon's Ottawa experience was to provide another major step up. For the first time in a full marathon, he was up against a deep field of professional athletes, a whole new level of competition. Dan Pauls recounts the story:
A group of us drove from Hamilton. Showing up in Ottawa, there were five of us in one room, three to Simon's bed, but he looked nothing but focused. Even with the strong field, and Simon being an unknown athlete, he couldn't wait to run. He finished in 2:11:14 going under the previous course record, and finishing a close 6th. Simon said to me after the race: "Dan, from 39km I lacked the experience." He felt great about his time, and knows the race was so close that with more experience the results could be different. Watching the race on tape, Simon said, "I should have pushed at 38km when I felt good," as he saw he had a chance to break away.
The Ottawa performance won Simon another US$5,000. In stark contrast to last Fall, he went through halfway in 64:28 and 30k in 1:32:20 — a whole different level than 2006 — and it not only provided valuable experience, but confidence he could race successfully in the big leagues.
With the monies won from Around the Bay and Ottawa in Canada, Simon's family is now building a new house in Nyahururu, he's paying the school fees for his youngest brother, and the whole family can afford better food and health care. With a wooden frame and sheet-iron roof and walls, the new home is a clear contrast to the old mud home next door that it replaces [see photos].
Meanwhile, Simon is training hard with his group at home for Toronto Waterfront. For the first time, he'll have a pre-paid, return ticket from Kenya to a race in North America, and a small appearance fee, as well as prize and time-bonus money to run for. "I'm training hard," says Simon. "I want to do well with all my friends from Hamilton there. And I would like to win some more money for my family, and we need more money for the window frames and a nice front door on the new house. If I do really well, I will buy some more land to build some more houses on, that we can rent, to provide future income for my family."
Simon Njoroge's family outside their new house, being built this summer with his winnings from Around the Bay and Ottawa Marathon.
Njoroge family outside their old house [new house in background].