This woman's achievements are absolutely mind-blowing. To briefly illustrate, she has won the Boston Marathon three times (including the last two years); holds the Boston Marathon course record; and won the Chicago Marathon in 2013.
|A victorious Rita Jeptoo shortly after crossing the finish line at the 2013 Chicago Marathon|
Wow. Just wow.
Rita came to Chicago to undergo some local training in preparation for defending her Chicago Marathon title in 2014. Nike Bucktown hosted her as a special guest during their Monday night running club. A small group of running bloggers were also given the opportunity to do a Q&A session with her.
|From L to R: me, Zach, Jennifer, and Erica|
Nike Bucktown really rolled out the red carpet for us upon arrival. We each received a goody bag filled with amazing Nike gear, which Jennifer, Erica, and I are wearing in the picture. Thank you, Nike!
We hung out and chatted while waiting for the very special guest to arrive. All of a sudden, Rita walked in. I was so excited!
The event organizers brought her over to talk to us for a few minutes. As we did introductions, she smiled at each of us shyly and offered a very delicate handshake. I had visualized her to be energetic and outgoing, but she was incredibly soft-spoken. It felt like she was surprised and almost taken aback by how thrilled we all were to meet her.
|Chatting with Rita|
We went around the circle and took turns asking her questions. She was so soft-spoken that it was tough for us to hear her words. At first, Rita's responses were shorter, but as time went on she began speaking more and more freely and at length.
After our brief Q&A with her, the event organizers gathered the whole crowd of event-goers and brought Rita up front. They gave Rita a microphone for this portion of the event, which helped a lot.
Once Rita got rolling, you could clearly sense her passion for running and her intense focus. Here are some highlights from what she shared:
- She flew to Chicago from Bogota, Colombia. She had just run the Bogota International Half Marathon. With modest humor, she summed it up with: "...and I won. Again." The crowd gave her a round of applause amidst some appreciative laughter.
- When growing up, Rita lived 10 kilometers away from her school in Kenya. She would run to school in the mornings, run home and back for lunch, then run home after school. As such, she would run 40 kilometers every day. She never thought about the distance - she just wanted to go to school.
- Rita liked playing football (soccer) as a child. She got noticed for her running prowess while playing football. She ended up doing all of the running events at her school because nobody else did them. She joked about having to do the long jump.
- Her training regimen includes running two or three times a day. This might include a 5 AM "fast" run for 30 minutes; a run at 10 AM for 60-70 minutes, and a 4 PM run for another 40 minutes. When she does long runs, they typically last 130 minutes to 140 minutes.
- Rita mentioned the importance of training daily in order to build-up the muscles to be tired and then stronger. She said not to think about yesterday's training affecting today's training; instead, remember that you are always training. She knows that her colleagues and competitors are always training, too.
|Rita leading the very competitive pack at the Boston Marathon|
- From a nutritional standpoint, Rita emphasized the importance of doing your own cooking in order to control the amount of oil used. She mentioned not going to McDonald's, only eating pasta once per week, and drinking a glass of milk every evening. Her recommendations were to have coffee, a banana, and water before running; to drink fresh mango juice (not from the supermarket) and have a piece of fruit in the morning after running; and to eat rice and either chicken or fish for lunch. She also mentioned eating millet, as well as ugali (a Kenyan dish similar to polenta).
- Rita noted that food was so readily available in the U.S. at fast-food restaurants and the like. It was a different mentality in Kenya. She mentioned that it would be good to develop the mentality of needing to "walk for your food."
- The Boston Marathon and New York Marathon are her favorites, and she likes the hills.
- When asked about the Chicago Marathon, she indicated that she really likes the spectators and that many cheer her on by name. This makes her feel very at home in Chicago. (She also loves the shopping in Chicago; she said with an almost impish smile that she came to Chicago last fall with one bag and left with two.)
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Rita speak. She is extremely down to earth, genuine, and likable. I was touched by the fact that while she was speaking, she paused a few times to smile and look around the room. It seemed that she was trying to absorb the crowd just as much as we were trying to absorb everything from her.
At the conclusion of Rita's session, we took some group photos. Rita even asked if the photographers could take a picture using her personal phone. That made me smile.
As the organizers were making some closing announcements, Rita stood with the crowd and listened just as intently as the rest of us.
As the crowd began dispersing, some asked to take individual photos with Rita. She looked genuinely happy to do so.
Here is my photo with Rita!
Afterwards, Rita wandered around the shop combing through the racks of merchandise, just like many others were doing.
I mentioned to some folks how cool it was that she was so normal, despite her superhuman athletic prowess. The event organizers told us a recent story about how they once witnessed her seeing her own picture on the cover of a magazine. Her reaction: surprise and excitement. They asked her if she wanted a copy. Her response: a shy yes, and could she have a few for her family, too?
I am so appreciative of the time that Rita Jeptoo spent with us at Nike Bucktown. Meeting her has given me a deeply renewed respect for championship runners. She has profoundly inspired me. I will definitely be rooting for her at the Chicago Marathon this fall. She has my lifelong support at any and all other events that she runs!