Dinner of Champions

Expats.cz

Running through the landscape of Kenya is radically different than the old streets of Prague, the high rises of London, or the cosmopolitan avenues of Melbourne. But whatever it is professional long-distance runner Joyce Chepkirui does in Kenya has paid off in these cities and more. At the recent Prague Half Marathon held in April, Chepkirui not only scored a personal best, but also set a course record, blowing by her competition with a terrific finish time of 1:06:19.

The men’s race meanwhile was no less exciting, except winner Peter Kirui didn’t set the pace here, pulling into the lead about midway through and ending with a finish time of 59:22. He ended up improving by 17 seconds his personal best time from his 2011 win in the New York City Half Marathon.

So after each running a personal best and posting great times, what do these two athletes do? Nope, Disney World is not the answer. Why, cook a special Kenyan meal for members of RunCzech’s PIM Running Club of course.

This was obviously not the pair’s, who were assisted by fellow Kenyan runner Nicholas Bor, first time in a kitchen nor cooking this meal. They took their job seriously, consulting over which pots to use and best temperature to cook, and all very comfortable working their way around the Running Mall kitchen, probably not accustomed to seeing such a feast.

The meal was a traditional Kenyan one, based on ugali, a dish of cornmeal cooked with water to a sticky consistency. It’s the starch staple of the region and used to scoop up a variety of accompanying meat and vegetable dishes. For this meal, the runners prepared three different dishes; chicken, potatoes, and spinach. The food was basic and organic, not processed and is based on what is easily grown in the fields back home. To make the event a bit multicultural, Czech goulash was also served up, along with fresh slices of chleba.

With great fanfare the food was presented to the curious crowd. The ugali was the most interesting; it looked like a massive vat of mashed potatoes and had a similar consistency, but very little flavor. This means it easily absorbed the garlic from the spinach and the tomato juices from the potato mix.

“We eat ugali for lunch and dinner,” Chepkirui said. “It’s what makes Kenyan runners so strong.”

And as if cooking the food wasn’t enough Chepkirui and Kirui were roped into serving duty. You could see the shy smiles on their faces; pleased people were enjoying their food. The pair were quiet, softly spoken and not eager to share their thoughts. But it’s in the evenings, after long hard days of training, when runners are at their most relaxed. That’s why RunCzech arranged this evening, to allow the runners to bring a piece of Kenya to Prague, and both countries to share a bit of their culture.

Connecting runners from around the world was one of the goals behind the opening of the Running Mall in May 2013, strategically located in Prague 7 between Letná and Stromovka parks. Running Mall manager Katie Anderson said the space gives RunCzech the opportunity to meet runners in between races. It’s also the home base for the PIM Running Club, a group of between 80-100 runners who have the opportunity to participate in regular trainings led by professional coaches and athletes, as well as attend fitness classes, make use of sport equipment on site and other benefits.

After eating their fill, (both said they enjoyed the goulash and thought it would be tasty with ugali) Kirui was off to Hawaii to participate in The Hapalua Half Marathon while Chepkirui was headed to London to run as a pacemaker in the London Marathon.Kirui’s opportunity to dig in to some more goulash will come quickly as he’s back in Prague for the full marathon in May, this time to pace Kenyan marathon runner, Moses Mosop.

A final bit of running news, the Prague Half Marathon was also used as an opportunity to introduce the RunCzech Racing initiative. Fifteen developing athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia will be hosted by the organization in Prague. During select blocks of the year, these runners will live here and train for their upcoming races in the Czech Republic and Europe. During this time they will also interact with local runners through jointly scheduled runs and other events.

“The mission of RunCzech Racing is to connect people through sport,” said Carlo Capalbo, president of RunCzech. “We want to strengthen the relationship between the professional and recreational runners through workshops, social events, clinics and training at the Running Mall.”

A personal, unbiased side note – I’ve run in two of RunCzech’s races and have been incredibly impressed with the organization and professionalism of them compared to other runs I’ve done in Europe. After visiting the Running Mall, I was again impressed with the passion and dedication these people have to running and runners.

But whether you plan to run a long distance race or not, runners of all levels can take advantage of the Running Mall and especially the PIM Running Club to connect with other runners, improve their stride or speed or just get a little extra motivation to go that extra kilometer. And maybe even get treated to an exotic meal once in a while.