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Three-Time Toronto Champion Mungara Wants More

  • By Duncan Larkin
  • Published Sep. 15, 2011

Kenneth Mungara looking forward to his fourth consecutive victory in Toronto. Photo: The Star

He isn’t letting his age hold him back.

By Paul Gains
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

In an era when youth reigns supreme, Kenneth Mungara is defying the trend with his excellent marathon racing results against younger opposition.

The 38 year old Kenyan returns to the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (October 16th) seeking a staggering fourth consecutive victory in the IAAF Silver Label race.

A year ago he cruised to a personal best and Canadian All Comers’ record of 2 hours 7 minutes 58 seconds and, in keeping with his affection for the city, immediately vowed to come back in 2011. Asked what he expects to achieve this time around he laughs.

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” he says. “Toronto is very hard; got a lot of tough guys there. I want to go 2:07 or under 2:07.  If I go there and have a good pacemaker I can run 2:07 or 2:06. My training is very good. I am doing very fine.

“Let me tell you, this is God. I have to do things my way. I let God do the rest. You can’t say about age. Age is but a number. The guy who is older than me will win if he works hard and you give him some pressure.”

Mungara expects to be running two or even four years hence. Evidently he is not one to sit still and count his winnings – he earned CAD 40,000 in Toronto alone – and is always looking for the next challenge. Last year, after returning to his home in Limuru, a town 50 km northwest of Nairobi, he took a week off training before donning his adidas trainers to help a teammate prepare for an overseas marathon. Soon, he found himself fully recovered and fit enough to tackle another race.

Derek Froude, his agent at Posso International Promotions, made arrangements with the Standard Chartered Singapore International Marathon. So, three months after his third Toronto victory, he won again in steamy hot conditions in 2:14:05. That earned him another USD 50,000 in prize money. It was his fourth marathon of the year, a remarkable achievement for someone of his level since world class marathoners, typically, will run two, maybe three, marathons in a year.

“Most of the time I take one week off (after a marathon) because I have other guys training and I have to push them,” Mungara explains. “After one week I recover.

“It was not in my plans to run in Singapore. This guy I train with, I left him alone to go to Australia. He didn’t perform well.  I was supposed to go and help this guy and train with him. I was in good shape so I had to go to Singapore. I wanted to help my friend so he could run well.”

On May 8th of this year Mungara lowered his personal best time to 2:07:36 when he finished second to his countryman Benson Barus (2:07:07)  in the Volkswagen Prague Marathon. One of his training partners, Robert Matu Mwangi, finished 5th in 2:10:04.

Since then he has been focusing on the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. With Matu he is running on the trails and roads surrounding Limuru piling on the miles while visualizing the streets of Toronto.  Clearly he loves the city. In past years he has attended the Kenya Global Church with fellow Kenyans and has struck up a friendship with the pastor, who was at the finish line last year to greet him.

“Ah, Toronto. I like the people I enjoy it a lot. They cheer me all along the course,” he says. “There’s a lot of Kenyans there. They say ‘come next, come next year, you have to come next year and win the race.’ Like that.

“I have to give my children something so they can know I was outside the country. Yes, I buy a lot of presents, toys from Toronto and give them to my children.”

Mungara and his wife, Esther, have three children Ian, 8, Grace 3 and Mary Ann 2. They live in a house just outside the main town with rabbits, ducks and a dog for company. With his earnings he has been building an apartment project.

Despite his maturity he only started racing marathons five years ago. Until that time he had been running 10 km and half marathons in Kenya before realizing he would have to move up in distance if he were to be competitive. Opportunities to race outside the country come only to those who have some domestic credentials.

His debut marathon was in Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city, in 2006. He finished in 2:17:38.  A year later he was second in the same race in 2:10:13 which opened up doors to a professional career.

“I didn’t go to Mombasa for money, I went there for time,” he explains. “If you get a good time you can go outside the country. There’s some money but not good money not like when you go outside. If you have family you have to go outside the country (to race).”

Up until two years ago he operated a barber shop in Limuru. Even his management didn’t know about this until a year ago such is the level of importance he places on personal matters. He is obviously amused by the fascination with his previous vocation.

“Yes I have a barber shop,” he says laughing. “It is still there. My sister’s son is the barber now. I taught him. He started training with me. He’s a good barber. I am not cutting hair any more.”

Like most Kenyans he was upset with the tribal rivalry which escalated into violence three years ago. A member of the Kikuyu tribe he was fortunate to be living and training when the fighting broke out though he was not totally unaffected.

“It didn’t affect me. Where I stay it’s near the capital city of Nairobi,” he remembers. “Those bad things were somewhere else. A lot of problems. Some of the people I train with they were affected. A lot came to stay with me because they couldn’t train where they lived. They were afraid of the guns. They knew they had to go back home. They couldn’t stay there to train because of their problems.”

Looking ahead to the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon Mungara is focused on his goal of winning that fourth consecutive title and showing the young guys how it’s done. How does he rate his chances?

“Maybe if it’s God’s wishes,” he declares. “I will try to do my best.”

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Duncan Larkin

Duncan Larkin

Duncan Larkin is the news editor at Competitor.com and a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first running book, RUN SIMPLE, was released last July.

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