Editorial

Canadian Running - - SEPTEMBER & OCTOBER 2017 - Michael Doyle, Edi­tor-in-Chief @Cana­di­anRun­ning

If you’ve been around the Cana­dian run­ning scene long enough, you know who Thomas Omwenga is. I first met him sev­eral years ago at a lo­cal race in Toronto. Omwenga mod­estly stood next to me at the start line, and we chat­ted in the mo­ments be­fore the gun went off. Then he took off with a pack of fel­low Kenyans, des­tined to win the race.

Af­ter tak­ing over as edi­tor of this magazine, I next bumped into Omwenga (fea­tured on p.66) at the bmo Van­cou­ver Marathon expo. We took the stage and chat­ted as a part of a pre-race elite Q and A, where again, he mod­estly spoke of his love of the race and his de­sire to re­main in Canada. His ul­ti­mate goal wasn’t to con­tinue dom­i­nat­ing the Cana­dian marathon scene (he’s won more Cana­dian marathons than per­haps any­one else in his­tory) all he wanted was to bring his fam­ily here from Kenya in or­der to live a bet­ter life. A day later, Omwenga and I ran into each other again (lit­er­ally) at the fin­ish line, with him win­ning the marathon for the fourth time.

I knew Omwenga had been liv­ing with a group of Kenyan run­ners in Hamilton, train­ing hard and rac­ing con­stantly for any race with a cash prize. Each Satur­day and Sun­day, the group would tar­get a lo­cal race (or two). They’d all do bat­tle for the pre­cious few dol­lars, and then head back home to­gether, leav­ing the com­pe­ti­tion on the road.

What I didn’t know was that, in ad­di­tion to run­ning high mileage ev­ery sin­gle day and rac­ing al­most ev­ery week­end, Omwenga was also work­ing two or three man­ual labour jobs in or­der to af­ford liv­ing on the fringe in Hamilton. This was be­cause ev­ery dime Omwenga won rac­ing he sent back to his wife and chil­dren in Kenya. I also didn’t know that he hadn’t seen them in years.

In the spring, I tagged along with my wife Kelly on a run she pe­ri­od­i­cally does with a group of friends in prepa­ra­tion for the Cabot Trail Re­lay each May. They usu­ally try to do some­thing special with each meetup. For this one, a hill ses­sion, they in­vited out a special guest: Thomas Omwenga. Omwenga gra­ciously led us through a hill work­out, but also pro­vided in­sight into his wholis­tic ap­proach to ev­ery run, and his over­all phi­los­o­phy and at­ti­tude about train­ing and rac­ing. It be­came ev­i­dent that for Omwenga, when you train, you work with your train­ing part­ners as a team. He walked us through a grad­ual warmup and em­pha­sized that he be­gins ev­ery run – whether it’s a re­cov­ery saunter or heart-pound­ing in­ter­vals – at a painfully slow pace. The idea, he said, was to “bend, not break.”

When we hit the hills, Omwenga led us out, de­mar­cat­ing a 300ish-me­tre climb by feel. Af­ter the first set, he ex­plained to us that we should form a line, and that each per­son would get a turn lead­ing out the group. Tra­di­tional hill work­outs you find online or in an old run­ning book will pro­vide even splits for each re­peat, or per­haps a lin­ear pro­gres­sion, end­ing with your hard­est, fastest rep. Omwenga’s work­out was the in­verse of this: when you fol­lowed, you did your best to keep pace with the per­son ahead of you. And when it was your turn to lead the group, you be­came re­spon­si­ble for ev­ery­one else, and had to choose your pace with that in mind. Omwenga ex­plained that when he was train­ing with a large group in Kenya, this is how they would do a hill work­out. It brought ev­ery­one to­gether, al­low­ing each run­ner to par­tic­i­pate. “Train­ing isn’t a com­pe­ti­tion,” he said. Stand­ing in the line, wait­ing his turn to lead, was Omwenga’s 14-year-old son, Isaac, who tagged along with him for the run. He’d just ar­rived in Canada. Thomas hadn’t seen him in over five years. Isaac care­fully and evenly ran up the hill, with the same mod­est and pa­tient ap­proach as his fa­ther.

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