Stephen “Baba” Kiogora, the 31-year-old marathoner from Meru, Kenya, will race next month’s ING New York City Marathon with hopes of besting his 2:09:21 PR. Kiogora has a knack for exceeding expectations. He is the first professional athlete to come from Meru. He came onto the international running scene with some big half marathons in 1998, winning the Kiev Half Marathon and the Kenyan Armed Force Half Marathon. In 2000, he ran a half marathon PR of 61:09 in Paris before turning his attention to the marathon.
In his first marathon, in Cologne in 2003, Kiogora debuted with a 2:12. Since then he has dipped under 2:10 twice, running his 2:09:21 PR at the 2004 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon and a close second of 2:09:51 at the Rock-n- Roll Marathon in San Diego. Now he is training in Boulder, Colorado with fellow KIMbia athlete Thomas Nyariki as they prepare for New York City. Mensracing caught up with Kiogora over a meal of ugali and chicken stew in the KIMbia apartment in Boulder.
Stephen Kiogora: Matt, how do you like ugali?
Baba, I think I’m supposed to ask you the questions. But I love ugali. It is delicious.
SK: You are a true Kenyan now. You have been eating ugali every night with us.
Yes, I know. And to be honest, I don’t mind it. I could eat this every night. But on to the questions…
Yes, okay. Go ahead.
You ran well at Chicago last fall, but I heard you weren’t in peak condition going into the race. Can you explain?
SK: I was sick. One week before the race my back started to bother me. I went to hospital here in Boulder. They had to cut me open and inside they found a lot of blood. I still went to the race because training had been going so well, but I was not quite in my best form as a result.
MR: Wow, that doesn’t sound good. Are you feeling healthy and strong now?
SK: Yes. I feel training has made me very strong.
MR: You’ve run a variety of courses—Cologne, Boston, Rock-n- Roll, Las Vegas. Is there anything in particular you like or dislike in a marathon course? Do you particularly favor a flat course, a course with hills...?
SK: I like Boston. I finished fourth in 2004.
MR: So I guess that means you like hilly courses. Boston is a difficult course. Plus, wasn’t 2004 the year it was extremely hot?
SK: Oh, yes. It was very, very hot and humid. It made it very difficult to run fast. But I really like the course. And the people there are very nice and very well organized.
MR: So I have to ask you about Boston in 2004. I remember watching that year—and sweating quite a bit. You were running with your teammate Timothy Cherigat. People said you were not going to run the full distance, but you just kept on running and finished fourth. Had you planned to finish the race, or did you just change your mind midway through and decide not to stop?
SK: Even before I went to the race, I said I was going to complete it. But I was there to help Timothy. That was my responsibility. During the race, I did so much of the work. If they were relaxing, I would push the pace. Always running near the front, pushing the pace. Near the end I was so tired. The third-place finisher was right in front of me, but I was very tired. I could not even try to catch him.
MR: How do you like training in Boulder with this group and with [Coach] Dieter [Hogan]?
SK: I love Boulder. Boulder is very good for training. It has everything we need, and the security is good. And we love coach Dieter. He is a very nice coach. Even sometimes when I’m homesick, coach will ask me, “Baba, how are you doing?” He knows what we’re going through and understands it can be hard.
MR: English is your second language. And it’s also Dieter’s second language. Do you ever have trouble communicating with him?
No, not anymore. We’re used to him now. He talks very slow and deliberate so we understand everything. Like you. You talk very clear. No accent.
MR: Well, thank you. So this past week, you did your final endurance run at Magnolia before the ING New York City Marathon. Are you glad to be done with that portion of the training?
Oh, Magnolia [laughs]. We like Magnolia, and we hate Magnolia. We know we have to work there, so we have to like it. When we finish, we are happy. But you really feel Magnolia when you run there. It is very difficult. You lose a lot of energy running there. And sometimes after only one day of rest, we have to go back. That is very difficult.
But it is like working in life. You get tired, but you love it. If you don’t work, you don’t get food, right? If you are not working, you cannot get far.
MR: I guess that’s a good way to look at it. So how has your training for New York been compared to other past marathons? Have you done anything differently this year?
With the marathon, you cannot say. It depends on the day you are racing. Marathon is a different thing. You cannot say, “I’m in great shape.” You can feel great in training, but then get to the race and not feel everything is perfect. But if you are in good shape and you feel good on race day, you can run a great one.
MR: And how are you feeling going into the final phase of training for New York?
SK: Very confident. Training has been great. When training with Dieter, if you follow the program until the end, it gives you lots of confidence. We believe in Coach very much.
MR: So what is life after New York like? Are you going back to Meru, Kenya?
Yes. The next day we fly back to Boulder and then to home the next day.
MR: How long is the matatu ride [a form of public transportation in East Africa] from the airport back to your village?
SK: Oh, the matatu from Nairobi to home…almost 300 kilometers. I can have a car to come get me, but I don’t know why, I will take the matatu.
MR: And once you’re back in Meru, you have your own coffee farm and are part of the Armed Forces, is that right?
MR: So what do you like better, coffee or tea?
[Thinking] I grow coffee, so I have to love coffee, right? I cannot grow coffee and not like it. But I do like tea also.
MR: So what types of things will you do on a daily basis once you’re back at home?
I like to walk around my farm with my kids. My kids love to walk the farm with me. We look at the cows and goats. I have many cows. Sometimes I will walk more than 10 kilometers around the property.
MR: After a couple months off, I guess you’ll start gearing up for your next marathon. Do you know what your racing plan for 2007 will be?
SK: Right now I have no plans. I will go back to the training camp in Iten at some point to start training. I would like to run Boston again.
MR: So how did you get hooked up with the KIMbia group here?
SK: I have always been running with Kim McDonald. [Current manager] Tom [Ratcliffe] was actually the first one to give me a chance. I met him in Nairobi at the Armed Forces Championships. Then Tom was working for Kim McDonald. I have been with them ever since.
MR: So I guess you’re happy with the management and training with the group.
SK: Oh, yes. Very happy. It makes it easier to train with a group. In a group, they can push you. If you train by yourself, you’re not used to running in a group or being in the back of the pack. But in group training you can do all of that, run in the back, in the front, and in the middle. You can practice closing the gap and learn how to relax after doing [closing the gap]. So it is very good training in a group.
MR: At the ING New York City Marathon, you’ll be racing with your training partner, Thomas Nyariki. Do you plan to race together or do you each go into the race with your own strategy?
SK: I have no plan on how I can run. We are still training. When training is over, then you think about the race. Then I will plan how to run the race. Until then, no planning; just training.
Interview conducted October 11, 2006, and posted October 21, 2006.