There comes a time in every ambitious pacemaker's life when he must leave the job for higher goals. That time has arrived for Peter Kirui.
In the last six months, Kirui, 24, has helped to pace two of the fastest marathons in history. First, he assisted his Kenyan countryman Patrick Makau to a world-record 2:03:38 in Berlin last September. Only 35 days later, he aided another compatriot, Wilson Kipsang, to history's second-fastest legal clocking, 2:03:42, in Frankfurt.
Kirui's pacing reputation had already been established in 2010, when he paced Makau to that year's fastest marathon (2:04:48, in Rotterdam) and Sammy Wanjiru to a 2:06:24 victory in Chicago. Returning to Rotterdam in 2011, Kirui assisted in another quick marathon, Wilson Kwambai's 2:05:27.
Having dropped out after 25 to 33 kilometers in Rotterdam, Chicago, and Berlin, Kirui got the itch to finish in Frankfurt. "At 30K I stopped for a few seconds, but I felt good and decided to continue," Kirui explains. Twelve kilometers later, he crossed the line in sixth place in 2:06:31. It was time to become a marathon runner.
When Kirui lines up for his NYC Half debut on 18 March, he'll be looking for a sub-1:00 time (his PR is 59:40) as a platform for a fast marathon in Rotterdam four weeks later. It will be the first marathon he will start with the intention of finishing.
"I think it is too early for me to get the world record, but if I break it, no problem," Kirui says, laughing.
The Rotterdam organizers are billing the race as a world-record attempt by Kirui and fellow Kenyans Moses Mosop and Sammy Kitwara. A dedicated runner for only five years, Kirui said that he would be satisfied simply with progress.
"In Rotterdam I will try to run a personal best," he says. "If I run 2:05 or 2:04, that will be good. Maybe I can beat the course record [2:04:27] but not the world record."
Kirui's potential was identified after he finished high school in 2006, but his progress was modest until 2010, when he won several top American road races. Between pacing assignments in 2011, Kirui won the Kenyan 10,000-meter championship and placed sixth in the IAAF 10,000-meter World Championships in Daegu. He lives and trains in Kericho, in the northern Rift region of Kenya.
As a teenager, Kirui read about the world record-breaking marathon runs of Paul Tergat and Haile Gebrselassie. "I thought that one day maybe I can be like these athletes," he says. That day may be drawing close.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg