"I am here, first of all, to run the New York Marathon, but also to break the record of being the first politician in the world to win a marathon," Wesley Korir quipped on Thursday.
Korir, a loquacious Kenyan who attended the University of Louisville, was already the 2012 Boston Marathon champion and 2011 Chicago runner-up when he made the decision last winter to run for a seat in Kenya's parliament last winter.
He managed to become the first independent candidate ever elected to his country's parliament, and began a five-year term representing 300,000 people in the Cherangany Constituency, five hours from Nairobi.
"Trying to get elected before Boston, training was really hard," says Korir, who settled for fifth place in Boston last April.
But now, with an extremely crowded schedule as a legislator on labor and sports committees, earning $10,000 a month, “I have a treadmill at parliament," he reports. "When I got there, the treadmill was really slow. Engineers fixed it."
Korir, who says he is the youngest member of parliament "and the skinniest," observes that, "parliamentarians are very fat."
There's also a couch in the members' lounge for him to recover between legislative sessions and workouts. As he heads toward it, he's heard other members say, "Hey, don't stop the runner, he has to sleep."
Korir comes to New York City after a couple weeks of tempo runs and mile repeats in Louisville. "The most important thing is I've been able to get my longs runs in, 20 to 22 miles,” mainly on weekends, he says.
During the week, he lives and trains an hour outside Nairobi, where his existence is abetted by "a driver and two bodyguards, a personal assistant, a secretary, and a manager."
"The most important thing is to be thankful that I am still able to run," stresses Korir. "Some people think I am crazy [to work as a politician and runner], but using running as a stepping stone, anyone can hear me through my running,” giving him a more visible and powerful platform than he would otherwise have.
Anti-poverty programs, particularly access to clean water and medicine, are Korir's chief political causes. Before running for parliament, he had established the Kenyan Kids Foundation, which is close to completing a new hospital in his hometown of Kitale.
Korir was back to visit Kenya in 2007 when he found himself in the midst of civil war violence, and was even conscripted against his will into an armed gang. He managed to escape, and at the time thought he might never return to Kenya.
There was talk of his pursuing American citizenship, but understanding the impact he could have and the vital nature of the issues he embraced, he had a change of heart.
Among his parliamentary peers, "everyone respects the fact that I can come to America to run," explains Korir. "The number of politicians who wanted to come with me on this trip is huge."
And of course, the Boston victory made all the difference in his reputation in Kenya. "I won the L.A. Marathon twice, but nobody talks to me about that," he says. "Everybody talks about the Boston Marathon.”
The distractions of campaigning may have limited him to fifth in Boston in April, but his parliamentary responsibilities extended all the way to Massachusetts after the finish line bombings. "The first thing I did was to make sure all of the Kenyans were safe," he remembers.
He went from hotel room to hotel room, making certain that all of the invited elites were accounted for. In response to the Boston bombings, Korir asserts that "terrorists are doing the wrong thing by attacking runners. We will run more and we will run more and more. They cannot intimidate us. They cannot defeat us."
As a member of the parliament's sports committee, Korir is dedicated to"“the protection of the athletes. There's something called modern day slavery. I'm going to hit hard on managers and agents,” he promises, as he condemns a system in which foreign agents may set up training camps for a passel of promising athletes, extract one or two for a professional future, and let the rest fall neglected by the wayside.
"Let athletes and government be responsible for training camps, and then pick the agents," suggests Korir. "Understand who works for who, and who is boss."
Korir, who’ll turn 31 on November 15, set his personal marathon best of 2:06:13 in Chicago last year. He's confident he's balanced his two occupations satisfactorily in his build-up to New York. And he does have a lesson learned from his athletic life that he imparts to the poorer constituents he serves back in Kenya.
"Never give up. Life is like a marathon," he maintains. "It's only the strongest and the most well-prepared that win."