Wesley Korir runs for bigger cause

Wesley Korir's time last year (2:12:40) was the slowest by a Boston Marathon winner in 35 years. Bill Greene/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

It goes without saying that a defending Boston Marathon champ would spend the time leading up to the race running. Wesley Korir was no exception, but he did moe running than most, and of a different kind.

In addition to training for his title defense, the 30-year-old Korir spent three months running for political office in his native Kenya, conducting an ultimately successful campaign for a seat in that nation's parliament. He was elected on March 4.

"It didn't take away from my training time, just my rest," he said. "Usually, when you are a high-level athlete, you train, eat and rest. During the campaign, I would train, then work on the election."

The added work didn't seem to bother Korir, who won last year's race on one of the hottest days in the marathon's 116-year history.

"I am someone that has always challenged myself," he said. "I won my first marathon when I was working 40 hours a week and ran 2:08. I knew I had a base of good fitness, from years of running, so it was just a matter of maintaining that through the course of the election.

"I am not really worried about it. It's something I'm used to doing. I guess Monday we'll see how much it took out of me."

Last year, when temperatures soared into the mid-80s, Korir won by being the smartest runner in the field, staying off the lead pace before pulling away from the overheated early pacesetters in the final miles to win in 2:12:40, the slowest winning mark in 35 years. With almost ideal racing conditions predicted for Monday, he knows it will be a totally different game.

"Last year, I ran smart to win," he said. "This year, you'll have to run physically to win. The person who is in the best shape will win. But at Boston, you have to run smart. It's very challenging at the end if you don't run smart in the beginning. No matter who you are, nobody can ignore heartbreak. If you play your cards right and make sure you have enough in the tank, you can do a lot of damage there."

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Korir's debut at Boston last year taught him a lot about the course.

"The downhill is the worst part," he said. "Mentally, you feel like you should run fast, but physically, your body won't let you do it. A lot of people say they train for Boston by doing hill work, but I've never heard anybody say they have done downhill work. As a biology major, I know you use different muscles running up, running flat, running down. Sometimes, we forget to activate the downhill muscles, and if they haven't been trained they can get fatigued or injured in the first half at Boston and you can't use them at the end. So I make sure to do downhill training as well as up."

With Korir's new office, he feels he has an added responsibility to do well in the race. "I don't think the Kenyan people would be very happy if I finished last," he said. "I know the speaker of the parliament told me that all the members will be watching the race on TV, too."

Korir, a two-time winner of the Los Angeles Marathon, set his PR of 2:06:13 while finishing fifth in Chicago last fall.

No matter where he finishes Monday, Korir has set himself an equally challenging goal when he takes his parliamentary seat upon his return to Kenya.

"I don't just want to represent my constituents, but the athletes of Kenya as well," he said. "After all, Kenya is known around the world because of its runners. They should have a right to speak, have their voice be heard."

As a product of the American collegiate system (University of Louisville), Korir wants to bring what he learned here to his political career in Kenya. He and his wife, Tarah (a former college track teammate who hails from Canada), and 3-year-old daughter McKayla split time living in Louisville, Canada and Kenya.

"America has formed my philosophies," Korir says. "My goal is to stay focused and use the principles I have learned here to change Kenya.

"If I met President Obama, I would tell him to raise leaders for Kenya and Africa. Without good leaders, we will never progress. The U.S. has been sending aid to Africa for decades, but it's still a Third World continent. Why? It's because the leaders don't channel that aid to where it can do good. It's like pouring water in a bottle with a hole in the bottom -- it runs out as fast as it goes in.

"Politics in Kenya is different than in the U.S.," he continues. "Here, people have the responsibility to elect their leaders freely, but in Kenya most people vote because of someone's money or what party they belong to. I ran as an independent because I wanted to prove that you didn't have to belong to a party to get elected.

"There are a lot of political parties in Kenya. I told people we got independence 50 years ago, but now we are colonized by party politics. We have to enable the 80 percent of the people who live in poverty to create a good living for themselves. That is our biggest challenge."

Korir, who was an unlikely Boston winner last April while being an equally long shot to be elected to parliament as an independent, taking on tough challenges and beating long odds is nothing new. Ultimately, it might be the type of running he does best.