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The Grooviness of the Long-Distance Runner

A world-class Kenyan marathoner puts on his dancing shoes

Author Andrew Jenner


CHICAGO—With the clapping, singing crowd on its feet and the Kenyan pop hit “Kuna Dawa” blasting through the fellowship hall, Wesley Korir makes his way to the front of the room. He executes a series of fluid side-shuffles, working himself low to the ground and up again, his hands waving above his head. Which is one way, apparently, of warming up for one of the biggest races of your life.

Korir and a handful of other Kenyans competing in the Chicago Marathon are being feted by the city’s Kenyan expatriate community, a pre-race tradition for the past 14 years. Korir is bouncing around the room as if he hasn’t a care in the world, even though he has quite a few: Having recently won the prestigious Boston Marathon and established himself as one of the world’s top distance runners, he now bears the burden of his compatriots’ high expectations.

Certainly, Korir has come to Chicago eager to win, following second- and fourth-place finishes in the previous two years. If he’s feeling the pressure, though, he’s doing a good job of hiding it. When dinner is served, he tucks into his cornmeal ugali with the enthusiasm of a lumberjack, and regales his fellow diners with rapid-fire witticisms. Later Korir grows solemn, telling those around him there’s no point in being the best if you don’t put your talent to good use. He goes on to speak of his own charitable work. “If you’re running for no reason,” he says, “you’re just chasing after the wind.”

This same weekend, Korir will finish the Chicago Marathon a disappointing fifth. But that doesn’t matter right now, as the Kenyan folk hero takes to the dance floor to showcase, once again, his unimpeachable footwork.

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