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Race of their lives: Money for first place would make big difference for two of Fargo Marathon's favorites

They are farmers from Kenya with families to feed. It explains, in part, why Ezekial Ruto and Sammy Malakwen will be running in Saturday's Fifth Annual Fargo Marathon - each hoping to break the course record of 2 hours, 30 minutes, 34 seconds.

Kenyan runner Sammy Malakwen
Kenyan runner Sammy Malakwen. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

They are farmers from Kenya with families to feed. It explains, in part, why Ezekial Ruto and Sammy Malakwen will be running in Saturday's Fifth Annual Fargo Marathon - each hoping to break the course record of 2 hours, 30 minutes, 34 seconds.

They also have their eyes set on the $1,500 that is awarded to the first-place finisher. Even the $1,200 for second place or the $800 for third place would be appreciated.

Compared to what they make as farmers in Kenya, that's big money for Ruto and Malakwen - who, unlike some elite runners, are not sponsored.

For the 35-year-old Ruto, once he pays for the airline ticket to come to the United States twice a year, he tries to save as much as he can to take home to his wife, Ritah, and his three children, Gladys (8), Dennis (4) and Jabet (1).

Ruto just missed the pay cut when he finished fourth at the March 21 Georgia Marathon in which he posted a 2:24:02 time. He netted more than $1,500 when he finished third at the April 18 Salt Lake City Marathon in a time of 2:24:41.

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"Literally, some of these payouts represent years and years of paychecks in Kenya," said Brian Ross, Ruto's coach who is based in Atlanta. "This is a real feasible way to make a lot of money by their scale."

Ruto lives in the village of Chesunet, Kenya, and is part of the Kalenjin tribe - home of 800-meter record-holder Alfred Kirwa Yogo and Duncan Kibet - who posted the second-fastest marathon time in history (2:04:27) last month in Rotterdam.

Ruto's family has never seen him run in the United States. But they did see him post his best marathon time of 2:18 in Kenya.

"When he comes over here, he sticks to his conservative diet," Ross said. "They live off of pennies compared to us."

Like Ruto, the 30-year-old Malakwen started coming to the United States to race three years ago. Based in Two Harbors, Minn., Malakwen placed 16th at last year's Grandma's Marathon in nearby Duluth in a time of 2:23.

He won last year's Fargo half marathon in a record time of 1 hour, 4 minutes and 40 seconds. Two weeks ago, he defended his title at the Get In Gear 10K race in Minneapolis.

"He got a late flight out of Nairobi (Kenya), gets a 30-minute jog in, goes to bed and then wakes up and wins the race," said Roger Twigg, Malakwen's agent and manager. "So much for jet lag."

Malakwen farms with his wife and two children in western Kenya near the mountains - in the same Rift Valley where Ruto lives. When he's not farming, Malakwen resides near a training camp that attracts numerous elite runners.

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Now, thousands of miles from home, Malakwen is excited to run the streets of Fargo again.

"He told me he wanted to come back and run the full marathon this time," Twigg said. "He very much liked the atmosphere of Fargo. He was blown away by all of the people. He wants to do well in front of the crowd."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Schnepf's NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com

Kenyan runner Sammy Malakwen
Kenyan runner Ezekial Ruto. Submitted photo

Related Topics: FARGO MARATHON
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