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Running helped Kenya’s Titus Ekiru find his footing in life

By Jason Kaneshiro
(c) 2019 Star Advertiser, all rights reserved

A lack of opportunity in his hometown turned Titus Ekiru toward a path that would lead him around the globe and offer a means to provide for those back home.

“We don’t have money to pay my school fee, so I start running,” Ekiru recalled of his introduction to the sport late in his teenage years.

Ekiru had played soccer for close to 15 years growing up in northern Kenya and focused on running in 2010. His proficiency on roads around the world over the past three years have delivered a payoff for his dedication to racing.

“People are struggling, but now I can help my family,” the 28-year-old said Friday, standing in the sand outside a hotel in Waikiki.

Since 2017, Ekiru has won four marathons, including last year’s Honolulu Marathon, setting the course record in three events. His earnings have allowed him to build a home for his family in Kapsabet and “I put my brothers in schools,” Ekiru said.

Ekiru returned to Hawaii this week for his third appearance in the Honolulu Marathon, aiming for perhaps an even bigger payday than last year and brimming with motivation.

The 6-foot-1 Ekiru’s long strides threatened the course record in his victory in two hours, nine minutes, one second a year ago. He might have passed the mark of 2:08:07 — set by Lawrence Cherono in 2017 — if not for rain and a strong headwind on the outward leg into East Oahu.

A course record comes with a $10,000 bonus along with the $25,000 first prize, and Ekiru sees potential for an even faster finish this time.

“I think we have strong pace-makers, maybe this year we can run 2:07,” he said.

Ekiru made his Honolulu Marathon debut in 2017 as a designated pacer. But instead of stepping off the course after fulfilling his duties over a prescribed distance, he powered through and finished fourth with a time of 2:12:19.

He returns for the 47th Honolulu Marathon as the favorite among the pack of elite athletes that will lead the field onto the 26.2-mile course at 5 a.m. Sunday, and his drive will be fueled by more than monetary possibilities.

He won the half marathon at the African Games on Aug. 30 and was seemingly positioned for a spot among Kenya’s entries in the marathon at the IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar, in October. But when the Kenyan federation announced its team, Ekiru was not among those selected to represent the country.

“He was ready to go and they told him stay home,” said Piergiuseppe Picotti, Ekiru’s agent.

Not long after the announcement of the team, Ekiru called Picotti “to let me go back to Honolulu to defend my title.”

Ekiru has enjoyed a momentous 12 months since his win here a year ago. His wife gave birth to a son shortly after his return home from Honolulu last December. Professionally, Ekiru posted his personal best of 2:04:46 while breaking the course record in the Milano Marathon in Italy in April. He also followed up his half-marathon win at the African Games with another victory in the Lisbon Half-Marathon on Oct. 20 in a personal best 1:00:12.

“It is the grace of God,” said Ekiru, who earlier set race records while winning the Seville Marathon in 2017 (2:07:43) and the Mexico City Marathon in 2018 (2:10:38).

Along with Ekiru, Wilson Chebet returns as a past Honolulu Marathon champion. Chebet, 34, won the race in 2014 and was the runner-up in 2015 and ’17 with the fourth and sixth fastest times in the event’s history.

Registration ends today

Anyone with last-minute plans to run the marathon or Start to Park 10K have until the closing of the Honolulu Marathon Expo today to turn in registration. The final day of the expo at the Hawaii Convention Center opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m.

Traffic advisory

Traffic closures along the marathon route will start Sunday at 12:30 a.m. Areas of downtown, Kakaako, Ala Moana, Waikiki, Diamond Head, Kahala and East Honolulu will be affected. There will be lane closures, tow-away zones and rerouting of TheBus.

The marathon starts at 5 a.m. Sunday along Ala Moana Boulevard. The 26.2-mile route runs through Kakaako, downtown and continues through Ala Moana, Waikiki, Diamond Head, Kahala and into East Honolulu. Runners turn around in Hawaii Kai and head back to the finish line at Kapiolani Park. Details are available at honolulumarathon.org.

By Denise Van Ryzin