I climb mountains in a bid to reach my lofty dreams

Patrick Kipng'eno (left) and Philemon Kiriago celebrate after registering 1-2 at the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Thailand in November 2022. 

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Apart from running, Kiriago enjoys watching handball games.

  • The second born in a family of five was a handball goalkeeper at Kenyoro High School but ditched the sport because of an injury.

  •  He attended Ekerubo College where he studied masonry.

Philemon Ombogo Kiriago is a mountain runner who made a name for himself in 2022 after finishing second in both the Valsir Mountain Running World Cup and World Mountain and Trail Running Championships held in different countries around the world. The youngster from Nyamira County shares his athletics career journey, as well as his dreams and aspirations. 

Was mountain running your dream career?
Not really, I wanted to be a police officer. I am 21 years old, so I think I still have time to realise that dream.

What challenges have you encountered in mountain running?
The biggest one is lack of support in training. I’ve had to contend with lack of a proper diet, training facilities and a standard training programme. I also had a really small team to train with. Additionally, so many people discouraged me and told me that I would not make it.

I overcame these challenges by interacting with successful athletes who helped me access training facilities. They also reminded me to stay focused and ignore the doubters.

What benefits have you realised from this sport?
Due to some great performances I have posted, I have earned prize money, which I used to upgrade my home from a grass-thatched hut to a modern house. The money has also enabled me to pay school fees for my siblings, and improve my lifestyle. That change of living standards has greatly boosted the morale of upcoming athletes. They now believe that with hard work and determination, they can also become good athletes and improve their lifestyles.

Apart from running, what else do you do for a living?
I am into farming. I rear chicken and cattle. 

How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect you?
Various training camps in the country were closed, including mine, to prevent the spread of the virus. This meant we had to abandon our training schedules. Also, there were no races to compete in, which means I couldn’t earn any money during that period.

Would you say the sport of mountain climbing is growing in Kenya?

Most athletes don't like mountain running because it is a very demanding sport and the course can be quite challenging. Those who support mountain running are also very few so it will take time before it grows in popularity. 

Your goals for 2023? 
I plan to record even better performances this year to boost my chances of joining the military, which has always been my dream. 

Out of the many mountain races you have done, which is your best? 
My highlight was winning a silver medal at the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Thailand in November 2022. It was a big moment for me and also for the country as Kenya won gold through Patrick Kipng'eno, and I got silver. 

Do you have any advice for those interested in mountain running? 
I was introduced to mountain running by an agency called Run2gether, so I would advise aspiring athletes to train hard in order to be selected in local teams and get signed by good agencies.