What you need to know:
- She finished fifth in the Durban Spar Grand Prix Series 10km held on June 23 before winning Nelson Mandela 10km series on July 7 and August 9 respectively
- Come 2014, Jepchirchir won the Discovery Cross Country 10km race on debut, a win that caught the eyes of Kenya Prisons coaches, who invited her to their cross country event in Nairobi
- Jepchichir reckons that the world is yet to see the best of her and tells Kenyans to prepare for surprises at the Tokyo Olympic Games
Peres Jepchirchir is the epitome of resilience, hard work and discipline.
Coming from an area that is not so synonymous with athletics, she has gone on to win the World Half Marathon title twice, a feat that only legendary athletes Tecla Loroupe, Lorna Kiplagat and Paula Radcliffe have achieved.
She is so far the only athlete to have broken the women’s only half marathon world record twice and is among the five Kenyan women to have broken the mixed gender half marathon world record.
That Olympic glory beckons for her goes without saying with the athlete having blasted to the fifth fastest time ever in a marathon just six months to the Tokyo Summer Games.
For her, it’s by God’s grace that she has been able to make good money from her running career, which has enabled her to invest besides helping uplift the living standard of her father, uncle and the needy cases in her extended family.
Challenges were abound especially for her especially coming from a typical African extended family setup.
Interestingly, she was only two-years-old when her mother Salina, the second wife of Paul Jepkwony, who had three wives, passed away.
The last born in a family of five boys and three girls was placed 24th overall to the peasant father, who had 28 children; 16 girls and 12 boys.
Circumstances forced Jepchirchir, who was born on September 27, 1993 in Sugoi in Uasin Gishu County, to live with her maternal uncle Joseph Barno at the age of four.
She wobbled through her elementary education, starting at Kapkong Primary School where she stayed up to Class four before moving to Sambut Primary School where she eventually cleared in 2008.
She went to Form one at Christ of the King in Sambut in 2009 but only lasted a term there before she was transferred to Kosirai Girls where she was again moved midway through Form three in 2011 to Foresto Secondary School in Turbo.
Her uncle wasn’t able to pay her school fees and she therefore failed to join Form four in 2012.
Uasin Gishu County is known to produce some of Kenya’s top athletes but not Sugoi where Deputy President William Ruto hails from.
Amidst the struggles to get education, the diminutive Jepchirchir embraced athletics while in class six at Sambut Primary School, a sport that would later rescue her and family from poverty.
“I didn’t pick it from anyone and I have always felt that it’s God, who was preparing me for something greater in life,” says Jepchirchir noting it's her cousin Noah Barno, who encouraged her to pursue the sport after noting her enormous talent.
“I was into football then as a striker right from primary school but Noah dissuaded me from taking the sport for athletics. Noah and some of my teachers accompanied me to primary school championships even though I didn’t go far,” says Jepchirchir.
Jepchirchir was brought to the real world of athletics when she joined Kosirai where she met the likes of 2018 Commonwealth Games 10,000m champion Stacy Ndiwa, Rebecca Chesir, Immaculate Chebet and Angelina Tanui.
“That is when it dawned on me that athletics had opportunities when Ndiwa and the rest travelled outside the country with the national junior team. It really inspired me,” recalls Jepchirchir.
With athletics in her blood, Jepchirchir decided to hang around Sugoi but fully venture into the sport. That saw her join her friends in a training group in Kapsabet in 2013.
It didn’t take long before she secured some races in South Africa but faced challenges when the person who was to facilitate went underground.
Davis Ng’eno, who had occasionally visited Jepchirchir’s friends in Kapsabet, stepped in to purchase her the air ticket for her maiden trip abroad.
Jepchirchir found her way to Durban where she stayed for two months with a local couple that tentatively managed her races.
She finished fifth in the Durban Spar Grand Prix Series 10km held on June 23 before winning Nelson Mandela 10km series on July 7 and August 9 respectively. “I got 1,000 rands (Sh80,000) from the first race and I sent the money to Ng'eno to repay the air ticket.”
She had overstayed in South Africa for a month but the couple paid for a return ticket to Kenya besides giving her an additional Sh20,000. She was briefly held at Oliver Tambo Airport for questioning after her overstay but later released and taken straight to the waiting plane.
“I didn’t care how much I got from the races since all I needed exposure. I was glad that the couple housed me for two months and even sent me an additional Sh32,000 even after leaving South Africa,” says Jepchichir.
Jepchirchir was clueless about what awaited her in Kapsabet. Ng'eno proposed for her hand in marriage. “Ok, I was smitten but completely shocked since I was only 20. We didn't have a house in Kapsabet but we had to look for one,” says Jepchichir.
Jepchirchir went on to sign up for the 10km race during the Safaricom Kisumu Marathon on December 15, 2013. But the race was not on card which forced her to go for a full marathon.
She surprisingly finished third in 2:47:33 to close her season. “It was unbelievable...my intention was to run then drop out but I felt strong to finish the race,” says Jepchirchir.
Come 2014, Jepchirchir won the Discovery Cross Country 10km race on debut, a win that caught the eyes of Kenya Prisons coaches, who invited her to their cross country event in Nairobi. She would finish fourth to earn a ticket to the National Cross Country Championships.
The National Cross Country pre-race focus was on Faith Chepng'etich and Mercy Cherono, who had just graduated to senior levels after chequered careers at junior level.
But it’s Jepchirchir, who took command of the race to lead all the way until the last lap when one of her spikes came off. That saw Chepng'etich overtake her to win the race. She settled second, beating Cherono to third place.
That earned her a place in the national team for the Africa Cross Country Championships in Kampala. Besides, Italian Gianni Demadonna approached her inquiring if she had a manager. Demadonna offered her $10,000 (Sh1 million) to join his management.
“I struck me since I didn’t know what managers and management were all about. I returned to Kapsabet and told Ng'eno but it took coaches Nahashon Kibon and Bruno Bush to convince me to take the deal for a start,” notes Jepchirchir.
Things didn’t go well in Kampala. The tough training in Kenya took toll on her as she collapsed during the third lap. “I was told my sugar levels went low hence the adverse effects,” recalls Jepchirchir.
Jepchirchir went on to run her maiden half marathon in France, winning the Montbeliard-Belfort Le Lion Half Marathon in 1:09:12 on September 28, 2014. A month later she won Marseilles-Cassis International in 1:10:04.
“I was shocked when Gianni sent me Sh360,000 from the races after collecting his fee. He told me to open a dollar account,” says Jepchirchir, who used her earnings to purchase land in Kapsabet.
She secured victories at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Race 10km, Masai Mara Half Marathon and Family Bank Marathon to add more acreage to the land in Kapsabet from the prize money.
Jepchirchir was then picked to pace at the 2015 London Marathon where she got Sh700,000. The same year, she participated in half marathon races in France, Canada, Czech and Angola. “I used the money from these races to put up our house at the land we had just bought in Kapsabet,” noted Jepchirchir.
Jepchirchir wedded Ng'eno in December, 2015. “My father was initially against me getting involved in relationships since I was still young but in the end, he had to accept since Davis had all the good intentions for me,” says Jepchichir. “That is when I dawned on me that I am not officially a big woman,” she added with a telling smile amidst giggles.
Gianni thought Jepchirchir was now ripe for the bigger stage in 2016. He told the athlete that she stood a good chase making the national team for the World Half Marathon that was due in Cardiff, United Kingdom.
However, she had to look for time and the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon that was coming up on February 12 presented a good venue. Jepchirchir was to settle fourth in personal best 66:39 at RAK, behind compatriots Cynthia Limo and Gladys Cherono and Ethiopian Genet Yalew.
The performance earned her a place in Team Kenya for the second time.
Then Gianni suggested to her that it wasn’t right for her to continue training alone in Kapsabet without a coach. He told her to join others in Iten besides handing her to coach Nicole Gabriella.
Jepchirchir declined shifting to Iten besides feeling strange having a coach for the first time.
“I declined to go but opened myself to Gabriella's training program that I used for my World Half Marathon preparations,” says Jepchirchir.
Then Gianni came with a shocker when he told her that Gabriella wasn’t sure about her after she finished fourth in RAK. “I had already joined Team Kenya camp in Nairobi then. It really pained me considering that I had trained well and religiously followed Gabriela’s training plan,” said Jepchirchir.
Jepchirchir shared her pain and predicament with Catherine Ndereba, who was one of the team handlers. “Ndereba counselled me, telling me to believe in myself. She assured me of my good shape as we prayed together.”
Then Jepchirchir would stun the world, guiding Cynthia Jerotich and Mary Wacera to sweep off all the podium places in the women's race. Geoffrey Kamworor and Bedan Karoki claimed a 1-2 finish in the men's race.
“Gianni called to congratulate me saying it was unbelievable. It felt nice proving Gabriella wrong,” says Jepchirchir. “I wouldn’t keep a coach who didn’t have confidence in me or wasn’t sure about me. I never talked to Gabriela gain.”
Jepchirchir would go on to win Yangzhou Half Marathon in China, defended her Usti nad Labem Half Marathon title before winning her maiden Valencia Half Marathon Marathon title.
Jepchirchir took her great form to 2017 with the intention of participating at the Kampala World Cross Country.
She made her second appearance at RAK Half Marathon on February 10 to win the race in a World Record (mixed gender) of 1:05:06, erasing a two-year record of 1:05:09 set by Florence Kiplagat.
“I was in great shape, having trained even on Christmas Day morning before going to church. I knew I was up for a first race but with no world record on my mind,” says Jepchirchir, who later discovered that she was one-month pregnant when winning in RAK.
She took a break to deliver a baby girl on October 28 and would resume training in April 2018 when Natalie was six months old. Jepchirchir returned to the road in October and finished third at the Kass International Marathon.
She finished sixth on her third appearance at RAK Half Marathon in 2019, won Lisbon Half Marathon before closing the year with victory at Saitama Marathon in 2:23:50.
Jepchirchir opened the 2020 season at RAK Half Marathon but dropped out after 3km with a bad flu and congested chest.
Jepchirchir was to make her maiden appearance at the World Marathon Majors at the Boston Marathon in April but the race was cancelled owing to Covid-19.
Adidas would come up with Adizero Pro to counter Nikes Vaporfly Elite shoes. They were to test the new shoes by attempting to break the half marathon world record.
Prague Half Marathon on September 5 in Czech was to be the venue and Jepchirchir was among the athletes selected for the event.
“Lucky enough I never stopped training even with Covid-19 restrictions. I was told we were to take a shot at women’s only half marathon world record, something I didn’t know existed,” says Jepchirchir.
Interestingly, Jepchirchir would set the women’s only half marathon record in 1:05:34, smashing the previous time of 1:06:11 set by Ethiopian Netsanet Gudeta at the World Half marathon on March 24, 2018.
“I would have run a better time if I took off to slow pace at the initial stage then go for the kill from 10km or 15km marks. It was a good learning experience for me,” says Jepchirchir who was then included in Team Kenya for the World Half marathon on October 17 in Gdynia, Poland.
Jepchichir was so sure her world record would be lowered by virtue of the strong field that included former half marathon world record holder Joycilline Jepkosgei, Gudeta and mixed gender half marathon record holder Ababel Yeshaneh.
Jepchirchir was under immense pressure considering she had just recovered from pneumonia three days before departure.
Nevertheless, Jepchirchir took command of the race and would blow away the field to win the race in yet another women’s only half marathon world record time of 1:05:16.
Melat Yisak Kejeta from Germany settled second in 1:05:18 as Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw came in third in 1:05:19.
Jepchirchir wrapped up her 2020 season with victory at the Valencia Marathon where she ran the fifth fastest time in women's marathon - 2:17:16.
“I had planned to run a personal best of 2:19 after the Ethiopians pitched 2:17. I ended up running a beautiful race even after I almost considered withdrawing since I was tired,” says Jepchichir whose victory was enough to earn her a place in the Marathon team for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Jepchirchir had the option of running at the Istanbul Half Marathon on April 4 but had recovered from another bout of pneumonia.
That saw World marathon champion Ruth Chepng'etich break her women’s only half marathon world record with a new time of 1:04:02. “Records are set to be broken. I am sure it won’t last for long before someone breaks it,” says Jepchirchir
“What I can say is that 2020 was the year of abundance and blessing for me but also came with great lessons owing to Covid-19. I have learned to be thankful for what comes around and invest in the little that comes by,” says Jepchirchir.
Jepchirchir notes that even if she is to hang her running shoes now, she will never toil in life. “I thank God that it will never reach a time where I will start selling my property for lacking because I have invested well,” says Jepchirchir.
Jeochirchir has built 12 self-contained rental houses in Kapsabet town besides owning 12 acres of tea plantation in Kapsabet. She has also managed to build her father and maternal uncle modern houses.
“I am happy that my father is comfortable and most of my extended family members,” says Jepchirchir, who thanks God for her athletics talent.
Jepchichir reckons that the world is yet to see the best of her and tells Kenyans to prepare for surprises at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“A team that has world marathon champion Ruth Chepng'etich, marathon world record holder Brigid Kosgei, Vivian Cheruiyot and myself surely ought to win if not sweep all the podium,” says Jepchirchir.
Jepchirchir wants to venture into coach besides setting up an athletics camp in Sugoi when she decides to hang up her running shoes. “I pick Sugoi because the place is dripping with talent. Most schools in this area don’t support athletics and I want to change that,” says Jepchirchir adding that the secret to success is hard work, not losing hope and putting God first.