Vincent Ogutu
Caption for the landscape image:

Dr Ogutu: Strathmore boss takes up running to support needy students

Scroll down to read the article

Vincent Ogutu, the Vice-Chancellor of Strathmore University during the interview at his office in the University on May 16, 2024. 

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

Growing up in Nairobi’s Eastlands, Dr Vincent Ogutu would never have dreamt of pursuing education to the highest level in Kenya, let alone abroad.

His parents led a modest life and didn’t own a car, leaving him to pretty much battle his way meritoriously through the journey of books. Now aged 54, his early academic trip took him through St Teresa’s Primary School in Eastleigh, Strathmore School for his ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels and the National Youth Service College in Gilgil before joining the University of Nairobi for his undergraduate studies.

And he didn’t disappoint, working hard all the way up, his resilience rewarded with a PhD in Organisational Management at New Jersey’s Rutgers University in September, 2015, a Fulbright Scholarship beneficiary.

Three years later, he would be appointed Vice Chancellor-designate at Nairobi’s respected Strathmore University after having served as Deputy Vice Chancellor (Planning and Development) and Vice Dean (Executive Talent Development).

He assumed leadership officially as VC on March 30, 2023, taking over the reins from Prof John Odhiambo and becoming only the second Vice Chancellor at the university.

For 10 years, between 1996 and 2006, Dr Ogutu had also served as Deputy Principal at his alma mater, Strathmore School, charged with -- as part of the school’s Academic Council -- all recruitment of teachers and staff, admission of students, finance, budgeting, administration and public relations.

He also holds an MSc in Financial Economics from the University of London and a BA in Economics from the University of Nairobi. But despite his extremely busy, scholarly and administrative schedule as VC, Dr Ogutu has done one thing religiously – run!

Bitten by the running bug, the top scholar has, for the last four years, been organizing the “VC’s Run”, a charity race day featuring runs over 21 kilometres (half marathon), 10 kilometres and five kilometres, all these to raise funds to support scholarship programmes for needy students at the university.

There’s massive learning drawn from spending some time with the VC, sampling both his athletic and academic lives as he prepares for this weekend’s (Saturday, May 25) VC’s Run, the fourth since its inception.

Vincent Ogutu and Tuzo Kithinji

Strathmore University Vice Chancellor Vincent Ogutu with his training partner Tuzo Kithinji, a Strathmore alumnus, during a training session in Karen on May 11, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi| Nation

“This (organising the VC’s Run) is personal for me, because I grew up on scholarships. When I went to secondary school, I got an almost full ride as my parents couldn’t afford to get me to Strathmore School…” he explained in his minimalist office at the university’s old wing.

The office is paperless, with a cabinet on the right-side corner and a round conference table for four to the left. A model of an Airbus A350-900 on his desk reminds him of his interactions with the French aircraft manufacturer’s executives.

“If I was to leave, I could be out of this office in just five minutes,” he jokes about his minimalistic work ethic after ushering us into his work station, moments after we were well received by lively and lovely Executive Manager Carol Wakori.

“I know what scholarships did for me, and I’d like to give the opportunity to other people who have a talent and a dream, and so when we do these fund-raising runs, we are doing it for them,” he reflects, matter-of-factly Dr Ogutu and some friends conceptualised the idea of a VC’s Run to raise scholarship funds four years ago.

“We started it during Covid, when I saw a tweet by the Strathmore University Foundation saying ‘if anyone does any exercise run, please log it in and tell your friends to pay for every kilometre,” he recalls.

“So I started running and people started pledging amounts. Some other people said ‘if you run 300 kilometres, I’ll give you 100,000 shillings and I said, game on! Let’s do this! “I remember one day, the Vice Chancellor of Riara University said to me ‘Vincent, whatever distance you run tomorrow, I will pay Sh1,000 per kilometre.’

“I had already run the previous day and was tired, but I thought Sh1,000 was a good deal. So I said let me do at least five kilometres… I ran the five, but then after the fifth kilometre, I realised I was going fast at five minutes per kilometre and in another five minutes I could earn another thousand. Who earns money at that level?

“So I just kept going and after 15 kilometres, I’d reached home and I sent him a message saying:

‘Bwana VC, you owe me Sh15,000. Please send it to the Strathmore University Mpesa account for the scholarships.’

“Then at one point, a millionaire from Europe challenged me and my friends to run an ultra-marathon and said he would give half a million shillings… we did it! And it’s after this that somebody then said, ‘let’s start a VC’s Run’ and that’s how the idea came.” The VC maintains a pretty strict running regime, combining it flawlessly with his academic engagements.

Vincent Ogutu

Vincent Ogutu the Vice-Chancellor of Strathmore University, warms down after a routine morning run on May 11, 2024. 

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

He confesses to having been bitten by the running bug, and is currently winding up his training for Saturday’s VC’s Run at which he will tackle the 21-kilometre half marathon distance.

“I started training eight weeks ago. I did a trial run, sent the results to coach Dedan Miricho and told him ‘This is my baseline, I need you to shave off 15 minutes from this time.’

“He said it would take a lot of work, and he sent an eight-week plan. I run four times a week with different objectives. “Most of the runs are easy runs, especially in the first four weeks and then you start intensifying.

You are doing hill repeats, intervals around the track, tempo runs, steady runs, and today is what is called a fast finish run, a dress rehearsal,” he explained at Karen where we caught up with him for his morning run. Just what drives Dr Ogutu’s passion in running?

“I get a lot of reach-outs, even on email, with people saying ‘I’d like to study at Strathmore, but it’s so expensive and there’s no way my parents can pay.’ “It breaks my heart. “And so when we run and people are inspired by the run and give money for it, then these students can come to class.

“And maybe they are from Turkana, from Kwale, from somewhere in East Africa, DRC Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia… We have students from all over Africa and it’s because of the generosity of people who are inspired by our runs.” And when did the VC start running religiously?

“I started running when I was in high school, not because I was training, but because I come from Eastlands so we walked a lot,” he flashes back. “My parents didn’t have a car and I couldn’t be driven to school, so I’d take a bus or matatu up to a certain point and then walk to school, and walk really fast.

So just because I used to walk fast, I became the cross-country champion without even training, so I knew I had a natural talent for it.

“After I finished school I decided to keep it up and I’d run about 20 minutes every week, on a Sunday, and I’ve been doing that my entire life and then I started getting into races during covid when I realised you can actually run for charity and people will give money.”

And it’s not just running for the VC, but he has also attempted a few ultra-marathon races, runs close to 100 kilometres long.

Vincent Ogutu and Elias Makori

Vincent Ogutu, the Vice-Chancellor of Strathmore University (right) with Elias Makori (Nation Media Group's Lead Editor - Sports and Integration Projects) during the interview on May 16, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

Not even the rain can break Dr Ogutu’s running resolve. “There’s no such thing as bad weather. There’s soft people,” he observes. What about his diet?

“You need to increase proteins because you are destroying and rebuilding your muscles every time. But what is rebuilt is stronger than what is destroyed and we are just replacing cells with stronger, better ones,” he advises.

“So we go up on proteins – and we have to eat healthy so don’t skip the vegetables, the salads, the fruits, have more of that.

The best is when you know which ones you like – that combination that you like – and then it becomes a lifestyle.

“Then immediately after the run you have to hydrate and within half an hour or one hour, you should eat something and get the energy back. The VC also values quality sleep.

“You need good sleep as well, and when getting close to a run or serious practice session – no alcohol because it takes a long time to clear off your system. Running gives you the discipline to eat well, drink in moderation… it’s just a beautiful way living.” His typical day?

“I typically don’t run in the morning, unlike most runners, because in my case I wake up, take a shower, meditate for half an hour and pray; go for Mass, which is typically the first thing in the morning, and that eliminates my chance of a morning run.

“Then I have breakfast, go to work and then leave early enough for training. So on the days when I have running, I have to leave as early as 4.30pm because most of the training will take one-and-ahalf hours to two hours.

“I sleep for about seven hours, but my target for sleep is sevenand-a-half hours – if I get there I’d be so fresh and efficient if I succeed.” Dr Ogutu has deep respect for Kenya’s distance-running athletes, the role models he looks up to.

“Henry Wanyoike (multiple Paralympic Games medallist) is a blind runner and is always going around giving talks in schools and inspiring Kenyans – Henry is super inspirational and he always runs the VC’s Run with me and encourages me, and I always run the Henry Wanyoike Charity Run. “Then of course the G.O.A.T. Eliud Kipchoge.

Vincent Ogutu and Lornah Kiplagat

Strathmore University Vice Chancellor Vincent Ogutu with Multiple world distance running champion Lornah Kiplagat during the launch of the Lorna Kiplagat Sports Coaching App at the University in Nairobi on May 17, 2024.

Photo credit: John Kariuki | Nation Media Group

“He’s a reader, which is something very difficult to get in Kenya these days. The fact that he reads books and he thinks is just amazing! “Then of course his lifestyle, his dedication to his family, his discipline… you don’t hear any scandals, or any funny things that he did… “Then his simplicity, mingling with everyone, eating his ugali, sleeping in those bunks. He is basically almost like one of these monks.

Very inspirational!

“A shout out to Eliud! He’s very inspirational to us runners and to the younger generation on how people should live their lives and breaking barriers.” Dr Ogutu sees sport as a metaphor for life.

“That’s why it’s so exciting when we watch sports because it mirrors the struggles we have in life… seeing someone set an ambitious target and getting it or almost getting it is a metaphor of how our lives are.

“The discipline in everything you learn in life will be mirrored in life” During our Karen interview, Dr Ogutu is accompanied by his day’s training partner, Strathmore University graduate Tuzo Kithinji Munene.

“Tuzo here ran 100 kilometres in honour of his (late) dad. He lives such an inspirational life for a young man who just graduated a year ago. Even these younger people inspire me,” the VC pays tribute to his young protégé.

What sort of impact would he like the VC’s Run to have and to be remembered for?

“One, I’d like it to be remembered for the cause we are running for, that we are putting people in class who would otherwise be in the slums in a remote part of Kenya of Africa, unable to access such a good education as a Strathmore Education.

“Second is promoting running as a lifestyle and making it enjoyable because we set different targets. There are those running the 21km and want to do it at a certain pace and overcome some barrier.

There are some doing the same for the 10km and others for the 5km. Some are thinking of it as a walk, some come for the bouncing castles and the music, Zumba and having a day out with family and friends.

“We want people to have fun in a healthy way and we see less and less of that in society… we’d rather promote a lifestyle having incredible fun and promoting a nice, healthy lifestyle,” he concludes.

Registration for the VC’s Run is ongoing at the university and online at: