This week I was sent a link to a video about a runner – Eliud Too – who won the Airtricity Dublin Marathon at the end of last year in a tidy time of 2:14:47. The story goes that after the race, Eliud went in to the studios of Dublin-based media production company Two Captains, to talk about the race and the impact that the prize money would have on his life. The Two Captains team said that the conversation was humbling and enlightening.
Then some time later, Too sent the Two Captains team a video from his home showing them what he had spent his winnings on, including a pair of cows that he had named after the people he met at the Two Captains studios. You can see the video here:
Obviously I think that this is a fantastic story and it is great to see how running can help to improve the lives of not just successful runners but their families and almost certainly the other people around them.
But this film also raises a question in my mind. How can European and American athletes be expected to compete with runners from east Africa when the motivations are so different?
In the Dublin race the prize for the first senior man is €10,000. For someone who lives in or near Eldoret in Kenya – like Eliud – that is a significant amount of money. The average annual income in Kenya is about $360, so €10,000 represents somewhere in the region of 28 years average earnings. For people like Too, who lives in a rural area, the average income is possibly even lower and the impact of the Dublin prize money even higher.
But what about a local runner? Well to provide a little context, the average rent for a small apartment in Dublin is around €1,200 per month. So that win in the marathon wouldn’t pay the rent for a year. And there’d be nothing for food, bills, clothing, transport, etc.
It is probably massively overly simplistic to say this, but if years and years of dedication, sacrifice, hard training and stress put you in a position where you might win a race that will pay your rent for six months, are you going to have the same motivation as a runner for whom that same win will change their lives and the lives of their family (and probably friends) beyond recognition? I have just finished Adharanand Finn’s new book about Japanese runners (full review coming soon) and he makes the same point when asking why that nation doesn’t produce better runners – the motivation to go one step further doesn’t exist. If you want to live a comfortable life in Europe or the US or Japan or Australia you can probably find better and more reliable ways to do that than racing to try to win €10,000 a couple of times a year.
So hats off to Eliud Too and all the other runners in east Africa who are motivated to push themselves to their absolute limits in training and at races. For them a win is a life-changing experience and as long as that remains the case, I believe that the best runners in the world will continue to come from areas of the world where race prizes are worth the sacrifice.