Eat maize. Win marathons! Ask the Kenyans. Eight out of the top-10 in the men’s Elite Marathon in this year’s Mumbai Marathon are Kenyans. In fact, seven of the past 10 editions of Mumbai Marathon have seen a winner from Kenya.
This year’s winner, 30-year old Evans Ruto, was so good that he missed the course record by a split second. Joining him on the podium were compatriots Lawrence Kimayo and Philemon Baaru. All three ensured that the Kenyan flag flew high at the medal presentation ceremony.
Ethopians, Hailu Mekonnen and Wosen Zeleke, who too finished in the top-ten, must surely have felt left out.
One of the questions aimed at the top three Kenyans during the post-race press conference was: what was it that made Kenyans gobble up the miles faster than others on the planet? For, if the Mumbai Marathon wasn’t enough, the Kenyans have given two other examples of fine display — at the New York and Boston marathons.
So, what sets Kenyans apart when it comes to long distance running? Surely, it cannot be a lion on the tail! Surprisingly, the answer wasn’t the usual “hard work, dedication, sincerity and commitment” rant. Instead, the word spoken was ‘Ugali’.
Ugali, what? Winner Ruto was quick to clear the air on that. “What makes us strong is maize. Our local dish called Ugali is filled with proteins and vitamins, ensuring that we get the right amount of nutrition.”
Ugali, as it turns out, is Kenya’s staple diet. The main ingredient is maize. Ground maize is cooked in water and turned into a porridge. Considering how basic the ingredients (just maize and water) required to make Ugali is, it comes as no surprise to see the dish’s popularity among Kenyans, though one could add variety to the dish with vegetables or meat stew.
A lot can be said about the health benefits of Ugali so far as long distance running goes. Nutrients in maize reduce chances of cancer and diabetes, increases vision, boosts immunity and ensures longevity. What helps Kenyan runners even more is that maize helps in regulating the heart rate.
No wonder Evans Ruto is 30, and running and winning! At the rate the country’s progressing and with Ugali by its side, age is definitely just a number for Kenyans.