After even a short walk through Nairobi’s stifling heat and throat-clogging car fumes coming from the long queue of ‘Matatu’ (Nairobi commercial buses), travelling along Rift Valley, en route Kapsisiywa, Nandi County, the continental ridge system that stretches from Kenya to Ethiopia is a welcome oasis for athletes who want to make their mark in long or short distance races.
Top athletes like Eliud Kipchoge, (who is from Nandi County), David Rudisha, Wilson Kipsang among others, cut their teeth in long-distance race training in the rift valley.
Today, it is no surprise that Kenyans enjoy getting drunk on stories of their own exceptional performances in this sport.
The country’s outstanding success in long-distance races because of genetic makeup and other peculiar features have left a deep-seated national psyche that the country can always beat the odds.
But a world-famous brand can be a blessing and a curse. Ask Falilat Ogunkoya, one of Nigeria’s foremost athletes who dominated 400m in her heyday.
Ogunkoya and some other Nigerian quarter millers were asked if they would give it a try in 800m and 1500m and the response was “Long distance? No thanks.”
But someone is ready to change that belief.
Ordinarily, Nigeria is better known for her prowess in the sprints and all effort to rub shoulders with their East African counterpart in the past had come against several brick walls despite training some athletes in Plateau State. To many, change will not come quickly.
But a Nigerian but U.S.-based long-distance runner Edose Ibadin is determined to close the enormous gulf between Nigerians and the Kenyans, and he is leaving no stone unturned to prove the possibility of Nigerians excelling in long distance races
That the year 2020 wreaked much havoc globally across all sectors of life; including sports is not contestable. Apart from the thousands who have died because of the coronavirus pandemic, many activities were cancelled or altered.
However, amid the chaos, a Nigerian athlete based in the United States punched the air to set a new national record, breaking a record he also held.
Ibadin is not your regular athlete as he is both a gem on and off the field; combining so well his athletic career and education and he told PREMIUM TIMES how he has perfectly managed both.
“I have two degrees. Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and Masters in Information Technology/Software Engineering,” Ibadin proudly disclosed to PREMIUM TIMES.
“The best way to combine school and sports is to focus on what’s in front of you.
“If you’re in the classroom, be fully in the classroom and if you’re on the track, be fully on the track. Both the body and the mind need to be fully present wherever you are. It’s difficult to do it, but it’s not impossible either,” Ibadin added.
Ibadin faced an injury during the early part of 2020 before the coronavirus epidemic hit, but he got healed and came back to training until the pandemic hit him personally in October.
“Before the pandemic hit, I got hit with my first injury in the posterior tibial tendon. So during January/February 2020, I couldn’t run at all and had to use other forms of cardio to maintain some type of fitness. When I got cleared to run, it was roughly three weeks before the pandemic. So during the initial lockdown, I was just grateful to run, and I knew if I could take advantage of the situation, things would go well.
“In October, I had tested positive for covid, which was another blow because, during that time, I was slowly running again to prepare for the season. Luckily, my symptoms were very mild, and I recovered pretty quickly.”
His injury between January- February served as his most challenging moment.
“My most challenging moment had to be the injury. Doctors were saying it was a navicular stress fracture or post TIB tendonitis. I had to get an MRI to see exactly what it was, and if it was the stress fracture, I definitely would’ve missed the Olympics (before covid). It ended up being the tendonitis, which allowed me to get cleared much sooner.”
He says his most priced achievement would have to be bouncing back from injury and staying mentally strong during the pandemic to even better his previously held national record.
Despite all these hurdles, Ibadin held on mentally and was still able to run a massive 800m Personal Best of 1:44.87s which would have been a new national record, but the competition was only a time trial.
“A lot of races got cancelled, but luckily my team was able to put on some time trials with FAT electronic timing. During that period, I was able to run 1:44.87 and I know I can do it again and beyond in 2021. I grew a lot mentally during this period and I am grateful for that process.”
Most people have long-term aspirations but the 26-year-old would prefer to take one day at a time.
“Aspirations for me is to make the Tokyo Olympics and World Championships. I would like to continue breaking records and uplift others along the way. Hard to see far into the future when I’m doing my best to be fully present each and every single day.”
Asked if he was to go back in time, what would be that one thing he would change, Ibadin said he would have been happier if he had taken cognisance of the mental part of athletics sooner.
“One thing I would change is to do more of the mental work early on. 2020 is when I started taking the mental side of athletics seriously and I often wish I started sooner.
“One of my biggest strengths is consistency, most great runners have had that skill, and it is a huge key in longevity. Good, consistent work can go such a long way. I’ve been blessed to hold four national records (800m Indoor/Outdoor, 1000m, and 600m). I think the reason I’ve been able to maintain the 800m ones is because I don’t really focus on the records. Instead, I try to focus on winning as many races as I can and the time usually takes care of itself.
The U.S.-based athlete gave us tips on his success and most especially how he has held multiple national records and maintains them.
“Now I’m solely focused on the process it takes to get to the Olympics rather than the Olympics itself.”
Despite the multiple records, Ibadin doesn’t feel accomplished since he started representing Nigeria in 2017.
He said, “I don’t feel fully accomplished yet. Running at the world level can be very challenging, and I am still learning the ropes of it each time I wear the uniform. I want to make the World/Olympic finals and medal at the continental level as well.”
For a man who turned deaf ears to clarion calls to jettison his dream of representing Nigeria given AFN’s battered image at home and abroad, perhaps a trip to rift Rift Valley (just like other European athletes do) for weeks of training with Kenyan athletes could be the turning point in his career. This is knowing full well that competing at the world stage will require an intensive training programme.
Besides, the rift valley is now home to all and Kenyan athletics officials still believe in the local adage which says “No matter how much the world changes, cats will never lay eggs”.
It remains to be seen if Ibadin will change that in years to come.
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