Kenya’s Winnie Kosgey currently leads in her category after Tuesday's pioneering virtual running of the Ottawa 10-kilometre race.
Former world half marathon record holder Peres Jepchirchir was among the first supporters to congratulate Kosgey as she broke new ground, becoming the first Kenyan to run in a competitive virtual race.
Jepchirchir herself is a former winner of the Ottawa race.
The Ottawa virtual run was prompted by the cancellation of travel and on-location competition owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
With coronavirus-enforced virtual races requiring an athlete to run alone at his or her own pace, while adhering to social distancing regulations, Kosgey ran her race in Eldoret Tuesday, completing the run in 36 minutes and nine seconds.
That places her second overall in the 30-34 years’ age, mixed gender category, behind Canada’s male runner Brandon Toal who tops overall after running 33:40.0.
But Kosgey leads in the women’s classification with another Canadian, Stephan Struve (39:32.0), third in the overall classification.
Kosgey, who was assigned bib number 2817, was competing to also raise money for charity with a children’s hospital in Canada her beneficiary.
The advantage of a virtual race is that one can run again to improve on timing, but within a specific window of days.
Kosgey launched her assault with a 15-minute warm-up before she lined up to start, with her friends Jebet Kimaiyo and Japheth Serem for company, while maintaining social distance.
Donning in a pink singlet and racing shoes provided by American shoe company New Balance, which is based in Boston, Massachusetts, Kosgey started her race at exactly 6:54am on the Naiberi-Kaptuli road.
The route took her to Eldoret’s Kapsoya estate finish, with Kosgey running at a pace of three minutes and 37 seconds per kilometre.
So far 445 athletes have competed in the race out of the total 900 expected before the final tally is produced.
The window for the race is May 15 to September 7.
Kosgey was happy with her run although the altitude (between 2,145.2 and 2,233.8 metres above the seas level) was a challenge which slowed her down.
Other competitors at sea level are enjoying an advantage, but Kosgey wasn’t too disturbed by the fact that she missed her time target by two minutes.
“It was a good race generally, but running alone is somehow tricky because you lack that team work. In a normal competition, I would have performed better,” she added.
“Running alone is also really challenging because when you compete with a group of athletes, they will push your pace and hence register better results.”
After completing the race, she transferred race data from her Garmin watch to her phone by paring then uploaded to a Garmin connect app before relaying the Garmin file to Sportstats another app which compiles cumulative results.
The sports watch also records heart rate, results, calories, elevation, distance, splits, best pace and shows the route map.
Kosgey is a late starter, having taken running seriously after she was married by an athlete, Justin Lagat, and used to accompany him in various races where she was inspired to start training, something she doesn’t regret.
“Three years into running I don’t regret because my performance has been improving tremendously and in the near future I want to be like the world marathon record holder Brigid Kosgei,” added Kosgey.
Her husband, who is also a freelance journalist, said that technology made it easy to register for the race and the instructions are just simple.
“Virtual race is the way to go because my wife managed to run alone monitoring her and we have handed over our results.
“Many athletes should embrace the technology as we wait for the virus to be contained,” said Lagat.
Her friend Kimayo says Kosgey is an athlete to watch because she is among the first athletes to embrace technology in Kenya and she has good future.
“I came to give support my friend but I managed to run for 5km and of course she was far ahead because of social distancing.
“She is an athlete to watch because she is among the first athletes to embrace technology and this the way to go as we wait for the virus to be contained,” said Kimaiyo.
Japheth Serem a 1,500m, who also gave her support said that he was happy to accompany Kosgey on her historic virtual race.
“Athletes are now suffering and the race organizers should consider the technology which will aid many who are suffering due to the covid-19,” said Serem.
Some of the Kenyan athletes who have participated in the past events and won include Peres Jepchirchir and Gladys Cherono.