Just 21 when she won the New York Marathon (yes, she really was born on May 9,1973), Tegla's running career began at the age of seven, when she left home at 6 a.m. on a chilly January morning to run 10 kilometers to the nearest school. She returned along the same route at 5 p.m. - the first 20k training day of her life, and the first of about 230 such days during her first year of running.
Like most other successful Kenyan runners, her first workouts were conducted in bare feet while carrying an extra load - a backpack full of books which bounced against her thin shoulders as she ran.
The dirt road that extended from her hut to the school was extremely hilly, and oxygen was not exactly in abundant supply at the 7,500-ft altitude, but Tegla soon discovered that she could run for long distances without becoming tired. At the age of 10, she was already-clipping off the lO K distance to her school in a rather nifty 6 minutes, and by the age of 15 she was entering - and winning - races in Kenya against some of the best female runners in the world.
When she turned 15, Tegla had already run about 23,000 miles in her short lifetime, just going back and forth to school. She had created a foundation on which she could build some spectacularly difficult training (see schedule below) as she entered the world of international competition.
With careful coaching from Silas Chesere and Patrick Kimayo, Tegla improved steadily in her late teens, competing at 10,000 meters at the '92 Barcelona Olympics at the tender age of 19 and then finishing fourth at the 10,000 meter world championships in Stuttgart in 1993 - still only 20.
She also finished third at the world half-marathon championships in '93 and set the Kenyan 1O K record in the same year (31:21), complemented by a brilliant 15:08 5 K.
How She Conquered New York
But by far the best performance of her life was at the 1994 New York Marathon, where she blazed across the finish line more than two minutes in front of her nearest competitor, ahead of all but 45 of the race's 29,000 entrants. As she prepared for New York, Tegla often ran about 190 km per week, broken down into the following schedule:
9 a.m.: 120 minutes of running at a pace of 4 minutes per kilometre (30K)
4 p.m.: 50 minutes of running at a tempo of 5 minutes per kilometre (lOK)
9 a.m.: 90 minutes at 3:40 per kilometre (25K)
4 p.m.: 60 minutes at 4 minutes per kilometre (15K)
9 a.m.: speed workout, consisting of all of the following:
- 2000m x 2 at 10K race pace, with a 40 second recovery between the two intervals
- 1000m x 3, a little faster than 10 K race pace, with just 30 second recoveries
- 400m x 2 in 69 seconds each, with 30 second recoveries
- 200m x 5 at close to top speed, also with 30 second rest intervals, and finally
- A 30-minute cooldown. (Not surprisingly, there was no second workout on this day!)
8 a.m.: hill work, comprising 90 minutes of continuous running over very hilly terrain at a pace of 4:30 per kilometer (20 K)
4 p.m.: 60 minutes of easy running at 5 minutes per kilometer (12 K)
9 a.m.: 90 minutes at 4 minutes per kilometer (22.5 K)
4 p.m.: 60 minutes of fartlek training (alternating - Kenyan style - 1 minute fast at 10 K race pace with 1 minute of easy jogging) (17 K)
8 a.m.: 120 minutes at 4 minutes per kilometer (30 K)
4 p.m.: nothing
Church - No Running!
Notice that Tegla, with her trio of hard training days Wednesday through Friday, in which she chalked up almost 90 total kilometers and ran 41 of those on hills or at 10 K pace or faster (45 per cent of the total) was carrying out a variation of Jack Daniels' famous 'Hard-Hard' training scheme.
Except in Tegla's case, she added a third consecutive day of tough work, giving her a 'Hard-Hard-Hard' regime.
Hills Are The Secret
Any person who gets to know the elite Kenyan runners quickly learns that each Kenyan has a unique hill - a special upslope on which heart rate is pushed up to near maximal and quadriceps muscles burn with intense fury as the hill is scaled at rapid speed. The incredible Sammy Lelei (59:24 half marathon) has his Sergoit Hill training sessions, a searing scramble up nearly sheer rock near his Eldoret shamba, which begins at 5,000 feet and ends at higher than 80,000.
The fast-rising Godfrey Kiprotich prefers his Kerio Valley workout, 21 K affair which extends from the foot of the valley to the top of Tambach Hill, an effort which takes Kiprotich only 84 minutes, even though the change in elevation is exactly the same as Lelei's 3,000 ft ascent.
Michael Kapkiai (1994 winner of the Turin Marathon in 2:10:03) fires his way up Kipkoikoi Mountain near Iten, Kenya, along an unbrearbly steep 3-mile trail which - you guessed it - rises a little higher than 3,000 feet in all.
And Tegla has a special hill session too. When she's training in Nakaru, one of her favorite spots in Kenya, she simply rambles up the side of a volcano for her Thursday 'hill' workout. In her case, it's the famous Menengei volcano on the north edge of the city, and Tegla's workout covers 12 K from bottom to top over rough dirt roads and trails. It takes her only 45 minutes and - surprise, surprise - involves a climb from about 4,800 feet to 7,800 feet above sea level during the course of the workout.
"We don't have any special strength-training equipment in Kenya," Tegla said. "So we Kenyan runners simply use our own body weight to supply the resistance as we run up hills. The toughness of our hill workouts is the key reason for our success."
Like about 70 percent of the internationally successful Kenyan runners, Tegla is a member of the Kalenjin tribe, but she hails from a rural area near Kapenguria, not far from Mount Elgon, and is therefore a 'Pokot,' a Kalenjin sub-group which has produced few great runners in the past. That trend seems to be changing now; in fact, one of the bright new female stars in Kenya is another Pokot named Irene Limika, who just happens to be Tegla's younger sister.
Although only 21, Tegla had already faced some disappointments in her running career, including being left off the Kenyan national cross-country team in 1994. However, her mental toughness allows her to keep going even when the road ahead looks rough, as she did in her stunning come-from-behind victory in New York. "If you lose hope, who will be discouraged? It is only you," she said.
There's little chance that Tegla will lose hope in the near future. She's a rare mixture of toughness and gentleness, and - with her determination and clever training - she has a great chance of winning a medal at next year's Olympic Games.