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Success rubs off on Kimutai

Elijah Lagat went there prior to winning the Boston Marathon in 2000. Ditto Moses Tanui the last time he ran here. Paul Tergat is known to make frequent visits. In fact, some of Kenya's top distance runners include a stop at Benjamin Kosgei Kimutai's massage therapy clinic in downtown Eldoret, Kenya, as part of their training regimen.

They know that not only is he among the best in the business in that field, but who better to understand a marathoner's physical woes than someone who has felt their pain?

This is the same Kimutai who ran in only his second career marathon in Boston last year; he was first among a mostly Kenyan pack of lead runners through the 20-mile mark but eventually lost ground at Heartbreak Hill and finished second, 23 seconds behind fellow Kenyan Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot.

Kimutai trains in a camp in Kaptagat, not far from Tanui's training facility.

The man who makes certain muscles are nimble for the 26-mile event hopes his limbs and oxygen tank will serve him better than last year, particularly during the stretch. After last year's race, he was quoted as saying, "After 24 miles, I had nothing to offer. I just said, `Let me remain in position and keep going. Let me keep my distance.' "

"[This year], I'm going to start out conservative, so I can have enough [stamina] when I get toward Heartbreak Hill and the finish," said Kimutai, who won the Amsterdam Marathon in 2002 then finished third in the event last year. His 2002 win was among the fastest winning debuts of all time. His 2:07:26 mark there makes him the fastest man in Monday's Boston field.

Kimutai consulted some former Boston runners whom he treats about the course and he said they told him that "Boston is a tough, tough course." Then they cautioned him about Heartbreak Hill. But not knowing the course, he miscalculated when he would approach the area.

"That cost me a few places," said Kimutai. "I tried to break away, but it was so hard for me to break away."

He hopes that an alteration in training for the event will remedy that.

"Last year was my first time in Boston, so my training last year was different than it was this year," he said. "I didn't know the course last year. This year, I've added some more work out on the hills because I know the course more."

Since Boston, Kimutai has placed 10th at the Rock 'n' Roll Half-Marathon in Virginia Beach and 11th in the San Blas Half-Marathon in Puerto Rico. "I did a half-marathon in the Czech Republic three weeks ago and I finished second," he said.

It was running that led Kimutai to become a massage therapist. After having recurring right knee injuries, he went to Limerick, Ireland, in 1998 for treatment at noted physiologist Gerard Hartmann's International Sports Injury Clinic.

He would spend the next two years there receiving treatment, and eventually Kimutai developed an interest in physical therapy from watching Hartmann, a former University of Arkansas distance star who opened a similar clinic in Gainesville, Fla.

"After three years, he said to me, `Now, if you're not running good, you should try another means of making life go smoothly," said Kimutai. "He introduced me to massage therapy. When I went back to Kenya, everyone knew I had been [working] under him in his clinic. It was like a teacher-student relationship.

"When I wasn't training, he was giving me reading materials [on physical therapy]. I still have some of the books he gave me. That was the practical part of it. I could see what he was doing and I tried to relate it to my work. I started out by seeing and seeing how it was being applied."

That meant that Kimutai opened a clinic in Eldoret with his credentials intact. "They know I'm someone who is great [at massage therapy]," he said. But upon getting back on his feet, Kimutai felt the desire to return to distance running.

He returned to competition in 2001, traveling to the Netherlands to test his legs, and finished third in the Alphen 20K in 58 minutes 18 seconds. Then he ran a 1:01.33 in the Pier City Half-Marathon in the Netherlands before coming here to finish seventh at the Falmouth Road Race.

In his debut marathon in Amsterdam, Kimutai reportedly stayed back behind the lead group for much of the race then broke clear at the 40K mark and opened a 30-second gap between him and the nearest competitor over the final 2 kilometers.

According to Runner's World magazine, Kimutai received a call from Lagat just before leaving Holland; the 2000 Boston winner wanted to know when Kimutai was returning to Eldoret. He wanted to make a massage appointment.

The kinship and group strategy Kenyans display in the Boston race is well known, and is one of the reasons the men have dominated the sport in recent years. What makes it equally impressive is that, according to Kimutai, their lead-pack approach is not strategized before the race.

"When you come to races everybody has trained well," he said. "You just watch [during the race], and it's like a game of watching and you have to be ready to act. Many people train differently and come to run differently to break away early or late. So, you must be on the watchout and never let anyone get five paces from you.

"Eye contact is important all the time. You stay in eye contact before someone makes a move. Then when he makes his move you are ready to move with him."

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