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The happier you are the better you will perform

by Editor
Friday 15th May 2015

Interview: Lornah Kiplagat introduces her female running brand ‘Lornah Sports’

As well as providing a location for collecting race numbers and timing chips, the Virgin Money London Marathon Expo at London's ExCeL also provides a showcase of the latest and greatest running products including apparel, shoes, nutrition and much more. The 2015 edition was one of the best we have attended and I spent several days walking the aisles and taking an in-depth look at what was on offer.

While there were no awards on offer, if I were to present my own personal 'best in show' recognition, it would certainly go to the UK launch of Lornah Sports (www.lornahsports.co.uk). Lornah Sports is the brainchild of Lorna Kiplagat, a multiple World Champion on the road and cross country.

Lornah Sports produce 'spirit of Africa', unique feminine designed performance sportswear which was like nothing I've ever seen before - and judging by the number of people purchasing items at the Lornah Sports booth, was proving exceptionally popular. I had my own credit card out too, purchasing some Lornah for my wife who confirmed my own (male!) impressions, that this was something new and very exciting.

While there I took the opportunity to talk to about how she went from elite runner to running fashion designer, and the inspirations for her fantastic new range.

Lornah Sport - Virgin Money London Marathon Expo 2015

The Lornah Kiplagat Story

Early Life

Lornah's personal best times:
5km road: 14:47 (World record)
10km Road: 30:32
15km Road: 46:59 (European record)
10 Mile: 50:50 (World record)
20km Road: 62:57 (World record)
Half Marathon: 66:25 (Former World record)
25km: 1:23:41
Marathon: 2:22:22

Born in 1974, on a small farm on the edge of the mighty Rift Valley in Kenya, Lornah began her journey through life. Opportunity, particularly for women, was very limited and traditionally Lornah would have followed the path laid out by her predecessors. Women were expected to stay at home, cook, clean, raise a family and remain subservient to men. Tradition was not the path that Lornah was destined to take. Her father (Kiplagat) a successful farmer and owner of the local cheese store defied certain traditions within his house-hold. The females were treated with respect and Kiplagat taught his children that they were all equal. His sons and daughters washed their own clothes. It wasn’t expected that the females do the washing as it was amongst other villagers. He defiantly stated ‘If no man wants to marry my girls, they can stay here on the farm, I have plenty of land.’

As soon as she could walk Lornah was responsible for taking care of the family’s cattle. She had to get up very early and look after the cows before she could go to school. Because of this she was always late for school and had to run there, a distance of 5.5km. At lunchtime she had to return home to eat so ran another 5.5km to get there. Then would return back to school for the afternoon and home again in the evening a total of 22km per day by the age of 11! Without realising it, Lornah grew up laying the foundations to become a World Class Athlete.

Lornah’s start in life was better than most girls of her age but was still met with great difficulty. By witnessing her fathers progressive thought processes it helped her learn to stand up for herself. It helped her find her voice. She knew that she had to be the voice for other women and show them the way. This wasn’t an easy task living in a male dominated society, she needed a platform and that was running.

When Lornah finished school at aged 20 she made her own choices in life. She was offered a scholarship to study medicine in India but it didn’t sit right with her and she turned it down. She left home to work as a ‘house help’ for her cousin Susan Sirma who was already a World Class Athlete. She was the first African woman to win a medal at the World Championships. Sirma encouraged Lornah to go running with her, and to both their surprise, Lornah could keep up. She had finally found her calling, after just a few weeks of training she knew that running was it. She never looked back and was determined to make it work. Running Life

During the 1990’s Lornah soon realised that the Kenyan Athletics federation didn’t make it easy for women to compete in the sport of Athletics. She travelled with a friend for 24 hours to get to a race in Nairobi. When they arrived they realised that there was no accommodation set aside for women. The men could stay in the army, police or prison accommodation but the women had to make do, so Lornah and her friend found the nearest toilet, locked the door from the inside and slept in there to keep themselves safe.

In a very short space of time she became one of the worlds best ever runners on the track and the road. She soon got herself an agent in Europe and managed to get into some of the top races. It was through her untoward experiences with certain agents that she met her husband Pieter. European agents quite often took advantage of African athletes for the financial gains they could make, by putting them into highly paid races. They would take the prize money and not tell the athlete the true amount, keeping a large portion of it for themselves and leaving the athlete with very little. Being sharp minded Lornah soon realised what was happening and sort help from someone she could trust. That person was Pieter Langerhorst from the Netherlands who later became her husband.

She first attracted the attention of Pieter when he was director of marketing for Saucony, a company that manufactures sporting goods. Pieter sent her some running equipment in 1995 after a friend alerted him to a young woman posting good results, and a few days later he received a thank-you note. He was stunned, especially when the notes kept coming. "Every time I sent a pair of socks, she thanked me," Pieter said. Most runners, "you send them five pair and they say, 'Can I have six?' "

As Lornah's relationship with Pieter turned into a romantic one, he became her agent. Lornah moved to the Netherlands, and Pieter began accompanying Lornah on visits to Kenya, eventually winning the approval of her family and paying her father the traditional brideswealth -- five cows, five sheep.

On marrying him she took up citizenship in the Netherlands and remains a citizen of that country. She competed for the Netherlands in 3 Olympic games - Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012. Together they were a formidable team. Lornah’s career was extensive she won numerous world titles. She has an impressive range of distances, running ‘world best times’ from 5k to half marathon. She has broken 4 world records including the 5km road world best (which she still owns), when she ran the distance in a time of 14:47. On 14 October 2007, she set a new half marathon world record in a time of 1:06:25 at the World Road Running Championships in Udine, Italy, while defending the title she first won in 2006. She also smashed her own 20km world record en route, running a time of 1:02:57.

During her career she won prestigious races including the Amsterdam Marathon, the Rotterdam Marathon, the Osaka Ladies Marathon and the Los Angeles Marathon. The LA Marathon in 1997 was her most interesting experience. Before Pieter came into her life her previous agent had booked her on a flight to LA but had not told her she was to compete in a marathon. She felt under prepared having previously only raced up to 21k but she attacked the race from the front, as was her running style. She actually came second in this marathon but the Russian who won, got disqualified for taking a short cut and so Lornah became the champion.

Giving Back

She spent the pay cheque from her first major victory, the 1997 Los Angeles Marathon, the way most Kenyans do, on a new house for her parents. Next to the two one-room huts on the farm, she built a four-room house with bricks she scavenged from the nearby ruins of "the mzungu house," so called because it was once occupied by white people.

In 1998, Lornah bought an acre of land just outside the town of Iten, where she had trained for a while at St. Patrick's, a Catholic boys school that sponsors running camps. She couldn't yet afford to build anything, so every time she returned to Kenya, she went to her land and sat on it. "I looked at it and thought about what it would look like," she said. "It really was a dream." By the end of 1999, Lornah had won enough prize money to hire builders. Her plan was to build a refuge/running center for girls.

She put more than money into the camp, however. She sketched the original plans, coordinated fabric for bedspreads, curtains and chair cushions, and even insisted on a few feminine touches, such as full-length mirrors in all of the rooms. The villagers heard rumours that Lornah was building something, but they weren't sure what it was. A hotel, most figured. Lornah felt strongly about a few issues in Kenya and she wanted to do something about it. She didn’t want more girls to have to go through the same things that she went through when she was young.

“Some parents won't allow their daughters to pursue a running career because they believe a daughter is more valuable for the dowry she can bring as a bride. Some girls compete but are taken advantage of, financially and sexually, by male coaches, agents and athletes. Some successful women athletes have failed to reap their rightful monetary rewards because their husbands have squandered their earnings.”

The solution, according to Lornah, is for Kenya and its athletic federation to stop neglecting the country's girls. She has spent all of the prize money she has earned since 1998 on her camp, which aims to give girls a chance to work toward a brighter future, not just in sports but in life as well. Fast forward to 2015 and the camp doubles up as a high Altitude training center which is among the best in the world, where teams from the UK, Canada, Poland, Turkey, Slovenia and many others train. Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe have both used the camp. In 2014 Lornah opened the first all weather track in Iten. The track was the first all weather track to be built outside of the capital in Nairobi. This is the first phase of the Lornah Kiplagat Sports Academy.

The LKSA will be built on a 50acre plot nearby the HATC and will be a bridge between secondary school and University. 70% of the girls will be getting a full scholarship from the Lornah Kiplagat Foundation.

A New Journey

Lornah has put everything that running has given her back into Kenyan society. When you are born with the courage of a lion it is almost a crime not to use that strength to help others and make a difference to people’s lives. This is why producing a female running brand with the lion as a symbol reflects her passion to make that difference. Lornah wanted to create something different and always wondered why functional apparel could not look good at the same time. This fuelled her latest journey. Staying true to her African roots, Lornah’s female apparel is influenced by tribal patterns and animal images embedded into high quality, technical running material. Each piece has at least one hidden zip suitable for keys and a phone. In the elite range Lornah combines images of Masai warriors with African animals and even the Kenyan national Anthem. This colourful, confident line is at the cross roads between function and fashion.

This inspirational story encompasses bravery, willpower, dedication, hard work, courage and a passion for change. It has lead Lornah to where she is today. ‘Lornah Sports’ is an expression of Lornah’s personal refusal to conform to the norm, lead from
the front and embrace female empowerment.



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