News: A runner’s commitment to excellence
Story by Staff Sgt. Kenneth Pawlak
EL PASO, Texas - Smoke leaves the firing pistol as 30,000 runners start a 26-mile journey they have spent months preparing for, both mentally and physically.
For Spc. Japheth Ng’ojoy, now a William Beaumont Army Medical Center lab technician, his running journey began at age 16 when he joined the track team at Kaptumo Boys High School in Kapsabet, Kenya.
“I was 16 when I started competitive running for school teams, but I was running since I was little - here and there or when my parents sent me to a neighbors house to get some salt or something,” said Ng’ojoy. “When I started running in my junior year, I realized I was a good runner.”
During his senior year at the state championships, U.S. colleges also saw how good he was and wanted him on their team.
“My senior year there were three coaches that talked to me, Paul Ereng and Bob Kitchens from the University of Texas El Paso, and another from Kansas State,” said Ng’ojoy. “I didn’t know about UTEP, but I was getting a scholarship to run in the United States.”
While at UTEP, Ng’ojoy was an All-American and placed 22nd at the 2005 NCAA Cross Country Championships. Ng’ojoy is also ranked eighth in the school record books in the indoor 5,000 meter (14:04.05) and the outdoor 10,000 meter (28:24.48).
As a Division One distance runner, Ng'ojoy learned how to train during his collegiate years. He helped UTEP win five meets during his sophomore year and, during his junior and senior year, was part of a cross country team that automatically qualified for the nationals.
“I developed and gained my running skills at UTEP because back home it is seasonal running,” said Ng’ojoy. “Once the season is over, the school will not allow you to run or train throughout the year.”
UTEP not only has a good cross country team but also has an active Reserve Officer Training Corps program that participates in the Army Ten-Miler and the 26-mile Bataan Death March. Sadly, ROTC was not for Ng’ojoy.
“Military service has always been in the back of my mind since I was a kid; I even wanted to join ROTC while I was at UTEP, but I couldn’t because I was on a student visa,” said Ng’ojoy.
His destiny took a detour when, graduating with a degree in biology, Ng’ojoy obtained a work visa and moved to Colorado to become a high school teacher. Predictably, he said it left him unsatisfied.
“I saw a lot of discipline issues when I was a teacher, and I was getting irritated and wanted to leave,” said Ng’ojoy. “That’s when I went to the recruiters’ office and signed up to be a lab technician, because it was similar to what I was at doing UTEP.”
After completing his lab technician course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Ng’ojoy received orders orders to Fort Bliss, Texas, and was headed back to the familiar running grounds of El Paso, Texas. His life was not just back on track, it was back on 'THE' track.
“After AIT, I joined the Fort Bliss Army Ten-Miler team so I could build my skills and endurance, and be able to keep the consistency,” said Ng’ojoy.
Ng’ojoy has trained for two events that were just a week apart: the Army Ten-Miler and the Marine Corp Marathon. The Army Ten-Miler is a ten mile race held annually in Washington, D.C., that marathon runners have used as a hard strengthening workout since 1985. The Marine Corps marathon in D.C. is considered one of the premier marathons to run.
The course starts in Arlington, Va., goes through Washington, D.C., crosses 14th Street to the marathon’s “Beat the Bridge” checkpoint at mile marker 20 then finishes back in Virginia.
Ng’ojoy used the Army Ten-Miller as an opportunity to get some speed training done for the Marine Corp Marathon Oct. 27.
“His preparation for the marathons included months of rigorous training to build to a high volume of mileage, about 95-110 miles per week to stretch his endurance and ensure that he excel at the marathon,” said Capt. Kelly Calway, who ran the marathon with Ng’ojoy. “He incorporated long tempo runs and shorter interval training in order to increase his speed.”
“He does long runs on the weekends to work on his pacing and endurance,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark K. Pumphrey, Brooke Army Medical Center, who ran the Beach to Bay Marathon Relay with Ng’ojoy in Corpus Christi, Texas. “He does a weekly track session doing 400 or 800 meter repeats to help with his leg turnover and speed.”
Being an elite runner, Ng’ojoy knew that to be competitive in the races his training had to be consistent.
“A person could do the best training for one week; good base, good mileage and good speed, but if the next two weeks they don’t do anything, then the training they did never helped,” said Ng’ojoy. “Running people have to be consistent with their training.”
The Marine Corps Marathon is a very difficult distance and many rookie marathoners don't race very intelligently, Calway said. Ng'ojoy raced very smart and toughed out the distance to finish, which is an incredible feat.
Ng'ojoy took it easy in between the Army Ten-Miler and the Marine Corps Marathon,” said Calway. “He ran shorter runs at his normal tempo to allow his body to recover without becoming lethargic. In the world of elite runners, this is called ‘active recovery.'"
While waiting to race the Marine Corps Marathon, Ng’ojoy stayed in D.C., but the streets were too crowded for a good workout, which meant he did not realize a need for new footwear until it was too late.
“I wore my old shoes for the Marine Corps Marathon; I started getting blisters on the bottom and the top of my foot. I thought ‘it hurts whether I stop now or keep going, it’s still going to hurt and blister,’ so I figured I might as well finish the race and deal with the blister later. I ended up with 7th place overall,” said Ng’ojoy.
Col. Jim Fowler started the Marine Corp Marathon in 1976 to foster community goodwill, recruit new Marines and to give Marines an opportunity to qualify for the Boston Marathon. The marathon has grown from 1,175 entrants to 30,000. Ng’ojoy exhibited his endurance and stamina during the marathon and crossed the finish line before 23,473 others were able to finish the 38th Marine Corp Marathon. Out of the 30,000 that entered the race 24,480 runners crossed the finish line.
“On the race course he is an animal,” said Pumphrey. “Many of us are aggressive on the running track, and off the track we are quiet, non-assuming people.”
The next event for Ng’ojoy will be the USA Track and Field Championships held in Boulder, Colo. He will be running for the All Army team.