If you've been to a race expo and seen t-shirts that said "Kenyan in Training", "In my mind, I'm a Kenyan. In my legs, I'm a chubby white guy", "I run with the Kenyans", or some similar sentiment, well, Sammy Wanjiru is one of the guys those shirts refer to, and even among them he was considered elite.
Amby Burfoot, an editor at Runner's World (and a Boston Marathon champion) called Wanjiru's Olympic race, run in very hot, humid conditions, "the greatest marathon ever".
I had never heard of Sammy Wanjiru until I picked up a copy of Runner's World when we were stuck at BWI on our way to my wife's Disney Princess Half Marathon. At the time, I was struggling with ITBS about a month out from my own marathon, and optimism was hard to come by.
As I sat reading while we waited for our flight, a story about Wanjiru's victory over a great competitor in the 2010 Chicago Marathon -- despite sickness and injury -- gave me some much-needed inspiration , and later provided me with some comfort after the Shamrock Marathon when I hadn't really met my own expectations (Please read the whole article, by Ed Eyestone, available here):
Wanjiru admitted the week before the race that he had missed several days of training due to a stomach virus three weeks earlier. Most of us in the know forecasted that, as 2009's Chicago Marathon champion and course record holder, he would pick up his huge appearance fee, cruise along until the going got tough, then pull the rip cord. When race morning dawned some 20 degrees warmer than normal, it was presumably the final coffin nail for Wanjiru. The hotter the conditions, the more the less-conditioned athlete will suffer.
And then the gun went off.
Against expectations, Wanjiru hung with the leaders until it is just a two-man race and held off one of the favorites with a sprint to the finish.
Sammy Wanjiru has run faster races, he has won more celebrated races, but never has he run a more inspiring race. He proved that even when you are not at 100 percent, you can still give 100 percent of what you have. And he showed that believing in yourself is the most important principle of success.
It doesn't matter. Just give it all you've got.
The quotes above are from Ed Eyestone's excellent article from the March 2011 issue of Runner's World, "Enduring Lessons":
Amby Burfoot's article today, about Sammy Wanjiru, "Wanjiru: A Marathon Star with a Short -- but Blinding -- Arc", from runnersworld.com: