Kenyan Runner Mutai Landed in Lap of GCU
By Doug Carroll
How do you recruit a gifted Kenyan distance runner to come to Phoenix, Arizona?
If you’re Kim Sims, you just answer the phone.
The GCU cross country coach took a call from Kip Mutai last spring and has been praising the miracle of telecommunications ever since. Mutai, a two-time junior college All-American at Gillette (Wyo.) College, was looking for a school where he could continue his running career.
“He found us online and saw that one of my graduate assistants, Franklin Kirimi, was from his hometown in Kenya,” Sims recalls. “That led him to call me.”
Mutai also was concerned about all of his credits transferring, and he says GCU made the process much easier than other colleges did. Now he’s here, he’s happy and he’s getting down to business in a big way.
On Oct. 1, his 5K (3.1-mile) time of 15:11 earned him third place among a large field of college runners in the Desert Twilight Festival at Arizona State University. For that effort, he was named Pacific West Conference Runner of the Week. He’s one of the favorites in Saturday’s GCU Invitational at Evelyn Hallman Park in Tempe.
Mutai isn’t satisfied. His goal is to break 25 minutes for 8K (4.97 miles) and 31 minutes for 10K (6.2 miles). He seems a lock to qualify for the NCAA Division II nationals. After cross country season, he will run track in the winter (5,000 meters) and spring (10,000 meters) for the Antelopes as they compete in the sport for the first time.
Already, Mutai has emerged as a soft-spoken leader for GCU’s men’s and women’s runners. Enrolled in the College of Nursing, he says he will return to Kenya only after he has some work experience under his belt.
“I didn’t know he’d be this well-rounded,” Sims says. “He’s what you look for in a student-athlete. He’s so kind and genuine. He’s grounded and he’s focused, and he doesn’t have a big ego. He is a coach’s dream.”
Mutai’s first taste of running, around seventh grade, didn’t make much of an impression on him. However, a turning point came in 10th grade, when he ran a 16K race and was unable to finish.
“I wasn’t trained well,” he says. “It made me mad at myself. I started getting serious, running twice a day — in the mornings and evenings — and increasing my mileage.”
Any discussion of Kenya’s rich history of distance runners is incomplete without mentioning Kip Keino, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who once held the world record at 5,000 meters (13:24.2) and founded an orphanage after retiring from competition.
“He’s a popular guy and there’s a stadium in Kenya named after him,” Mutai says.
Kip Keino was known for his finishing kick, and so is Kip Mutai.
“I don’t go out fast,” Mutai says. “When I do, it really drains me. I don’t want to go out too fast or too slow. I’ll pick up the pace after about a mile.”
He likes the longer distances and has run a half-marathon (13.1 miles) in less than 1:08 — in only two tries at it. That came in the National Junior College Athletic Association championships last year, and he won.
After an extended summer of blistering heat, he says he’s warm enough, thank you.
“In Wyoming, it was really cold,” Mutai says. “Here, it is really hot. At first I was dehydrated and I got headaches. But I’m catching up.”
The runners behind him wish they could say the same.
Contact Doug Carroll at 602.639.8011 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.