Ibrahim Mukunga Wachira, a 27-year-old marathon runner from Kenya, became an overnight sensation in the small Baltic country of Estonia, after winning the 35th annual Tartu Half-Marathon, a 23-kilometer race he ran in his socks.
Just last week, we wrote about the monumental achievement of María Lorena Ramírez, a native Rarámuri woman from Mexico, who won a 50-kilometer ultramarathon in rubber sandals made from used car tires and wearing a long traditional skirt. Today, we cover the amazing story of a man who not only won a 23-kilometer marathon in Estonia, but also set a new speed record, after running with no shoes on. It’s definitely an incredible time for sports, and running in particular.
Ibrahim didn’t plan on running the Tartu Half-Marathon, on April 28, in his socks. He arrived at the starting point with his running shoes, but gave them to someone for safe keeping, and just couldn’t retrieve them before the starting whistle. He even told the race organizers about this problem, and they tried to help him out, appealing to the public for a pair of shoes his size. But no one stepped up, so the Kenyan athlete was left with two options, drop out of the marathon, or run in his socks. He went for the latter.
“It was pretty difficult in the beginning,” Ibrahim told Estonian news site Delfi. “Especially on the asphalt, but on the dirt trail it was quite good to run and in the end I got used to it.”
By the 11th kilometer of the marathon, Ibrahim Mukunga Wachira was already leading the race, and he ended up winning over 4 minutes ahead of the runner up. His official time of 1.13.23 was also a new speed record for the Tartu Half-Marathon. Photos of the 27-year-old crossing the finish line in his worn out socks have been doing the rounds on Estonian social media and news sites for a month now, and he has become somewhat of a celebrity.
“When I was running, I forget I don’t have shoes, I just running like I have,” Ibrahim said in a video interview. “I keep in mind, I say ‘I have shoes, I have to go now.'”
It’s hard to believe that just five years ago, Ibrahim Mukunga Wachira was working with his family on a tea plantation at the foot of Mount Kenya, and lived in a modest hut. He had begun training as a long-distance runner, but due to his modest roots, he still had to work in the fields to put food on the table.
His luck changed when he met a fellow runner from a faraway country called Estonia. Tiidrek Nurme immediately saw his potential, and even though they could barely communicate, due to Ibrahim’s poor English, he invited him to his country to be his training partner. They have been friends for five years bow, and training together for four years.
Mukunga Wachira has been traveling back and forth between Estonia and Kenya for years, but he doesn’t mind, as after winning several races around Europe, he now earns more than the average Kenyan, and is able to provide for his family. He loves Estonia, especially the seaside, but hates snow.