Eight years ago this week, Lornah Kiplagat lowered the half marathon world record by more than a minute when taking the world title in Udine, Italy. We find out about her projects around the sport and why Rio 2016 is very much on her mind. 

Lornah Kiplagat grew up in Kenya on the edge of Rift Valley in the 1970s and 80s, helping out at the family’s farm from a young age. Her open-minded father treated his sons and daughters equally, never distinguishing between male and female roles in the Kiplagat household.

This upbringing had a profound effect on Kiplagat that would see her devote most of her career earnings to challenging gender stereotypes, ultimately leading her to set up a refuge and running camp for Kenyan girls in Iten.

“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,” she explains. “Some girls compete, but are taken advantage of.”

From its humble beginnings, the camp developed into the High Altitude Training Centre (HATC). Today it is one of the best altitude training centres in the world and home to Kenya’s first all-weather track outside the capital, Nairobi. 

Kiplagat’s HATC is a 21st cenutry facility, designed to give young athletes the chance to hone their skills from a young age. Her own rise to the top is more typical of the Kenyan runners of previous generations. Her daily school journey – 5.5km each way in the morning, at lunchtime and the afternoon – was the foundation of her running career. Yet her talent went unnoticed until she was 20, when she turned down a medical scholarship in India and went to work and live with her cousin, the 1991 World Championship 3000m bronze medallist Susan Sirma. It was while running with her cousin that Kiplagat discovered her natural ability and her passion.

Lornah Kiplagat leads the field at the 2007 IAAF World Road Running Championships in Udine (Getty Images)

Kiplagat leads the pack at the 2007 World Road Running Championships

She soon started competing in international road races, winning in Europe and the USA. In 1997, Kiplagat’s then agent booked her on a plane to Los Angeles for a race, only for her to find out said race was the LA Marathon – the longest distance the Kenyan had run until then was half the distance. However, the determined runner finished in 2:33.50 for second place, later upgraded to first when it emerged the initial winner had taken a shortcut.

On her travels she met Dutchman Pieter Langerhorst, who supplied her with running equipment. Being surprised by the runner’s appreciation of support – “Every time I sent a pair of socks, she thanked me. Most runners you send them five pair and they say ‘can I have six?’,” he recalls – their relationship soon turned romantic. The pair got married, and in 1999 Kiplagat moved to the Netherlands and gained Dutch citizenship in 2003. The same year she placed fourth over 10,000m at the Paris world champs.

A decade after moving in with her cousin and discovering her talent, then 30-year-old Kiplagat made her Olympic debut at Athens 2004, placing fifth in the 10,000m. Medals followed: silver at the World Half Marathon Championships in 2005 and in the long race at the 2006 World Cross Country Champs. 

In 2007, Kiplagat celebrated the most memorable and successful year of her running career. In October she was crowned world half marathon champion in Udine, Italy, recording a 1:06:25 world record along the way. But it was another race that year she describes as her “favourite ever race”.

Lornah Kiplagat ()

Returning to home soil representing the Netherlands was an “amazing” experience

Running in the orange kit of the Netherlands, Kiplagat took world cross gold in Mombasa, Kenya, the country of her birth.

“I never thought a World Cross Country Championships would be taking place in Kenya. I am born in Kenya and I was naturalized Dutch, but that day I was not running for Kenya.

“Running in your own motherland and not running for your country and still winning was just an amazing thing. I was like ‘yes this one is for me, I can’t let it go’. That one [race] I will always remember, the way people were cheering it was just amazing.”

It isn’t just in racing that Kiplagat draws inspiration from her Kenyan heritage. The entrepreneurial athlete recently launched Lornah Sports, her own women’s clothing brand.

“To get the idea was very easy for me,” she explains. “During my time competing I had seen enough of sportswear, apparel, all dark colours, all boring. For me it matters how I look like when I’m performing.” 

The idea is simple: “When women look good, they feel good, and they will perform better,” Kiplagat says. And she draws on her career as a professional athlete to improve the design of each product.

“All the small details were considered, because from my experience I know exactly what I want. I want somewhere when I’m running, when I need to put something extra, I need a little pocket, which doesn’t bother you.” That's why every single item – from shorts to sports bra – contains a pocket. 

Lornah Kiplagat Fashion ()

Kipalagat now heads up her own running clothing label, but has not ruled out a stint at the Rio 2016 marathon

As well as using her experience as a runner, Kiplagat incorporated Maasai colours, African wildlife and even the Kenyan national anthem in her designs. 

“I am born Kenyan and there are so many runners from Kenya. We have so much honour and respect for what Kenya has given us in sport and for me this is the perfect way to combine the African spirit and the sport.”

Though her post-running career already mapped out, Kiplagat still considers herself a runner first. Hampered by injuries in the past, she feels she was never able to properly sign off, and remains hopeful that next year will give her an opportunity for a proper farewell.

“I ran the 2012 Olympic marathon and I had a pretty bad injury and it’s taken me so long [to recover], so I didn’t want to take any risks,” she explains.

“One of the main things I realised after the 2012 Olympics was that I didn’t want to hurt myself more, because I love running so much. I want to go out there every morning, just being able to run.

“All of my injuries are gone, I can run without pain, I can do my long runs and I’m still thinking to do the Olympics in 2016. And hopefully after the 2016 Olympics have a party at the Copacabana to call it a day for my running – there’s nothing more important than being able to say bye bye at an Olympics.”