The Man Who Won a Half Marathon…in His Socks

by Dea Martinjonis May 22, 2017

Only a decade ago Ibrahim Mukunga Wachira worked in a tea plantation along with his family in Kenya. Fast forward to 2017 and he’s become an overnight sensation in a small Nordic country called Estonia by winning a half marathon in his socks.

Estonian runner Tiidrek Nurme comments Ibrahim running in socks: “I was shocked when I heard he’d ran that distance in socks. But at the same time I was positively amazed about his motivation — he would just do anything, in order to achieve his goals. That is how motivated he is about running.” Photo credit: Aldo Luud (Õhtuleht)

And not only did Ibrahim win the race, he won big time — defeating the 2nd and 3rd place contenders by more than 4 minutes.

We at Jobbatical decided to investigate this story further and invited Ibrahim to visit our HQ in Estonia. Meanwhile, we felt this man deserved a decent pair of kicks to take his next marathon adventures even further — so down to business we got and personalized some high quality Nike running shoes and invited him to visit us at our office. So this happened…

We prepared some nice Nike running shoes for Ibrahim — after all, the man deserved a decent pair of kicks to take his next marathon adventures even further!

Can’t stop, won’t stop

Ibrahim’s marathon story gets even better — he also set a new track record with the time of 1.13.23. And that — let me remind you here — by running in socks!

Ibrahim explained to us he ran in his socks because he’d given his running shoes for someone to guard and could not get them back in time. When he told the marathon organizers about it, they tried to resolve the situation and asked the crowd for help — maybe someone could lend the Kenyan runner a pair of size 7 running shoes? Unfortunately nobody stepped forward. Ibrahim decided to run anyway.

“It was pretty difficult in the beginning,” Ibrahim recalls. “Especially on the asphalt, but on the landscape it was quite good to run and in the end I became used to it already.”

By the 7th mile (which is a little more than half of the total distance) he was already leading the race. Wachira didn’t just finish in first place, he also shattered the pre-existing record.

This goes to prove that if you are determined enough, literally nothing can stand in your way. Even the lack of running shoes when you’re about to start competing in a half marathon.

Mastering his craft halfway around the world

Five years ago Ibrahim had just kicked off his dream and started running. He gave up the life his whole family had led in a little village near Mount Kenya, working in a tea plantation. But his humble roots meant he still needed to work in order to eat — so he divided his time between working on a field and running while living in very ascetic conditions: in a simple, soil-floored hut.

Luck knocked on the door when he met a runner from a faraway country in the North called Estonia.

Seasoned Estonian runner Tiidrek Nurme saw Ibrahim’s enormous talent immediately. Although they could barely communicate due to poor English, they struck up a deal — Ibrahim would become Tiidrek’s running partner in order to up his game.

Estonian runner Tiidrek Nurme credits his last years’ great results to his running partner from Kenya — Ibrahim Mukunga Wachira.

Today, Tiidrek and Ibrahim have been friends for five and running partners for four years. Ibrahim loves to come to Estonia because it is a calm and little country compared to his native Kenya that with its population of 46,05 million is almost thirty-five times (!) larger than Estonia. Ibrahim didn’t think twice when the opportunity rose — to go and train with an Estonian guy, halfway around the world. Running runs in his veins, it is his craft and he’ll go anywhere to master it. The opportunity also means a better life for him and his family back in Kenya — besides helping Tiidrek, he’s won several races in Europe, so he now earns more than an average Kenyan. And due to all this back and forth between the two continents and international events, Ibrahim’s English has gotten way better also.

The Estonian runner couldn’t be happier for the decision made five years ago either: “Ibrahim has been a great motivator for me. My results in the last years speak for themselves.”

Team Jobbatical — sporting 14 different nationalities — was happy to pose with the inspirational Kenyan running sensation Ibrahim Wachira Mukunga. A guy who wouldn’t let anything stop him from achieving his goals.

Sportsmen — the ultimate nomads and jobbaticlers

25 years ago, this — to have a sparring partner from Kenya or anywhere else from the West for that matter — would’ve been impossible to even dream of for a runner living in Estonia, then tightly closed behind an iron curtain, “a wall” built by the Soviet Union.

Today, luckily, Estonia is a part of the borderless world where people travel to make better use of their skills and import the ones missing. Diversity helps both sides thrive — the master and the student, the employer and the employee. This is what Jobbatical is all about, too — bringing the skills to where they are needed. Come to think of it — sportsmen are the ultimate nomads and jobbaticlers of the world: training where the climate fits their modality best, finding training partners from countries far away and competing for countries not their own because passports don’t matter, skills do.

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