The Trail of a Champion: Richard Kimani's Three-Peat Quest

The two-time Oak Mountain half-marathon champion is ready to make it three at the XTERRA Americas Trail Run Championship this weekend, showcasing his determination, dedication, and the transformative power of running in his journey from Kenya to Alabama.

Written by
Pamela Hunt
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Richard Kimani, a two-time qualifier for the Kenyan Olympic Trials, arrived in the United States from Kenya in July 2016, bringing with him an impressive collection of PRs, including a 2:18 marathon, a 1:03 half, and a 27:50 10K.

However, it wasn’t the state's thriving running community that first brought him to Alabama. It was his wife-to-be, Erin Swanson-Kimani. The two met while she was on a mission trip to Kenya in 2015. Not only was she the reason he arrived in Alabama, she was also the spark that ignited his love for the trails of Oak Mountain.

“My wife loves to hike and she showed me a lot of trails when I first joined her here,” Kimani said. “Since then, I’ve met a lot of other runners who have shared new trails with me, which I’m so grateful for. While I love both road and trail running, my long-term goal is to focus on the trails because they are so soft and more gentle on the legs than the road is.” 

"You can feel the calm when you’re out there in nature. It’s just so quiet that my runs are as much of a meditation as they are a workout.” 

At the 2017 XTERRA Oak Mountain Half Marathon, Kimani made his XTERRA debut and quickly immediately made his name known in the U.S. trail scene, crossing the finish line over three minutes ahead of the runner-up, Darren Brown, a former University of Texas sub-four minute miler.

“It was a good race and very hard,” said Kimani after the race. “The course was so nice with all the trees and the sharp corners, and roots and rocks and slopes.”

Kimani successfully defended his title in 2018, and he will have another chance to do so on the very same trails at the XTERRA Americas Trail Run Championship on Sunday, May 21, competing for his share of $5,200 in prize money and a qualifying slot to the 2023 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship.

“I wanted to come back to XTERRA Oak Mountain because I love the course and the challenge of it,” said Kimani. With the top spot firmly in his sights, his next stop will be Sugarloaf Resort in Maine for the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship on October 1st.

It's worth noting that Kimani's 1:03 half marathon PR is identical to the time set by Joseph Gray, five-time XTERRA Trail Run World Champion. 

Kimani was born and raised in Kajiado, Kenya, where running and coaching played a significant role in his life. He then spent five years in the Ngong Hills and in Eldoret, Kenya, around 7,000 feet above sea level, training with elite marathoners. Now in the US, he currently logs between 40 and 50 miles per week on roads and trails close to his current residence in Homewood, Alabama.

“I do all my long runs in the woods as well as my Wednesday recovery run,” said Kimani. “My Tuesday and Thursday speed workouts happen on the roads or on the track, but I like to spend the rest of my runs on the trails. You can feel the calm when you’re out there in nature. It’s just so quiet that my runs are as much of a meditation as they are a workout.” 

Kimani is also a full-time coach for Resolute Running, a training center for runners, and is teaming up with the club’s founder, Alex Morrow, to get their members ready for the trails at Oak Mountain. 

“Richard joined us about four years ago,” said Morrow, a standout XTERRA trail runner in his own right. “But not only was he a pro runner on the international circuit. He was just such a nice person. Today, we call him the zen master, because he makes all of us feel as though everything is going to be OK, no matter what.”

"All of us are in this together, and that helps me keep on pushing and moving forward.”

Morrow also admits that Kimani isn’t just the first guy over the finish line. He’s also the first guy over the finish line who’s happy to hang out for 45 minutes to wait to see who’s coming in next.

Kimani has been training for the XTERRA Americas Half-Marathon in Alabama, where the humidity is significantly higher than in his native Kenya. He has been paying special attention to hydration and recovery. If you ask Kimani, it is recovery that he says sets apart the leaders from the rest of the pack. 

“In America you push hard, hard, hard all the time,” said Kimani. “In Kenya, recovery is as important as speed work.”

Kimani is excited to put his fitness to the test at Oak Mountain State Park once again, and cheer on his team from Resolute Running.

“It’s wonderful to be out on the trails with other people,” he said. “Even during the hard parts of the race, I know I’m not alone in feeling pain. All of us are in this together, and that helps me keep on pushing and moving forward.”

While you might not think of Pelham, Alabama in Shelby County as a running town in the same way that you might think of Eugene, Oregon, a growing trail running community has been fostered by the city's fantastically well-maintained trail system, acres of green space, and young population. 

With his impressive race performances and his commitment to helping others as a coach, Kimani has not only made a mark on the trail running scene but has also inspired countless individuals to pursue their own running dreams. His dedication to recovery and his belief in the importance of unity and support among runners exemplify his humble and compassionate nature.

As Kimani prepares to defend his title again at the XTERRA Americas Trail Run Championship, he continues to push the boundaries of his abilities and showcase the extraordinary potential that lies within him. 

Richard Kimani's journey is a reminder of what is possible with determination, commitment and the power of community. Through his unwavering spirit and relentless pursuit of excellence, he has left an indelible mark on the trail running community and serves as an inspiration to all who dare to chase their aspirations.

The next big step in Kimani’s success story will be found on the award-winning trails at Oak Mountain State Park, where the two-time champion is setting his sights on a three-peat to maintain his reign in his home state of Alabama. 

“I wanted to come back to XTERRA Oak Mountain because I love the course and the challenge of it.”

This is the second of three continental championship races in the new XTERRA Trail Run World Series which is primed and ready to deliver on the series’ promise, “to host races on some of the most spectacular and iconic trails in the world.”
















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Author Bio

Pamela Hunt

Pamela Hunt is a writer and runner based in San Diego, California, who hits the trails every morning possible.

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