If you see Sammy Rotich at a local starting line in Minnesota or Iowa, you can be assured he’s traveled further than you to get there.
“It’s always difficult to be away from home,” says Rotich, 29, originally of Eldoret, Kenya. “But it’s my job. It’s what I have to do.”
While many of us run for fitness or self-actualization, our goals seem trivial compared to those of Rotich, who uprooted from his home to live and train in the suburbs northwest of Minneapolis to make a living and provide money for his family in Kenya through his racing.
“I dropped out of high school…then I started running,” he continues. “I ran because I had to.”
If routine breeds success, then it’s no wonder so many world-class distance runners emerge from Eldoret, a rural town in Kenya’s Rift Valley, where routine is, well, the routine.
Six-year-old Sammy Rotich’s routine started by running two miles to school every day. Class started at 8 AM, and if you were late, you got to choose between a few swift whacks of a cane, or five laps around the track. Sammy always chose to run the mile-plus. He usually ran home – and then back – for lunch, even though there often wasn’t food at home.
When he was ten, he added milk delivery after school to his routine – he and his cousin would each carry ten liters of milk six miles to the tea factory, then run home. Rotich helped with chores around the farm, studied, and ran when he could, winning some local races.
But the routine was interrupted when he reached secondary school, and his parents could no longer afford the school fees for both he and his sister. Rotich volunteered to stay home, with few prospects, until one day a doctor walked past his home and inquired why Rotich wasn’t in school during school hours. Hearing his predicament, the doctor asked: “what do you want to do?”
“I want to run,” Rotich replied.
So the doctor gave him enough cash to buy some food, a mattress, and a pair of running shoes, and helped him rent a Spartan room near a Nike-sponsored training camp in nearby Kapsabet.
Routine was even more the norm at the training camp. Alongside world-class runners, Rotich would run at dawn, eat, rest, train again – sometimes speedwork on the track – eat again, and sleep. This was what he and the others did six days each week, recovering on Sundays.
The routine bred success, and his success caught peoples’ attention. He was invited by a Canadian agent to race in Malaysia in 2008, lowering his 10K PR to 28:16 in the meantime. In 2009, he caught the attention of an agent in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who helped him obtain a visa. In 2015, at a Warrior Edge Athletics clinic with former world record holder (and fellow Kenyan) Wilson Kipsang, Rotich met Sanna Lee, who over the course of the next year agreed to represent and work with him when he came to Minnesota in March 2016.
He has been training and racing in the US since then, winning enough money at races to pay for the education of his siblings.
Because winning races means sending his family enough money to keep them financially stable, his training is serious business.
“[I] wake up early at 6 AM to go for training,” Rotich says. “The distance depends on the program for the day, 10 or 15 miles.”
After a recovery meal and shower, he rests all day – a crucial and often overlooked component in training that can require as much discipline as running in the first place (and a major accouterment for elite athletes with support that allows them not to work).
“Then there is evening training, which is slow, short distances,” he continues. “After evening training, I have dinner and then rest again.”
Run. Rest. Repeat. Routine. Race – well.
As an athlete whose livelihood comes from his race results, Rotich is serious about taking care of his feet. After starting work with Warrior Edge, he was introduced to a pair of Fitsok, and quickly had Sanna approach the brand for more product.
“After I started wearing Fitsok, I have noticed that my feet are comfortable during training and races,” he says. “They are very nice socks. They don’t hurt my toenails, they hold my feet, and they’re not too hot.”
“I like the socks very, very much,” he continues.
And we, for one, are proud to help Sammy Run For It.