2014 New York City Marathon champion Mary Keitany is running for a lot more than the glory of the gold.

Mary Keitany (left) with midwife Elizabeth Ndunge Mphale, who has worked as a midwife for more than 30 years.
Mary Keitany (left) with midwife Elizabeth Ndunge Mphale, who has worked as a midwife for more than 30 years.

Kenya’s Mary Keitany certainly has an impressive running resume, recently capped off with a win at the oldest women’s-only race in the country—the Oakley New York Mini 10K. The elite runner competed to raise awareness for the rapidly growing need for midwives in Africa. Returning to defend her NYC Marathon title in the fall, Keitany answered a few questions on her race strategies and motivation to run, as well as her deep connection with Run for Midwives.

How did you feel coming off a 10K win at the Oakley New York Mini 10K last month?

I felt fantastic! When I’ve trained so much and am prepared and know my competitionit’s great to finally put all that to the test and come out on the winning end!  I love winning but I love running as well.  It’s a challenge for me to face my colleagues in a race, as I know they are well prepared too, but it feels amazing when I cross the finish line first!

How do you prepare for a 10K versus a marathon?

It is definitely different although, I follow pretty much the same strategy; I just reduce it. I knew in the Oakley Mini 10K [on June 13] I had to get out in front of my colleagues and keep the lead most of the time, so I’m training for speed of course on that one. In the longer race, it’s all about stamina and endurance and pacing myself very carefully at each stage of the run; it takes a lot more of my mind than the shorter run.

How did you get involved with Amref Health Africa’s Run for Midwives campaign? 

As a Kenyan, I’m familiar with Amref Health Africa, an African-led health organization based in Nairobi that focuses on training midwives. I wanted to help any way I could. Like in many other African countries, maternal death is so high in Kenya; a woman dies every two hours during pregnancy or childbirth. I was lucky to deliver my two children in a health facility with help from a skilled birth attendant. But most African women give birth at home with no help from anyone and die from causes that could be prevented with a trained midwife.

What are some of the things you and the other elite athletes are doing to support the cause at races?

We really want to bring awareness to the need for more trained midwives in Kenya. I do this, for instance, by talking about why midwives are important and ask people to donate to train more midwives. A trained midwife is so critical in making sure women get the care they need to stay healthy and have healthy babies.

You’re racing the oldest women’s-only race this weekend alongside some very fast runners—what motivates you to get to the finish line first?

My colleagues are very fast and very fit, so I’m motivated to keep up with them or even surpass them if I can. I also know my stride and when I break away, no one can touch me. Like in the 10K, if I keep my pace properly the last 4K I’m in the right place, and it’s all working well. I also run for my kids and my family. I want my kids to go to a good school.

Will you be returning to NYC Marathon this year to race as part of the charity?

Wherever I run, I run for midwives. Africa needs more midwives to prevent so many needless deaths. We need to train more midwives in Kenya. I hope to be returning in the fall to defend my championship in the New York Marathon. When I’m back in Kenya, my coach and I will decide my running schedule for the rest of the year.

What do you hope bringing this great cause and its mission in front of runners in the United States will do for the organization back in Kenya?

I hope to rally runners and women everywhere to help train more midwives in Kenya. I urge people to donate to help Amref Health Africa in Kenya and beyond, raise enough funds to train the midwives that African women need to have healthy deliveries. Only $250 will pay for training a community health worker who encourages women to have regular pregnancy checkups and give birth at a health facility. $25 will buy a bicycle for that worker to travel farther and reach more women in less time. $2,500 will pay for training a midwife to conduct safe deliveries and deal with labor complications. Women are the backbone of life in African communities—we need to ensure they have the opportunity to have safe deliveries. Midwives save lives and I would like everyone to join me to run for midwives!

Why do you run?

I run so that women in Kenya can have the same access to health care as I did in order to have a safe delivery with a skilled midwife in a proper health facility.  And I run to use the talent I was given and be good to my family.

After my second child I was able to train in a very short time, get right back into running and later that year, I won the New York Marathon! Because of help from a skilled midwife, I had a smooth, happy delivery and was able to recover fast enough to get right back in shape and achieve one of my life long goals. I run to help other women reach their goals too. Running is health!!