Jane Kibii is having quite a run. At 33 years old, the Kenyan-born runner, who lives in Auburn, California, has spent the last couple of years proving to be one of the fastest women in the world.
At the 2016 Twin Cities Marathon, Kibii won in an astonishing two hours and 30 minutes. She’s since won the Bay to Breakers 12K in San Francisco twice and the Twin Cities Marathon again in 2017. She’s podiumed at a number of prestigious races, like the Los Angeles Marathon, where she placed second in 2017.
“She’s one of the smartest racers I’ve ever known,” said Kibii’s manager Brad Poore, a former professional runner. “She’s the complete opposite of me. If I’m in shape I’ll do stupid things in a race, whereas Jane is a lot better about gauging her energy and really running the perfectly paced race even to the extent that leaders will open up a gap ahead of her knowing she’s going to chase them down later in the race.”
Kibii’s running prowess started at an early age. As a child, she would run 7 miles from her home in Moiben, Kenya, to school and back again, often barefoot, keeping pace and often outrunning the older boys. She started racing in high school and went undefeated in 1,500-meter events, but even then, she never considered running to be more than a hobby.
“When I was young I didn’t understand running could take you far away,” she said. “When I did my first race outside the country, in Uganda, injured, and I came in second, I was like, ‘Wow. I can do this.’ I think I won $200 but it was still big money for me. I had never even had $30 for myself so that was a huge surprise.”
Kibii’s journey has had its fair share of challenges. As one of nine siblings growing up, she shared a room with her brothers and sisters, eating meager meals of ugali (a type of porridge) and living without running water or electricity. She moved to the United States in 2006 and now lives and trains full time in California.
Even with that blazing 2:30 marathon time, sponsorships have been hard to find. In a sport where the difference between winning $800 and $10,000 comes down to a matter of seconds, the pressure to perform is tremendous, especially given that Kibii has a 5-year-old daughter, Belvia, and is a single mother. “What motivates me to run is I don’t want to depend on someone,” Kibii said. “I’m a single mom. I run and I save money for me and my daughter.”
Kibii and her daughter share a room in Poore’s home in the Sierra Nevada foothills. She has saved the bulk of her career earnings to construct a new home for her parents back in Kenya. Thanks to help from one of Kibii’s sponsors, BioLite, which makes lighting, cooking and energy products for off-the-grid communities as well as campers and backpackers, her home in Kenya is fully equipped with solar-powered lights and USB charging stations. The company recently released a film, called “Run Home,” that juxtaposes Kibii’s new life in California with her home in Kenya and the impacts that access to clean energy can have on overall health and quality of life. “Growing up without electricity and now having solar, which they [can use to] charge their phone … It’s a big, huge difference,” Kibii said in the film.
“The fact that Jane just built this home for her parents and she doesn’t even have a home for herself says a lot about her,” added Poore.
Kibii is currently training six days a week for her first big race of the 2019 season, the LA Marathon, which will take place in late March.