A Long Way from Chepkaram to Santa Fe

Aliphine 2015 SF Thunder with dancers

Aliphine with two Pueblo of Pojoaque Hoop Dancers

Aliphine Tuliamuk Bolton is the Santa Fe Thunder half marathon women’s course record holder, with a blazing time of 1:09:16 in 2013. She then won the race in 2015, and has made Santa Fe her home since 2013.

Over a lunch of Gyros and chai at the Famous Plaza Café in Santa Fe, Aliphine told me that Chepkaram, the village she grew up in 10 road hours northwest of Nairobi, is too small and too far to be findable online. It is true – Google Earth is unaware.  The nearest city is Kapenguria, the capital of West Pokot County, with 13,000 urban residents.

Aliphine discovered her running talent by accident, while looking for an excuse to travel to neighboring schools to cheer on her teammates, but her parents wouldn’t let her go because she was too young. One afternoon during track practice, she saw her older sister Lucy cross the finish line first, which meant she would represent her school; in that moment, Aliphine promised herself to run with Lucy the following day and sure enough, Aliphine was faster. In 1999 when she was in 3rd grade, Aliphine won her 1st ever cross country race in the village of Kaptabuk and the prize of a blanket, which she gave to her grandfather. This inspired her to race again, and soon Aliphine had the opportunity to do so, representing her village and school.

At the 2000 division championship in Cheparten, she was astounded by all the runners wearing shiny warmup suits. Despite such intimidation, Aliphine was there to run as fast as she could, and was surprised to win the 10,000M race. As always, she ran barefoot, and her family and supporters who brought her from home were amazed by her achievement. When she won the District meet in Chepareria, the whole village was behind her and were shocked – the first girl from Chepkaram to achieve such success, and she was only 10 years old!

Aliphine mountains

Aliphine in the Kenyan highlands

Aliphine didn’t go home as she ran up the ladder of success. But the next race, the Provincial Championship, was in Kericho, another several hours south of Eldoret. Her family had to return to Chepkaram and by this point, Aliphine felt more alone than she ever had, and wanted to go home too. She didn’t do well in Kericho (“only” 5th), but returned to a huge welcome from everyone in her village – the Pokot Rocket was born!

Thanks to continued success through middle school, in 2005 Aliphine was offered the opportunity to attend a distinguished high school, St. Cecilia Girls High School in Misikhu, Western Province. She also qualified for the World Junior Cross Country Championships in Saint-Galmier, France. The Kenyan girls team became World Junior Champions and 15 year old Aliphine finished 9th, and 6th on her team, running against athletes up to 20 years old!

Soon, Aliphine realized she could excel in school as well as running, and focused more on her studies than racing, finishing 9th in her class and earning the opportunity to receive a scholarship to a university in the United States. Barnabas Korir helped her attend Iowa State University, where Aliphine studied pre-nursing and learned all about winter in the Midwest. Aliphine

After transferring to Wichita State, Aliphine became a First Team All-American in cross country and in 2013, the first women from her village to graduate from college, with a major in Public Health that she plans to eventually apply at home. Her first professional race was the 2013 Crim 10 Miler in Michigan, which she won. Along the way, Aliphine heard about the Santa Fe resident and 2015 Boston Marathon Champion, Caroline Rotich, after she won the 2013 NYC half marathon and heard about the Land of Enchantment. Soon after she spoke with another Kenyan, Haron Lagat, who coincidentally has the same coach as Caroline. That was enough for Aliphine and her husband Jarron Bolton to become residents of the City Different, and join the local group of world-class Kenyan runners.

A few days after winning Crim Festival of Races 10 miler, as Aliphine was on her way up from Albuquerque on I-25 after a Saturday long-run, she spotted Abraham on the billboard that Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino provides us each year near the foot of La Bajada. A local half marathon, with prize money! Aliphine ran Santa Fe Thunder, her longest race ever, as a tempo run and was amazed to go through 10 miles faster than at Crim! She felt relaxed the whole way and cruised to a 1:09:16 – the fastest half marathon ever run by a woman in New Mexico.

When she is not training on the roads and trails of Santa Fe, or, like this morning, doing speedwork on the Pojoaque Pueblo Wellness Center track, Aliphine provides care for the elderly in their homes and has recently started volunteering as a coach for Girls on the Run at the Chaparral Elementary school in Santa Fe. Aliphine is living the dream of Kenyan runners in the United States, and in particular, northern New Mexico, while giving back to her community at the same time.

I asked Aliphine who first told her about Santa Fe. “I am here because of Caroline” she said. Abraham Kosgei told Caroline about Santa Fe, and the connections go all the way back to the Grandfathers of Kenyan running in New Mexico, Peter Koech and Henry Rono. 40 years of Kenyan runners in New Mexico, each on the journey of a lifetime. As said in a previous post, it’s all about the stories. Many thanks to Aliphine for sharing her story and best wishes for future success in running and her career in public health.

Smooth Running,

Joseph Karnes
Race Director