In Israel, Lonah Chemtai Salpeter hardly needs any introducing. After all, she is one of the country’s top athletes.
Last year alone, she won bronze medals at both the World Athletics Championships marathon and the European Athletics Championships’ 10,000-meter race.
In 2020, she won the Tokyo marathon, and in 2018 came in first place at the European 10,000-meter race. She placed second in the New York City Marathon women’s race last November.
Chemtai Salpeter also represented Israel at the 2020 Tokyo and 2016 Rio Olympics and holds a slew of national running records. Next up on her list: the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“Running makes me feel free. I enjoy that my mind is free, and you feel your energy, you feel like something relaxes in the mind,” she tells ISRAEL21c.
“You have to run for yourself, to feel good,” she adds. “I also love running because you go to many countries and meet many people. You get many ideas and you can learn a lot from athletes from various countries.”
Family is her motivation
Chemtai Salpeter, 34, got into professional running less than a decade ago. She was not one of these athletes who was already busy competing as a child.
“When I was young I was running, not seriously, but just running like other kids in school,” she notes. “I started running seriously in Israel.”
Born and raised in West Pokot in western Kenya, Chemtai Salpeter came to Israel in 2008 for work. Once here, she took up running as a pastime.
“When I started seeing people running in [Tel Aviv], I said to myself ‘I can be like them,’” she recalls. “Then I met my husband, and he was encouraging me and supporting me a lot.”
Fast forward a few years and she and her husband, running coach Dan Salpeter, became one of the country’s leading sporting teams. They also became parents to Roy, now eight, with whom they live in Kibbutz Lehavot Habashan in northern Israel.
“They are the ones who motivate me a lot,” she says.
Handling pain and loss
ISRAEL21c catches Chemtai Salpeter not long after she returned from a weeks-long training session in Kenya.
“I’m not with my family when I’m in training – there’s no altitude in Israel so I need to go to Kenya and they need to stay back home. So there’s this challenge that we are not together a lot of the time.”
Another challenge for athletes is learning how to handle the pain, she says.
“And losing. You train for months, and you are disappointed, but you need to take a challenge. You need to know where your weaknesses were and the mistakes that you made.”
Another challenge is the physical and hormonal changes that women experience.
At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she slowed down toward the end of the race despite being among the leading runners. The reason? Menstrual cramping – a fact she went on to publicize and explain in order to raise awareness of the issue.
Running in silence
A fun fact is that Chemtai Salpeter runs in silence, with no music.
“I always like to listen to my heart beating,” she says. “Even though I’m running 42 kilometers, I run without music.”
She also has some pro tips for aspiring runners.
“It’s hard in the beginning; At first, you can even get scared of how you breathe when you run. It’s something that you’ve just started so you can tell yourself you don’t have to be scared – just continue, and the more you train the easier it gets,” she promises.
Looking forward, Chemtai Salpeter hopes to motivate kids in Israel to try running and sports. She also hopes her biggest accomplishments are yet to come.
“I’ll still be doing my best, running for the marathon. It’s not short – it’s long-distance and you need to train for a long time, and you need to choose to do it. I like it, and I’m making my family proud and happy.”