TORONTO - When Julius Arile crossed the finish line at the 2013 New York Marathon, his faced stretched into a wide smile. It spoke of an arduous and incredible journey that didn't cover just 42 kilometres, but the better part of a decade.
The Kenyan used to run from police. Sunday, he'll race in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
Arile's story is chronicled in the documentary "Gun Runners," by Canadian journalist Anjali Nayar. Shot over a 10-year period, the National Film Board movie follows Arile and Robert Matanda, friends who lived for years as part of a roaming band of cattle rustlers that terrorized the North Kenyan countryside.
About a decade ago, the two traded in their guns for running shoes and amnesty as part of a government program that hoped to curb the violence in Kenya's most conflict-heavy regions.
"I had just met these men and they were so incredible, they were so charismatic, they had this incredible story behind them, but I knew the hardest was ahead for them," said Nayar, who was working as a reporter in Kenya when she met the two at a Peace Run, which brings together "warriors" from rival gangs.
One of her inspirations, she said, was "Hoop Dreams," the 1994 documentary about high school basketball in Chicago and their dreams of playing in the NBA.
"Much like basketball was a way of getting out of Chicago, running is a way of getting out of Kenya," she said.
Kenya is a virtual distance running factory, regularly churning out world-class runners, especially the country's picturesque Great Rift Valley, where Arile and Matanda once chased cattle and dodged police.
While Matanda opted to give up running to follow political aspirations, Arile decided to devote his life to the sport in hopes of supporting his family, including his seven children and three wives, through prize money.
"Running is my job for now. I have no other job, except running," said the soft-spoken runner, who took questions from viewers at a recent screening in Toronto. "I like it so much."
"Arile had his first gun at 13, he thought cows were a way out, cows were money," Nayar added. "Then you finally realize you can make money with something else, you can do something else, you can be whatever you want to be, that's the change that happened in his life."
Arile finally found success at the New York Marathon in 2013. After sticking with the leaders through most of the gruelling 42.195-kilometre race, he fell off the pace and looked destined for disappointment. But he found another gear to roar back to a fourth-place finish.
When asked where that inspirational late-race kick came from, Arile said "I remembered my family that I left behind."
Their story, Nayar said, is "about life. As much a story about running as it is about what it takes to get to that start line."
It's been a rocky storyline for Arile since that memorable morning in New York, however. He's suffered through the deaths of family members and friends. And he's been hampered by injuries that has kept him from the marathon start line for almost three years.
He's had a solid year of training though, and hopes to make a strong return to marathoning in Sunday's race in Toronto.
He won a 5K race in Montreal last week.
"Gun Runners" is showing in Toronto through the next week.