Eliud Kipchoge was the No.1 marathon man in 2015, writes Steven Mills, and the Kenyan is keen to claim the world record
While it is not uncommon for Kenyan runners to drift off the map after one or two good seasons on the circuit, Eliud Kipchoge is still on the scene some 13 years after winning the 5000m title at the 2003 World Championships in Paris as a teenager.
Kipchoge doesn’t harbour any desire to hang up his racing shoes just yet and even when he does, he isn’t planning to stay away from the main stage for too long.
“I love the challenges in running and I will still run even after hanging up my racing shoes,” enthused Kipchoge. “I will be running for fun in world city marathons like London, New York and the rest of the World Major Marathons.”
Kipchoge amassed a distinguished career on the track also highlighted by Olympic medals in 2004 and 2008 but lacking the speed he possessed in his hey-day to make his third Kenyan team in 2012, the Kenyan ditched the track and moved to the roads at the prime age of 27.
The traditional apprenticeship at the shorter distances has clearly served Kipchoge well. He has contested six marathons to date and has run 2:05 or faster on each occasion. The only runner to beat Kipchoge at the distance so far is Wilson Kipsang when he set a world record of 2:03:23 in Berlin three years ago.
“I love the challenges in running and I will still run even after hanging up my racing shoes”
So what does Kipchoge credit for his consistency and longevity? He cites self-discipline and a strong will as prerequisite character traits but he graciously gives a lot of praise to his long-time coach Patrick Sang for guiding him from an excellent track runner to an even better marathon runner.
“He is more than a coach,” said Kipchoge, who has been coached by the ex-steeplechaser for the entirety of his professional career. “He is a life coach, a business coach and a sports coach; that’s what makes him better than other coaches.”
Kipchoge, 31, is the elder statesman of the Global Sports Communications camp in Kaptagat where he lives and trains alongside a large group including Stephen Kiprotich and Geoffrey Kamworor. One would imagine each training session is a fiercely competitive encounter with the leading athletes unwilling to yield an inch but Sang on the contrary has instilled his star pupil with a tunnel vision mentality.
“I have been coached by Patrick for all of my career and the best piece of advice is the best competitor is yourself,” he said.
“He tells me that I should race and train against myself, that’s by feeling how my body responds to training and concentrate fully. He is more than a coach to me, he is also my mentor.”
Kipchoge reiterates that preparation is absolutely paramount and holds a philosophy the outcome of the marathon is decided weeks in advance of the race itself. He cites last year’s win in the London Marathon as his biggest to date but he shirks at describing Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto – who he beat into second and third last year and will face again this month – as rivals.
“Not at all, I am not competing with anybody,” said Kipchoge modestly. “I beat them [Kipsang and Kimetto] last year in the aspects of preparation and planning. I think I was the most prepared one.”
“Personally I have a goal to break the world record and it’s my priority”
In the build-up to London, Kipchoge will follow the same programme which propelled him to victory in the Berlin Marathon last year in a world-leading time of 2:04:00. This programme includes weekly track and fartlek sessions, as well as a long run measured at 40km and run at a pace of 3:20 per kilometre.
Without doubt, Kipchoge would have run faster in Berlin last autumn if it wasn’t for an untimely footwear malfunction when both of his insoles came loose in the very early stages but an assault on the 2:04-barrier might have to wait until next year.
While London is by no means a slow course, the British capital is perhaps no longer the leading destination for runners aiming to go head-to-head with the clock. And after that – assuming he will gain selection which he surely will barring disaster – Kipchoge will turn his attention to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro where he will chase that elusive title.
But a gold medal in Rio isn’t Kipchoge’s foremost ambition at the marathon.
“Personally I have a goal to break the world record and it’s my priority,” said Kipchoge. “I hope soon if not sooner. I can’t predict when I will break it but it will be soon.”