When writing about Eliud Kipchoge, it is hard to know where to start: with his Olympic victory in Rio? With his “Breaking2” project in Monza? With his fabulous marathon record of six wins in a row? With his first World Championship title fourteen years ago in the 5000m? The 32-year-old Kenyan is the king of marathon runners. He has already secured his spot as one of the greatest long-distance runners of all times.
Eliud Kipchoge is not only a first-class runner; he also reads a lot, has many diverse interests, he contemplates and speaks articulately, and is not a man of many words. Instead, he lets actions speak for themselves. In response to Wilson Kipsang’s announcement that he plans to run between 2:02:20 and 2:02:10 in Berlin, he only replied, “Wilson is a politician. They are good at speaking. He even ran for a seat in the Kenyan parliament, but was not elected. We will see what happens on September 24th. I won’t decide until the last moment how fast I will start out. But I can say this: I want the world record”. He has been training in the same way he did before his “Breaking2” attempt together with runners like Geoffrey Kamworor and Stephen Kiprotich in the Global Sports camp in Kaptagat.
His self-confidence is unshakeable at the moment. If you win seven of your last eight marathons, including the Olympic Marathon in Rio with over a minute lead, you don’t need motivational help. And then there was the “Breaking2” project in May in Monza. Although he missed the big goal to be the first person to run a marathon under two hours—by just 25 seconds—and he had support that he won’t have in Berlin, the long underestimated Kenyan has gained a lot from this experience: “It showed me what the human body is capable of and how we can push our limits if we can break the mental barriers. I ran a pace of 2:50 per kilometre for almost two hours. That will help me in Berlin too”.
Many experts have deliberated about the meaning of the time in Monza for a city marathon. Dutchmen Hans van Dijk and Ron van Megen calculated that a time of 2:00:25 with “normal” pacemakers like you have in a city marathon would equate to a time of 2:02:18. Renowned scientist Ross Tucker thinks it is more like 2:01:40. And what does Eliud Kipchoge think? “I don’t know the basis for these calculations. I also don’t want to participate in speculations. Everyone who has run a marathon knows how many factors play a role. It is no different at the top level”.
A look back. When Eliud Kipchoge triumphed at the World Championships in Paris in 2003, ahead of Kenenisa Bekele and Hicham El Guerrouj, he was still a junior. It was the start of a great career. Until 2012, he ran the 5000m under thirteen minutes every year, ten times in a row. Everything was going as planned—up until the Kenyan did not qualify for the London Olympics. After five World Championships and two Olympic Games, for the first time he was unable to qualify for a major international event. The disappointment was contained, however. He was prepared. “In 2012, I was still number eight in the world in the 5000m. So there was no reason to hang up my running shoes,” he says. “Together with my coach Patrick Sang, I had decided to switch to road racing after the Olympic season anyway. I wanted something new”. Sang, a former steeplechaser, has accompanied Eliud’s career as a trainer and advisor from very beginning.
The two of them are bonded by more than a working relationship. Both of them grew up in the same Nandi neighbourhood Kapsisiywa, and Eliud’s mother was Sang’s preschool teacher. Eliud Kipchoge on Patrick Sang: “He is an excellent trainer. But he is also my friend, my big brother. He is smart and humble. I have learned a lot from him as a person, too”. And Sang on his model student: “There are other athletes who are just as good physically. What raises Eliud above the others is his mental strength. I think he can complete a marathon under two hours and two minutes”.
Ah, the fascinating and repetitive questions about limits. Some experts believe that the two-hour mark will not be broken for fifty or sixty years. Eliud Kipchoge believes that it will happen well before then. “But”, he says, “I am not going to commit to a specific year. If I were to do that I would be putting a brake on the developments, including my own. What I will predict, though, is that in one or two years a time of 2:01 or 2:01:30 will become a reality”. The first step in that direction: Sunday in Berlin.
And what if he becomes the official world-record holder—what next? The answer shoots back: “When I achieve something, I look forward and concentrate on the next goal. Of the marathon majors, I still want Tokyo, Boston and New York, and I also want to take another shot at the two-hour barrier. I learned a lot in Monza. I am now convinced that it is possible under optimal conditions to run a marathon in under two hours. Next time I will know how the body reacts. That will help me”.
By Jürg Wirz, Eldoret/Kenya. Translation by Penny Eifrig
<iframe frameborder="0" height="360" src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/234535309" width="640"></iframe>