London hopeful Kipchoge remains faithful to the “old school mentality”, by Steven Mills
Eliud Kipchoge wins 2003 World Champs, photo by PhotoRun.net
Six formidable Kenyans with lifetime bests ranging from 2:02:58 to 2:04:55 were invited to the stage for the elite men’s pre-race press conference for the Virgin Money London Marathon on Thursday. But one of them was the odd one out.
World record-holder Dennis Kimetto has never raced competitively on the track; the second fastest runner in history Emmanuel Mutai hasn’t raced on the tartan in nearly a decade; and reigning champion Wilson Kipsang’s track resume is limited exclusively to a smattering of early season domestic contests.
By contrast, Eliud Kipchoge is something of a throwback in his approach to the marathon. While bypassing the track altogether is the fashionable thing to do nowadays, Kipchoge only moved to the marathon at the age of 28 after serving a decade-long apprenticeship on the track.
Kipchoge wins Pre 2005, photo by PhotoRun.net
“I can say that life has changed,” said Kipchoge, whose career stretches back to the days when Paul Tergat and Haile Gebrselassie ruled the roost. “But all in all, what I am saying is that I still preach and advocate the old school mentality.
“If today if I hang up my racing shoes and started coaching, I will tell athletes to start running track and cross country.
“Cross country is an important part of your career and gives you a good build-up for the rest of the season so if you run very well at cross country, you will automatically maintain it [the form] and you will have a smooth season.”
While there is surely some causality between athletes moving to the marathon at a younger age with speed in their legs and the unprecedented frequency in sub-2:05 times, Kipchoge embodies that the traditional path to the marathon can still be a perfectly legitimate one.
The enormous monetary rewards associated with big-city marathons where six-figure sums are up for grabs is the catalyst, but Kipchoge believes money shouldn’t drive an athlete’s career path.
“I can say that we don’t need to train and compete in the name of money,” said Kipchoge. “If you’re coached well and build up a good reputation, then money will come.”
Kipchoge built his reputation, racked up the medals – and the dollars – during an illustrious track career which stretches back to 2003. At 18, Kipchoge was the interloper in a high-octane race over 5000m in the Stade de France where he upset two all-time greats at the World Championships in Paris.
“I have a lot of good memories from 2003 to 2011,” reflected Kipchoge on his track career. “But my biggest memory is 2003 when I beat Kenenisa [Bekele] and [Hicham] El Guerrouj; that’s where my life started on the track.”
Eliud Kipchoge in the snow, Campaccio XC 2009, photo by PhotoRun.net
Life for Kipchoge is now on the roads. He has run four marathons, and his record stands at three wins from four starts. His PB stands at 2:04:05, his slowest time is 2:05:30, and his sole defeat came at the hands of Kipsang when he broke the world record in Berlin two years ago.
Kipchoge’s transition appears seamless on paper, but the adjustments in training have been enormous.
“It’s a big, big change,” emphasised Kipchoge, who has banked up training runs of up to 40-42 kilometres in preparation for London. “I started with cross country and after ten years, I needed to forget cross country and track, and focus on road races and marathon.
Wilson Kipsang breaks Eliud Kipchoge, BMW Berlin 2013, photo by PhotoRun.net
“It’s really challenging because between track and marathon, it’s two different things. On the track, everything is really intense and short; at the marathon, it’s huge, it’s cumbersome, it’s long.
“The marathon training is about telling your body ‘please, please, you need to go long.'”
Having missed out on the track team for the 2012 Olympics, Kipchoge is looking ahead to the marathon for Rio. But to highlight the sheer enormity of that task, at least three of the featured runners on the stage – Kipsang, Kimetto, Mutai, Stanley Biwott, Geoffrey Mutai, as well as Kipchoge – won’t be selected for the Kenyan team for Rio.
Kipchoge is under no illusion that whoever is selected will be under intense pressure to bring the Olympic marathon title back home to Kenya.
“I think that was a wake-up call for Kenya,” said Kipchoge on the London Olympics when rank-outsider Stephen Kiprotich from Uganda humbled a formidable Kenyan triumvirate. “There’s a lot of pressure on us to claim that title next year!”