Ever wondered how Eliud Kipchoge trains for a marathon?
After setting a new world record for the marathon in Berlin last year, there can be little argument that Eliud Kipchoge is the greatest marathon runner the world has ever seen.
When Eliud ran a 2:01:39 at the Berlin Marathon in 2018, he beat the previous record by 1 minute and 20 seconds. Not since 1967 has an athlete shaved more than a minute off the record. In the modern age of sports science and peak-performance athletes, no one expected such a result.
Kipchoge is now gearing up for his next challenge – an effort to run a sub-two hour marathon. The Kenyan has attempted this before in a collaboration with Nike in 2017, which saw him come within 25 seconds.
The time is not recorded officially due to the use of a lead car and rotating pacemakers. Similarly, this year’s effort won’t go down as an official record, but it will show what the human body is capable of.
Kipchoge has said on several occasions that his preparation is the same ahead of each marathon, based on principles of simplicity, focus, and hard work.
In this post, we’ll dive a bit deeper to explore how Eliud Kipchoge trains, prepares, and eats in the months leading up to a race.
Related article: Who is Eliud Kipchoge?
Eliud Kipchoge’s Marathon Training Structure
Any good training regime requires structure and planning. Kipchoge and his team split their programme into three distinct phases:
Phase 1 – Gym workouts, aerobics, and jogging
Phase 2 – Loading phase
Phase 3 – Critical training phase
Through each phase, the intensity increases again and again.
This forces the athlete to continuously keep progressing and upping their game, with the entire programme focused on producing peak physical and mental fitness just in time for race day.
The priority of phase one is to build a base layer of fitness. While a key aim is to get the body used to running again (should there have been any time off), it’s also a chance for Kipchoge to work on improving strength and flexibility.
Phases 2 and 3 will put a huge amount of strain on the body, so muscles and joints need to be strong in order to prevent injury.
In the second phase, Kipchoge moves into a camp with other athletes in Kaptagat, Kenya. The camp is located 2400 metres above sea-level, creating the perfect high-altitude training conditions for the athletes based there.
For elite endurance athletes, the benefit of living and training at altitude is clear. At elevation, there is simply less oxygen in the atmosphere. Over time, the body responds to the environment and starts producing extra red-blood cells in order to carry more oxygen.
In effect, the body becomes biologically prepared for low-oxygen environments, so when an athlete then competes at a lower, oxygen-rich altitude, their ability to carry additional oxygen (fuel) can provide a performance boost of 1-2%. For Kipchoge, this may be the difference between running sub-two or not.
Eliud’s training camp in Kaptagat is symbolic of the entire programme. It’s a simple facility, where there is little to do outside of eat, sleep and train.
If you’re interested in how Eliud Kipchoge trains, the fundamentals are in this simplistic and spartan approach.
Days are split into two sessions, a morning and an afternoon workout.
Over the course of a week, there is typically:
The core sessions are a relatively new addition following advice from Eliud’s physio in the run-up to his record-breaking run in Berlin – they focus on building core strength to improve stability and reduce the chances of injury.
By the end of phase two, Kipchoge and his fellow athletes will be well used to covering huge distances (on average, they run 200km a week) and their pace will have increased substantially.
Even so, this remains a preparation phase for the intensity of what’s to come.
Kipchoge is a former track athlete (he won bronze and silver Olympic medals in the 5000m in 2004 and 2008 respectively), and he leans on those experiences in phase three by adding in exceptionally hard track workouts once a week.
The track sessions consist of intervals and time-trials to get the body moving at very fast paces over varying distances. In addition to the workload described in phase two, the body is now being put through immense strain.
It’s therefore important to train smart in order to avoid a burn-out effect.
So, at this point, Kipchoge’s weekly programme consists of simple, but varied exercises each day.
Long runs get the aerobic energy system working hard and improve his endurance, whilst fartlek and track workouts condition his anaerobic threshold and, thus, increase the speed he can run at before his body starts producing lactic acid.
The two elements together create a well-balanced training programme.
Regular runners will often focus on building up the fitness to complete a marathon through steady-state sessions (long runs), as we cover in the Marathon Training Masterclass.
But in order to run a world record time, Kipchoge knows he must work on both endurance and speed simultaneously.
Another factor in phase three is the focus on recovery and injury prevention. Recovery is important throughout all phases, but none more so than during the final weeks before a race.
Kipchoge has up to three massage and physio sessions a week plus two ice-baths after particularly brutal runs.
Whilst all the hard work in Kaptagat will prepare Kipchoge physically, it is in his own mind where Eliud must convince himself he’s ready.
This is a key element in how Eliud Kipchoge trains; it’s not all physical – mindset it essential.
The Kenyan has talked previously about entering every race with the right mindset. After all, running a marathon can be a lonely experience; Kipchoge ran the final 17km in Berlin by himself, with no pacemakers or competitors able to keep up.
That’s a lot of time for a mind to wander and fight back against the stress you’re putting the body through.
It’s important, then, to be able to focus and concentrate on what needs to be done to win or hit the desired time. Kipchoge’s focus comes as a result of his dedication. From working hard day in, day out, on a single goal. The process feeds the mindset.
This is then matched with a genuine, unwavering belief that he can accomplish his goal. Kipchoge will tell himself every day that he can and will succeed at the task ahead of him.
It doesn’t matter if no-one else has ever run a sub-two hour marathon before, Eliud Kipchoge will truly believe he is the one to do it.
It’s important to note this focus and self-belief can apply to anyone.
A professional athlete’s goals may be slightly different, but the approach to internalising a lofty goal as ‘a challenge you will complete’ is something any runner can take away from Kipchoge’s training programme and start using straight away.
In Kenya and much of Sub-Saharan Africa, starch-based foods like Ugali (a cornmeal porridge) are very popular. As are an abundance of vegetables.
This means camp meals primarily consist of fresh, healthy sources of carbohydrates, fibre and minerals. Protein and fat intake is relatively low.
For a runner, this makes sense.
Protein is a poor source of energy, whereas carbohydrates are the opposite. And if you’re running 200km a week, you’re going to need to refuel with a varied mix of energy sources.
Carbohydrates are perfect for this: sugars are easily broken down to quickly release energy into the body, whilst the complex carbohydrates in foods like Ugali (a cornmeal-based porridge, seen below) are broken down slowly – releasing energy into the body over a longer period.
Meanwhile, high levels of fibre and minerals keep all muscles and organs functioning correctly and healthily, whilst aiding recovery and reducing inflammation.
Ugali – A dish of cornmeal porridge with vegetables (Photo Credit: Pavish Jai)
Eliud Kipchoge may well be the world’s best marathon runner, but his training programme is simple and well-founded in science.
He takes a balanced approach to working on different aspects of his running, including endurance, rhythm and speed.
His limited surroundings free him from distractions and help him to focus.
This helps prioritize getting plenty of rest and sleep.
And Eliud’s nutrition is perfect for his needs as a long-distance runner.
All this comes together to create an incredibly fine-tuned athlete, ready to perform time and time again.