They say the pen is mightier than the sword. In the case of Eluid Kipchoge, the lack of either didn’t stop him from beginning his journey that would eventually lead to him being considered the greatest marathoner runner of all time.
When he was 18, he was offered a training plan by prominent coach Patrick Sang, but without a pen, he was forced to improvise: “I just got a stick and wrote the plan for 10 days down on my arm,” Kipchoge says. “Then I just crammed it in my head, rushed home, and got a pen and paper to write down what he had told me while it was fresh in my mind.”
This is the story of how Eliud Kipchoge became the world’s fastest marathon runner.
The Simple Life
Despite having made a lot of money from his marathon wins, appearance fees, and sponsorship deals, Kipchoge prefers the simple life.
He lives in a modest home and doesn’t shy away from the chores in the training camp, helping with the cleaning like the other athletes. Honest, humble, and hardworking are central to his philosophy.
He has avoided getting too carried away with success and fame and not fallen into the trap that has affected some other successful Kenyan athletes. Daniel Komen is maybe the best example of this as after setting the world alight in a two-year period between 1996 and 1998 with a WR in the 3000m of 7.20.67 (still standing today), he lost the motivation to train and retired from the sport at the age of 26.
Consistency is something he does best, and it is believed that you could count with one hand the number of training sessions he has missed in 20 years. Also, his former teammate Abel Kirui describes him as a smart, organised, and disciplined person: “If he says dinner is at 7pm, dinner will be at 7pm. If it is time for sleeping, it is time for sleeping. He is always on time.”
Kipchoge’s Early Career
He was brought up by a single mother who worked as a teacher and is the youngest of four. Like so many of fellow East African youngers, his early experience of running was more as an essential means of transport, where he ran to and from school daily.
For a long time, running was merely a hobby and he enjoyed the freedom of it. Although it was not until he had that chance encounter with Patrick Sang (an Olympic competitor in the 3000m steeplechase) that he started to consider devoting more time to running.
He travelled to Dublin in 2002 to compete in the World Cross Country Championships and competing in the junior men’s race – he finished a solid 5th and helped the Kenyan win team gold. Meanwhile, the Ethiopian athlete, Kenenisa Bekele, completed the double by winning both the 4km and 12km in the Men’s Senior category. Unbeknown to all was that nearly 20 years later they would be considered the two finest marathon runners on the planet and their long-awaited head-to-head was keeping fans on their tenterhooks!
In the women’s category, another successful marathon runner, Paula Radcliffe, produced a brilliant performance to take the gold in the women;s 8k event.
Perhaps the much-documented benefits of running cross-country are that it helps build strength and endurance. It´s obviously a good starting point for later marathon success!
He returned to the event a year later and won the race outright! This was followed up by a remarkable performance in winning the 5000m at the World Championships in Paris, outsprinted both Bekele and Hicham El Guerrouj.
He later had considerable success at later World Championships and Olympic Games, winning a total of 1 gold, 2 silvers, and 1 bronze in the 2003-2008 period. Despite this impressive track career, Kipchoge was surprisingly left out of the Kenyan Olympic squad in London 2012. Perhaps, this then sparked his decision to focus on the marathon event in 2013.
Taking On The Marathon
Going into the Berlin marathon on 16 September 2018, Kipchoge had an incredible marathon streak of 8 wins from 9 (his only defeat was to the hands of Wilson Kipsang who in the 2013 edition of the Berlin marathon set a world record time of 2:03:23). Amazingly, when Kipchoge crossed the line that day in 2:01:39, he smashed the existing world by an unbelievable 1 minute and 20 seconds.
The time was impressive, but a year before that, Kipchoge had run even quicker!
He was part of Nike’s Breaking2 Project, a promotional event showcasing the Nike Vaporfly 4% shoe as the secret weapon in breaking the 2-hour barrier in the marathon. The race was held on a Formula One track in Italy with a group of world-class athletes acting as pacemakers and Kipchoge narrowly missed dipping under the magical 2-hour mark running a 2:00:25.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Kipchoge announced that he would try again to become the first person first person to run a sub-two hour marathon in the INEOS 1:59 Challenge. The event took place in Vienna on October 12th, 2019 and with the help of a group of excellent pacemakers, advanced technology, and favourable weather conditions, he accomplished the once believed impossible, running 1:59:40.
All the times achieved by Kipchoge since his debut in 2013
|21 April 2013||Hamburg||1st||2:05:30|
|29 September 2013||Berlin||2nd||2:04:05|
|12 October 2014||Chicago||1st||2:04:11|
|26 April 2015||London||1st||2:04:42|
|27 September 2015||Berlin||1st||2:04:00|
|24 April 2016||London||1st||2:03:05|
|21 August 2016||Río de Janeiro||1st||2:08:44|
|24 September 2017||Berlin||1st||2:03:32|
|22 April 2018||London||1st||2:04:17|
|16 September 2018||Berlin||1st||2:01:39|
|29 April 2019||London||1st||2:02:37|
|2 October 2020||London||8th||2:06.49|
How Eliud Kipchoge Trains For a Marathon
Training at altitude is a common theme when it comes to East African athletes and it is regarded as one of the key factors behind the continued success of these athletes across the endurance events.
Kipchoge bases himself in a training camp in Kaptagat. It is 8,000 feet above sea level. Even though his wife and children live in nearby Eldoret, he chooses to live there with other athletes. The environment suits him, and it allows him to have no distractions so he can focus on the task at hand.
The typical weekly schedule will include a focus on building aerobic endurance – a long run of 30-40km usually on a Sunday, supplemented with double run days on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, covering distances between 10-18km.
Tempo runs are an essential part of his preparation for marathons and include both shorter tempos of between 10km and 25km and some long hard tempos up to 35km.
On Tuesdays, he focuses on quicker workouts at 3k and 5k paces on the track and on Saturdays, a fartlek session would be the norm. As the training progresses over the period, Kipchoge and his fellow athletes will become comfortable covering distances of close to 200km a week.
In addition to clocking up the mileage, Kipchoge usually fits in 1 Strength and conditioning session and 2 Core sessions each week. The strength, conditioning and core sessions are essential for aiding stabilization and injury prevention.
Moreover, the importance of rest and recovery to Kipchoge is vital for him and it is believed that he has up to three massage and physio sessions a week and uses ice-baths after particularly hard runs.
He describes the training philosophy and schedule as follows:
“Our life here is simple, very simple,” he says. “Get up in the morning, go for a run, come back. If it is a day for cleaning, we do the cleaning, or we just relax. Then go for lunch, massage, the 4 o’clock run, evening tea, relax, go to sleep. As simple as that.” (source: BBC Sport)
Eluid’s Reasons For Success
There has been a lot written about the advantages that the East African athletes have over their competitors. These include the benefits of both living and training at altitude, the building of the aerobic base from a young age as a means of getting to and from school, and other factors such as a diet that is high in complex carbohydrates, vegetables, and low in fat and simple sugars.
According to the University of Exeter, Professor Andrew Jones (who worked as part of the team on the Breaking 2 project), there a number of things that make the Kenyan athletes and Kipchoge stand apart from the rest.
They don´t stick rigidly to a marathon training plan. “You have to be flexible. It’s that adage that you’ve got to listen to your body, but it is true. Kipchoge will change his schedule around if he is feeling particularly tired after a hard session.”
You have to get everything else right around training and recovering and you really have to sacrifice a lot. “It’s that monk- or nun-like existence that you have to buy into if you’re going to achieve what you’re ultimately capable of in the long term.”
They benefit from running on a lot of undulating terrain and hill running. “Some of the physios who work with the leading east African runners will tell you when you look at their feet and their lower legs, they are extremely muscular.”
Kipchoge has incredible fatigue resistance. “His VO2 max and running economy don’t deteriorate much over a period of 2 hours” – he has incredible fatigue resistance.
Then comes his mindset, and his willingness to challenge his limits: “He has unwavering, unshakeable confidence in his own ability and coaching, training, and preparation. He dares to think beyond the current limits.”