Feature | Athletics

Exclusive! Eliud Kipchoge’s unstoppable marathon mindset, the Olympics, and world records

The Olympic champion reveals views on Tokyo 2020 and 2020 London Marathon coronavirus postponements in an exclusive interview

By Evelyn Watta ·

It’s tough to pick the best moment of marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge's running career when he has been unbeaten for seven years.

That's before you get to the 35-year-old's incredible push to break the two-hour marathon mark - a feat no human being had achieved - holding a marathon pace of under 4:34 minutes per mile over 26.2 miles.

Yet Eliud Kipchoge is clear on the one act he would want to repeat again, “defend my [Olympic] title in marathon in a competitive field.”

Over his marathon career, the Olympic champion has been outstanding, consistent, fast and gutsy.

Eliud Kipchoge: A glittering marathon career

He is eyeing an unprecedented fifth London marathon title.

“My aim is to reach more than three billion people and I think they will accept that I have done it in a good way.” Eliud Kipchoge

And there is Berlin. The three-time Berlin marathon winner won the race in the German capital in 2018 in extraordinary fashion.

He endured pain and ran for most of the race with blistered feet, after shoe malfunction. Kipchoge returned to Berlin the following year and raced to the world record of 2:01:39.

At Rio 2016, he won Olympic marathon gold, adding on to the silver from Beijing 2008 and bronze at Athens 2004, both over 5,000m.

But 2019 was the real year to remember for Kipchoge.

He made history by breaking the two-hour marathon barrier in October in Vienna.

It was not recognised officially, as it wasn't in open competition, but it remains a genuine moment of human achievement.

He had hoped to end this year as a double Olympic gold medallist but that has to wait with Tokyo 2020 postponed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking to Olympic Channel Kipchoge said winning back-to-back Olympic titles would be another great addition to his impressive distance running record.

“If all goes well next year 2021, I'll defend my title in marathon in a competitive field and a good time. It will add more on my CV.” Eliud Kipchoge to Olympic Channel

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Eliud Kipchoge and 2020 London Marathon postponement

After finishing the season on a high, the Kenyan was keen to extend his great form at the London marathon that has now been postponed to October.

The Olympic Games and 2020 London Marathon delay took time to settle in.

Marathon is like life - Eliud Kipchoge on the pandemic disruption.

“The first time it was shocking, and it did not sink in well, but after some time I convinced my mind to accept the change. I'm an advocate for change. And at such times we need to change,” he said.

His training during this period, though lonely, has not been disrupted much.

He has toned down his regime but is still able to clock some mileage on his ‘early morning daily runs'.

“These are really strange times in sports in general, especially for us runners who were already in very good shape. At this time, every other weekend the top cities would be staging the big city marathons.

“But marathons are like life, we have flat courses, downhill and hilly courses. Now we are on a hilly course, this is the hardest of times. And like in a marathon that’s when you are struggling to go up the hill."

Kipchoge's mind mastery

Kipchoge can reach exceptional physical peaks in training and in competition.

But it’s the power of his mind that has made him one of the greatest in the marathon.

He attributes his mental toughness to how he has won the tightest of races:

“I always say I don't run by my legs, but I run by heart and my mind.”

“What makes a person run more is their mind. If your mind is calm, and well concentrated, then the whole body is controlled.”

In his third race in Berlin in 2017, he held off a stiff challenge from Ethiopia’s Guye Adola in the closing stages.

“Like what happened in Berlin with Adola, I needed to reflect back to what I had been doing [before the race]. Marathon can take five months of training,” Kipchoge told the Olympic Channel of his winning tactic largely shaped by his training at the high altitude camp Kaptagat, where he leads a simple life.

"Before that 80 per cent of my training time was in a happy way, pain free and I was hitting targets. I accepted that I had been doing good in training, and my mind actually drove my legs and I won.”

Kipchoge's winning mentality in marathon running

It was the same approach that earned Kipchoge his fourth London marathon title in 2019.

He comfortably controlled the race from start to finish.

“I had three strong people, and everybody was on my back wanting to run the best time, and to beat me. Another small voice told me, 'you should actually run slowly with these guys and then you kick,' he recalled with a smile that lingers on his face whenever he talks about his runs, and has also become his trademark beam whenever he crosses the finish line.

“Another small voice told me, 'No...you have trained hard for London. Go for it. Show the world that the philosophy of good preparations and planning can be proven in London.'

“I went with the last one because I wanted to be number one. And I wanted to run the best time ever in London, and it turned out to be second fastest in history of marathon."

Kipchoge won in a speedy 2:02:37.

His 11th win out of 12 marathons since his successful debut in Hamburg seven years ago.

Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya crosses the line to win the 2019 London Marathon.

Kipchoge's Olympic pedigree: From Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, and triumph at Rio 2016

Does he remember when he last lost a race?

“It was somewhere back in Berlin during my second marathon [in 2013]. I was still learning how to handle the ropes of marathon and other stuff. I did not lose so much,” he said of his second-place finish.

The 2003 World champion has always demonstrated the power of a positive attitude, living and learning from losses.

At Beijing 2008, Kipchoge was ready to peak at his second appearance at the Games.

But he had to wait another eight years to win the Olympic title.

“I was really in shape in Beijing. Even with two laps to go my mind was telling me, 'You will be Olympic Champion this year!'

"But I had no more fuel and Kenenisa Bekele won the race.

“[The Olympic] silver medal was a good thing for me, it was my second Olympic medal and I really made a great progression by getting a gold medal in Rio.”

Bekele completes distance double at Beijing 2008

Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele beats Kenyan pair Eliud Kipchoge and Edwin Cheru...

Kipchoge became only the second Kenyan after Samuel Wanjiru [Beijing 2008] to win an Olympic marathon.

“As far as championships, and Games is concerned it is still my best day ever.” Eliud Kipchoge on winning Olympic gold at Rio 2016

Kipchoge takes first Olympic gold in the Rio rain

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Kipchoge's Tokyo 2020 plan for Olympic glory in 2021

He wants to add another Olympic title to his incredible list of achievements.

“It will be a great thing, and it will be a great addition on my CV. If all goes well next year 2021, I'll defend my title in marathon in a competitive field and a good time,” he said.

Kipchoge and Ethiopia’s Bekele have been named in their marathon teams for Tokyo 2020.

The fastest marathoner of all time has trained his eyes on matching the feat of Abebe Bikila [1960 and 1964] and Waldemar Cierpinski, winner in 1976 and 1980.

Bikila and Cierpinski are the only men who have won the Olympic marathon twice.

Bikila wins Olympics marathon for the second time

Ethiopia's Abebe Bikila sets an Olympic record and becomes the first athlet...

Eliud Kipchoge's ultimate goal

“My aim is to reach more than three billion people and I think people will accept that I have done it in a good way and I have been able to inspire very many people.”

Before then, London could offer him a stage to test himself against the in-form Bekele.

There’s been talk of a world record attempt with the two fastest men on the starting list.

Kipchoge thinks London will be a tactical race with reputations on the line.

“When many [top] people compete you cannot get good times because everyone wants to sit at the back, enjoy the pace, then wait to kick. I think we may have a beautiful race in London, but I don’t think a world record could be realised,” he reckoned.

Kipchoge's winning streak

Kipchoge, coached by Olympic silver medallist Patrick Sang, hopes the year will end the same way as the last six seasons - undefeated.

“Being unbeaten helps me to push every day. At the same time, it makes me think, "Oh the world is watching me so I need to perform and come up with good results." So a mix of pressure and morale it comes to be a good thing which I am still standing on.”

Then he can embark on another time trial as he strongly believe it is “still possible to run under 2 hours even 1:59 in a normal marathon.”

“I'll still be around. You will still see more often in one of the big city marathons.”


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