Feature28 Apr 2016

Hard work and discipline the key to Kipchoge’s success


Eliud Kipchoge in action at the London Marathon (© Getty Images)

Eliud Kipchoge missed the world record by eight seconds at the Virgin Money London Marathon on Sunday (24) but the Kenyan refused to ponder on what might have been at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race had some of the latter miles been run at a slightly faster pace.

“I don’t have regrets,” said a relaxed Kipchoge at the winners’ press conference held on Monday morning. “In any sport, the feeling of regret is a sign of indiscipline. London has passed, basically London is over.”

Kipchoge will take a well-deserved break which he plans to spend with his wife and three children in Eldoret before returning to a training camp in Kaptagat when his focus will shift to one date: 21 August for the Olympic Games marathon in Rio de Janeiro.

After a decade-long career on the track, Kipchoge embarked on the distance for the first time in 2013. His transition to the distance didn’t create the same fanfare which accompanied Mo Farah and Kenenisa Bekele’s respective marathon debuts but while his former adversaries on the track have toiled at the distance, Kipchoge has mastered it.

Kipchoge has contested seven marathons to date with his only loss coming to Wilson Kipsang when he broke the world record at the Berlin Marathon three years ago. His slowest marathon is 2:05:30 and the average of his five fastest times comes out at 2:04:01. An Olympic gold medal would cement Kipchoge’s status as one of the greatest marathon runners in history.

“It’s a combination of so many things,” said his long-time coach Patrick Sang on what makes him so good at the distance. “One is, of course, the talent. Secondly it’s the love of the sport and the support system he has behind him.”

Sang has been a core part of Kipchoge’s team for the entirety of his international career with the former steeplechaser in his corner when Kipchoge outsprinted Hicham El Guerrouj and Bekele for the 5000m title at the 2003 IAAF World Championships in Paris. This partnership has proved an enduringly successful one.

Kipchoge’s natural talent was always apparent but Sang also picked up on some of the less tangible attributes, namely his willingness to work hard and his desire to listen and learn.

“It was his willingness to learn about the sport,” said Sang on what first struck him about his star pupil. “Initially, before I worked with him closely, he would always come and ask me now and then to write a programme for him and after completing the programme, he would come back again and say ‘I’ve finished’ and ‘what’s next?’ He is a very good student.”

First championship marathon looms

Next up for Kipchoge will be the Olympic Games which presents a different scenario. He has never run a marathon without pacemakers before and his seven marathons have all been held in largely benign conditions. Sang is aware of the added variables of championship racing but quietly confident that Kipchoge will sufficiently adapt.

“It’s been said all over some people adapt to certain conditions better,” said Sang. “It will be a fast time and we are hopeful the adaptation will be good and that he can produce a good result.”

Kipchoge, who won medals over 5000m at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games, is determined to perform well in Rio and told the assembled press in London he would value an Olympic gold medal more than a world record.

Likewise, when reflecting back over Kipchoge’s career, Sang also puts the memorable races above the fast times. It might have been one of his slower times to date but Sang cites last year’s win in London over an in-form Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto as one of the crowning moments of Kipchoge’s illustrious career, even ahead of Sunday’s win.

“I think the World Championships 5000m in 2003 and the race he had in London last year were, to me, the greatest highlights of his career,” said Sang. “One thing is he beat the best of the best at the distance; London last year, he beat great marathon runners who had run world records, 2:02 and 2:03.”

The consensus among the journalists and coaches assembled in the media room on Sunday was that Kipchoge’s performance in London was intrinsically better than Kimetto’s terrific world record run at the Berlin Marathon in September 2014.

But if Kipchoge doesn’t claim that mark one day, his training partner Geoffrey Kamworor might. 

“He has the potential; he has the mind. It’s just a matter of time,” said Sang on whether Kamworor can break the world records at the half marathon and marathon. “What he did in Cardiff was unbelievable: falling down, coming back, running in horrible conditions – 59:10 and beating a classy field.”

With Kipchoge at the marathon and Kamworor at the half marathon and cross country, Sang coaches two of the world’s most dominant long-distance runners. Their potential was noticed by Sang at an early age but he insists that years of hard work and discipline have been the biggest factors in contributing to their success.

“To me, I don’t think I’ve trained the most talented athletes but I’ve trained athletes with talent who are hard-working people and who want to maximise their full potential, like Eliud and Geoffrey,” said Sang.

“I don’t think they are the greatest talents but they are the people who are willing to give the most out of their potential.”

Steven Mills for the IAAF