Unless you randomly bump into a famous person, you never visualize the moment until it happens. Some of these famous people are usually busy, working hard to change the course of history, more so our athletes who are known to stick to intense training schedules.
We set out on a three-day trip with the Lewa Marathon team, together with a group of other writers and video crew to interview the now four-time London Marathon winner Eliud Kipchoge. It was a scenic journey from Nairobi to Naivasha, Iten and Kaptagat where Kipchoge’s Global Sports Communication is based.
We met the champ and got to talk about the Lewa Marathon, which he’s an ambassador. The Lewa Marathon was celebrating its 20th anniversary and it happened that his next big race (the London Marathon) was just a month away.
From our laid back conversation, it was clear as day that the athlete’s love for running may be personal – that’s his bread and butter, and he will preach to anyone who cares to listen about the importance of running. It’s his hope and dream for Kenya to become a running nation and reap the benefits of it.
“When I am preparing for a race I start four months in advance. Preparation and planning are more important to me than winning.” To prepare, he starts his day as early as 5:45 am and goes straight to a one and a half hour run. There’s no secret diet or magic tricks. Even his diet he tells us is the normal Kenyan diet had in most Kenyan homes.
Eliud’s international break came after he won the IAAF World Cross Country Championship Kenya tryouts in 2002 and went to his first big race in Dublin. He has been shuttering records since then in both the 5000m races and marathons. He switched to running marathons in 2012. This transition was not easy as he missed to qualify for any international Kenyan team including the Olympics in his then 10-year career, but it was time to leave track and field anyway so he chose to focus on the next chapter.
Apart from discipline, which plays a huge role in his success, staying positive is another part of the game. “I strive and purpose to be positive when I wake up every day. Once you define what faith and belief mean to you apply it the best way you know how.”
Throughout the interview; he draws many parallels between running and life. Whether it’s life in general, motivation, discipline, challenges or teamwork. “I stay motivated by making a firm decision and going for what I want just like a knife cutting a piece of meat.” It really can be that straight forward. True to his word, when asked what the goal for London was, we got a short answer: to finish with a good time and to win for the fourth time. Nothing more nothing less.
On May 6th, 2017, Nike held the Breaking 2 Project to try and break the two-hour barrier for the marathon. Out of the three chosen runners Eliud had the best time at 2:00:25. After being part of that intense research he was the best man to ask some scientific questions about the sport such as climate.
“Yes, Kenya has a higher altitude that means running in a sea level makes you perform better but we say runners training even in Europe doing well. We do not run with our legs, we run with our hearts and minds. The sport is all about believing in yourself.” The decorated marathoner who is a father of 2 sons and one daughter is also known to meticulously record his training data, reasons, he says that it may help others to learn from him. “Even though athletics is a one-man sport, teamwork is still key.”
The key people in his life include his wife Grace Sugut, and three kids. He’s thankful that they understand the nature of his work. He also spends a lot of time with his coach Patrick Sang who is also his mentor and friend.
Although athletics is a sport many people outside Kenya identify us with, it’s still behind football and rugby to some extent. Kipchoge disputes this. According to him, athletics is the biggest earner in sports tourism and more people need to tap into it by getting more training and knowledge.
Speaking of tourism and things Kenya is known for, our wildlife is also something close to his heart. “I was once talking to the former US ambassador and calculated that just one elephant could earn Kenya around 2 million USD in its lifetime that can be used to make the lives of the community. I also love being part of conservation so that our children get to see the animals they learn or hear about.”
The awards and winnings don’t seem to be how he defines himself. “I have won several awards and even named as a UN personality but I am still Eliud Kipchoge.”
A great shot and the best way to describe the experience of meeting one of the Kenyan legends of our time.
Images by Leilah Namisango