It took a mere 2 hours, 1 minute and 39 seconds for Eliud Kipchoge to scurry about Berlin’s barrier-breaking marathon course and stop the clock in a stupefying World Record, becoming the first human to run a non-aided 26-miler under 2:02. Yet this marvelous long distance run—covered in the September issue of T&FN—was years, if not decades, in the making, and certainly will impact the 26-miler for a long time to come.
A performance of this stature required both intensive preparation and superb race-day execution, and culminated in the realization of a career-long dream for the 33-year-old Kenyan: “I am just so incredibly happy to have finally run the World Record as I never stopped having belief in myself. I had a great belief that I would run a World Record, but I didn’t know I’d run 2:01. It is a record that Kenya will be proud of and own it for some time. It was my work to go for it, now Kenyans can be happy for it.”
For Kipchoge that work began with an ever-ambitious block of training that delivered him to the starting line with the admission, “My body was in good shape as I have trained so well for this race and have full trust in the programs of my coach.”
That coach being Patrick Sang, who has guided Kipchoge’s training since ’01 and overseen a master plan that has guided him to an injury-free career performing at the very top level both on the track and in the marathon, winning gold medals in each setting and now attaining his first WR. Sang, himself an Olympic silver medalist in the steeplechase, notes, “Whatever he did throughout his career was a buildup to where he is now. What I see in Eliud is somebody who is willing to learn, and not afraid to experiment.” Leading up to Berlin the experiment involved burning the training candle at both ends as they adding more fast track work and 40K distance runs—without burning out or succumbing to injury.
Kipchoge adds, “In marathon, experience is the best teacher,” and surely we can’t underestimate what he learned from the whole Breaking2 experience in ’17, be it the performance tests, technological advances, or his elevated mental framework. His aided traverse of 42,195m in 2:00:25 triumphed in pushing both the physiological and psychological limits to endurance racing. The 5000-specialist-turned-marathoner seemed to morph right before our eyes into a hybrid of his career-long passions as he sped deeper into his Breaking2 effort in Monza, Italy, with the blurry stride of a trackster.
Kipchoge also drew on a bevy of Breaking2 technical advances as he took to the streets of Berlin fitted out in Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite shoes, Dri-Fit compression sleeves, AeroSwift tape on his calves, and his favorite chafe-free compression half-tights.
Throw in his ‘Nothing Is Stronger Than A Peaceful Mind’ campaign for the Maurten high-carbohydrate drinks and gel that were dispensed at an additional four fluid stations, to adopting Paul Tergat’s ’03 WR approach of not wearing a watch so “my mind would be free to focus on the effort.” Kipchoge wore only his trademark ‘No Human is Limited’ wristband and relied on the pace display system developed by Professor Helmut Winter that provided splits every kilometer and projected finish time every 500m.
Along the road to the WR Kipchoge also built up a boat-load of good marathon karma through a string of dominating victories and 4 credible record attempts that came up a bit short. Consider his unwavering dedication to his sponsor after his shoe mishap in Berlin ’15, or his perseverance through uncooperative weather that stymied his last two efforts in Berlin and London. In each case, there was no blame or hint at excuses, Kipchoge just remained committed to his quest and vowed “I still have a World Record in my legs.”
This year’s race day in Berlin saw almost the same conditions that Dennis Kimetto had in the German capital in ’14: temperatures in the low 60s and very light wind. Given the level playing field, Kipchoge was more than ready to exhort a herculean effort from his legs, heart and mind. “When you begin running the race your mind is fully on the marathon,” he notes. “What will be the pace at the first kilometers? What will the pace be at halfway? Will it be too hard? Will there be any problems? A lot of things were running through my mind. Marathon needs a straight mind and you need to make firm decisions.”
The record quest got off to a good start as Kipchoge and his trio of pacers—Sammy Kitwara, Josphat Boit & Bernard Kipkemoi—clipped off the opening 10K close to the targeted 61:00 opening half. Then lead pacer Kitwara grabbed his hamstring and retired in the 12th K, soon to be followed by Kipkemoi. Boit managed to accompany Kipchoge through 25K, but there was little of the flying V pacing in this WR attempt as Kipchoge pressed on alone over the final 17K, picking it up all the way home. “It was hard,” he admitted. “I was prepared to run my own race early so I wasn’t surprised to be alone.” Kipchoge cut a fast and disciplined course to history running smack-dab on the blue line with almost every foot strike.
As he continued to churn out fast kilometers, the sheer beauty of his performance was evident in his ever-efficient stride. Focusing on just his torso, arms and legs Kipchoge rolled along at a fast and furious pace in open defiance of the perceived limits of human physiology and performance, without even the slightest wobble in his stride. It didn’t take a clock to see that Eliud was covering ground like no other marathoner, and soon he would claim what Tergat termed the WR mantle of being “second to none.”
By 35K he had already broken out in his victory smile sensing that history what at hand, but shortly after 40K he rubbed his left side. A stitch? “No,” he recalls, “just an itch.” That’s right—you break a World Record by more than a minute and the biggest problem is just an itch.
Crossing the finish in 2:01:39, Eliud immediately embraced Sang and the esteemed status of marathon WR holder. “I feel good to have broken the World Record and inspire millions of people that if you work hard and run clean you can be successful,” he says.
On the African continent Kipchoge is held in high regard and is ready for the challenge, saying, “I hope that I am a good role model, that is actually what I’m looking forward to. I don’t run for money. I run for results; to inspire people and leave a legacy.”
With his WR quest accomplished, he looks ahead, saying, “I still have a bright future; good things are coming. I think that with good training even if you are 36 or 37 you can still run a good race, and personally I do not see a vanishing point before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.”