'I haven't raced in 11 months and three weeks. I'm so excited to be back', Eliud Kipchoge says as we sit down to chat (via Zoom) four days before the elite-only London Marathon.
Despite a year of uncertainty and disrupted training, he believes he can still run faster than ever before. Whether it will be a record breaking performance as he takes on Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele this weekend remains to be seen, but speed isn't the only thing on Kipchoge's mind as he toes the start line. In his typically upbeat style, the Kenyan runner said, 'I want to show people that Covid-19 can't ruin us or knock us down. I want to prove we can still work to overcome uncertainty'.
He's the best marathon runner in the world, but he's also one of the most humble, as he touches upon his dreams inspiring others and becoming a 'social runner' once he retires from professional sport.
Eliud, how are you? How has Covid-19 impacted your training this year?
I’m doing well, my training has been coming on in a good way. Although Covid-19 has made its own impact, but I’ve tried to make sure I’m really fit and healthy. I had time off in March and early April, but once I could, I got back into training with my team to be on the right course for the marathon.
How disappointed were you that the Tokyo Olympics did not go ahead?
It was hard to accept, but I am understanding of the challenges that come with the sport and how uncertain life can be sometimes. I treated the postponement of the Olympics as a sign of the uncertainties of this year. Personally, I’m still hungry to run next year in the Olympics and still want to go after that gold medal.
You mention the uncertainties of this year, which is something all runners can relate to. How have you managed to stay focused?
I treat myself as a professional and any professional will understand, their career is always going to have some level of uncertainty, so I am really not faded. My love of sport means even if there are no races there are no races, it's fine. That said, I need to inspire people, I need to train hard, I need to cope in a good and positive way and show people that Covid-19 can't ruin us or knock us down, we can still work to overcome uncertainty.
You made breaking 2hrs for the marathon look easy, even though it wasn’t. Was there any point during training or the run itself when you had any doubts you would achieve it?
Training is always hard and racing is hard also, but all in all, during I was hitting the ideal times. I did 80% of my training without any pain and I had a happy mind. As far as training is concerned yes, sometimes you feel tired, sometimes you wake up very early in the morning and feel like you don’t want to go to train or go for a run, I get that. I had mornings like that but once I'd gotten up and started to run, after a few minutes my body felt OK.
In the race I had no doubt at all – I was seeing the times and they actually motivated me to maintain the pace.
How much harder do you think it will be to run (fast) marathons with no crowd support?
The crowd play a big part as far as sport is concerned, but focusing on Sunday, we are in difficult times because of Covid-19. We are our brothers and sisters keeper and we must make sure everyone is healthy and happy. That’s why we’re running this course in St James's Park, not the usual route. I’m really happy to run in the London roads on London soil, and I want to give hope to everybody - in times of Covid-19 you can still race, focus and we can actually win.
You’re 35 now, and you already hold both the official marathon World Record and the only sub-2. Do you believe that you can run still a faster marathon?
Absolutely. I can still run faster. That’s obvious! I don’t know which number or which time, but I can still run fast.
How about running sub-2hrs in a race situation? Do you think that is something we might see in the near future?
Absolutely we’ll see in the future sub-2 in a normal race situation.
Who is your biggest competition going into the London Marathon?
On Sunday, my biggest competition is myself. All of us are starting at the same time and running the same laps, the same distance.
Will you always run, even after you retire from competition?
Absolutely, why not? I will be going to big city marathons to run like plenty of other social runners all over the world. It’s still in my mind to run all the World Marathon Majors and some more big city marathons, I still want to show what I can do and be on the starting lines in North America, in Asia, in China, everywhere in the world.
Do you have a favourite place to run?
I have to say, my favourite place is racing in London.
What has been your happiest moment in running?
My happiest moment running would be all of my training and all of my races. I’d say that my proudest moment would be running under two hours in Vienna.
Finally, what is your message for the 45,000 runners taking on the virtual race this weekend?
Firstly, I want to appreciate all the 45,000 people who will be running virtually on Sunday. My message is that please start the race, feel it, enjoy it and we’ll all finish together. We’ll be running physically on the streets of St James Park and you’ll be running virtually near your homes, but in spirit we are together so let us go, accept the uncertainty and together we can rise up against Covid-19.
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