Kenyan marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge, has been decorated marathoner on the planet and a man of immense self-discipline.
Kipchoge is the distance running version of Usain Bolt. He is a wealthy man, but he still scrubs the toilet.
With a total of 15 notebooks now, one for every year he has spent on the world stage, the thousands of miles contained within have propelled him to the pinnacle of his profession, a runner driven to trim seconds from performances that already stretch comprehension.
But perhaps what is most unusual about Kipchoge, 33, and his diet of monastic extremes is the one thing he does not do: overextend himself in training. He estimates that he rarely pushes himself past 80 percent — 90 percent, tops — of his maximum effort when he circles the track for interval sessions, or when he embarks on 25-mile jogs.
Instead, he reserves the best of himself, all 100 percent of Kipchoge, for race day — for the marathons he wins, for the records he chases.
“I want to run,” he said, “with a relaxed mind.”
Kipchoge, the sport’s philosopher king, plans to do that again on Sunday at the Berlin Marathon, a race that he has already won twice. He has won nine of the 10 marathons he has entered. He is the reigning Olympic champion. He has never sustained a serious injury. His personal best of 2 hours 3 minutes 5 seconds, which he ran at the London Marathon in 2016, is just 8 seconds off the world record held by Dennis Kimetto, a fellow Kenyan. Conditions permitting, no one would be surprised to see Kipchoge obliterate it this weekend, though he is the only one who does not seem consumed by the quest.
“To be precise,” he said, “I am just going to try to run my personal best. If it comes as a world record, I would appreciate it. But I would treat it as a personal best.”
Kipchoge is the type of person who says stuff like: “Only the disciplined ones in life are free. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods and your passions.” And: “It’s not about the legs; it’s about the heart and the mind.” And: “The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago. The second-best time to plant a tree is today.”
More to the point, Kipchoge is the type of person who can slip self-styled proverbs into casual conversation and somehow come across as sincere. An avid reader, his literary tastes range from Aristotle to sports biographies to self-help manuals. “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen R. Covey, is one of his favorites.
“I think you’d find it really interesting,” he said during an interview here at his hotel before Sunday’s race.
Whenever Kipchoge reads — often in the library at his team’s training camp — he keeps a notebook handy so that he can take notes.
“When you write, then you remember,” he said.
Motivation + Discipline = Consistency
Only the disciplined in life are free pic.twitter.com/AHZq7jBaGN
— Eliud Kipchoge (@EliudKipchoge) September 13, 2018
Kipchoge’s breakout win occurred in 2003, when he beat Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj to win the gold medal in the men’s 5000 meters at the World Athletics Championships in France. CreditMichel Euler/Associated Press
His astonishing rise included a world championship in 2003, when he out-sprinted Hicham El Guerrouj in the 5,000 meters at Stade de France outside of Paris. El Guerrouj, a Moroccan who was already the world-record holder in the mile, was a legend at the height of his powers. Kipchoge was just 18 at the time.
Kipchoge would go on to win a pair of Olympic medals in the 5,000 meters: bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008.
He won his marathon debut in Hamburg in the spring of 2013 running 2:05:30. He finished second in Berlin a few months later behind Wilson Kipsang, a fellow Kenyan who needed to set what was then a world record to outlast Kipchoge in the final miles. Since then, Kipchoge has gone undefeated: 8 for 8, including gold at the 2016 Olympic Games, which has made the running world wonder if there is anything he cannot do.
His mechanics are remarkably efficient. His shoulders barely sway — a telltale sign of fatigue for even the finest runners in the world — and he seems to tap the asphalt with his forefoot on every loping stride.
“When I run,” he said. “I feel good. My mind feels good. I sleep in a free way, and I enjoy life.”
Last year, on a racecar track in Italy, Kipchoge nearly pulled off his most audacious feat to date: run a marathon in less than 2 hours. He had a starring role in a project organized by Nike called “Breaking 2.” Aided by a rotating cast of Olympic-level pacesetters, he finished in 2:00:25, covering the marathon distance faster than any human in history. For various reasons, including the use of those pacers, his time was not ratified as a world record. But it was extraordinary. Kipchoge averaged 4:36 per mile.
Kipchoge has outsize goals. He wants to defend his Olympic title. He wants to continue to set personal bests. He wants to influence future generations — “Billions,” he said — by traveling the world to spread the Gospel of running. He also said he would like to run the New York City Marathon someday.
“We would welcome him with open arms,” said Peter Ciaccia, the president of events for New York Road Runners, the organizers of the race.
Kipchoge was at the finish line last year to watch Geoffrey Kamworor, one of his training partners, come across first. Kipchoge’s presence served as motivation.
“I don’t think there was any option but for Geoffrey to win,” said Valentijn Trouw, one of Kipchoge’s managers with Global Sports Communication.
Elite distance runners generally run no more than two marathons each year. When Kipchoge actually enters a race, he sends ripples through the field before his races even begin. Kipchoge has that rare LeBron-esque quality. He is the outlier among outliers. His races will never be slow and tactical.
Other runners admire Kipchoge for his wisdom as well as his running talents.
Lagat said that when he competed against Kipchoge in the 5,000 meters, there would be whispers within the field. “‘Man, this is going to be something,’” Lagat recalled the racers saying to each other. “Because Eliud doesn’t play games. The guy is fierce, and he’s not afraid of anyone.”
His coach described his general approach. “Let’s just have a beautiful race,” Sang said.