Inside look: Joyciline Jepkosgei’s training ahead of half marathon world record finish

At last weekend’s Prague Half Marathon, Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei single-handedly rewrote the road racing record books. Not only did she become the first woman to break 65 minutes for the half marathon but she also set 10K, 15K and 20K world records with her 64:52 world record 13.1-mile finish.

She went through 5K in 14:53 before breaking out the red pen for the record books. She crossed 10K in 30:04 (17 seconds faster than the previous record). Then she hit 15K in 45:37 (37 seconds faster than the previous record) and then 20K in 1:01:25 (15 seconds faster than the previous record) before crossing the finish line. Two male pacesetters ran with her along the way.

MARTIN HYKL/AFP/Getty Images

The 23-year-old has raised many eyebrows with her performances, given that her personal best in 2016 was 69:07, which was a course record at the Mattoni Karlovy Vary Half Marathon in the Czech Republic. Jepkosgei also ran the Marseille Cassis Classic 20K in a course record 67:02. That race was won in 2014 in 70:04 and in 2015 in 76:01 by Peres Jepchirchir, who earlier in the year ran 65:06 for the previous half marathon world record and Jepkosgei took third. It’s a course where about nine kilometers are uphill. This changes the understanding of how big of a jump Jepkosgei is making when she drops her personal best by nearly five minutes.

After the RAK Half Marathon, Jepkosgei had a minor soft tissue injury in her foot yet still ran the Kenyan cross-country national championships and took 17th. She took a break after the cross-country race to prepare for Prague.

“This was blessing in disguise as our feeling was that she has over-trained for RAK, that volume and intensity were higher than ever before and she really benefited from this small injury and rest she got in the process,” her agent Davor Savija wrote to SI after the race.

Jepkosgei did a time trial two weeks before Prague and the times in the workout were 15 seconds faster than the same workout before the RAK Half. Her agent and coach prognosticated a 65:30 performance with proper weather and pacemaking. She exceeded those expectations.

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SI.com corresponded with Jepkosgei’s husband and coach Nicholas Koech by email for more insight into her world record run. Koech and Jepkosgei have been together for seven years and have one son named Brandon Kiprotich, who was born in 2011.

SI: Why has Joyciline decided to focus on the roads as opposed to the track at just 23 years old?

NK: We have experienced track training and training for road races, and road racing training makes her body react better. Also, she has better feeling while running road races than what is the case when compared to track.

SI: Could you give us a look into her biggest week of training before the Prague Half? What’s her mileage like? I’m guessing there are some interval workouts as well.

NK: Her mileage is around 140 to 150 kilometers (86 to 93 miles) per week, on average.

Below is a breakdown of her biggest week in March 2017:

Monday

AM: 16K hilly run in 70 minutes
PM: 8K in 40 minutes

Tuesday

AM: Speed work: 400 meters x 15 in 68 seconds, rest for one minute. Done at 2,400-meter altitude in Iten, Kenya
PM: 10K in 50 minutes, physio work for one hour

Wednesday

AM: 12K in 50 minutes
PM: 10K in 50 minutes, gym for one hour

Thursday

AM: Speed workout: 2x (3,000 meters-2,000 meters -1,000 meters) done in 9:48, 6:24, 3:04 and 9:45, 6:20 and 3:04. Rest was 3:00, 2:30, 2:00, 3:00, 2:30. Workout done at 2,400 meters altitude in Iten
PM: 10K in 60 minutes

Friday

AM: 18K in 90 minutes
PM: 10K in 50 minutes, physio work for one hour

Saturday

Church

Sunday

AM: 25K in 87 minutes. Long run done at 2,160 meters altitude in Moiben
PM: Rest

We also did one strong tempo toward the end of March: 12K in 39 minutes flat at 2,160 meter altitude.

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SI: It’s been well reported that many elite Kenyan runners tend to train at a slow pace. What pace is Joyciline training at when she's on an easy day? How does that help her aerobic base?

NK: She does an average pace of five minutes per kilometer on easy days and for easy sessions. This kind of running is mostly used to help her body recover from quality work that we do.

SI: What is the timeline looking like for her marathon debut? When could we potentially see her race 26.2?

NK: Our first goal is to break more records in road races and to set some course records along the way. I would like her to pace two to four marathons before going for marathon debut in several years. Joyciline is young athlete and rushing a marathon debut is not something we wish to consider. We are thinking about next the 10-12 years and not about chasing marathon glory on the basis of Joyciline being able to run half marathon at 64-high to 66-low level. We believe we have time and we will move to marathon at the right time.

SI: What was the plan for Prague's race? She decided to go with her pacers and there were several world records that fell.

NK: Prague was our main goal this season. We used RAK as a serious test and then we adjusted our last few weeks of training accordingly to what happened at RAK. For Prague, we had planned for 65 minutes and a course record. If the body responded well and was ready, we wanted to start at a fast pace, as Joyciline is a pure front-runner. Her pacemaker, Edwin Kiplagat, trains with her every day and knows her very well, so it also helped a lot! We are thankful to RunCzech company for assisting and allowing Edwin to be pacemaker.

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SI: She was being paced by two men. How much of her work in training is done with men? How big is your training group and where do you train?

NK: We had one pacemaker only for her during the race. The other pacemaker was pacing Violah Jepchumba. [She finished second in 65:22.] There was also another male runner from Italy who joined the group and ran with the ladies. We train in Iten most of the time. Sometimes we are in Ngong near Nairobi, when Joyciline is required by the Kenyan Defense Forces to be there. Our group is composed of four men and two women in addition to two personal pacemakers for Joyciline. Sometimes we join some other colleagues and groups if programs for the day are matching.

SI: How much has she been drug tested in the past year?

NK: In 2016, Joyciline was tested several times after races. Urine and once upon arrival at the race hotel and then two to three days before the event a blood test. In 2017, Joyciline was tested once after races by urine and then once in the race hotel one day before the event by blood. Joyciline lives and trains only in two easily accessible locations in Kenya—Iten and Ngong. She has never applied for a TUE (therapeutic use exemption).

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When asked for clarification if Jepkosgei has been tested out of competition, her agent informed us that she has not yet and that she is not part of any anti-doping testing pools. Savija noted: “She can be tested at any time, in line with rules and regulations which govern anti-doping testing. I would love for Joyciline to be added to Whereabouts, as the more testing is done, the better it is. As stated, she trains in Iten and Ngong, and both areas are frequented by testing personnel. Joyciline understands that anti-doping testing is normal activity and she remains available to ADAK / IAAF / WADA.”

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