During his first trip to NYC, we caught up with marathoning star Eluid Kipchoge on his career, what the future holds and more.
NEW YORK – On the day before his 33rd birthday, Kipchoge participated in a shakeout run with a New York running club. He answered questions at a public Q&A and then shared a birthday cake with other members of the running community, including an entourage of Nike employees and the 2016 Olympic 1,500 meter champion, Matthew Centrowitz. It’s been a long few weeks that’s included stops in Shanghai, Portland, Ore. and New York City for his first-ever visit to the Big Apple. Kipchoge looks more tired after moving from one event to the other than he did after running two hours and 25 seconds for Nike’s attempt in May to break two hours for the marathon.
Before he headed to his room for a much-needed nap, Kipchoge briefly spoke with Sports Illustrated to discuss his trip to the United States, the famous Breaking2 attempt and what the future may hold.
The interview below has been lightly edited for clarity.
SI: This is your first time in New York. You’ve spent a lot of time sightseeing, interacting with local runners and bouncing from event to event. I saw you at the hotel restaurant eating wings. Are you on a break from running right now?
Eliud Kipchoge: Yes but I start training next week. I’ve done some track work that’s been great but I’ve run some tough races in 2017 that I decided to take a one-month break.
SI: Breaking2 has been discussed a lot in the past few months. I want to know what were your initial thoughts were when Nike presented you with the idea. Were they crazy?
EK: I really asked them to give me some time to go and think deeply and also to control my management, coach and everything. They gave me one month and after that, I called them to say “It’s OK. I am ready.”
SI: If people saw the work that you put in for some of those workouts, they’d be blown away. I’m assuming you keep a detailed training log.
EK: Absolutely. For the last 14 years, I have 14 notebooks with all my workouts.
SI: How much money do you want for one of the notebooks?
EK: [Laughs.] They’re not for sale at the moment.
SI: In addition to the shoes, the alternating pacers, the Formula One course and all these changes for optimal conditions, in the actual “race” it was your job to just hold one fast but steady pace the entire time. In a regular marathon, it can start like that but then someone injects a surge and everything changes. Did you feel that difference?
EK: I saw it as running against the time and the distance. It also resulted in a difference of thinking for me. I saw it as trying to accomplish something that no one else has done in the whole world.
SI: Do you think the guy who will break two hours for the marathon has already been born?
EK: I can say that after me running two hours then I think everybody is capable of running so maybe.
SI: Give me a little insider info from your training group. Who is someone who has not run a marathon yet but we should keep an eye on for the future?
EK: Rodgers Kwemoi. He’s run on the track and some small road races. [Editor’s Note: Kwemoi holds a personal best of 27:25.23 for 10,000 meters when he won gold at the 2016 IAAF U20 World Championships. He is just 20 years old.]
SI: The New York City Marathon celebrated Meb Keflezighi’s final marathon. For Americans, he’s one of the greatest of all-time. He’s going to retire from competitive running but continue running for fun. Some people just stop and don’t have that love for running. What’s your relationship like with the sport?
EK: I love running, yes.
SI: When did you discover that?
EK: I got into running when I was being mentored by my coach. I tried it and developed a passion for it.
SI: Did you immediately realize that it could make you money?
EK: When I was in school, they always ask, “What do you want to be in the future?” or “In 20 years, what do you think you will get for a job?” I didn’t expect it but that’s what I wanted—to run.
SI: Running in the U.S. saw a boom and now numbers across the country are starting to fall a little bit. As an advocate and ambassador for the sport, you’ve been able to interact with some runners here and in Asia recently, what recommendations would you make for bringing people to the sport?
EK: You need to go near to the people and actually sensitize them about the sport—specifically running. If athletes can go near their fans, many people would develop a love for running.
SI: And when you were growing up, who were some of those athletes for you?
EK: Patrick Sang, who is my coach now.
SI: What’s your relationship like with Patrick? I know you’ve called him a life coach, a friend and so much more.
EK: He’s everything. I can’t describe it. I lack the words to do so. What I can say is that he’s more than a coach.
SI: He’s been with you from the start. I’ll go back a few years to 2003 and 2004. At the world championships in Paris, you beat Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele. They’re world record holders and legends. Did you realize what you had done at 18 years old?
EK: In 2003, I didn’t realize I was so that good but it gave me confidence. I had run under 13 minutes for 5,000 meters and that was what was driving me in that final. It surprised me when I passed them and won.
SI: Would you say that’s the best race of your career?
EK: I would say that Breaking2 was my best race because I was running against something no one had done before. I’m still walking. It was not about me. This was about showing the world that no human has a limitation. You can do anything. I can still wake up and walk.
SI: You like to say this “No human has a limitation” motto but I think in China, someone asked you what the human limit could be for a marathon and you said something like 1:57 or 1:58. What do you think it is?
EK: I think 1:59 is something a human being can run. [Pauses for a second.] Or 1:58. Who knows?! If someone trains very well and thinks in a good way, then they can do anything.
SI: You’ve run the fastest 26.2 miles ever. You’ve won the London Marathon. You’ve won the Berlin Marathon. You’ve won an Olympic gold medal. Is the world record the only thing you have left on your list?
EK: I want to run a world record.
SI: You’ve also talked about 2020 as a possibility. I remember you’ve previously said that you and Patrick planned for 10 years on the track and then maybe 10 years on the roads. Is that still on your mind?
EK: [Laughs.] I hope so! I really do want to run another Olympic games.
SI: What about after running? What do you want to accomplish?
EK: I want to go around the world to really talk to younger generations, especially the kids, about sport. To love sports. When I was a kid, that was very important to me.
SI: Last thing: Who is one person who you’d want to go on a run with?
EK: I like tennis so Roger Federer. I’m a big fan of him.