LetsRun.com Goes To Kenya - Post #3: A Workout With World Championship Silver Medallist Sylvia Kibet

By Robert Johnson
July 15, 2011

Editor's Note: A few weeks ago, LetsRun.com co-founder Robert Johnson traveled to Kenya, spending two-plus weeks in the country. Over the next week or so, he will be providing a series of posts about the trip to give you insight into the country that is home to many of the world's greatest distance runners. This is his third post. Come back next week for footage from the incredible Thursday fartlek run. Next week, we'll also have safari and charity work photos where everyone will get to meet LetsRun.com's new unofficial mascot - LetsRun The Cow - a cow we donated to a women's micro-finance program.

Previous Coverage: LRC Post #2: Tuesday Track Workout In Iten + Sally Kipyego And Jake Robertson Unplugged
Post #1: Sammy Wanjiru Was Not Murdered - LetsRun.com Explains How One Can Get Locked Into A Bedroom In Kenya

Photos From Kamariny Stadium in Iten, Kenya from June 28, 2011 LRC Sylvia Kibet Photos
LRC *Video From Track *Robertson Interview *Sally Kipyego Interview
Coverage From Kenya From 2007:
Kenyan Distance Running Part I: Kenya, The Land Of Opportunity

Post #3: A Workout With World Championships Silver Medallist Syliva Kibet

Note: In addition to the print coverage, we also have a slew of videos at the end of this story plus a photo album: LRC Sylvia Kibet Photos

As I explained the other day, the majority of runners in Iten are focused on long distance/road races and don't have coaches, and they follow a normal schedule of Monday tempo, Tuesday track workout, Thursday fartlek and Saturday long run. However, not everyone is on that schedule. The more elite runners and track runners often do their own thing.

On Tuesday, as I was leaving the track, I was introduced to 2009 World Championships 5,000 silver medallist Sylvia Kibet and her husband Erastus Limo. If you aren't familiar with Kibet, LetsRun.com had a great feature on Kibet back in 2009 that was written by former D3 national qualifier Paul Norton, so I recommend you check that out. There also is a lengthy IAAF profile of her here. But to make a long story short, she was the 1999 World Youth 1,500 silver medallist who then was out of the sport for a while on maternity leave. She came back as road racer whom Italian coach Renato Canova spotted running a half marathon in 2006. Canova suggested Kibet move down to the track and the rest is full of accomplishments. After finishing an agonizing fourth at the World Championships in 2007 and Olympics in 2008, she had a breakout 2009, lowering her 5k PR fom 14:57 to 14:37 and winning a silver at Worlds that year. Last year, she lowered her PR even further to 14:31.91 and won the Commonwealth Games silver.

Anyway, the pair were incredibly friendly and told me I could come watch them run their next workout, which was going to be a Friday track session.

On Friday morning, Limo called me to tell me that they were going to do a 10km tempo run instead. The workout was changed because Kibet was a little worried about some foot pain she was having and they didn't want to risk having a setback from doing speedwork just two weeks before the Kenyan trials since Kibet was on the comeback trail from illness.

After finishing a respectable 13th at the World Cross-Country Championships in March (which Limo described as a good start to the season for Kibet who was primarily using cross-country as a foundation for a big track season), Kibet suffered an illness setback as a sort of acid reflux type/throat problem that resulted in her being hospitalized in Europe. Her only two races since the illness were a pair of 6th and 5th place finishes at 5,000 and 3,000 in modest times of 15:11 and 8:51 in late May/early June. Limo told me that her fitness had improved a great deal since then and he said she thought she was now in shape to run in the 14:40s.

A Ton Of Total Studs All Jump Into 1 Truck

So the new plan was to run a 10km tempo run with some of the people coached by Italian Gabriele Nicola as they all share the same agent - Gianni Demadonna. As a result, at 9 am, I was picked up on the side of the road by Kibet and her husband in their car while we waited for Nicola to round up his athletes. When I asked Nicola, who would be joining him for the workout, the list was pretty staggering (his full video reply appears at the bottom of this page). He rattled off a list of names of women whose recent accomplishments were simply staggering. He said the group would include Sharon Jarop (3rd in Boston this year, 2:22:42), Agnes Kiprop (#2 in Paris this year in 2:24:40), Peninah Arusei (bronze medal at World Half last year), Lydia Cheromei (winner of Prague earlier this year in 2:22:34) and Hilda Kibet (#2 in Rotterdam this year in 2:24:27). Unfortunately, the star of the Nicola camp Mary Keitany (half marathon world record of 65:50 this year, 2:19:19 win in London) was not coming as she was a little under the weather.

15-20 of Nicola's athletes all hopped into the back of a single truck and were off while Kibet's husband drove me and Kibet's male workout partner to the site of the tempo run, which was about 20 minutes outside of town, as Nicola had a very flat road he wanted the tempo run on. There was one small problem. When we got there - and we got there some 5 minutes before Nicola - the dirt road was all chewed up and very rough as it must have rained there the day before. Kibet and her husband examined the road for a few minutes and pretty much determined they wouldn't run on it - particularly since she was worried a little bit about her foot. When Nicola showed up some 5 minutes later as the pickup truck was going way slower, it took him all of 1 second to make a decision as he hopped out, took one glance and the road, pointed at it and emphatically said, "Not here, not today." Clearly the ultra-successful Italian coach doesn't have trouble making up his mind.

Sylvia Kibet's House

At this point, Keitany decided she'd go back to town and do a track workout while Nicola's group went looking for another dirt road that wasn't wet. I'm not sure what they ended up doing, but do know the second road they went to was equally chewed up. The roads in Iten weren't really chewed up at all, so maybe they settled on that. But Kibet needed to get a different pair of shoes for the track and this gave me the opportunity to see what type of house a World Championships medallist in Kenya lives in. Since much was made on LetsRun.com about the $739,000 asking price for Adam and Kara Goucher's house, I made sure I took a few photos of Kibet and Limo's house, which was certainly nice by Kenyan standards (Kibet photo album from my day with Kibet is here).

Once we got the track and Kibet started to warm up, I asked Limo what the workout would be and if she was still being coached by Canova. Limo explained that she was being coached by Canova but that he wasn't in Kenya and that the day-by-day workout plan that he'd left for them had ended two days previously. At this point, he pulled out two pieces of paper where for every day, there was an option A and option B for a run/workout. But the plan only took them through the end of June and it was now July 1.

In a scenario where an American star was two weeks out from nationals and doing one of their last hard workouts, I can imagine some of them would panic a bit if their coach was absent or if they didn't have access to the normal road they wanted to run on. But Limo and Kibet were totally unfazed. Limo said he was going to come up with the workout. And while Limo is described on Kibet's facebook page as a former middle-distance runner, he sports a 62:16 half marathon best according to www.tilastopaja.org. So him coming up with a workout wasn't that big of a deal.

He said he wanted her to do something long as the tempo was going to be long and ultimately came up with a step-down workout of 4 repeats of 2,000-1,600-1,200-1,000 meters (he describes his plan for the workout in one of the videos at the bottom of this page). As for pace, he said, "She doesn't need to push - just do the best she can and see how the foot reacts." Once the workout started, Kibet felt pretty good and was having no foot pain, so she ended up adding on and taking the ladder all the way down to 100. In the end, the workout ended up being 2,000-1,600-1,200-1,000-800, 600-400-200-100. I don't want to reveal the times of the workout, but it drives me nuts when people talk about workouts but don't mention rest, so the rest between reps were 2:38, 2:48, 2:53, 2:51, 2:36, 2:39, 2:34, and 2:40 (you can watch the 600-meter repeat as one of the videos that appear at the bottom of this page).

When the workout got started, I asked Limo if, given Kibet's times in 2011, he was worried about her prospects at the 2011 Kenyan trials. His reply revealed that he has a ton of confidence in his wife's ability to rise to the occasion: "No, she's always strong in the championships."

Sylvia Kibet Discussing
Things With Her Husband

As for Kibet, she was happy after the workout.

"I'm feeling very good now. I have to do well at Trials. The beginning of the season wasn't so good for me, but I'm now hoping to do something very well at the trials but the Kenyan trials aren't easy.

"I'm very happy because I wasn't going very deep. I just feeling comfortable - not struggling. Today I was feeling good."

When I mentioned to her about her husband's faith in her ability to rise to the occasion, and asked her if that was one of the strengths, Kibet said:

"I hope as I've tried many times. In 2007, in Osaka, I was fourth. In Beijing, I was fourth. I hope it will be good for me (again this year). In all world championships, I've at least been top five."

I tried to get Kibet to look ahead to the Olympic year, but she said she wants to see what he is capable of in 2011 first before thinking about London. After Daegu, Kibet revealed that she's planning on coming to the United States to the first time to see her sister, Elvin Kibet, who just completed her freshman year at the University of Arizona running for coach Bernad Li, who of course has guided the Kenyan born Bernard Lagat to international acclaim. Sylvia Kibet said that Coach Li met his sister and offered her a scholarship simply based on her pedigree of being the sister of Syliva and Hilda even though she had never formally trained and had no times to her name. Seeing her jog down the road and know who she was related to was enough. Elvin's first year of running ended up going pretty well as she ran 16:28 for 5,000. As for what the future holds, NCAA competitors watch out, as Sylvia said she thought Elvin was very talented.

As I got in Limo's car to leave the workout, Sylvia Kibet was getting ready to do her cool-down, but I jumped out as I remembered there was one more question I had for her. I asked her about her somewhat famous quote from 2009, which served as the quote of the day for LetsRun.com back on LRC Founder's Day (July 24) in 2009 of: "You come from the bush, or you come from the forest. Then you train, and you become a champion."

I asked Sylvia if everything was that simple, do you just really just have to set your mind to it and work hard?

"For me, my family was not a rich family. So we ran to school; morning and evening -five kilometers from home. So you from run home to school - 5 kilometers, you come home for lunch - 5 kilometers, and you go back again - 5 kilometers - so it's about 15kms per day (we're assuming once the time constraint is over, she'd walk home). So when I started (training), (running) was already in me. It was in me because I already was training, but I was not from the family of running - just from the bush.

(My younger sisters) they have the motivation from us (he and Hilda), for them it is different. For me, I was the first one from the family. I just come from the bush, I train and I became a champion."

More: Videos Below, Plus: LRC Sylvia Kibet Photos

Sylvia Kibet Talks After Her Workout

The 600-Meter Rep

Erastus Limo Talks About The Workout
He Came Up With & Kibet's Recent Progress

Gabriele Nicola Talks About
His Super-Accomplished Crews

More: LRC Post #1: Sammy Wanjiru Was Not Murdered - LetsRun.com Explains How One Can Get Locked Into A Bedroom In Kenya
Post #2: Tuesday Track Workout In Iten + Sally Kipyego And Jake Robertson Unplugged

Photos From Kamariny Stadium in Iten, Kenya from June 28, 2011 LRC Sylvia Kibet Photos
LRC *Video From Track *Robertson Interview *Sally Kipyego Interview
Coverage From Kenya From 2007:
Kenyan Distance Running Part I: Kenya, The Land Of Opportunity


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