Moses Mosop Goes For Glory At 2012 Rotterdam Marathon Versus Marathon Newcomers

By Emory Mort
April 11, 2012

(Editor's note: Employee #1 Emory Mort previews the 2012 Rotterdam Marathon below. In February, LetsRun sent Mort to Kenya to participate in the IAAF's Day in the Life project and he shares some of the wisdom gleaned from that trip here. Mort spent twenty days in Kenya and many days with the sport's biggest stars, including 800m world record holder David Rudisha, double world champ Vivian Cheruiyot, World and Olympic 1,500m medallist Asbel Kiprop, world marathon record holder Patrick Makau, double marathon world champ Abel Kirui, 2:03:42 man Wilson Kipsang, London champ Emmanuel Mutai, and coach Renato Canova, among others. Part 1 of the series is below previewing the men's side of the Rotterdam Marathon and looking at Moses Mosop. While the IAAF paid for portions of Mort's trip, they had no say on the article below.)

Previously In This Series: Prologue: 8 Days For Glory - A Kenya-Flavored Preview Of The Upcoming Men's Marathon World Record Assault

2:03:06 For Mosop In Boston

While in Kenya in February getting the scoop on the six-man chase for Kenya's three Olympic marathon spots, one thing was made clear to me from talking to Moses Mosop's coach Renato Canova: because Moses elected not to run a "major" marathon in the spring, evading head-to-head competition with the other five pre-selected men in London and Boston, the world record must be attempted on the streets of Rotterdam. According to "Mr. Renato Canova," as he is referred to affectionately by some on the LetsRun boards, if Mosop achieves the world record, he's on the team. If not, he's out. Talk about pressure.

Unfortunately for Mosop, according to online weather forecast from, Sunday's temperature (40s) and precipitation (0%) look good for Rotterdam, but winds are expected to register 20-25 mph. Unlike Boston, Rotterdam is not point-to-point ... these won't be strictly side- or tailwinds. Perhaps the running fan will dejectedly stop reading here. Perhaps this spells doom for Mosop's Olympic hopes. The record attempt, which has all the proper ingredients, looks highly unlikely. Or perhaps we shouldn't be so easily swayed ...

It's hard to believe that a man who ran his first marathon in 2:03:06 - in Boston no less - and his second a course record in Chicago, separated by a powerful 30,000m world record in Oregon, could have such a Sword of Damocles dangling over his Olympic chances. In any other country, he is the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time), but such are the times in Kenyan running that he's gotta keep fighting. Perhaps weather will ruin Mosop's chances.

But weather isn't the only factor, and as we all know, a lot can change in a weather forecast. According to what I've researched, studies by high-level scientists have found that on events such as college graduation days, where thousands of people hope for sunny weather, there appears to be a correlation between the hopes of the participants and the weather outcome (editor's note: click here and here for more on this)... perhaps a "unified front" of running fans can alter the gusty "weather front"? Even given more favorable conditions, might Mosop be outrun by eager half-marathoning sensations Sammy Kitwara, Stephen Kibet or Peter Kirui? With Rotterdam fewer than a handful of days away, let's look at the weather, the rabbits, the training, the background and the prognostications swirling around Mosop's hopes.

Moses Mosop's Potential: "Moses has speed that has never been seen."
Starting on March 8, a thread popped up on the boards that caught my attention:

With predictions ranging from 2:05 to 2:02, and debate about just how good Moses Mosop is, the anonymous poster "oh please" attempted to diminish the chatter: "I'd like to see what (Renato) Canova has to say, and I'll go with that."

Mr. Canova has a lot to say on Moses. Amidst the perpetual sunny February days in equatorial Iten, Renato beamed. "Moses has speed that has never been seen. The other day he ran 30k in the morning. Later that day, he ran another 15k. Both runs were extremely fast. He can train at speeds that have never been seen."

Still months away from competition, the coach of many of Kenya's current podium-topping marathoners who made his name as the country-hopping coach of world-record-setting and nationality-switching 7:53 steeplechaser Saif Shaheen continued, "For Moses, because he's not running a major and the other guys are, either he breaks the world record or he's not going to the Olympics. He will try for the world record and we have a very good pacer for him; this is very important. 100% the world record is in their possibility with good tarmac and good conditions."

Another comment from the message board thread on Mosop's WR chances from "semiparis" brings up a potential reservation about Mosop's fitness several weeks after I talked with Renato: "well he ran 62 mins at the weekend in paris (on March 4) ... so unless he had a really really bad day ... WR is unlikely."

This mathematically-sound argument is weakened when one looks back to 2011, when Mosop ran 2:03:06 in Boston, barely losing to Geoffrey Mutai, about a month after running a nearly identical 61:47 in Paris. In 2011, Mosop's 61:47 didn't raise any eyebrows. In 2012, a 62:00 has people doubting his fitness, especially compared with competitors running 58s. Moses has the better marathoning résumé, but it's undeniable that based on 2012 results, his competitors in Rotterdam are in much better half marathon shape. Unlike Moses, they need half marathon paydays. With a big enough performance on marathon day, Moses has no such concerns.

Let's look at details: On 4 March, just before the LRC thread was started, Mosop tested his fitness by running 62:00 in the Paris Half Marathon, hardly looking good against his Rotterdam competitors, let alone comparing to the WR. In contrast, Rotterdam entrant Peter Kirui ran 59:39 to win a highly competitive NYC Half in hilly Central Park, entrant Stephen Kibet ran a 58:54 zinger on Mar 11 at the CPC, and long-time road ace Sammy Kitwara ran the Philly Half in 58:48 late in 2011, to become the fourth fastest at the time (for more on Sammy see: Sammy Kitwara - The Best Runner You've Never Heard Of).

Just this week, Renato rekindled my interest in Kitwara, whose marathon aspirations were on the minds of many during my stay. "I'm also curious to see how Sammy Kitwara can compete," Renato wrote, "He was in training with me and the leading group in Iten from the beginning of November, was very serious in training, but can have still some problem with the full distance. However, he shows all the qualities for becoming in one year an athlete able to run under 2:03:00."

Running fans, these are the suggestions from Mr. Canova himself in Kenya: within one year, and perhaps already, expect more than a handful of Kenyans to be prepared to run under 2:03. Kitwara, yet to finish a marathon, is one of them. Seeing the future in exact detail? Much more difficult.

Based on the recent half marathon results, and given his own rapid ascension to the top, Mosop might look like an over-hyped favorite. That is, until one realizes that unlike the other three runners, Mosop has notched two stellar marathon performances, plus a 30,000m WR, in three tries. Assuming training is going well, and conditions cooperate, the fact that Moses is virtually assured competition and/or rabbiting through 30-35k bodes well for taking a shot at his second record-breaking time, this one in the far grander event. From the looks of things, Canova has his fingers on the pulse of Kenyan marathoning and the 62:00 half marathon, perhaps, can be written off as a training day for weary-legged Mosop, who after 2011 should have to prove his half marathon wheels to no one.

Rabbits, Strategy And Pacing - What To Expect From Rotterdam After Boston Redefined The Marathon
Canova, who will head to Rotterdam on Friday after sewing up his final workouts with World Champion Abel Kirui (running London next Sunday), says the 2011 Boston Marathon was a game changer, that it redefined what is possible in the marathon. Sensing favorable conditions on Patriot's Day 2011, the coach said he asked both Geoffrey Mutai and Moses Mosop to remove their watches and run free from previous limits. Aided by an inspired free-running clinic put on by eventual 2:04 finisher Ryan Hall, Mosop and Mutai put all previous boundaries behind them and did the unthinkable.

How will the elites attack the Rotterdam course in 2012? "[Moses] doesn't need any watch," Renato wrote on April 10, "pacemakers need the watch! We have two top pacemakers: Jonathan Maiyo (till 27k, but maybe he can arrive at 30k - he will try to better the WR of 25 km on 6.05 in Berlin) and Geoffrey Kipsang, probably till 32k. We need for a pace of 29'10" every 10k, of course if the weather conditions are okay (I fear the wind)."

29'10" every 10k adds up to 58'20" at 20k, 1:56:40 at 40k, and around 2:03-flat for the full 42.2 km. But wind and cool temperatures, obviously, could alter this ambitious proposal. Another interesting note that illustrates the depth of Kenyan marathoning and the importance of this world record is that pacesetter Jonathan Maiyo ran 2:04:56 in his debut marathon in January in Dubai.

The synced-up collaborative effort between teammates in Rotterdam may spur the runners to greatness. This is an effect that some might not notice, but it is very powerful. Mosop, Maiyo, Kipsang and Kitwara, at least, are all on some level guided by the Canova wizardry, all pulling for each other while also pulling for themselves. As they run in a pack, they are individuals but somewhat unified in purpose. They are competing but from common ground, like competing armies who used to fight during the day and dine together around the evening campfire. If Moses breaks the record, they all benefit. If Kitwara runs very well, perhaps even winning or coming close, Moses will also benefit from an increased performance. If the rabbits run better than expected, again a similar beneficial group effect. This is an advantage of having a prominent runner pick a slightly less prestigious race, because here he can call the shots and set it up where he basically gets to fly around the course with "his crew." Imagine, USA fans, if Ryan Hall (essentially equal on time to Maiyo) was rabbiting a few higher-profile Stanford grads (you know, a number of 2:03 types) who share his coach around the Chicago course. This is essentially what's going on here ... very cool and a very interesting phenomenon to study in terms of the powerfully synergistic group dynamics.

Moses Racing In Kenya

Recent Training - How Has Moses Looked?
In February, Renato raved about Moses' training ability. Recently I asked the coach how things have gone since then and after the 62:00 in Paris. Keep in mind that Moses is training at significant altitude in Ngong (6,400 ft to 7,900 ft). Renato's reply:

    "Moses had some good training and during the last 2 weeks tried to make his legs more fresh. We didn't have any tough workout, using mainly fartlek sessions (the model was (a) 21 km (run) with (the 1st) 10k (featuring) 2' fast alternated with 1' moderate + 10k with 1' fast / 1' moderate + 1 final km very fast). He ran the best in 1 hr 05' with last km in 2'42"."

The one problem, Renato said, is the wind, both in training and in the upcoming race. In training, the recent high winds have made the efforts very hard on Mosop's body. Of course 25mph winds on Sunday will ruin the runners' chances at a very fast time.

After Mosop's incredible spring with his 2:03:06 John Hancock Boston debut and the 30k world record in the at Pre (a phenomenal effort where he ran a 2:08 800m to secure the win over new Canova charge Abel Kirui and another 2:08 to finish the race), Moses had a tumultuous summer and autumn. A relationship breakup, a move, and training that was far from 100% not just physically but psychologically, left Mosop 80-85% heading into Chicago according to Canova. Amazingly, Mosop still left Chicago with Sammy Wanjiru's course record. With such a string of top performances in 2011, Mosop seems to have the magic touch necessary to get to the top of a brutally tough field, and stay there. Wanjiru was at the top of the marathoning ranks for a couple of years, Mosop gets the chance Sunday to attempt the same, starting in Rotterdam.

Sammy Kitwara
Sammy Kitwara

Can Athletics Kenya Get Put On The Hot Seat?
In his informative blog entry published several weeks ago, commentator Toni Reavis sums up the Rotterdam competition well:

    "With Peter Kirui and Mosop meeting up in Rotterdam April 15th along with debuting half-marathon monster Sammy Kitwara (58:58 PR) and Stephen Kibet, what happens if Kirui, Kibet, or Kitwara knock one out of the park? Since Athletics Kenya is less than reliable when it comes to sticking with its public statements regarding Olympic selection (Ibrahim Hussein Clarifies Kenya's Olympic Marathon Selection) all the athletes can do is put their officials behind the eight-ball, between a rock and hard place, or any other conundrum producing metaphor by performing in a manner which compels AK to bow to the excellence exhibited."

Reavis makes a great point by pointing out Kirui and Kibet, but he forgets one thing. Starting with the positive: Peter Kirui, whom I haven't mentioned much here other than his recent NYC Half win, has flirted with records before, helping Makau and Kipsang to sub-2:04s last year (in one case finishing in a jog with a 2:06). The problem with Reavis' argument is that selectors forced to explain why they aren't picking someone like Sammy Kitwara for the London Olympics can say Rotterdam isn't a major. If Kitwara, for example, beats Mosop but doesn't get the world record perhaps because of the wind - while still a highly impressive performance, it's "only" a Rotterdam win. It's not London or Boston and whoever wins those races will have more career marathon success than Kitwara. And Kitwara's also an interesting hypothetical because he has clashed with Kenyan selectors before, getting booted off a Worlds 10,000m team for running too many road races (given the lack of money in the 10,000m, perhaps Kitwara should write them a thank you note). But I agree there will be debate, and plenty of it.

All I can really say is something Canova pointed out in Iten: "I don't want to be in the clothes of the Kenyan selection committee." Surely they don't want Canova in their clothing, either. But if they make the right call, they should be looking pretty sharp in some fine threads come London 2012. Pardon the pun ... "time will tell."

Weldon Johnson and Robert Johnson contributed to this article from LRC headquarters.

Much more to come on an incredible 8 days of Marathon that starts Sunday in Rotterdam, continues Monday in Boston, and ends the next Sunday in London.

8 Days of Glory Series: The Kenyan Marathoning Greats
8 Days for Glory - A Kenya-Flavored Preview of the Upcoming Men's Marathon World Record Assault
Episode 1 Moses Mosop*: "Moses has speed that has never been seen."
Episode 2  Geoffrey Mutai Returns to Boston: A Look Back At Boston 2011 And A Look Ahead To Monday's 116th Running

Episode 3 Mary Keitany* Meet the Amazing Mary Keitany
Episode 4 Abel Kirui* The Electric Marathoner
Bonus Episode: Wilson Kipsang*:  2012 Virgin London Marathon Champion
"If I had to compare him to an NFL quarterback, I'd compare him to Peyton Manning."
Episode 6: 8 Days of Glory Surprise: What We've Learned from the Kenyan Olympic Selection Process

*on the 2012 Kenyan Olympic Team

London 2012:
Mary Keitany Runs Fastest Final 10km In Marathon History To Repeat & Become The #3 Performer In History
Men: A New #1: Wilson Kipsang Destroys One Of Greatest Marathon Fields In History 


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