Asbel Kiprop Tries the Steeple, Andrew Wheating & Clayton Murphy Are Training Buddies — What We Learned At The 2017 Pre Classic

By Jonathan Gault
May 30, 2017

The 2017 Prefontaine Classic taught us a lot of things. Mo Farah is still invincible. Elaine Thompson? Not so much. The women’s steeplechase is one of the most exciting events in track & field right now. Sub-4:00 milers are getting younger and younger.

But you could have learned all that simply by watching the TV broadcast. The Brothers Johnson didn’t fly me all the way out to Eugene last weekend to provide analysis that I could have written in my underwear from my couch. (Don’t worry — I always wear pants for Diamond League events). So after taking a couple days off to enjoy the holiday weekend, I’ve sifted through the 19 post-race interviews I conducted in the Hayward Field mixed zone to bring you the stuff I learned off the track in Eugene. Some of this was covered in our Pre Classic recap (LRC 2017 Pre Recap: Mo Farah Wins 5k, Ronald Kwemoi Impresses in Mile, Jakob Ingebrigtsen Becomes History’s Youngest Sub-4 Miler), but not all of it — here’s what you may have missed.

1) The rumors are true: Asbel Kiprop tried the steeplechase “for fun”

Seven days before he was due to run the Bowerman Mile, this photo of three-time world 1500 champion Asbel Kiprop surfaced on Twitter.

Some claimed it couldn’t be true and wondered if the photo was the result of Photoshop.

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I asked Kiprop about it after the race, and he confirmed that he ran two kilometers of a steeple in Eldoret the week before Pre.

“That was my first time,” Kiprop said. “It was kind of unique, to run the barriers. I have never trained barriers. But I did it for fun. It’s about experiencing every kind of [race]…I just wanted to have the feeling. I hadn’t ever tried to run the steeple before and I wanted to feel it.”

So what to make of Kiprop’s steeple experiment? There are two ways of looking at it.

The first is to be critical of Kiprop. What was the guy doing screwing around in a steeple a week before one of the biggest races of the season? Doesn’t he know he could have gotten hurt? Wouldn’t his energies be better devoted to serious training? Certainly, it’s not something that Matthew Centrowitz or Clayton Murphy would have even considered doing as they made their Pre Classic preparations.

The second is to view Kiprop’s steeple as a harmless bit of fun. After all, he had already won his heat of the 1500 at the same meet earlier that morning. Kiprop will only be a professional runner for so long. Who can blame him for wanting do experience everything the sport has to offer?

Personally, I hold the second opinion. An American miler would never have run a steeple on a lark a week before the Bowerman Mile, but Kiprop didn’t get to where he is following the American system. Kiprop has been at the top of the sport for a decade now, and if he wants to give the steeple a go, why shouldn’t he? Even Olympic champions are allowed to have fun. (Plus we also know that Kenyan Olympic steeplechase champions  run the steeple without every practicing going over barriers, so Kiprop gets more of a pass)

MB: Kiprop runs steeple 1 week before pre classic

2) Clayton Murphy and Andrew Wheating have been training together in Eugene

Murphy graduated from the University of Akron a couple of weeks ago and has spent some time recently training in Eugene with Andrew Wheating. Initially, Murphy had planned to race Oxy on May 18, and while he didn’t end up racing there, he stayed out west to mix things up.

“It worked out well,” Murphy said. “I got to meet up with [Wheating] and do some training out here and just kind of spend some time away from Akron and just get a little different training environment. Three years in the same place was a little tough. It’s nice to kind of mix it up. Fresh trails, fresh track, fresh faces. So it’s fun to be out here.”

Wheating, who has taken a break from the Oregon Track Club and is now overseeing his own training, will race against Murphy at the Portland Track Festival on June 11 as Murphy tries to break Rick Wohlhuter‘s 43-year-old American record of 2:13.9 (yes, the record is so old that it was hand-timed).

“If his workouts are any indication as to what he can possibly run, he’s gonna WHUP my ass,” Wheating said.

Indeed, Murphy has a good chance of breaking the record. Wohlhuter’s 800 PB was 1:43.5h; Murphy has run 1:43.60 this year. And Murphy’s mile PB (3:51.99 at Pre) is already faster than Wohlhuter’s best (3:53.3h). Plus Murphy has already shown his 1000m chops, holding off Matthew Centrowitz to win at the American Track League in Houston last year just four weeks before Centro won Olympic gold. Considering his 800/1500 skills, 1000 meters may be Murphy’s perfect distance.

As for Murphy’s training situation, I asked him whether he’d consider leaving Akron now that he’s completed his degree. He didn’t commit to a long-term plan but said that for now he’s staying put.

“I think right now, it’s just sticking with Coach [Lee] Labadie and worrying about the season and tomorrow’s workout,” Murphy said. “Last thing I want to think about is end of the season and the next 10 years of my career. Right now, it’s focusing on Portland Track Festival and the 1000 there and trying to break the American record and then obviously USAs. So a lot bigger things to worry about then where I’m going to be at the end of the season.”

3) Mo Farah on his lack of world records, transitioning to the marathon and his future in Portland

I spoke to Farah for almost 10 minutes, the longest interview of the weekend, and he was candid in discussing a range of topics. Our Pre recap covered his response to the recent allegations about his coach Alberto Salazar, so check that out if you missed it.

Farah went on to talk about his upcoming racing schedule, which includes a 10,000 at the famed Golden Spike meet in Ostrava on June 28. Farah’s personal best of 26:46.57 stands as the European record, but he’s only 16th on the world all-time list, almost 30 seconds behind Kenenisa Bekele‘s 26:17.53 world record. It’s been almost nine years since anyone has broken 26:40.

“I want to PR, for sure,” Farah said. “I’m not sure about (the) world record. I think you’ve gotta be realistic with yourself, be honest with yourself and go, ‘What have I run? What can I do?’ Improve stage by stage rather than going, ‘I’m gonna run a world record.’ So just gotta be honest with yourself.”

Though Farah has surpassed Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie in terms of global gold medals on the track, Farah’s lack of world records is often cited as the reason why he lags behind those two in the Greatest of All Time argument. Farah has no world records to his name and only one world best, in the indoor 2-mile (8:03.40) — not exactly a glamour event. And Farah, 34, accepted that is unlikely to change.

“If you get that then, get it. But I’ve always said that medals is more important for me than anything else because no one ever will take that away from me. If it’s a record, then records are there to be broken.

“But at the same time, why would you not [want to] have a world record? If it’s that close to you and you can get to it, you can do it. But to be honest with you, if you told me now ‘Can you break the world record?’ No, I can’t. That’s honest.”

Looking ahead to 2018, Farah will be moving up the marathon full-time and after his first crack at the 26.2-mile distance, a 2:08:21 in London in 2014, he knows it will take a while for him to master the event.

“In terms of track, I didn’t get it overnight,” Farah said. “You’ve seen me struggle, finish 7th, 6th, [at] World Champs, coming through not making Olympic final and stuff. And I believe the road is going to be a kind of similar thing. I ain’t gonna go there and go sub-2:04, 2:03. It’s gonna be hard.”

Farah’s marathon career may not last that long, however.

Though he didn’t totally rule it out, Farah said that he doesn’t think he will be still be running by the 2020 Olympics, when he will be 37 years old. He said current lifestyle of spending six months per year away from home is tough on him and that he’d like to spend more time with his four children, daughter Rhianna, 11, twins Aisha and Amani, 4 and son Hussein, 1.

Finally, Farah was asked about staying in Portland long-term.

“Just depends on my kids. My oldest, they’re all into school and stuff and I don’t like to keep changing them. But obviously, see what’s best for them. When you get a family, it’s never easy. I remember when we first moved to Portland, it was just me and my daughter and my wife. And that was an easy decision. Now with four kids, it’s like…”

PS. Hussein was born in the U.S. so he is a U.S. citizen.

4) Emma Coburn on the explosion of new talent in the steeplechase and why she thinks training like a 5,000 runner is the key to beating the Kenyans

The women’s steeplechase is a very different event than it was 12 months ago. Prior to the 2016 Pre Classic, only one woman in history, Russia’s Gulnara Galkina, had ever broken 9:05. Since then, four women have done it a total of 12 times, including Celliphine Chespol (8:58.78), Beatrice Chepkoech (9:00.70) and Ruth Jebet (9:03.52) on Friday at the 2017 Pre Classic.

Behind them, Emma Coburn ran the second-fastest time ever by an American — 9:07.96, just .33 off her American record from Rio — yet was never in contention for the win. Afterward, Coburn said that she thinks she can get down to 9:00 shape by the end of the summer, but for now it’s important to focus on the positives of what she’s accomplished instead of comparing herself to the women in front of her.

“It’s kind of unbelievable. You just have to really remain within yourself and you can’t get frustrated and you can’t get discouraged because I’m doing the best I can. I know I’m doing it the best way I can and the right way. I just have to really look within myself and say I’m proud of what I did today and congratulations to those three women who are crushing it and are running really well. But I think if I start beating myself up for not being closer to them, then it’s a little unhealthy. But I definitely have goals to close that gap and I’m fired up and I’m motivated to try and be there. I’m obviously aware of what they do but I can’t let it discourage me.”

As for how she plans to close the gap, Coburn said that she and her coach/fiance Joe Bosshard have been trying to improve her endurance rather than waste time searching for extra speed that may never come.

“We’re definitely doing some different stuff,” Coburn said. “I’m training a little bit more like a 5,000-meter runner, a little bit more strength. Very few hard 400s, 300s, very few workouts that I would call 1500-meter work. I’m definitely training more like a 5,000-meter runner, which I think was the last kind of weakness that I never had a chance to develop with [former coaches] Mark [Wetmore] and Heather [Burroughs] — [though] I’m sure that was in the developing plans.

“But I think that was definitely something that was the next step in my career to try and develop. Because I feel like my all-out 400 is probably 58 seconds. And I’m just not quick. ‘I’m not going to be a good 800 runner and I’m not really gonna be a good 1500 runner from a speed standpoint.

“So definitely doing more strength, doing long runs at sub-6:00 pace instead of 6:25s. Just pushing that a little bit and lessening the load of the track and 1500-meter work and that side of it. So it’s definitely taken a little bit of a shift.”

If you’d like to see more of the post-race interviews, they are here.  Our Pre Saturday recap is here. Friday recap here.

Full 2017 Pre special section here.

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