Eliud Kipchoge: What, me worry? – The Story of Kipchoge Running 10 Minute Miles with Boston Champ Amby Burfoot
Kipchoge’s mental outlook seems even more important than his physical gifts
By Amby Burfoot
September 29, 2022
A number of years ago, while running with Eliud Kipchoge–yes, I did actually run with Kipchoge–I asked him an important question. His answer reflects probably the most important aspect of his unprecedented marathon career.
You have heard by now that Kipchoge ran a 2:01:09 marathon Sunday in Berlin to break his own marathon world record. You know that he has won the last two Olympic gold medals in the marathon. You know that he ran a mindblowing 1:59:40.2 in the INEOS exhibition marathon in Zurich three years ago.
I could go on, but there would be no point. At this stage, anything anyone writes about Kipchoge’s marathons is essentially pointless. We simply don’t have the words. Nor do his “stats” make any sense. He’s on a different planet than any previous marathon runner, so comparison is empty.
So I return to my easy training run with Kipchoge. It took place in early 2005, high on the Rift Valley escarpment near Kaptagat, Kenya. I was there with a small group of American marathon fans eager to learn more about the Kenyan running phenomenon. The tour was led by John Manners, himself a seasoned track and field aficionado. Manners grew up partially in Kenya, learned Swahili, went to Harvard, and had a long journalism career at the old Time-Life. He provided deep research for several of Kenny Moore’s wonderful Sports Illustrated articles about Kenyan runners.
With this background, Manners was able to secure our group a run and meeting with the Kaptagat training camp runners. We assembled on one of Kenya’s famously red and rutted clay “roads.”
Before we set out, I stepped forward rather timidly to make a request. “My wife wants to run 4 miles today, but she’s not very fast,” I said to the Kenyans. “Would anyone be willing to run 10-minute pace with us?”
You understand, of course, that these were mostly guys who could race 10,000 meters on the track at 4:30 per mile. I didn’t expect a response from any of them.
One raised his hand, however, and stepped forward from behind the others. He had a wide, disarming smile on his face. Yes, you guessed it.
As the other runners, Kenyans and awestruck Americans, moved steadily ahead of us on the clay road, Eliud Kipchoge hung back. My wife was huffing and puffing, but I had the chance to ask him several questions as we ran.
Even before that, I marveled that he had acquiesced to our slow pace. I didn’t know any elite Westerners who would have agreed to the same. They would have considered it a waste of time and effort, if not worse. After all, you don’t advance your world-class status by slogging along with hobby joggers. Kipchoge’s mind seemed uncluttered by such negative thoughts.
Eighteen months earlier, at the 2003 World Championships, Kipchoge had won the 5000 meters in 12:52.79 over the seriously fast Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele. I had always considered Ethiopians better kickers than Kenyan distance aces, based mainly on the results of “Yifter the Shifter” and Haile Gebrsellassie.
So I decided to question Kipchoge about this. “When you’re racing the Ethiopians on the track, aren’t you fearful that they will outkick you?” I asked.
“No I don’t worry about the Ethiopians,” Kipchoge replied. “I don’t worry about anything.”
That was 17 years ago. Kipchoge’s performances since then stand as proof of an attitude perhaps necessary to separate yourself from the pack. “Don’t set limits,” he has said. Don’t worry. Just run.
Amby Burfoot won the Boston Marathon in 1968, and has been writing about track and road races since 1978.