Eliud Kipchoge … the philosopher marathon king … on mental toughness, physical fitness and the ultimate performance

September 16, 2018

“In life, the idea is to be happy. So, I believe in calm, simple, low-profile life. You live simple, you train hard and live an honest life. Then you are free.”

Eliud ‘the philosopher’ Kipchoge is a Kenyan long distance runner who has won medals at Olympic and World level. He grew up on a farm where he worked hard and often cycled from his home to Kapsabet, lugging several gallons of his family’s milk to sell at the local market. He also used to run to school every day, covering the 3km twice a day. Eliud grew up close to Patrick Sang and wanted to be like him in the future. Patrick Sang agreed to write training programs for Eliud Kipchoge and they developed a very strong relationship which brought them many successes.

He came to prominence in 2003 by winning the junior race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, setting a world junior record over 5000 metres on the track and then becoming world champion at the 2003 World Championships in Athletics. An Olympic 5000 m bronze for Kenya followed at the 2004 Athens Olympics and he took another bronze at the 2006 IAAF World Indoor Championships.

A series of silver medals came, starting at the 2007 World Championships in Athletics before another runner-up placing at the 2008 Summer Olympics. He was fifth at the 2009 World Championships but again reached the podium at the 2010 Commonwealth Games; he was second behind Moses Kipsiro in both the 5000 m and 10,000 metres. In addition to this he has won four medals at editions of the annual IAAF World Athletics Final.

His 3000 metres best of 7:27.72 ranks him among the top ten at the distance and his 5000 m best of 12:46.53 makes him the fourth fastest ever in the event.

After missing the 2012 London Olympics, Eliud Kipchoge decides to switch to road running. In September 2012 he makes an impressive half marathon debut in Lille by running 59:25. Eliud Kipchoge made his marathon debut in the 2013 Hamburg marathon, where he ran a fantastic race and finished first in a new course record of 2:05:30. He ran his second marathon in Berlin where he finished second in a huge PB of 2:04:05 which made him the sixth fastest athlete ever on this distance. This time made him the third athlete ever (besides Gebrselassie and Tergat) who broke  12:50 for 5000m, 26:50 for 10.000m and 2:05 in the marathon. Since his fast race in Berlin, Eliud won the Rotterdam marathon and Chicago marathon in 2014.

One of Eliud’s biggest marathon successes was winning the prestigious London marathon in 2015, where he won the race in 2:04:42 by beating (former) WR holders Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto. In 2015 he also claimed the Berlin marathon title and ran a new personal best despite insoles getting out of his shoes. Thanks to these two victories, he won the Abbott World Marathon Major series 2015-2016. He started the new series strong with another victory in London marathon. He came very close to the world record by clocking 2:03:04. His 5 top marathons have an average of 2:04:01 now, which is the best in history. The Kenyan federation selected Eliud for the Rio Olympic Games. He started as the big favorite in the men’s marathon and lived up to the expectations and won gold. After a bronze medal in Athens and silver in Beijing, he has now won the most special medal of his career.

A new project started for Eliud after the Olympics, the Nike Breaking2 project. After seven months of preparation, Eliud tried to break the 2 hour marathon and write history on the auto race track in Monza. He showed the world that the 2 hour barrier can be broken in the near future by running 2:00:25.

After Breaking2 Eliud went on to win the Berlin Marathon in a time of 2:03.34.

Eliud’s performances places him in an illustrious list with Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat, as they are the only three athletes who have run sub 12:50 for 5.000m, sub 26:50 for 10.000m and sub 2:05:00 for marathon. Eliud Kipchoge really believes in the old school mentality where athletes start with track and cross country races before they move to the marathon. His years on the track from 2003 to 2011 helped him to became a strong marathon athlete. His best memory of these years is his gold medal at the 2003 World Championships, he beat Kenenisa Bekele and Hicham El Guerrouj and that’s where his life on the track started.

I first came across Eliud in 2003, running in the 5000m World Championships final in Paris. It was billed as a race between world record holders Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele. But it was a smiling, unknown Kenyan who sprinted away to victory.


13 years later, he stepped up to the marathon and became the Olympic Champion running away from the field in Rio. Having spent many of the recent years in the shadow of Mo Farah, he had now found his perfect distance over 26 miles. Fluent, comfortable, focused, confident. He was a true Olympian.

Then came Nike’s fantastic Breaking2 event staged in perfect conditions at Monza in Italy. The aim being to use the best technologies and conditions to try to break 2 hours for the marathon. Kipchoge was the only one who got close, a tantalising few seconds outside of the barrier. But a fabulous effort.

And behind the scenes, as captured by his management agency, Jos Hermens’ Global Sports Communications …

In early 2018 he spoke at the Oxford Union, showing how articulate and thoughtful he is, as both a man and athlete.

Mental challenge … “The world is actually full of challenges and we need to challenge ourselves. I took a challenge to run that fast. It consumes a lot of energy especially mentally. But I took myself and accepted to be challenged and I challenged the time.”

Self-discipline … “Self-discipline starts with you. It’s no other person. It starts with you. Start to examine yourself…Self discipline is doing what’s right instead of doing what you feel like doing. That’s the meaning of self-discipline.”

Think positively … “After accommodating self discipline in your mind, self-discipline can help you to actually get three things. It can save your feelings. Get you back on the course when you try to think otherwise, self discipline can help easily come back and think positively. It helps you do the right thing in the moment for long-term benefits.”

Stay focused … “Don’t make excuses. When you have decided to do something, do it. No excuses. Then you are self-disciplined.”

Long-term … “Make discipline your lifestyle. Discipline is not a one-time event. Self-discipline is like building your muscle. It’s like going to the gym. You can not go to the gym today and build your muscle. You should get a program and go slowly by slowly. That’s the way to build your muscle and that’s the way you can have discipline.”

Slave to passion … “Only the disciplined ones are free in life. If you aren’t disciplined, you are a slave to your moods. You are a slave to your passions. That’s a fact.”

Plan and prepare … “I believe in a philosophy that says to win is actually not important. To be successful is not even important. How to plan and prepare is critical and crucial. When you plan very well, then success can come on your way. Then winning can come on your way.

Think positive … “In any profession, you should think positively. That’s the driver of your mind. If your mind is really thinking positive then you are on the right track. ‘Pleasure in what you’re doing puts perfection in your work.’ That was a quote by Aristotle.”

Team is everything … “I am here because of teamwork. I am here because sport is a mutual interest. I am here to talk about my success because I am really about teamwork. Teamwork actually helps a lot.  Remember in sport, what you have is Hero’s Formula. If you are a hero, then you have a formula and that says 100% of myself is nothing compared to one percent of the whole team. And vice versa. 1% percent of the teams is nothing compared to 100% of myself. And that’s the meaning of teamwork.”

Be consistent … “The law of consistency says you should get motivated. Motivation makes you move. Motivation makes you to go forward.”

“When you bring motivation and discipline (together), then you can be consistent. When you combine it all together, they say if you want to grow, consistency is the key. I’m confident in saying that consistency is key if you want to grow in a new profession. Be it sport. Be it law. Be it all sorts of professions. If you are not consistent, you can not go anywhere. Consistency makes you to grow.”

Be uncomfortable … “Accept change…I know it is not really comfortable to adopt change but change in life of a human being or life of any profession is really important. But change can not be forced.”

Believe in yourself … “Personally, I believe in what I am doing. To run a big marathon and win, it takes five months. When I am on the starting line, my mind starts to think of what I have been doing for the last five months. I believe in my training. I treat myself as the best one on that line because my mind is telling me that I am the best and I believe in what I am doing in the last five months. I can run free. I can run free and that’s what actually has helped me to be successful.”

And then he translated the simulated Nike event into a real marathon performance, at the Berlin Marathon 2018, running away from the field to break the world marathon record.

In a world of so many great sporting performances, where records pass rapidly from name to name, and a huge number of incredible talents come from the running heartlands of East Africa, it is easy to forget even the best runners. However Kipchoge stands out amongst them all.

As Nike says in its typically immortal advertising lines … “Don’t just be the fastest marathon runner in the world. Be the fastest in history”

More from the blog

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *